God Loves Women

A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn't realise this

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Guest Blog: Yesterday...

Posted by God Loves Women on July 19, 2014 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

This is an guest post from a wonderful friend of mine.

 

I was walking towards my mum's yesterday when someone tapped me on the shoulder, while saying my name. As I turn, he steps back. He asks if I remember him, says it's been a while and tells me his name.

 

I didn't recognise him at first. But a second or two after I hear the name I do. It's the guy who I was once friends with who wanted to have sex with me so much that he ignored my lack of consent.

 

We actually have a conversation... of sorts. How is that?

 

Internally I think I'm wondering how I feel about it all. And I want to know what he'll say... Sorry? I admit it? Anger that I called the police? What?

 

I'm watching him and feeling nothing. Nothing that I can place. But yet I'm shaking. I know what I'm not feeling - no fear, no anger, no hate, no revulsion - forgiveness worked for me then! but I do not know what I am feeling. Once you let it go, what's it replaced with?

 

It's been 9 or 10 years.

 

Do you know what he says to me?

 

"I haven't spoken to you for years. I know it went a bit wrong. I can't remember why though"

 

Really?????? You forget what you did? Getting arrested. Denying it all. Calling it consensual.

 

He goes on to say "maybe we can talk it through and bury the hatchet".

 

The words "...In your head...?" Bounce about in my head. I've still got that smile on my face I get when faced with any uncomfortable situation. I'm weird like that.

 

He keeps himself far away from me. As if he is respectfully / cautiously aware of the fact that I really may not want him anywhere near me. His body language is submissive, passive and open - kind of like "I'm not carrying anything". He's kind of bowing slightly. I notice all of this, I'm known for not usually noticing anything like this! For someone who doesn't remember raping me, he's trying very hard to make me feel at ease and to appear... safe.

 

I think I was still standing there because I was wondering if he's changed. In these years past I've changed in various ways. People change. Has he? He answers my unvoiced question by standing up straight, submission forgotten briefly, and saying "you look really good" with that look of lust that regardless of generation, ethnicity, shape, size or status yes all women have experienced. I know that nothing has changed. He'd do it again. He has no desire to control his desires and my opinion doesn't matter.

 

He offers his number and I take it because I think that when shock has passed I might have something to get off my chest - I might really tell him off maybe - but the morning after there is still nothing to be said and that feels wonderful.

 

I am totally surprised by my response having spent a significant amount of time for a good couple of years thinking about what I'd do if I see him again.

 

It's now quite likely I'll see him again. He says he's often in a place very close proximity to my mum's. I would ask him not to speak to me if he did again.

 

When I left my mum's I felt watched. I probably wasn't. I didn't want to leave there with my daughter. I was relieved I wasn't with her when he approached as I think I'd have been fiercely protective of her, not wanting her to be tainted by engaging with a rapist.

 

I'm not sure why I was not also that protective of myself. Is it because I've already been raped? Or because I'm curious to a fault; to the extent that it overrode my fight/flight urge? Or because I am not as bothered about me as I am about her?

 

I put my hand out to shake his hand. How do you end an unexpected encounter with the man who raped you? He hugs me. I don't feel as dirty as the last time he touched me, but I really wish I'd rejected it. I'm not beating myself up about that... like the last time he touched me. I think he may have taken some meaning from the fact that I didn't pull away. Like reconciliation, like he's made his peace with me. But he doesn't know my mantra. Forgiveness doesn't have to mean reconciliation. Especially when the person is not safe / hasn't changed or repented in the biblical sense. To which I can add Especially when he is a rapist. Forgiveness stops what he did from getting in the way of God and me.

 

What he did is between him and God. I'm free. :-)

The Church LOVES a redemption narrative

Posted by God Loves Women on July 11, 2014 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (0)

This week my friend Helen shared on Twitter that a church attended by her friend had chosen to pray for Rolf Harris in their Sunday service. They didn’t pray for the girls and women he sexually abused.

 

 

In June 2014 Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender, in prison, bemoaning how his offending had ruined his life (not the life of the girl he abused or his family or the congregation he pastored). They have since written a thorough apology for publishing the piece after enormous online outrage about it.

 

 

In May 2014, well known Christian author, speaker and teacher RT Kendall tweeted a photograph of himself and Oscar Pistorius smiling after having had lunch together. He urges his over 3000 followers to pray for Pistorius, who is currently on trial for murdering Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, whom he shot dead on Valentine’s Day 2013. No mention is made of praying for Ms Steenkamp’s family.

