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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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.

Mr GLW's first EVER blog: Pastors vs. Campaigners

Posted by God Loves Women on May 22, 2014 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

My husband (Mr GLW) has asked me to host his first blog here.  Hope you all find it useful!

 

So, this is the first blog I have ever written. I confess, I don’t read too many other blogs so I’m hoping and praying this follows any “rules of blogging” which may, or may not, exist. My wife, Mrs GLW is very good at blogging and blogs frequently. We often read and comment on each others work before it goes to press but I’ve asked Mrs GLW to only correct the spelling and any really bad grammar in this blog as I want to be as unbiased as I can.

 

I felt the need to write this blog as Mrs GLW and many other campaigners (I’ll define what a campaigner is very soon, just hang in there) were getting very negative feedback and comments especially from pastors. Now, to be fair, any campaigner expects a fair amount of flack, which is very unfair as they do such a good job and change the world. But a lot of pastors, specifically pastors were taking issue with Tweets and blogs and the like from campaigners. This set me thinking about why these two groups of marvellous people are at such loggerheads over important issues. And so this blog is my thoughts. Let’s go for it!

 

Firstly, a couple of things I’d like to say (before I say lots of other things): Not all pastors are having a go at campaigners. They are not natural enemies. I just noticed out of all the negative comments Mrs GLW and her campaigner friends get, a fair percentage were from pastors. I didn’t scientifically measure it but was there. Also, even though I’m going to, I’m not a great lover of labelling people. I think personality types have a role but I do understand that people are complex and saying “you have an X personality therefore you think like this” isn’t doing God’s varied creation any favours. I’m also not saying that people are either a pastor or a campaigner. I’m neither and again, these are only broad terms.

 

Also, dear reader, you may recognise yourself in this blog. If you do, that’s unintentional. I did write this blog from my real life experiences but it’s certainly, honestly not aimed at anyone in particular. Honestly.

 

I’m also going to talk about victims and perpetrators. Now in case you didn’t know, Mrs GLW and I campaign to end violence against women. And coming from that world (I call it the EVAW World) I do know better than to use the term “victim”. There are much better words that describe people who have suffered at the hands of all different types of perpetrators. However, if you don’t mind, I’m going to stick with victims, just this once, as I want to capture a whole host of campaigns, not just our one and victims seems to be the best word (just this once).

 

So what’s what? What is a campaigner and what is a pastor? Like all of us, my definition of any thing really is shaped by what I’ve experienced. In the grand scheme of things, I probably haven’t experienced a lot. Because I’m married to a campaigner and live in a world were I interact with more campaigners than pastors, I know a lot more about campaigners. So I’ll start with pastors first.

 

A pastor, some times called a Vicar, Minister, Preacher, Pope is basically a church leader. The stereotypical ones stand at the front and spout forth God’s word on a Sunday morning. They are very very good at loving everyone and anyone. They want their church or group to be open and welcoming to everyone. They love the victim and the perpetrator and both are welcome. Shouldn’t we all love everyone, I hear you ask? Well yes, but remember this point for later. Most of the pastors I’ve come across are very good speakers. I think it’s part of their training.

 

You don’t have to be spouting God’s word on a Sunday morning to be a pastor Many people I’ve met are pastors but aren’t ordained, they don’t have or go to a church. They are made to be pastors though and some may be doing God’s work in a place far from the church, like a bank or the government (only joking!). But they all have a pastor mentality – that they love everyone.

 

So what is a campaigner? Listen and we will hear (a little C of E joke there). A campaigner is someone who is very passionate about a particular subject or cause. They will use any opportunity to tell anyone about it. Sadly, they can sometimes come across as fanatical, always taking about that one and only subject, especially on their days off. (Though like pastors, campaigners never seem to get a day off!) They may not get many opportunities to speak because they come across as slightly mad and, let’s be honest, we all know what they’re going to speak about anyway! Sometimes, campaigners aren’t as articulate as our pastor brothers and sisters (in Jesus, obviously). This is normally due to lack of training which may not be possible due to time or finance or both. Importantly, campaigners are on the side of the victim. The immediate welfare and the restoration (big Christian word there) of victims are their primary and sometimes only focus. They can sometimes come across as hating or having no compassion or love for the perpetrator. They can appear judgemental towards one particular group, normally those they may be campaigning against.

 

I’ll give you a real like example. I haven’t changed any names to protect the innocent as I haven’t mention any.

