The first two weeks of May we addressed the broad topics of Gender, Sexuality and Marriage in our "Impolite Savior" series. We explore the teachings of Jesus on the subject from Matthew 19 and their foundations in Genesis 1-3 as well as the expansions Paul gave us in 1 Corinthians 7. The ideas presented are also in our Board's Position Paper on the subject (check it out here). Our focus was on our community's views and practices related to those areas. There are, however, bigger fish to fry on a global scale where these issues come up.
As I mentioned in a recent post, Kelsey and I have been reading a book entitled "Half the Sky" (authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) that explores the plight of women on the global scene. We are only four chapters in and I am by no means an expert in the field. The little that I have read and become aware of, however, has shaken and moved me deeply. I have been prompted to start asking why I have not been aware of these types of issues and what sort of response Jesus would have me adopt. The book is easy to read in that it deals with very personal stories of women the authors have met, rather than being a purely academic work of policy prescriptions. It is that very approach that also makes it difficult to read, because the stories told detail how these women have been on the receiving end of some of the most shocking and abusive behavior imaginable. At one point as I was reading aloud to Kelsey I could barely finish a paragraph because of how distressing the narrative was to read.
The book takes the reader into a world almost unrecognizable to us and yet common for a large portion of the world's population. It is a world in which women are regarded as second-class humans (or worse) with the result that they not only do not enjoy the privileges Western women are accustomed to (driving, education, voting rights, relative autonomy) but are also subjected to violence, trafficking and poverty with no recourse in the legal system. Consider the following exchange between the author (Nichlolas) and an Indian border guard recounted in the book:
"So what exactly are you monitoring?" Nick asked
"We're looking for terrorists, or terror supplies," said the man, who wasn't monitoring anything very closely, since one truck after another was driving past. "After 9/11, we've tightened things up here. And we're also looking for smuggled or pirated goods. If we find them, we'll confiscate them."
"What about trafficked girls?" Nick asked. "Are you keeping an eye out for them? There must be a lot."
"Oh, a lot. But we don't worry about them. There's nothing you can do about them."
"Well, you could arrest the traffickers. Isn't trafficking girls as important as pirating DVDs?"
The intelligence officer laughed genially and threw up his hands. "Prostitution is inevitable." He chuckled. "There has always been prostitution in every country. And what's a young man going to do from the time when he turns eighteen until when he gets married at thirty?"
"Well, is the best solution really to kidnap Nepali girls and imprison them in Indian brothels?"
The officer shrugged, unperturbed. "It's unfortunate," he agreed. "These girls are sacrificed so that we can have harmony in society. So that good girls can be safe."
"But many of the Nepali girls being trafficked are good girls, too."
"Oh, yes, but those are peasant girls. They can't even read. They're from the countryside. The good Indian middle-class girls are safe."
That exchange should sober us. It should also remind us of a reality we are prone to forget in our context: the world is today, and has been historically, a dangerous place for women. As I discussed in my message on Genesis 1-3, God's statements after the Fall indicate that the dysfunction in the relationship between men and women are a cornerstone of the effects of Adam and Eve's rebellion. As much as we want to avert our eyes from these realities, Scripture brings it up more often than we might realize. The OT laws regarding women, so often seen as repressive, primitive and barbaric, actually afforded women in Israelite society degrees of protection not found in other ancient societies. While we might still feel uncomfortable with the civic regulations in Exodus and Deuteronomy and certainly not wish to enact them. We need to remember two things. First, while it is God's law, it is his regulation of a fallen world and not his prescription for an ideal one. Secondly, his law is first and foremost an instruction about His character and our hearts. As such, the laws regarding women acknowledge that men's hearts tend to be calloused towards women rather than cherishing them as the image-bearing allies they were created to be.
The exchange also sobers me to realize that while it is easy to be appalled at the border guard's cavalier attitude towards the issue, for all of us, it is often easy to ignore a problem if it is not happening to "our people". The OT law, and Jesus' application of it in Matthew 19, reminds us that God's heart is to protect and lift up those that are prone to being ignored, marginalized and exploited in society. That should inform our gospel response to the global situation of women. It should grieve us, but not shock us to find these circumstances. It should sadden us but not despair us to see the scale of the problem. The gospel can and does change hearts and it is our mission to take it into the darkest areas of our world. So what does that mean for us? Like I said, I am just beginning to wrap my head and heart around this issue, but I am inviting you to explore it with me, confident that Jesus would not have us ignore it, would have us bring it before His Father for prayer, and may, by His Spirit call us to do something about it.