 

 

The church LOVES a redemption narrative. “We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God”. Isn’t that how it goes? And when those who have fallen far are redeemed, we all feel better, the world is better. It’s in those incredible stories of redemption, of bad made good that we can be confident that God is still moving.

 

 

Yet the girl sexually abused by the pastor writing from prison is still damaged. The women whose lives have been ruined by Rolf Harris are unlikely to recover from what he did coupled with years of his face, his songs, his power being all over child and adult media. Reeva Steenkamp is still dead.

 

 

The women and children and their family and friends, the victims of these powerful men are ignored. It doesn’t fit the redemption narrative if someone is struggling with the impact of someone else’s sin against them. They are encouraged to forgive, to pray for the abuser. If they don’t, then we can make them a sinner too. Then they fit the narrative. And they can ask for repentance for their lack of love and grace and we can all feel better that balance is restored.

 

 

Perhaps it is Disney’s fault? The need for a happily ever after. The capitalist consumerism which sees Jesus as a product to be sold to sinners, to fill their God shaped hole and meet their every wish upon a star. Supply and demand. We get the fairy tale ending where the beast becomes good, the princess is saved and the monsters (not the people) are slayed.

 

 

Yet real life is not a fairy tale. Cinderella is a domestic slave. Beauty is suffering Stockholm Syndrome. Little Red Riding Hood is an analogy about rape. Those who have suffered; abused and violated don’t fit the happy ever after.

 

 

How do we begin the devastating work of rebuilding shattered lives, when we’re so busy endorsing the quick fixing of abusers?

 

 

It turns out the redemption narrative has one massive gaping hole; an analysis of power.

 

 

Oscar Pistorius, Rolf Harris, the ex-pastor sex offender are all powerful men. Using their power and privilege to hurt others. They may weep in court or write about how sorry they are and their words and weeping may give off an illusion of weakness. But they are powerful and, very often, unrepentant.

 

 

Jesus did not give up all power as God Almighty to become a human baby, show us The Way, die an excruciating death and rise to life so that we can use Him to collude with, enable and perpetuate the damage done by abusive men. We cheapen all He has done by focussing our prayers on the perpetrators while ignoring the hurting, the damaged, the raped and the grieving.

 

 

As James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) We see again and again throughout Scripture the measure of God’s people is their value of the vulnerable, not of the powerful.

 

 

Let us stand with the hurting, the broken, the damaged. And work towards our community of faith becoming a safe and holy place for the abused and the hurting, for the powerless not the powerful.

Karen Ingala-Smith, Desmond Tutu and Forgiveness

Posted by God Loves Women on March 23, 2014 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

After writing this blog critiquing Archbishop Tutu’s article about forgiveness, I thought it may be valuable to respond to the specific things Karen Ingala-Smith says within her blog about his article. So here goes…

 

“But is it for the child to forgive the abusive parent? What does it mean for a boy child to forgive his father for violence towards his mother, essentially for a man to forgive another man for violence against women?”

I think Karen raises a really interesting point here. I read Tutu’s article as a forgiveness of his father for the trauma that it caused him, rather than absolving his father’s sins on behalf of his mother. Perhaps this is one of the differences in mine and Karen’s views of forgiveness. I would see the forgiveness I offered to someone as only related to their actions towards me, the hurt they caused other people, perhaps even within the actions towards me, would need to be forgiven by the other people that have been hurt. My forgiveness doesn’t absolve the offender’s sin, it is a decision for me to no longer wish that person harm. It doesn’t even remove the consequences of their choices, it is about the attitude with which I approach them.

 

“In a feminist analysis that identifies patriarchal society, religion has been shaped to protect men’s oppression of women.”

Karen and I may hold similar views on many things but it is here that our ideas diverge. I understand completely why she sees religion as an institution designed to maintain patriarchal systems of power. My experience as a church goer for my entire twenty nine years of life has proved over and over that religion is a patriarchal institution. But my faith and experience of God is not of a patriarchal entity desiring to control and subjugate me; it is of a truly liberating character that seeks to enable me to be more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t believe this understanding of faith can come outside of an experience with the Divine and so do not blame Karen for her strongly held conviction of this. However, perhaps her views are a wakeup call to the church. Gender justice is not a secondary issue if people reject all aspects of faith because of the Church’s investment of patriarchal structures.

 

“Apparently, in the bible there are two types of forgiveness: God’s pardoning of the sins of ‘his’ subjects, and the obligation of those subjects to pardon others.”

