Today is International Women’s Day, a day that I confess has passed me by in previous years but this year I’ve been much more aware of the injustice and difficulties that women face locally and globally. From the abduction of schoolgirls by Boko Haram, to the justification of rape by men in India to the sexual exploitation of children (not just girls but predominantly) in the UK there seems to be little respite from news stories highlighting the injustice that women face purely on account of their sex. And that’s without entering the fray over what ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays about the role of women.
In the church, sadly we may not fare much better. The recent celebrations over the appointment of the first female Bishop in the Church of England were marred for me by the manner of some of the responses by those opposed to it. Being married to someone training for ordination has made me more aware of, and sensitive to, the feelings of those women who believe so strongly in their calling that they give up other careers and ambitions, have their gifts and vocation affirmed by others but are then undermined and made to feel unwelcome in the same church. In that light I was saddened to read that the Australian media are publishing stories of Christian women who have been victims of domestic abuse by husbands hiding behind a theology of headship.
It seems to me that too often our discussions about gender roles whether in the church or in society at large are really about the issue of power. Money, sex and power are often cited as the trinity of temptations that lie at the root of a multitude of sins; we are often more willing to denounce sex and money but less able to recognise or admit it when the desire to power leads us astray. The need to dominate, be in control and see others as under our authority is a strong driver for many of us and especially men, surely it’s part of our masculinity to be seen as strong and powerful!
Yet the model of Jesus was always to take a different road. He refused to take power offered by Satan in the desert, he spoke of the first being last, denying the rights of James and John to sit at the top table, of the need to be humble, for leaders to be servants and the ultimate act of weakness – being killed by the Romans – was freely chosen as an act of self-giving love. As Philippians 2 articulates so clearly, the incarnation itself, Jesus’ life and his death were deliberate acts of ‘kenosis’ – an ’emptying’ of power. If the Son of God chooses not to take power and instead empties himself then we need to learn to follow his example.
#makeithappen is the strap-line for International Women’s Day, it is something that many of us have the power to do; more power than we men often realise or even than we would want to admit. The question is whether and how we are prepared to use, share or give up that power in the interests of justice and equality.