 

I was in church the other Sunday and it was prayer time. Our minister sent up a few general prayers then asked a particular women if she would pray for a particular country way out east which is going through some problems at the moment. This women had left England some years ago to set up an orphanage in this country way out east and quite rightly she was best placed to pray for this county way…you know where.

 

I smiled as her prayer turned in to a mini sermon about the needs of the people she was serving. She stumbled her way through a list of what needed changing in that country (mostly the government of a bigger country next door) and what her centre needed to survive. I also, disappointingly, noticed a few people sighing and rolling their eyes to heaven. A good reason to always pray with your eyes closed. She was a true campaigner being given a rare opportunity to share her God given passion.

 

That Sunday’s prayer time (it’s not really called that in our church) brought home to me how sometimes campaigners are perceived: The passion perceived as rambling on about that same subject for far too long, given half a chance. The wants and needs of the cause being seen as perhaps something else to donate to. The way she was ranting at a government (aren’t all governments allowed by God? Even UKIP?) And yes, she wasn’t the most eloquent speaker in town, especially compared with the pastor. I suppose it was that Sunday that was a light bulb moment for me. It really helped me connect the dots on why these clashes between pastors and campaigners occur.

 

(Just so you know, there was no clash between our pastor and campaigner-woman. I’m sure our pastor knew what was going to happen when he asked her to pray and I salute him for letting her do so.)

 

And so here’s where the clash occurs: love. Not to trivialise but to explain, (and this is a well known story for many in Campaigning World) most of Mrs GLW’s clashes go like this: a Christian organisation or a well know individual makes a comment which does not help the EVAW cause. Mrs GLW nicely (she can do nice, normally on only Mondays and Wednesdays for some odd reason) informs the person or organisation why their comment is problematic. Sometimes they come back “I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise. Thanks for the advice.” and life’s merry (at least for a few hours). Other times a Twitter mini riot ensues and many people will accuse Mrs GLW and other campaigners of basically not being loving, either towards other Christians or those poor perpetrators (sarcasm intended). And perhaps oddly, or not if you’ve read the above, many pastors are in the “You’re not being loving!” brigade.

 

So here’s the whole crux of this blog: I think that a lot of pastor type people think that campaigner type people don’t love perpetrators. Not true. I know many courageous people who have been seriously harmed in many ways by a perpetrator and have whole heartedly forgiven them. I also know that the vast majority of campaigners are very aware of the principalities and powers of this word that encourage bad behaviour. They just don’t condone the behaviour and want it to stop.

 

A cute example: Smaller GLW (our youngest child if you’re not into Twitter speak) sometimes has a paddy and throws things and himself around. I love him deeply but I still tell him to stop this bad behaviour because he may hurt himself, or more likely, someone else. I’m not judgemental towards him as I’m aware of his age, his immaturity (compared with an adult. Well, most adults) and why certain situations set him off (normally Small GLW, his sister). I think I’m right in saying this a very typical parent’s way of thinking.

 

So is it as simple as that? Pastors are designed (by God) to love everyone and they expect campaigners (and others too) to love everyone and never say a bad word against anybody?

 

Well for starters, most campaigners I’ve come across do love “the other side”. It may not be the “Let’s all be bestest friends!” sort of love. In most cases of past abuse, that wouldn’t be appropriate or helpful. But there are a lot of people who once experienced horrific abuse who now forgive the abuser. They may never want to interact with the abuser again but that act of forgiveness is still love.

 

I believe that campaigners are made to see what and who needs changing in the world. Pastors are made to love and welcome everybody. They were both made this way by God to complement the Kingdom. Jesus, who I believe contained every personality type as he was 100% God and we were made in God’s image, displays both pastor and campaigner (and many other) traits from what we read about Him in the Bible.

 

So what’s the way forward? Once we really recognise and properly appreciate our different jobs and roles in The Kingdom, this should lessen the pressure on ourselves when we see a brother or sister (in Jesus) doing something we don’t agree with. Perhaps our first question shouldn’t be “Should they be doing that?” it should be “Are they being called to do that?”

 

At this present time, with the current setup in our churches, pastors are gatekeepers a lot more of the time than campaigners. They have more power to decide who preaches and who doesn’t. And because pastors are, well, pastors, you’re always get a pastor’s perspective in a Sunday sermon. I’ve noticed we’re all drawn to parts of the Bible that fit comfortably with our personality type or our calling. Therefore it figures that pastors will always bring a pastor’s perspective to any preach. Now, a few notes about what I’ve just said: Yes I know we have PCCs, Elders, Deacons etc. but in most churches pastors do have a big say. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Also “power” is sometimes a dirty word. A lot of people won’t acknowledge they have power and therefore won’t use it appropriately and that in itself is not helpful. Mrs GLW went on a course about this and is much more qualified to talk about this than I am. Suffice to say, recognise the power you do have (and we all do) and use it for His work.