I struggle with the idea of forgiveness as an “obligation” and this is not my experience of faith. The times I have forgiven others has not been out of obligation. In fact it was when forgiveness felt like an obligation that I fell into a state of denial, pretending that if I just tried hard enough, I could make my ex-husband’s treatment of me not hurtful. It was as I felt the bitterness of hatred towards him that I decided I no longer wanted his treatment of me to define anything about me, including my feelings towards him that forgiveness became a reality for me.

 

“Being able to do so is so important that a believer’s eternal destiny is dependent upon it. Refusing to forgive is a sin. Forgiveness then is a selfish, not a selfless act.”

In Matthew 6 Jesus does states that unless we forgive one another, God won’t forgive us. We also find that in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus prefaces His teaching on forgiveness by saying we must hold to account those who sin against us. None of these verses can be taken in isolation. I personally have never forgiven because I believe it will save me for eternity.

 

“… when talking about violence, [forgiveness] is an act that absolves the abuser of their responsibility…I disagree. We are more than the product of our experiences. We have consciousness, we make choices, we can see if our behaviour is harmful or hurtful to another. Abusers are always responsible for their abuse. If someone’s ‘god’ , or indeed another believer, can absolve someone for the choices that they make, their responsibility is erased.”

I totally agree with Karen here. Tutu’s assertion that forgiveness removes the responsibility of an abuser is not my understanding of Scripture. Surely the Christian faith is rooted in a belief of free will? No matter what leads up to our actions, our choices are just that, choices. The consequences and responsibility for abuse and violence are not eradicated in forgiveness, it is the ability for that offence to define us that is removed. If someone cuts off my legs, it does not matter how strongly I forgive them, I still have no legs. My experience of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean I know I am free, but if I choose to kill someone tomorrow, I will still have to deal with the consequences of that choice, as will everyone affected by that murder. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24,

 

““I have the right to do anything,” you say - but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything” - but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

 

“By reducing male violence against women to an individual relationship, one in which someone who is neither perpetrator nor primary victim can bestow forgiveness, we are ignoring, condoning – forgiving – the wider impact of men’s violence upon women, upon all women above and beyond that individual relationship.”

All I can say to this is yes, yes and yes! We must be careful whenever talking of forgiveness that our message does not condone or justify behaviour. We must always consider how our words and actions impact the vulnerable and the hurting, and recognise the principalities and powers that we are fighting against; in this case the spiritual power of patriarchy.

 

“We cannot allow a person to say that this is okay, that this is forgiven, but it appears that religion encourages us to do just that. Indeed, male violence against women can be forgiven by god. That’s just a little bit convenient for patriarchy.”

Again I agree, we cannot allow forgiveness to blind us to the reality of patriarchy. We must not let forgiveness become a weapon of abuse, which for many women it has. The teaching on forgiveness disabled me from making good choices, it enabled an abuser to totally destroy me and it is doing the same to far too many people each and every day. We have a responsibility to ensure our communications, teaching and theology do not collude with or enable abuse. We must critique the systems which perpetuate and enable abuse to continue. This is a prophetic work and I believe that Karen Ingala-Smith and other radical feminists are doing this work while the church very often colludes with the systems of oppression Jesus came to set us free from. I applaud them for their work and thank them for their courage.

 

“In the UK, the mainstream is very quick to identify ‘other’ religions as oppressive to women but this is equally true of Christianity. Religion reinforces and upholds patriarchy, forgiveness is just another of its tools. We do not need to forgive male violence against women unless we want men to continue to dominate women.”

To some extent, I agree with this. I have seen religion uphold patriarchy, I have experienced forgiveness as a tool of patriarchy and it makes me weep, because that is not the whole story. I have spent most of the day deeply distressed at the reality of being an outcast. I don’t fit in the Christian world, with its 1950s housewives, its black and white clarity, its collusion with the Powers. And I don’t fit in the feminist world because I live for Jesus. I will unapologetically give my whole life to an awesome God whom most of the feminist world understand to be an oppressive construct propping up patriarchy, and yet it is in Her that I have found liberation and freedom. And I weep that those who are doing the work of the Kingdom cannot see the truth of that very Kingdom and that those who think they are part of the Kingdom are in fact working to prop up the Powers that seek to destroy the Kingdom.

 

What better way for the Powers to win, than convince those who love Jesus that the tools given for liberation be turned into weapons to destroy the Kingdom?

