As I write this my mind travels back to one week ago, when I was busy making my sign to participate in the Women’s March at the state capital in Lansing, MI. I was excited to be doing something; taking action can alleviate feelings of helpless discouragement.
It was wonderful to be part of a movement that I’m passionate about, and something historic (perhaps the biggest worldwide protest march ever). I enjoyed chanting and marching together with kindred souls. It was fun to notice all the diversity, hear the various reasons people were marching, and take note of the most outrageous signs. It may have started as a women’s march, but it was much broader than that. I had a hard time deciding what to put on my sign. For me it was about justice, the same rights and opportunities for EVERYONE, for example, women, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color. I wasn’t quite sure how to express that best. I considered a slogan used by many, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”. But isn’t that too obvious? Should we even have to say that? Who would disagree? And yet, I know why we have to say it.
Women, from the time they are very young are given subtle but negative messages about their value and worth. Think for a moment about derogatory phrases that have to do with being female, “you throw like a girl” for example. (Many other examples can’t be repeated in this context). Messages like these are not lost on our daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters. The messages say, “you are less than”. Though it can be very subtle, these messages are heard over and over again in various contexts; it has a cumulative impact over time. It could be part of the reason that little girls do better in school until a certain age when they begin to fall behind. And we all know about the gender-based wage gap for equal work that exists in both the U.S. and Canada. Is part of the reason that women start to believe false messages that they can’t, or that their value is in their outward beauty? I was recently looking at birthday cards for a granddaughter who is turning 4. The girl’s card for turning 4 included an inflatable hair bow. The companion card for boys turning 4 included an inflatable sword. What are we teaching our children about what it means to be men and women?
The mentality of considering women “less than” can lead to disrespect, and even to abuse. And then, when women see that there are no consequences for those who disrespect them (in fact often quite the opposite), or when they see no justice for those perpetrate abuse against them, it reinforces that message of “less than”. When women suffer abuse, they are often treated as less valuable than a man’s reputation, or not worth the trouble it might cause to bring about justice. Devaluing women and violence against women is a part of our culture, like the air we breathe.
We, as the Church, are called to be salt and light in this world of “less than” messages, disrespect, and abuse. One way we can shine brightly is to proclaim, not only in words, but in our actions, that all people reflect the very image of God our creator. Each one is valuable, honored, respected and protected. That’s really what Safe Church Ministry is all about.
That’s what was in my mind as I marched. And I would have been thrilled to see banners from various churches, and groups of people from congregations, marching alongside, together, chanting in one voice, “women ’s rights are human rights”. Perhaps we would not all have agreed with all the chants at the march. One body can have many parts; we’re not all the same, and that’s OK. But when it comes to basic human dignity, I hope that we can agree.
I was saddened to read blogs by several prominent Christians who denounced the women’s march, characterizing it as a rally only for reproductive rights. Reproductive rights are of deep concern to many women. (Let me make an aside here: This article is NOT primarily about reproductive rights or abortion – perhaps we will speak to that issue at another time. I can understand a woman’s desire to not have government make these very personal and agonizing decisions. I also understand the idea that abortion takes away the right to life for those who are truly vulnerable, the unborn. Personally, I am pro-life; for me that involves a consistent life ethic that extends beyond the womb. See also feminists for life). Now back to the article at hand. One Christian leader who spoke out against the women’s march was Anne Graham Lotz, a woman whom I deeply respect after attending a retreat in which she was the featured speaker. She said these words, “My heart aches for many of the women I saw marching…women who have joined a “movement” that is deceptive and in the end, will be destructive and lead them to a spiritual and moral grave. I pray earnestly for them to turn to the one, true, living God, who is the only One who can give them the deep, permanent peace, love, hope, and security we all long for.”
When I tried to write a response to her blog, I was unable to gain access to do so. I wanted to tell her not to let her heart ache for the marchers, many of whom are sisters and brothers in Christ. Instead, may her heart ache, as mine does, for our country in which a march like this is deemed necessary. I wanted to encourage Anne Graham Lotz, and others as well, to listen to the women who marched, not write them off as a group of lost souls. It’s time to listen attentively to one another, find common ground, and stand up for justice and equal rights for ALL people. And let’s acknowledge honestly that we still have a long way to go when it comes to equally valuing women.