 

Anyway, to get back on track, pastors – please recognise those campaigners in your mist and allow them to speak. Recognise that historically most campaigners were shunned and ridiculed by the establishment. Don’t be the establishment!

Bring on the Clitoris

Posted by God Loves Women on May 14, 2014 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

There’s been recent Christian coverage of “Same Sex Attraction” (SSA) from various media outlets. All the articles that I have read share the stories of people who identify as same sex attracted and talk of their journeys to dealing with this. There is much to discuss about the term “Same Sex Attraction” and what it says about certain parts of the Christian community. However, that it not what I wanted to write about.

 

What I want to talk about is how all the stories are about men. Men who struggle with their feelings of attraction to other men. About how they have chosen to stay celibate or worked to a place of choosing to be in a relationship with a woman. Women only appear in these stories as wives or girlfriends. I have yet to read a story of a woman who identifies as “Same Sex Attracted”. Perhaps it could be suggested that only men are in this area of Christian culture which sees Same Sex Attraction as a thing. However, I think this is highly unlikely given the amount of women in all parts of the church. I think it is much more probable that the stories of female sexuality remain untold.

 

Similarly any talk in the church about masturbation is rarely addressed as an issue for people, but rather as a “man problem”.

 

I’m often known to bring vaginas up in public (if this has produced images of me vomiting up vaginas, I apologise). Though anyone who has been on the receiving end of my vagina conversations may have thought I was engaged in hilarity, which is always partially the case in most everything I talk about. It is in fact for a more serious reason that I talk about vaginas. Namely because nobody does. For many women who have experienced abuse from a partner, derogatory comments about their vagina will have shamed and humiliated them. For others the corporate shame of Christian culture or purity messages have left them feeling there is something wrong with them, combined with the fact that there are very few names for a vagina that don’t cause people to turn up their noses at the very idea its existence can leave so many women ashamed of this particularly wonderful part of God’s creation.

 

Women, we are in possession of the only organ ever designed purely for sexual pleasure and God made it. When God looked on creation, She didn’t say everything was “very good” except for Eve’s lady garden! She said it was all VERY GOOD! I spoke to a sex educator the other day. She had asked why vaginas had hair on them until the last few years, when girls and women became hairless Down There. One of the girls suggested that it must have been because razors weren’t invented ten years ago.

 

Shall we just sit with that for a minute?

 

Hairy vaginas are a result of the razor not being invented. This is what actual girls in the UK think. Then there are the teenage boys, who don’t even know girls grow hair. Who think girls with hair are abnormal. Welcome to the world where pornography forms the bulk of sex education for many young people.

 

We need to reclaim our sexuality women! To own it and embrace that part of identity. We need to be honest about the ways the world, the church and our experiences have damaged us. For our own lives and for the next generation, let us begin to acknowledge how deeply we have been wounded and bring on the revolution, bring on the clitoris!

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.

Are UK Christian Conferences Sexist?

Posted by God Loves Women on November 13, 2013 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (18)

After the hoo-hah that began when “The Nines” Leadership Conference chose to have only 4 female speakers while having 110 male speakers, was brought to public attention yesterday by Rachel Held Evans yesterday, @jonathonmerritt, a US blogger collated the male and female speakers at various high profile US Christian conferences. Helen Austin (@helen_a13- the blogger formally known as Fragmentz) mentioned that it would be useful to have a UK version, so the two of us set about doing this, with some help from various people giving us suggestions of conferences to include.

 

Where possible we’ve sourced the information about speakers from the online recordings after the events. Where that hasn’t been possible, we’ve looked at the contributors listed for future events. We have included the number of women and men who contributed, and the overall amount of presentations done by men and women (some speakers contribute multiple times). We’ve included married couples who spoke together as “couples” and have mentioned other interesting things like whether the women who are contributors are married to men who are also contributors. 

 

We have done our best to gather the correct information, please do email me on [email protected] if there are ay alternations or additions.  So here goes...

 

Spring Harvest 2013 (Minehead 1)

27 men (69%) | Women 12 (31%)

Presentations by: Men 59 (71%) | Women 23 (29%) | [Couples 3]

 

New Wine 2013 (London South East)

Mainstage: 14 men (82%) | 3 women (18%) (67% of the women were married to male conference speakers)

Overall: 65 men (68%) | Women 30 (32%) (48% of women were speaking about relationships, children, abuse etc.)