On Desmond Tutu and Forgiveness

Posted by God Loves Women on March 23, 2014 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written of his journey to forgiving his father for abusing his mother. In an article for the Guardian he says, “I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

 

Karen Ingala-Smith has written an excellent blog critiquing Tutu’s message of forgiveness from an feminist atheist view. I have such deep respect for Karen and her tireless and enormously valuable work on ending male violence against women and girls. Her blog led me to thinking it would be useful to write my own response, from my perspective as a Christian feminist.  (You can read my blog responding to Karen's blog here.)

 

It must be acknowledged that for Archbishop Tutu to witness his father hurting his mother as a child is a terrible thing. Research suggests 750,000 children in the UK witness domestic abuse every year and the effects of such trauma can impact a person throughout their life. I hope my thoughts will in no way invalidate or undermine the pain and suffering of Archbishop Tutu has experienced as a result of his father’s choices. So much of his work and lie are to be admired and respected. As Karen says in her blog, his life has involved much good work. I also hope my thoughts in no way devalue the amazing work he has done and continues to do across the world.

 

I have known the power of forgiveness in my own life. For four years my ex-husband chose to hurt me. His choices left me suicidal, physically and mentally scarred and I only escaped after he assaulted me and my son was born three months premature. The effects of his choices continue to impact my life, with ongoing traumatic responses to what he did and with my children. For me forgiveness has been an enormous sacrifice, but one that has transformed me. I am not defined by what he forced me to become. I am free.

 

The theology I had learned in church about forgiveness and relationships disabled me from making good or safe choices. I met him when I was 17. He sexually manipulated and abuse me and I thought it was “sex before marriage”. I assumed my only way forward, twelve days into the relationship, was to commit my life to him, to marry him. His constant put downs and sexual relationships with other girls were seen by me as an opportunity to show him Jesus’ love. To forgive him and forget. I thought Psalm 51:7 applied to my actions “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” I had to forgive him, to wash away all traces of his choices and then everything would be okay. But it wasn’t okay and I was pregnant within six months and four years later, lived in a hospital with a seriously ill child and a toddler, almost totally dead inside.

 

In that place I learned what it was to lose everything, to hit the end of everything and for me, it was in that place that I found God. And I have been on a journey since then. Part of that journey has been discovering what forgiveness is and what it is not. Forgiveness is never about nullifying the consequences of someone’s choices. It isn’t about reducing their behaviour to something we can justify or explain, in order to make it smaller and easier to accept. It isn’t about a forced feeling that allows us to believe that now “God can forgive us too”.

 

Forgiveness for me started by learning to forgive myself. The shame and abuse I suffered left me filled with self-hatred. To no longer blame myself for my ex-husband’s behaviour, but to fully hold him responsible. To know longer live in denial (which is what the teaching I had been given as a young person really meant; forgiveness equals denial). Then, once I had been through the long and painful journey of holding him fully responsible for his choices, I then chose to forgive him, over and over each time another memory surfaced. And for me that has been the liberation of no longer being defined or controlled by him. I don’t have to be filled with hatred for him, and I’m not. Forgiveness isn’t about letting him off the hook, but rather hoping he will stop hurting others and begin to live a positive life. It is wishing him well within a context of knowing he is currently dangerous and unsafe.

 

It is within that context of my own journey of and belief in forgiveness that I write about the article Archbishop Tutu has written.

 

“…see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

What he writes about is not two people hurting “each other” but one person hurting another person. Though this may seem like semantics, it is important to mention. I have written for EVB about the issue with talk about abuse as a relationship, as a “between” type thing.

 

“Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain.”

Far from this being intellectually true, it is feeding into myths about abuse. Perpetrators do not abuse out of their pain, they abuse because of their beliefs about the person they abuse. They believe they own their partner and are entitled to behave in the ways they do because of this. Rather than this being a statement which holds his father to account, Archbishop Tutu actually justifies those choices.

 

“Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all.”

The Bible does talk of us forgiving others, but I’m not sure it says that others deserve our forgiveness. Surely forgiveness is necessarily a voluntary act. Not because it is deserved, but because the person forgiving has made a choice to do so.

 

“If I traded lives with my father, if I had experienced the stresses and pressures my father faced, if I had to bear the burdens he bore, would I have behaved as he did? I do not know. I hope I would have been different, but I do not know.”

Perpetrators of abuse do not need empathy. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of those who have beliefs of ownership and entitlement and consider that we too may behave in those ways. Forgiveness is not about being able to understand or provide reasons why someone did what they did, it is a choice in the midst of suffering to no longer be defined or held captive to what they have done to us.

 

“Forgiveness is not dependent on the actions of others.”

