role of women

What Kind of God Do You Have?

It is 1649. King Charles has been beheaded for treason. Amid civil war, Cromwell’s army is running the country. The Levellers, a small faction of political agitators, are calling for rights for the people. And a new law targeting unwed mothers and “lewd women” presumes anyone who conceals the death of her illegitimate child is guilty of murder.

Two guards took Rachel into the hold for condemned prisoners, a small structure of limestone adjacent to the main prison. Inside, she slipped on a carpet of excrement. One of the guards lit a torch and hooked it into the wall. The other attached her leg irons to one of six rings bolted into the stone. The first guard, a young fellow whose helmet seemed too large for his head, advised Rachel to bribe the warden to move up her execution date. “To escape the stench,” he explained, gesturing apologetically at the floor as he left.

Rachel tried curling up on the end of a low wooden bench. She could hear rain against the roof. For a while she pretended to talk to her brother, but she could not hear him, could not imagine what he would say.

She did not pretend to talk to the child.

She would not even think the word child. She would push around it, leaving a wide berth; she would sweep all such thoughts in the corner. She would step over anything, avoid any obstacle, before she would think that word. Yet there it was. Every time she tried to dodge it, misery would whisper the word for her, and a clean whistling breath rushed through her. The emptiness hiccupped and gabbled at her, slid her crosswise. She wondered what her mother would say to her now. Probably Martha Lockyer would tell her daughter to confess, which made sense if one had a list of things to repent. But what if a person did not know for certain? She shifted around on the bench. She would force her brother to talk to her. She would conjure him up to calm herself.

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Gratitude for the 'Better Men'

Recently I watched “I Came to Testify,” the first program in a PBS series called Women, War, and Peace. The documentary focused on 16 Bosnian women who were brutally raped by Serbian soldiers during the war in the Balkans in the early 1990s. When the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal tried three of the perpetrators of these “crimes against humanity,” these 16 women told their stories.

The three men listened to the women without showing one hint of emotion or regret. All were found guilty of hundreds of counts of rape, but their sentences seem light: 26 years for one, 20 years and 12 years for the others. I traveled twice to Bosnia during that war; I met women like the 16 who testified about the rape camps. I was surprised by the light sentences and disheartened to know that most of the perpetrators will never even be brought to trial.

I cannot hear stories like this without being shocked anew by how often women suffer at the hands of men. But something else struck me as I watched this program. The narrator was a man, actor Matt Damon. “As a man raising four daughters, things like this matter to me,” Damon said. “But it would have mattered anyway … It’s important to understand the experience of women.”

As I listened to Damon, I thought of Nicholas Kristof, co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a book that compellingly highlights the suffering of women. One chapter focused on rape as a weapon of war in the Republic of Congo, where, according to the American Journal of Public Health, women are victimized at a rate of nearly one every minute. Two years ago in the Congo, I talked and wept and prayed with some of these women. I also talked with local pastors, mentored by a Congolese man named Marcel, who raise money and create care groups to help bring these violated women “back to life”—that’s how the women describe what the pastors and the care groups do for them.

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From Patriarchy to Partnership

I FEEL BLESSED to have grown up in the South, raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. When marriage was discussed at my church, I was taught there was a “holy chain of command.” Authority flowed from God to husband, husband to wife, and wife to kids. In the best of cases, that “authority” came with loving care, protection, and guidance. But it was authority nonetheless.

My own family mirrored this paradigm. My dad was king of the house, allowing us to watch only one show on TV: Father Knows Best. My mom, who called Dad “Popsie,” was expected to conform to Dad’s rules. (Not once did I hear her call him by his first name.) Far from being unusual, my mother emerged from generations of women who “obeyed their husbands.” This male dominator/female subordinator model of traditional heterosexual marriage often resulted in women losing their voice in both family and society.

In the ’70s, Gloria Steinem pronounced that marriage was a dangerous place for women. This made sense to many at the time. How could women celebrate their equality linked arm-in-arm with husbands who “knew best”? As a result, many women left home to develop their sense of agency in the world. And many left their marriages altogether.

But in the last several decades, a different concept of marriage emerged—an equality-based partnership model. Within this new paradigm, women (and men) have the opportunity to flourish. In fact, once two people learn to live in conscious partnership, the process can help women called to marriage develop their most resonant voice and deepest wisdom. As a result, a group of us are calling for the women’s movement to add the support of healthy marriages to its socio-political agenda.

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New and Noteworthy

Joking for Jesus
Why so glum? Jesuit James Martin’s Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life is a gracious invitation to loosen up a little and balance tears and righteous anger with delight in the God-given gift of laughter. HarperOne

The Courage to Love
The film Little Town of Bethlehem follows three men of three different faiths who pursue nonviolence in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Screening kits and DVD for home viewing are available for purchase. littletownofbethlehem.org

Body Meets Soul
In See Me Naked: Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity, Amy Frykholm tells nine people’s stories of sexual formation and faith, from typical teenage experimentation to being trafficked. It reveals some of Christian culture’s failures around human sexuality, while offering tentative hope for a more holy and whole way forward. Beacon Press

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Environmental Activist Anna Clark: 'Christians Must Conserve Resources'

At the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina last weekend, I was able to speak with Anna Clark, author of Green, American Style, president and founder of EarthPeople, a green consulting firm, and a contributor to Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God's Image Through Advocacy and Renewal. Anna has a heart for equipping churches to make small and big changes for the sake of creation care and stewardship of the earth's resources. How can Christians do this, you ask? Read our conversation to find out.

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