Presentations by: Men 96 (73%) | Women 35 (27%) | [Couples 25]

 

 

Greenbelt 2013 (confirmed by conference organisers)

71 men (61%) | 45 women (39%)

Presentations by: Men 132 (65%) Women 72 (35%)| [Couples 1]

 

 

Keswick 2013

21 men (100%) 0 women (0%)

 

HTB Leadership Conference 2013

Mainstage: 5 men (83%) | 1 woman (17%)

Overall: 36 men 36 (84%) | 7 women (16%)

Presentations by: Men 48 (87%) Women 7 (13%) (57% of women were on a panel with at least 4 men each) (1 woman married to a male speaker at the conference)

 

Detling 2013 (information from website speaker profiles)

13 men (72%) | 5 women (18%) | [5 couples]

 

Hillsong Conference 2014 (information from website)

4 men (80%) | 1 woman (20%) (she is married to a male speaker at the conference) | [1 couple]

 

Westpoint 2013 (updated by Dave Bish, who spoke at the event)

14 men (88%) | 2 women (12%) (1 co-led a seminar, another married to a male speaker at the conference)

Presentations by: Men 22 (92%) | Women 2 (9%)

 

CNMAC 2013 (from website speaker profiles)

Mainstage: 7 men (70%) | 3 women (30%)

Overall: 25 men (71%) | 10 women (29%)

 

Creation Fest 2013

27 men (87%) | 4 women (13%)

Presentations by: Men 53 (90%) Women 6 (10%) [Couples 5]

 

Faithcamp

Mainstage: 5 men (83%) | 1 woman (17%) (she is married to a male conference speaker)

Mainstage presentations by: Men 11 (91%) | Women1 (9%)

General: 14 men (70%) | 6 women (30%)

General presentations by: Men 34 (76%) Women 11 (24%) (18% were on “women’s issues” )

 

Youthwork Summit 2013 (figures updated by Martin Saunders, conference organiser, who has said it was deliberate to ensure this gender balance)

15 men (48%) | 16 women (52%) [1 couple]

 

Youthwork Conference 2014 (Taken from website contributors list)

20 men (65%) | 11 women (35%)

 

Momentum 2013

24 men 24 (77%) | 7 women 7 (23%)

Presentations by: Men 63 (75%) Women 21 (25%) (57% of female speakers were married to male conference speakers)

 

Soul Survivor 2013

21 men 21 (70%) | 9 women (30%) (33% of female speakers were married to male conference speakers)

Presentations by: Men 58 (73%) Women 22 (27%)

 

Newday 2013

16 men (70%) | 7 women (30%) (1 female speaker was married to a male speaker - 14%)

Presentations by: Men 19 (67%) Women 9 (33%)

 

One Event 2013 (formally Grapevine)

Mainstage: 8 men (89%) | 1 woman (11%)

Seminars: 6 couples running 6 seminar streams

 

Baptist assembly 2014 (from website contributors)

3 men (75%) | 1 woman (25%)

 

Word Alive 2014 (from website contributors)

4 men (80%) | 1 woman (20%)

 

National Day Of Prayer 2013 (from website round up of the day)

14 men (88%) | 2 women (12%)

 

Street Angels CNI Conference 2013 (from Paul Blakey, conference organiser)

6 men (50%) | 6 women (50%) | 1 couple

 

Global Connections 2014 (information from Eddie Arthur, involved in conference organising)

1 man (50%) | 1 woman (50%) (conference will include more discussion, less front led content)

 

New Horizon

37 men (86%) | Women 6 (14%)

Presentations by: Men 64 (86%) | Women 10 (14%) | [Couple 1]

 

 

Big Church Day Out 2013 (confirmed by Wendy Beech-Ward)

6 men (75%) | 2 women (25%) | 4 all male bands | 4 collectives (mainly men with some women)

(These were musicians rather than speakers)

 

Church and Media Conference 2013 (confirmed by Andrew Graystone, conference organiser)

4 men (44%) | 5 women (56%) 

 

Children and Families Conference 2013 (late addition to the list)

Presentations by: 19 men (61%) | 12 women (39%)

 

We were unable to gather any data on the Christian Resources Exhibition.

