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MU 16 Days and Global Day Theology

26 Nov 2020

Violence against women and girls: how does our Christian faith guide our understanding?
 
The reasons for campaigning against violence against women and girls are many; any number of individuals and groups will find themselves drawn together to champion such a cause. For us as Mothers’ Union however, we must have a distinctive voice as we join with others to support 16 Days of Activism and our Global Day of Action. We find this distinctiveness at the heart of our vision: that of a world where God's love is shown through loving, respectful, and flourishing relationships.
 
God exists in and created equality of relationship. The relationship of the Trinity powerfully illustrates this; each distinct from but equal to the other; relating together in loving agreement. The equality of human relationships is established at the beginning of creation:
 
God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27
 
All are created in the likeness of God, whatever our gender; as such all are entitled to be treated as God’s precious children, whose image we reflect.
 
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 
 
Thus, any culture of violence against one another, whether physical or emotional, is a distortion of relationships as originally intended; equality and respect in the sight of God.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God’s attitude to women is positive and pastoral. There are many instances of women in positions of influence and leadership; also provision made for those in positions of vulnerability, as in Deuteronomy 26:12.  A woman’s choice in marriage is highlighted in Genesis 24:57 and other examples; whilst in Proverbs “wisdom” is personified as a woman.
 
Where instances of violence against women are recorded, they are described as a wrongful action with negative consequences, for example the rape of Tamar by her half brother in 2 Samuel 13 which led to serious family conflict and bloodshed. God’s position remains constant.
 
Within Jewish society attitudes began to change towards women through the times of exile and inter-mingling with other cultures. The religious leaders attempted to protect the purity of their race through more restrictive laws, many of which had a negative effect on the lives of women. Thus, by the time of Jesus’ birth Jewish men would pray every morning and thank God that He had not made them a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.
 
However, Jesus radically challenged this culture through his actions and teaching. He treated women as completely equal to men calling them “Daughters of Abraham”, Luke 13:16.

 He openly conversed with women; met their needs and included them amongst his followers and supporters. He disregarded Jewish edicts when he healed the woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years; choosing compassion over the letter of the law. He revealed his divinity to Martha, John 11:25-26, and chose to appear firstly to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, John 20:10-18.
 
In a situation where violence against a woman was allowed under Jewish law, that of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus averted the aggression with wisdom and compassion; using the situation to challenge her accusers without condoning her wrongdoing.
 
Thus, the arrival of Christianity transformed life for women. The New Testament indicates that they played a significant role in the life of the early church. They were involved in leadership roles alongside Paul and others; they used their homes for gatherings of believers and had important input into the missionary growth of the church. Relationships between Christian men and women were surely ones of equality and mutual respect.
 
Within the marriage relationship the sometimes controversial edict by Paul for wives to submit to their husbands, Ephesians 5:22, becomes less so when seen in the context of the previous verse, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, and the instruction to husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church v25: that is, to be prepared to lay down their lives for them. With this perspective there is no room for violence of any sort; whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional. 
 
However, history has unfolded since New Testament times, both in the church and the world: there can never be any justification for violence against women. In our campaigning against it we seek to follow the example of God. We look for inner change within perpetrators as they are enabled to conduct equal loving relationships, respecting women as made in the image of God.
 
We build our campaign on God’s command: to love our neighbour as ourselves. Where this is followed there will be no place for violence against anyone.
 
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