I do agree with this. It is not in the apologies of the offender that forgiveness is found. We can choose to release them from our hatred regardless of what they do. That is the beauty of it; the offender has absolutely no control over whether we forgive them or not. However, the other side of this is that if someone does apologise, we are under no obligation to reconcile with them. Reconciliation may put us emotionally or physically at risk. No matter how much the offender changes, we as the offended have the right to put in as many safeguards as we need.

 

Of his children, Archbishop Tutu says, “We have been able to forgive them because we have known their humanity. We have seen the good in them.”

The forgiveness we have for our children is different than that of a son forgiving a father. The power differential within all of our relationships must be considered when we think about forgiveness. Likening forgiving my child for keeping me up at night to the forgiveness of a son for the abuse his father perpetrated is not comparable. The power differential and the choice to bring those children into the world means that our relationship and responsibility means we make allowances for them in healthy ways.

 

Of his father he says, “…while his temper pained me greatly, there was so much about him that was loving, wise and witty.”

It is important to understand that abuse is not rooted in anger. It may appear as anger, but as I mentioned before, it is about beliefs. The belief in the inferiority of the person they hurt, that they are an object, a possession to be controlled.

 

“When I reflect back across the years to his drunken tirades, I realise now that it was not just with him that I was angry. I was angry with myself. Cowering in fear as a boy, I had not been able to stand up to my father or protect my mother. So many years later, I realise that I not only have to forgive my father, I have to forgive myself.”

One of the scars of abuse is blaming oneself, of believing oneself capable of impossible action, like that of a boy protecting his mother from his father. That self-blame is a lie. And though it may require self-forgiveness, it is also important to acknowledge that it is a lie that we believe in order to give us some illusion of power in a situation of utter powerlessness.

 

“No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me…We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.”

It is true that no one is born an abuser, however this statement does not take into account the systems which exert themselves on every person. That patriarchy insists men be dominant and that women are owned, is a fundamental system that must be challenged. Men do not abuse because they are hurt and broken, they abuse because a patriarchal system legitimises their choices. It is so important that we never lose sight of this. That Karen Ingala-Smith was left with the understanding that forgiveness enables patriarchal culture is not surprising if this is the message that is being given.

 

“It has taken me many, many years to forgive myself for my insensitivity, for not honouring my father one last time with the few moments he wanted to share with me. Honestly, the guilt still stings.”

It seems the feelings Archbishop Tutu has towards his own actions are more overwhelming the choices his father made to hurt his mother. Earlier in the article he talks of having forgiven himself, but it seems he is still far harder on himself for doing the best he could at that time than he is on his father.

 

In relation to the bad choices each of us make he says, “We can come up with all manner of justifications to excuse what we have done. When we are willing to let down our defences and look honestly at our actions.”

Throughout the article Archbishop Tutu provides many justifications for his father’s choices, yet when he talks of us acknowledging our own choices, he then says excuses and justifications are not okay. Surely we must be willing to apply that same attitude to our forgiveness of others, as we do to asking for forgiveness?

 

For me, it is through Jesus’ model of giving up power and showing what forgiveness and love truly are I have been able to make the choices I have. My experiences of being set free from the abuse I have suffered and my work in ending male violence against women are all rooted in a deep knowledge that it is through love and forgiveness that we will win the war. In Jesus, we see an all-powerful God, who discovered the only way to save humanity was to give up all His power and become weak, vulnerable and powerless. In Jesus, I discovered it is my weakness that is my greatest gift, not my strength.

 

While patriarchy continues to be a power which destroys lives and incites individuals and systems into worldwide oppression and injustice, it is as we live lives of love and refuse to be manipulated into hatred, as we begin to own the power and privilege we have and recognise the responsibility that gives us to empower those with less power, as we choose to forgive in a way that holds people to account, while believing them capable of change, and challenging the societal issues which disable change, it is as we do these things, that we will see transformation.

Female Strength and Patriarchy: A Poem by my mum!

Posted by God Loves Women on September 1, 2013 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

My mum wrote this poem about patriarchy and I thought it was great and asked her if I could put it up here.  She said yes, do enjoy it!


Patriarchy, why are you so afraid of strong women,

Women with the heart to challenge you in the arena

Of words, or anywhere that your physical strength

Is of no significance?  Why do you need to control

Women?  Are they such a threat to you?

We are all, male and female, prey

To the patriarchs, they believe we must

Bow before their scathing, belittling

Words and deeds, their domination – No!

We will not be cowed into submission

Nor preyed upon by those who seek

Us out like missiles, homing in on us.

Our shield shall be the truth

That no woman or man owns another.