 

Some great responses to these stats are:

"On the Youth Work Summit and female speakers" by Martin Saunders

"Where are the women?" by Jenny Baker

"Hate Something, Change Something" by Steve Holmes

"Thoughts on Quotas" by Jenny Baker

"On Sexism and Events: An Organisers Perspective" by Kevin Bennett

 

Thanks to Hannah Mudge (@boudledidge) for helping with these charts!!

CNMAC: Some Thoughts...

Posted by God Loves Women on November 11, 2013 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (5)

You may have seen a blog I wrote last month about the Christian New Media Awards 2013 (CNMAC). At the time I began formulating some thoughts about the Christian Twitter World (not sure if I should capitalise it, as if it were an actual organised entity, but I have… ). Many conversations with some lovely people and some time with the Lord later, I thought it would be good to try and formulate my thoughts into a blog. So welcome along to the thought train (begins dancing around the room singing about the thought train to the tune of “love train” by the O’Jays…sits down calmly and begins writing.)

 

I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years and I love it! I have met many of my Twitter friends, meeting for dinner, going to their house for tea (Mr GLW was rather concerned about this one, but it turned out she was a great cook, fun friend and not a raging psychopath), meeting at events like The Gathering of Women Leaders, and other such frivolity filled places. I would consider some of my best friends to be people I met through Twitter. Alongside meeting people offline, Twitter is a place I have been challenged and encouraged, prayed for and loved, and where I hope I have offered such things to others. A significant amoung of where I am spiritually, politically and philosophically has come through interactions on Twitter and through reading people’s blogs. All in all, I think Twitter is fabulous.

 

However, (there’s always a however, isn’t there…?) when the experiences I have online become labelled with a hashtag, talked about in terms of increasing my “platform” or when people I consider to be my friends and fellow travellers on the journey of life (those whom I follow or who follow me) are turned into a currency of either influence or a measurement of my value, I feel sick.

 

You’d have thought that my love of Twitter would have led me to feel excited and hopeful about the CNMAC conference last week. However, after aring my view on the awards I began feeling uncomfortable about the conference as well. I did attend the conference in 2012 and although the Twitter banter through the day was amazing, I only briefly connected offline with a couple of people I knew from Twitter. I found the conference really hurt my brain (not in a “good and thinking” type way; in a bad, “I can’t read twitter, follow a twitterfall, respond to Twitter, and listen to a speaker all at once” way.) I felt lonely and sad and disconnected all at once. The best point of the day was randomly having tea with some fun people, who had to endure my moaning about needing food *immediately*.

 

Why is it that Twitter can be such an amazing place, but CNMAC, a gathering focussed on doing “digitally better” can leave me feeling lonely and alienated? Then a thought struck me (not like actually physically hit me, more like a slow dawning realisation… ).  There are two main groups on Twitter.

 

  1. The Car Enthusiasts. They love their car, they like to make improvements on their cars and have the best cars they can. They want to attend car conventions to talk about how amazing their cars are and visit stalls which give them handy tips on maximising the output of their cars. They polish their cars, talk about their cars and enjoy their cars.
  2. The Journeyers. These people like hanging out with their friends. In fact, they like journeying with their friends. And to do that they need a car. The Journeyers, don’t really care about the car, as long as it doesn’t breakdown. But all the car is to them is a vehicle with which to go on a journey with their friends.

 

I’m always a bit worried about labelling people. In fact, I refuse to be labelled, hate “Myers Briggs” and even mute my SatNav so it can’t tell me what to do (you may laugh, but I am following the map, not being told where to go. Hmph!!). So please don’t take my two categories as rigid, immovable ideas. They are purely an illustration, and I doubt many people fit into either of the two categories fully.

 

I am a Journeyer. Twitter and blogging for me is about enjoying the journey with a group of people, some I agree with fully, some I rarely agree with, but still they all make the journey what it is, and actually together our discussions may change the direction of the journey and I find myself going on a whole new route because of the conversations going on in the car.

 

I feel that the CNMAC agenda and organisation is run primarily by Car Enthusiasts. Their explicit aim is one of excellence. One which makes sense for having a good car, but less so for having a good journey (I guess having an excellent car may make the journey smoother, but actually for me an old banger adds to the character of the journey, even if it is a bumpier ride). I feel disengaged from the CNMAC conference and awards not because there is anything wrong with them per se, but because their aims for social media are not my aims and they get excited about totally different things than the things I get excited about.

 

I worry that by posting this blog, I may upset people.  They may feel a) I’m falsely dividing people and b) I’m wrong. However, I feel in order to clarify my thoughts, this blog explains where I’m currently at. But hey, hop in the car with me and let’s discuss it further.

