The women were there at the foot of Jesus’ cross.
The women were there when they laid him in the tomb.
The women walked through the desolate graveyard in the darkest hours of the night — the hours just before dawn, carrying sweet spices prepared to anoint Jesus’ dead body for proper burial. But they never got the chance.
They witnessed the earthquake, talked to the angel, and ran to the other followers announcing the resurrection of their beloved.
And Jesus’ mother, Mary, huddled in the upper room praying with the other women and the rest of the disciples in the days following the resurrection. Until that day, 50 days later, when tongues of fire fell on them all and Peter reminded the crowd of Joel’s ancient prophecy: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”
From the cross to the upper room, the women are lifted up! As the church stands in the light of Easter Sunday and now sets its face toward Pentecost, let us remember the women. And, as we do, let’s also remember the women in our pews and surrounding communities — the challenges, fears, and the very real dangers women face every day.
One such challenge is embodied in the pervasive fight to end violence against the ones who birthed the world. In Jesus’ time women were viewed as property, less than human; they had no rights. Since biblical times the recognition of women’s humanity and rights has come a long way. Yet, still, women in our pews suffer violence in their homes, in their workplaces, and even inside the walls of the churches where they worship — particularly women of color.
Communities of color are often portrayed as violent by the media and political class. Within the mainstream anti-violence movement in the United States, women of color who survive sexual or domestic abuse are often told that they must pit themselves against their communities to begin the healing process. Meanwhile, communities of color often advocate that women keep silent about the sexual and domestic violence in order to maintain a united front against racism.
In practice, this can pit one part of Paul’s Galatians 3:28 early church baptismal liturgy against itself. In an attempt to reinforce Paul’s admonition that “there is no Jew, nor Greek” (racial hierarchy), the call to level the gender playing field — “there is no male and female” is sacrificed.
Likewise, mainstream remedies for addressing sexual and domestic violence here in the United States have proven to be inadequate in general, but particularly for addressing violence against women of color.
The problem is not simply an issue of providing multicultural services to survivors of violence. Rather, the analysis and strategies to address gender violence have not addressed the reality that sometimes the equalizing call of Paul’s baptismal liturgy has been disregarded all together. Gender violence has not simply been a tool of patriarchal control, but, in the days since Adam and Eve, has snowballed and served as a tool of structural racism itself, as well as, economic oppression, and even colonialism.
The implications are significant: Colonial relationships, as well as race and class relations, are themselves gendered and sexualized. Consider the history of sexual colonization of Native women, the sexual slavery of African-American women, and the sexual exploitation of immigrant women’s labor.
As such, we must understand the state, then, rather than being the solution to ending violence against women, as a primary perpetrator of violence. Consequently, strategies designed to combat sexual and domestic violence within our pews must be linked to strategies that combat violence directed against communities represented in our pews, including state violence (e.g., police brutality, prisons, militarism, racism, colonialism, and economic exploitation).
Take the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act, for example. Anti-violence centers have been able to receive a considerable amount of funding from the state, making them dependent on that funding. Anti-violence rhetoric has mobilized support for an anti-crime agenda that includes three strikes legislation and racially disparate anti-drug sentencing. VAWA was attached to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994), which increased the use of the death penalty, added more than 50 federal offenses – many of which criminalized youth of color — eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners, and expanded the prison industrial complex by $9.7 billion.
As Beth Richie states in her important text Arrested Justice, the anti-violence movement has won the mainstream but lost the movement necessary to transform society.
As the church turns its face toward Pentecost, let us remember the equalizing power of the spirit of God, which was poured out on both women and men on that holy day! And let us remember Paul’s Galatians 3:28 admonition: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ Jesus. And let us remember the implications of those radical words: All are equally human. All are equally worthy of honor and respect and protection under the law.
Let us anticipate the coming of the mighty wind of Spirit! And let us walk in step with the wind, lifting oppression off the backs of the ones who birth the world.
Lisa Sharon Harper is Chief Church Engagement Officer. Andrea Smith is a board member of North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies.
Image: Woman worshiping, John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com