Monthly Archives: May 2014

How does the church respond to #YesAllWomen?

I remember the conversation so vividly. I was seventeen, it was a Saturday morning in summer, and our youth group was clearing the garden of an elderly church member. Taking a break, I found myself sitting cross-legged in a circle on the grass with five other young women around my age. I don’t remember how the conversation started, or who said something first. It wasn’t a topic we had talked about before, nor was it one we ever mentioned again. But someone was brave enough to share her experience of being groped by one of the guys in our group – not asked for, not consented to. Someone else told a similar story, then someone else. And for the first time in my life, I realised that this kind of thing wasn’t something that had just happened to me, or to a couple of us, or even to most of us. It was the experience of us all.

Every. Single. One.

So when #YesAllWomen started trending on twitter last weekend, I was immediately taken back to that conversation all those years ago. And I was reminded once again that my group of friends were not an anomaly, but that this is the common experience of everyone who grows up female in our society.

I realise that the immediate context for the twitter conversation was a specific instance of violence, and I realise that not all men are perpetrators of harassment and violence against women, but it exasperates me that I have to name those as caveats, because as far as I can tell, no one is suggesting otherwise. But too often this kind of conversation is derailed by those kinds of responses. No, not all men are like this. But when enough are to make this the experience of yes, all women, then surely it’s time to have an open conversation about it.

For Christians, it is easy to think these things happen to women “out there,” but not to the women in your church. That is a mistake. I could tell you story after story of women I know, but part of the point of #YesAllWomen was to hear women speak their own experiences. And so while I have hesitated to do so, for any number of reasons, let me tell you just a few of mine.

The guy in my youth group who repeatedly grabbed my breasts while playing rough games. The young man who heard me speak on a Christian radio program and emailed me to tell me what he would like to “do to me.” The man who got my number from the church bulletin and phoned me in the middle of the night with sexually explicit threats. The “sweet old man” at church who backed me into a corner and shared details of the dreams he had about me while stroking my hand.

I’ve never told anyone most of those stories before. They are awkward and embarrassing and to be honest there is still a part of me that feels like saying them out loud will make people think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But the truth is my experience is the same as nearly every woman I know. This is the culture in which we live.

She's Someone

And all of these stories I told took place within the context of the church. The community called to model the Kingdom of God, where peace and justice and love are to be demonstrated. If anywhere should be a place safe from harassment and violation, surely it should be here.

So how does the church respond to the reality of a culture which is marked by everyday sexism and sexual harassment of women? Where all kinds of bad behaviour is minimised as “boys being boys” and women are expected to laugh it off or be flattered? Where many women, myself included, are afraid of being labelled strident trouble-makers for even mentioning this topic?

I’ll be honest. I’m a leader in the church and I struggle to know how to respond to this. I’m a woman in the church and most of the time I try to forget that this is how it is.

But maybe, like the twitter conversation, we need to start by being frank and open about this. How can we even begin to reach out to our community with a message of hope and healing, if we are not willing to name the reality of our experience? If we are not willing to call out what Tara Moss eloquently called the “toxic silence”? (for which she has since received rape threats).

I would say to pastors and preachers, leaders in the church, both men and women, read the #YesAllWomen conversation, and as you read, picture the women in your church speaking. How will that reshape the way we preach, teach, and care?

Beyond responding within our own community, I love the question Suzanne Burden concludes her excellent blog on this topic with:

“What if the Church started leading the way culturally in decrying injustice against women and raising them up as image-bearers of God for his good purposes?”

Let me end by saying I don’t know what happened to all of those girls in that circle that summer morning. I do know that by the time we were 20, one of the six had been raped and another physically assaulted, both by young men they met at church. The one in three statistic borne out in reality, not “out there,” but in our own community. How is the church responding to that?

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Today would be a good day to be in Jakarta

Just a quick post today. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the debate in my country about asylum seekers and refugees, the way our government has chosen to respond to them, and the options available to people who disagree to speak truth and advocate justice. I hope to post more about that in the future. For now, I’m turning my travel reflections this week to the place from which many of those asylum seekers board the boats that ultimately lead them to our detention centres, one of Australia’s closest neighbours, and a country I think we often misunderstand, Indonesia.

Just a small part of the Jakarta night skyline
Just a small part of the Jakarta night skyline

I haven’t done the standard Aussie tourist trip to Bali, but alongside some off-the-beaten-track places, I have spent a little bit of time in Indonesia’s capital, and I can definitely say like nearly everywhere else I’ve visited, Jakarta is a place I both enjoyed and learned from.

While I didn't love the traffic, I did enjoy zooming past it on the back of a motorbike!
While I didn’t love the traffic, I did enjoy zooming past it on the back of a motorbike!
What did I love about Jakarta?

Like any capital city, the public buildings tell some of the story of the nation’s history and politics.

The National Monument, commemorating the struggle for independence
The National Monument, commemorating the struggle for independence

And the view from the top gives you just a tiny glimpse into what a city of 28 million people looks like.

Monument View

The President’s Palace is somewhat reminiscent of the White House.

Looking down on Merdeka Palace
Looking down on Merdeka Palace

While the Supreme Court building would be at home in many places around the world.

Supreme Court

Above all, I loved the food. Fresh, fast, cheap, spicy, diverse, delicious.

Food

So. Much. Good. Food.

Food 2

What did I learn from Jakarta?