The spectrum of human nature is wide

For human beings no trait is purely male,

None solely female either.  Forget

What has been passed down to you,

Start afresh, embrace equality for all.

Men and women cannot be owned by anyone

They are free.  All women can be strong women

But not all realise their power yet, we who know

Our strength, must build up our unknowing sisters

With words of encouragement, and knowledge

Of the true reality of patriarchy, which tries to

Imprison women in the cage of a manufactured

And false femininity.  Wake up sisters, from the dream

Be the women you were meant to be,

And you men who are awake to the fake superiority

That you have been fed from birth and ancestry,

Arise and join your sisters, help to free

Your brothers from patriarchy and false masculinity.

Patriarchs will not concede easily but injustice will not

Win the day, it will fail as long as we stay strong.

Justice will always triumph in the end and

Our words will remain long after we are gone.

 

 

Dear Marilyn

Posted by God Loves Women on June 6, 2013 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Dear Marilyn,

 

(I don’t actually know if your name is Marilyn, but I wanted to give you a name, because you’re a person and you matter).

 

I met you on the train tonight.  You sat down next to me and then your partner made you move so he could sit next to you.  I could see him being unkind to you and making you cry.  I saw you try to stand up to him and the way he made you shrink.  I could see him become worse and I saw that other man, Kevin (I’m going to call him Kevin, even though I’m not sure what his real name was…) watch what was going on and stand up and get ready to intervene.  And I got ready to intervene too.

 

And suddenly Kevin was asking your partner if he “was alright mate?” and your partner was telling him to “f*ck off and not get involved.” I stood up and asked you if you were okay.  You said you weren’t and that you were scared and wanted to get away.  I asked you to come and stand with me, but even though you wanted to, your partner wouldn’t let you.  I asked if you wanted me to call the police and you said you did, then your partner was calling me a “f*cking………” and I was ringing the police and stopping the train and your partner was whispering and suddenly you wanted me to stop phoning the police and tried to sort everything out.  I know you were being brave.  I know you were trying to protect yourself and me by calming him down.  I know you were trying your best to make everything okay again.

 

Then we all got off the train and Kevin was really kind to me and didn’t leave until the police arrived.  And your partner was shouting at me, and you were trying to calm him down and telling the police that “it was just talking”.  And I saw your black eye under your make up and I saw how he hurts you.

 

Then the police said you didn’t want to do anything about your partner and I went on a different train home to you and then that was it.

 

Well Marilyn I wanted to tell you that you are really really brave.  That I know you were trying your best to make everything okay.  I’m sorry that when you got home he probably hurt you a lot, and says it’s your fault.  But Marilyn, it’s not your fault.  It’s his fault.  He chose to hurt you and that is not okay.  I know I couldn’t stop him and that the police didn’t arrest him, and that he’s done this to you before.

 

I know you might think I’m a nosy stranger, getting involved in your business and making things worse.  But please, please, please, know that I tried to help because you are so so important.  That you are valuable and worth so much.  Kevin and I didn’t get involved to make your life difficult, we stood up and spoke out to show you what your partner was doing is wrong.  And maybe nobody has ever shown you that before.

 

I know we will probably never see each other again, but I wanted to write to you and tell you that you matter, you’re important and anytime you need me to, I’ll stand up for you again.

 

Love Natalie x

 

 

Please don't undermine the broken hearted

Posted by God Loves Women on November 21, 2012 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Yesterday was a heartbreaking one for many. Although I am not in an Anglican Church, I deeply feel the pain of women being yet again declared lesser. Throughout the discussions both before the vote and afterwards, one of the things I have found most sad was people saying, “never mind Women Bishops, what about the killing and atrocities in Gaza?” and “chill out everyone, it’s only the legislation that didn’t go through”.


And in those words, in those statements broken hearted people are undermined and the fight to see equality in all places is ignored. I am passionate about seeing women and men able to fulfil their calling, not as an isolated cause, not because I don’t see the full reality of suffering out there, not because I’m some poncy white person who doesn’t have anything better to do (I mean I am a white person, but I like to imagine I’m not poncy... ) I am passionate about seeing equality because the more unequal a society is, the more violence against women there is.


There is a direct correlation between there not being an equal number of men and women in positions of authority and the amount of violence against women in society.


“What?!” I hear you cry, “This cannot be so, clearly Mrs GLW, you are being overly dramatic.”


I am not being over dramatic. The foundations of violence against women are that of the ownership of women by men, and the entitlement of men over women. Wherever we see this dynamic worked out, we see violence against women in many forms. Whether it be FGM, rape, domestic abuse, bride burning, forced marriage, female infanticide, or the many other forms of abuse and oppression, it is primarily about ownership of women and entitlement over women.


