I have read several stories recently about violence against girls and women with increasing alarm.
Just a snapshot of the headlines:
- Teenager Sentenced to 25 Years for Killing A Girl Who Said No to Prom
- Father of former Stanford swimmer refers to sexual assault as ’20 minutes of action’
- A year after McKinney pool party, teen speaks out
In Texas, our eyes have been laser focused on Baylor University, but the problem is bigger than one college campus.
In fact, one of last year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries, “The Hunting Ground,” explored the pervasiveness of sexual assault on college campuses in America, and three years prior, “The Invisible War” tackled the same problem in the military.
But it isn’t just the assaults that worry me; it’s the attitudes and hearts behind the behavior. We are living in a world where a father will defend his son’s rape of an unconscious and intoxicated woman as “20 minutes of action.”
Everywhere women turn, they are saturated with images of women as nothing more than bodies to be used as men please.
We have no agency of our own, only what is given to us by men. We bring nothing more than pretty faces and nice dresses. We are incapable of deep study or understanding of anything beyond fashion magazines, Oprah and recipes.
We are living in a culture dominated by ideas, images and actions that degrade and devalue women.
Sadly, some of these attitudes are not limited to unbelievers. The church is often just as guilty of promoting messages that devalue women.
We do so when we focus on modesty not as a position of the heart but solely as it relates to the length of a skirt.
When women bear sole responsibility for controlling men’s lust. When we talk about women’s callings exclusively in relation to her husband and children. When we silence, shame and otherwise ignore abuse – physical, emotional or sexual. When we defend men who use their power and position to abuse, ignore and degrade women.
These types of messages are not just harmful, they are destructive and often lead to women being physically and emotionally hurt by the people and places where they should feel the safest.
This type of messaging puts the blame on women rather than focusing on the responsibility of men to value and esteem women the way Jesus does.
Jesus’ treatment of women in the Bible was radically countercultural to his time.
He broke with established social norms by speaking to women, recognizing their unique gifts and including them in his tight knit group of followers (his mother, Mary Magdalene and Salome).
In the stories of the Samaritan woman and the adulterous woman (John 4:6-42, John 8:1-11), we see Jesus treat even women who had less than reputable backgrounds with kindness, dignity and respect.
Even Jesus’ disciples were shocked to find him speaking with the Samaritan woman. Yet, there was Jesus offering her “living water,” not condemnation, and dignity, not more guilt and shame.
If we are to follow Christ’s example, we should be leading the charge against destructive messages about the value and worth of women in today’s society. We should esteem the image of God in all women, not just the ones we think act or dress appropriately.
The church should not just focus on messages aimed at policing women’s behavior in order to avoid negative perceptions or violence; we should also focus on messages that teach men and boys how to respect and value all women.
God uses our church community to speak truth into our lives; your actions and your words, both spoken and unspoken, have an impact on the way the women and girls in your life and in the broader culture view the church and their place in the body of Christ.
Are we demonstrating Jesus’ countercultural example or simply reflecting back the current cultural norms?
Please pray with us that the church will lead by teaching and living out God’s redemptive vision for all of humanity for both men and women to walk and live out the fullness of their callings rather than reflect destructive societal messages about the value and worth of women.
Kathryn Freeman is director of public policy at the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. A version of this article first appeared on Texas Baptist Life – the BGCT blog. It is used with permission. You can follow Freeman on Twitter @KathrynAnnette.