We are pleased this month to hear from Dr. Beth Gerhardt, MSW, Th.D. Professor of Theology and Social Ethics Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, NY and author of The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls in this third post in an ongoing forum on the topic “What Practical Relevance Does the ‘Imago Dei’ Have for the Advance of Human Rights, Peace, and Global Development in the 21st century?” In this post she speaks in both a maternal and a theological voice to call the church to reclaim the primacy of the imago Dei as an ethical and theological mandate for action to shed harmful patriarchal beliefs and practices and work for gender equality in both the church and society.
first post: The Ethical Challenge of the Image of God in the 21st Century – Human Rights and Beyond MARCH 9, 2017
second post: Women Breaking Caste Barriers: Made in second post: The Image of God MAY 12, 2017
Backdrop: Election Year Maternal Rage
One Saturday afternoon this past October, I walked into my living room and was greeted by my seventeen-year-old daughter with these words: “You wouldn’t believe what Trump called women!” My stomach tightened. “You mean something that has already been reported?” I asked this hopefully. Unfortunately, we had already had several conversations during the long primary season, concerning the rights of all persons to be treated with dignity, and how the insults toward women, the disabled, and foreign born individuals had no place in private discourse, and neither did they have a place in public forums.
This Saturday in October was different. I was angry. I knew I would be discussing with my daughter the reality of sexual assault, answering questions concerning whether men really do talk about women using disrespectful language in locker rooms. I would be explaining again the reasons why harassment and assault are so pervasive in our own culture. I knew that this was triggering emotional and bodily memories of their own sexual assaults for thousands of women across the country . I knew what was going to follow over the next few weeks: initial outrage would turn to denials, then minimization (“it’s just locker room talk”), and then devolve into the phase of nasty victim blaming. I was angry as I listened over the next month to well intentioned, good Christian men and women explain away the blatant sexual and misogynistic language and behavior. I watched as pundits and Christian leaders turned the harsh reality of sexual assault into “bad boy behavior.” I was angry then, and I’m angry now.
My anger has little to do with the person of Donald Trump. It has to do with how we as a society do not hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their violence. It has to do with how we as a people do not support victims of this violence. It also has to do with how we as the church disassociate Scripture, and Christian theology from human rights, social ethics and justice. We proclaim that we are all created imago Dei. However, we fail to really understand that it is not a mere Christian maxim. It is action. It is about how we are commanded by our God to treat each person with the same dignity that God has bestowed on each one of us. Being created in God’s image shapes who we are as bearers of God’s goodness, mercy, graciousness, love, and dignity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s question, “To whom are we responsible?” is the question that is before each one of us every moment of every day. We can glibly proclaim, “We are responsible to God and to each other!” Bonhoeffer, however, posed this question as an impetus to action. Being created in the imago Dei has great weight, and it has deep meaning for how we are to treat each other. It is the church’s sacred duty to embody this call in how we treat each other. Martin Luther King noted that the church is often a tail light, rather than a headlight, when it comes to calling out injustice in society. Why are we not headlights? Why do we often fail to pull back the covers of darkness to the evil reality of violence against women and girls? Why are we often silent when we see and hear victims’ cries, and the boastful stories told by perpetrators of violence? Let’s uncover the reality of the extent of the violence.
The Problem: Normalized Global Gendercide
The problem of violence against women is a horrific, global problem. If we understand Christian discipleship to mean living out the call of the imago Dei, then it is important to become conscious of the extent of the violence perpetrated against women and girls across the globe and in our own communities. Some facts from human rights organizations and government sources:· In the United States one in three to four women are battered by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- One in four girls is sexually abused before age eighteen. One in six women has experienced attempted or completed rape.
Eighty million women have undergone genital mutilation in Africa alone. Globally, the number rises to 100 million.
- Approximately, 97.5% of aborted fetuses in China are female. Sixteen percent of the female population is “missing,” due to forced abortions, abandonment of baby girls, and sex trafficking.
- Sex trafficking is one of the most common forms of violence against women and girls. The United States is one of the top recipients of human slaves.
- Girls die at twice the rate of boys in parts of India. Mortality rates for girls are higher than boys in 96% of developing countries.
Recently, President Read More