Hear me correctly; I’m not saying all those against Women Bishops are directly abusive. I’m not saying they are all sexist people. But by apposing the full equality, in opportunity as well as in value of women and men, is to contribute to a patriarchal power structure, to contribute to the ownership of women and entitlement over women. I do not say this with any malice, or to be offensive, but as the reality that it is.


Then I hear people saying “there are much more important things than whether women get to be bishops” or see tweets that suggest we should “chill out” it breaks my heart. I constantly meet women from the Church who have been raped, abused and degraded, I met a woman this weekend who had looked down the barrel of her husband’s gun as he told her that she was about to die. This vote was about women like her, women like me, women across the world and throughout the UK who have or are experiencing abuse.


I’m not saying that having Women Bishops in and of itself will stop violence against women singlehandedly, but it will contribute. Just as the “Say no to page 3” campaign will and the legal system working well will and the charities working to support women continuing to be funded will, it takes all of us to do all we can if we are to see it ended.


Please don’t undermine people’s pain by saying there are more important battles, or that we should chill out, because this is part of a much bigger battle and every loss means there will continue to be women staring down the barrel of guns, being told they are about to die by the person who is supposed to love them the most.

Abuse, faith and secular culture: Friend or Foe?

Posted by God Loves Women on October 25, 2012 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (0)

I was speaking at this conference today and thought it would be good to make my talk available to everybody!!!


You can read it here.

Letter from a Pastor; How not to respond to a woman experiencing abuse.

Posted by God Loves Women on September 5, 2012 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (6)

The following email was sent by a pastor to a woman who is being abused by her husband.  Her husband has been extremely abusive to her and she is seeking to escape from him.  All names and identifying details have been removed, but the recipient of the email has said she would like people to see the reality of how Church Leaders are unequipped to respond appropriately in cases of abuse.  As you read this email, you may think that some of the pastor's comments or thoughts are correct.  I would suggest that for a couple struggling with relationship difficulties they might be, but where there is abuse, it is not the relationship that needs dealing with, but rather the abuser.


Hi Hannah,

 

I hope you are doing well, despite going through these difficulties in your marriage.  I thought about responding to your last email; the one you sent after another incident with Saul where you called 911, and where afterwards someone gave you some information about not staying with an abusive partner.

 

But to be honest, to me it looked like you had made up your mind and that you yourself are looking for a way out of the marriage.  I don't know everything that has gone on between the two of you, but I do feel as though I know both of you fairly well in some degree.  I know Saul well enough to know that he is a believer who loves the Lord, and has changed in many ways from the way he was.  However, I also know that he is a work in progress as we all are.  He tries to look at many Scriptures with his Saul's Way glasses on.  He is certainly not perfect, and he does have his quirks, and inappropriateness, but I also know he is not an aggressive or violent person.  He is stubborn and often pig headed, and doesn't like to lose an argument, but I can say the exact same thing of many people, including yourself.  I do not believe you are afraid of Saul physically, rather frustrated and tired of how he often goes about things.

 

I also know that you are a believer who loves the Lord, and has had many great experiences in ministry.  However, you too are a work in progress.  You also, like Saul, like to try to look at certain Scriptures, and interpret them to fit what you want.   

 

You two are very different people--different cultures, different families, different ways of looking at the Bible, different ideas of what is appropriate.  So many different things.  But something brought you two together.  If you don't remember, it was your love and passion for our Lord Jesus.  I think you often forget that and focus instead on all the negative things in Saul--his past, his quirks, his inappropriateness.  (Some of these things he can change, and needs to work on changing, but others, like his past, he can't change, and you simply need to accept, forgive and try to forget.)

 

Hannah, I believe that you need to be honest, and decide whether or not you are committed to this marriage--"in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live".  If you are, then you will try to make things work, rather than always running away (often months at a time) and pointing out the negative, you will need to start working on the strengths and focusing on the positive.  What is going on now cannot help this goal.  Saul is not physical abusive to you.  He can be incredibly frustrating and mentally annoying, but not physically abusive.  And in regards to verbal abuse, in our counselling together, I have witnessed just as much verbal abuse coming from your lips, as I have from his.

 

If you don't want to be married to Saul anymore, then just be honest and tell him you made a mistake--that you don't want to be with him.  Don't try and find loop holes in the Bible for your mistake or lack of commitment.

