What’s the Matter with Kansas?


In Topeka, Kansas, the city council last week took domestic violence off the books as a punishable crime in order to eliminate expenses related to prosecuting such cases. The thinking, apparently, is that the city of Topeka and the county of Shawnee are both seeking ways to trim their budgets. The county made the move first to shuffle its domestic violence cases to the city of Topeka, who, in turn, returned the favor in a game of chicken where victims of domestic violence were apparently dismissed as pawns in a political game between city and county officials.

Well, austerity is alive and well in Kansas. And, so is the invisibility of women.

In a state that joined the union as it fought against slavery, it appears the justice-oriented position of its pioneers has all but vanished. Instead of finding ways to support and protect the most vulnerable of society, the city of Topeka and the county of Shawnee are willing to undue legislation promoting justice and fairness. Already sources note the number of cases dismissed and the number of violators who have been returned to their homes, presumably to abuse those closest to them again, only this time without any threat of prosecution.

While it is easy to sit back and criticize this action from afar, I’m wondering what causes a community to even consider such a course when the lives of numerous women and children are immediately at risk? What decision-making process enables one group of people to dispose so readily of another group of people?

In 1901 Carry Nation, who would become infamously known as the “hatchet” woman, marched into several saloons in her famous Topeka raid, destroying the establishments because in her view they were destroying the fabric of a civilized society.

Obviously one cannot defend Nation’s approach to the detrimental effects of alcohol on individuals and society, and it has clearly been demonstrated that the subsequent Prohibition movement inadvertently caused many more social ills than it intended. Nevertheless, the presence of Carry Nation was difficult to ignore.

One reason, I think, some Kansas politicians are able to consider measures that would represent a massive step backward in regard to how women are valued (or not valued, as is the case in Topeka) stems from a backlash against feminism in the Midwest. Seen as an academic impulse created by people with little “real” life experience, it is rejected as having nothing important to say to hard-working farmers and small business people who make up the rural communities that dot the Kansas plains.

Ironically, on these very farms and small businesses are women who are as strong and courageous as they come. Women are successful business owners, they manage offices, they plant and harvest, and they probably run most of the churches in their communities, even as very few churches would deign to employ a female pastor.

The actions of these women reveal self-confidence, awareness and use of their skills and abilities. At the same time, if asked what they think about feminism, a movement that works for the full equality of all people, they would reject any association with such a thing. And in this rejection, the seed of women’s absence in the minds of decision makers is sown.

We must find a way to combine the theoretical with the practical, the movement of feminism with people who are feminists, although they do not recognize the label. Further, we need women who are the foundations and heart of most faith communities to embrace their God-given responsibility of extending justice to all.

Instead of asking the question: can one be a feminist and a Christian? We should begin asking can one be a Christian and NOT be a feminist? I believe the answer is no.