Like many places, Jakarta is a city of contrasts, with areas of great poverty in the midst of the high-rise city towers. I was reminded of the challenge all countries face to provide justice and equity, and in particular to remember the least among us.

A slum nestled between high rise construction zones
A slum nestled between high rise construction zones

I appreciated visiting the huge mosque, which can accommodate 120,000 men praying simultaneously, and learning more of the influence religious affiliation has on life in Indonesia. I did get myself in a little trouble when I went to follow my (male) friend in signing the guest book, only to be given a sharp rebuke – not for you!

Inside Istiqlal Mosque
Inside Istiqlal Mosque

But mostly I learned from the people. They were so friendly and welcoming, with such a positive attitude towards me as an Australian (although this was prior to the diplomatic tensions of the last couple of years). I was often “mobbed” on the street by groups of young women wanting to practice their English.

English practice

I’ve said it before, and the more I travel the world, the more I am sure I will say it again. People are people everywhere. We like to think that it is so difficult to understand one another, and certainly on the level of politics and culture it can be. But when we take time to have a conversation and share something of our lives with another person, I am always amazed anew at how what divides us is superficial, and what unites us – our hopes, dreams, loves, laughters – is so much deeper. We are need to be challenged to take time to learn from those who seem different to us, and to learn how much we truly share.

Today would be a good day to be in a place I won’t name

My Monday travel posts are usually filled with photos. Not today. They are also usually filled with details of where I went and what I saw, but again, not today. I want to write today about one of the most profound travel experiences of my life, but in order to avoid any chance of compromising the people I met there, I am making the place I’m reflecting on today anonymous. I’m talking about visiting a place where Christians are facing daily harassment and persecution, and how it would be a good thing for me to spend more time there.

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An anonymous block of rooms at the back of an anonymous factory on the edge of an anonymous town … where I met the most inspiring people I’ve ever met

In the last couple of weeks, the Western world has been horrified by the news of the kidnapping and trafficking of nearly 300 (mostly) Christian girls in Nigeria, an event which I have already shared some of my questions from. This week, similar heartbreak and outrage has been expressed over the news of a pregnant women sentenced to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian. How do we even begin to respond to such happenings which are so far out of the realm of our experience?

Well, the reality is that while these may be out of the realm of our experience, they are familiar to many. Data from the reputable Pew Research Center this year shows that 74% of countries in the world have some level of government interference with worship or religious practices, and in 48% of countries, force was used against religious groups or individuals in 2012. The religious group harassed and persecuted in the highest number of countries (151) continues to be Christians.

While Christianity has enjoyed privilege and power in the West over the last century (that I can’t help but think it never should have accepted), at the same time around the world many followers of Jesus have suffered and given their lives for what they believe. When Christians in the West complain about our loss of privilege, we arrogantly minimise the very real suffering of our brothers, and increasingly even more so, our sisters, around the world.

So, what did I love about visiting a place where Christians live with this reality every day?

I loved the incredible faith, perseverance and hope I saw in those I met. Despite living in circumstances I simply cannot fathom (despite having seen them firsthand), the Christians I stayed with encouraged and inspired me greatly. These people take their faith seriously. They take the words of Jesus seriously. They know the cost of following Him, and they have chosen to pay it, believing His promise that they are blessed in doing so.

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The room I stayed in, which as a guest I had to myself. Next door, twelve young women live in the same space.

I was particularly inspired by their whole-hearted devotion to their calling and mission. These people seek to share with their families, friends, and neighbours, the hope they have found in Jesus, and have committed their whole lives to that end. Not to mention that their knowledge of the Bible would put most of my colleagues in ministry to shame!

What have I learned from meeting Christians in places like this?

I am so profoundly humbled when I think of those I met there. They treated me with respect and grace, seeing me as someone who had something to teach them about following Jesus. The truth is quite the opposite. I have so much to learn from them.

Some of them talked about their desire to one day visit a place like where I live, to see churches worshipping freely in my country. God help me, but I wanted to pray that they would never get that chance. For I fear how disillusioned they would be. They assume that our freedom and comfort would cause us to be even more devoted and passionate about our faith and mission. Would that they were right.

These people follow in the footsteps of their Saviour, who suffered and was persecuted and told His disciples not to be surprised if they faced the same. They witness to His grace, passion, humility and self-sacrifice in the way they live their lives daily. What do I witness to? How can I preach a crucified Messiah who gives Himself up for the world when I have so much and have given up so little?

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My bed … I admit I struggle simply going without a mattress for a couple of weeks

I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “It is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” (Matthew 19:24) It is easy to assume that we are the fortunate ones , but Jesus warns us of the danger of our wealth, comfort and security.

When we hear about people suffering for their faith around the world, our great desire seems to be to want to “fix” things, as if making their lives more like ours will make everything better. Certainly I believe we should speak out about the kinds of grave injustices that have been in the news this week. But I also wonder whether we need to take more time to “sit with” those who are suffering persecution, whether physically or spiritually, and recognise that perhaps we are the ones who need to become more like them.

I pray for my brothers and sisters facing persecution for their faith around the world. I pray for peace and courage, for mercy and protection. But I pray too for myself and the church in countries like mine. Where comfort so easily leads to complacency, and privilege to a loss of passion. I wonder how we can learn more from those following Jesus in places like the one I dare not name but would love to visit again today.