 

The fact is, Jesus said that the only reason Moses made a concession to allow for divorce, in the case of physical adultery, was because the people's hearts were hard.  This is not what God intends.  If you are looking for a way out of your marriage, then your heart is not in the right place--it is hard.

 

Now, I know that if you decide to honour your marriage commitment, it will not be easy--nothing worth saving is easy.  It will demand a lot of love, grace, patience, work and sacrifice on both parts. Did I mention grace and patience.  But I believe anything is possible with God.  And I know that God's will is that you marriage commitment be honoured, worked on, and be something that brings love and joy to both of you.

 

The last thing I want to do is get in the middle of this very dysfunctional marriage again.  But if I can help the both of you, I would consider it an honour, especially if it will bring peace, joy and love to both your lives.  I hope you know that the tone of this letter is one of love and wanting to help a sister and brother in the Lord.

 

Blessings and prayers,

 

Pastor Phillip


(P.S.  I don't know whether or not you know, but Saul is going in for his major knee surgery on September 13th.  I thought you would want to know so you could be praying for him and his recovery.  Please feel free to reply or call me anytime.


What would you say to this pastor to challenge him?


What words of encouragement do you have for the woman seeking safety?


How do we change Church culture so emails like this no longer get sent?


The woman in Costa

Posted by God Loves Women on February 6, 2012 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Today I was sat tweeting in Costa while my phone charged and suddenly I heard a woman’s voice slightly raised on the table next to me.  I turned to see a man with his back to me and a woman on the other side of the table, talking to him,

 

“You’ve hit me before!  What you want me to stop talking so loud?!  Don’t you think people should know what you’ve done?”  

 

Suddenly my entire attention became focused on the table next to me and the interaction of the two people sitting there.  What could I do?  How could I let this woman know that there’s help out there?  That what he's doing to her is wrong?  I decided to wait, and pray for an opportunity to speak to her.  

 

And as I sat there waiting and praying, all I could do was listen to the conversation unfolding next to me.

 

Her: “Why do you keep doing this to me?  You said you’d stop drinking!  You keep doing all these things to me”

 

Him: “I came here expecting you were going to apologise to me, and you’re trying to make it all my fault!”  

 

He kept employing the “quiet voice” tactic; keeping his voice low, so she sounds like a hysterical woman to everyone else, while he whispers offensive names and other nasty things under his breath.  

 

Her: “I just want to fix things, I know it’s not always you, it is partly me…”

 

Him: “You’re always making it worse, why do you make it worse…?!”

 

I sat there, praying and asking others on twitter to pray,  that I would have the opportunity to speak to her.  At one point she got up, ready to leave, but he convinced her to sit back down.  I packed up my bag and wrote a note with my name, email, address, phone number and the details of Lundy Bancroft’s book "Why Does He Do That?"

 

She was so articulate and so good at putting across her point.  And yet he constantly undermined her.  

 

So I waited and prayed and prayed and waited.  And eventually she stood up to leave.  He stayed sat down and she walked away, I stood up and gave her my note and told her I might be able to help, that she could contact me.  The man stayed sat down and didn’t follow her so I walked down the stairs and said to her,

“I work with domestic abuse, I might be able to help.  My ex-husband was abusive…I’ve written down a book that might help you on that note.”

 

She looked at me and quickly said, “Oh no!  It’s not domestic abuse!  It’s just unresolved issues, that’s all!”  Then she hurried off.

 

I walked towards my train, heartbroken again by the reality of how men can break women so totally, without consequence or challenge.  Painfully aware of how I once was a woman who refused to accept my ex-husband was abusive.  The sadness I felt was heavy and consuming.

 

And yet, even in that pain and sadness, I praised God that I was able to give her some information.  That an opportunity was provided and just maybe this opportunity will enable the woman to move forward.  I will continue to believe there is hope, that she can be restored and freed.

 

I got home, my heart still heavy, and began to read with hope again rising the story of how Carl Beech and Dean Gray had challenged an abusive man on the underground; I was reminded that there are men and women across the UK and beyond challenging violence against women, bringing freedom and hope to women and children.  If each one of us sees every opportunity as a chance to make a difference, we will do just that.  If each one of us doesn’t just stand by when we hear, see or learn of abuse and violence, we will make a difference!

 

I happened to get a text from a friend just now and even though she didn’t know about this situation she had sent me the following verse:

 

“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore my beloved be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 15:57-58]

 

If you pray, please do pray for the woman I met today, let her and any children she has find hope and freedom and for the man who is choosing to continue abusing her to be held accountable and challenged, knowing that nothing we do for God is in vain!