Like you I am horrified by the recent news that three women were held captive in an old and decrepit house in Cleveland, Ohio, for nine or ten years (depending upon their time of abduction). Rarely allowed outside, these women were, according to reports, bound with ropes and chains; they were subjected to prolonged sexual abuse; and they endured numerous miscarriages resulting from being repeatedly punched or kicked.
Such discoveries are so heinous it seems as if collectively we respond by either steadfastly following the investigation to its bitter end, as if knowing all of the details of the case will somehow make it less galling or once hearing about it we intentionally avoid listening to further developments because taking in more information is too overwhelming and it calls into question a fundamental belief in the humanity of people to know someone can be so evil.
And yet, as a country and a part of a Christian community, we must begin to take seriously our culture’s violence against women. From time-to-time we pay lip service to this misogyny problem, but we remain fundamentally unchanged because women, it seems, are not worth the trouble it would take to construct our society differently.
Consider, for example, how the NRA recently endorsed a company who sells life-sized cut-outs of a woman (called “the ex”) who discharges what appears to be real blood when she is hit by a bullet. Easily portable, the “ex” can go anywhere so that when someone is ready to shoot her he can enjoy watching the blood run down her ample cleavage knowing she will remain forever silenced.
As a society, unless and until we decide women are not second-class citizens, certainly worth some self-examination to understand and address the reality that according to Plank, “gun violence is a gendered issue” then we continue to live in a fantasy world of make-believe. As much as we think we are progressive in our human rights, we have a very long way to go.
Similarly, the church needs to conduct its own critical analysis. There is no doubt about the vast influence of supposed Judeo-Christian values on contemporary American culture. Certainly, sexism in the church and propagated by the church as the divine order of things is partly to blame for the oppression of women in the U.S., a situation that is conducive for violence against women to be seen as a fairly benign problem.
A few years ago at an interfaith gathering of religious leaders at Emory University, Sister Joan Chittister, O.B., called the church out for its lack of compunction—the ability to feel deeply sorry for its sin. As she powerfully remarked that day, “Religion has the obligation to feel compunction for its own position in the world.” To arrive at a necessary level of compunction, she suggested we ask ourselves what is our history of love?
Chittister’s indictment cuts to the core of the church’s endorsement of sexism and therefore its complicity if not endorsement of a patriarchal society. But, she left the audience with a clear path for change:
“If the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.”
What better time than the present to begin practicing what we believe: all people are made in the image of God?