Book Review: The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

Posted by God Loves Women on October 28, 2013 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

The wonderful Leslie Vernick asked me if I would be willing to read and review her new book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”. If you would like to buy the book, you can do so here.

 

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the author, Leslie Vernick is a licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach who has been working supporting people for over thirty years. She’s written several books and does much public speaking and media work, mainly across the US. I met Leslie a few years ago in Canada and have much respect for her and the work she does.  You can find out more about her from her website and follow her on twitter.

 

Overall I found the book to be tremendously helpful and a really practical resource for many women trying to cope in the midst of a destructive marriage. It is written from a conservative evangelical position and is the first book about domestic abuse I have read from that perspective that I would feel able to recommend. For those coming from a less conservative faith context, or those who hold a feminist viewpoint, this book may not be your cup of tea. However if you know women from the conservative Christian community who are suffering abuse, this would be an ideal book to encourage them to read.

 

Leslie uses real life examples from her counselling practice alongside a wide range of Biblical texts, exploring both specific verses and wider themes across Scripture. She does this well and with much thought, however as her Biblical approach sits within a conservative understanding of Scripture it may not be helpful for those with a more liberal hermeneutic.

 

I think for a lot of women, this book is a powerful tool in empowering them and giving them the knowledge they need to move their lives forward. Leslie’s advice is very wise and helpful for women in many situations, however for those with high risk perpetrators who may be experiencing high levels of control, the solutions within the book are unlikely to be helpful. Personally, I found Leslie’s approach to women being able to change their situation really challenging. On the one hand, I truly believe women need to be empowered and enabled to make their own choices, but many women I have worked with are so controlled, and have so little power, that asserting themselves could put them at serious risk. I am still mulling over the ideas proposed by Leslie and trying to decide whether the issues are in my own preconceptions, or within the book itself, but regardless of this, I feel that for many women whose partners are not high risk offenders, the book will be an invaluable resource.  In fact, I have since lent the book to a Christian woman who is currently seperated from her abusive husband, and she had told me the book is amazing and is really making a difference to her.  She has told me "I can't put it down, it's amazing!"

 

With my feminist head on (if that is such a thing...) I found some of the language and lack of a wider critique of society and culture unhelpful, but as the intended audience is not a feminist one, I think the author has pitched the content just right. I am so grateful to Leslie for writing a book that I can recommend to women experiencing abuse who say to me “I don’t want this but God/the Church/my Pastor says I can’t leave” and pray that God would use the book and Leslie’s wisdom to impact many women, men and churches.

Seven reasons you should read Vicky Walker's book

Posted by God Loves Women on February 17, 2013 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Vicky Walker is a wonderful friend of mine and she has written a really good book called "Do I have to be good all the time?" about being a single woman in the Church and I felt I should share with you all why you should read it...


1.    It is very funny and made me laugh out loud on the train.


2.    It is very profound; her chapter on grace had me almost in tears on the train. (I read a lot on the train).


3.    She manages to say really powerful things about how women interact with one another and within church, without being as ranty as I would be.


4.    She is a woman with a wonderful heart and a lot of wisdom.


5.    She let me stay at her house and gave me grapes she had frozen and, although that offer may not be open to everyone who reads her book, it shows she is a very nice person.


6.    She is writing about stuff that is really important, but is doing it to reach regular normal people, not super spiritual academic types (probably why I like it so much).


7.    To feel encouraged that nobody really gets it right that much of the time.


You can get the book here and find out more about Vicky here.

From everyone who has been given much...

Posted by God Loves Women on January 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Over the last couple of days I have followed Sarah Moon’s (@SarahNMoon) tweets with interest.  She spoke out about her feelings regarding the Emerging Church (if you’re not familiar with this term you can find out more across at Wikipedia).  Sarah shared her problems with the fact the movement is heavily male (to clarify, the men in it are not overweight, but rather, there are mostly men leading within it).  She listed the names of some men she felt contributed to this and within moments one of these men (who has a rather large following, both on twitter and off) tweeted her to object to being called sexist, even though Sarah’s original tweets were not addressed to him with an @ thingy (if you’re not a tweeter, this bit will make little sense to you... )

 


What ensued was Sarah sharing her frustrations with the emerging church man’s refusal to listen to her concerns and the man telling others not to “feed the trolls” and complaining about Sarah’s accusation of sexism.  Then other people began engaging on either side of the situation tweeting their thoughts and feelings.

 


Anyway, this situation got me thinking about sexism, power, privilege and the different facets of the church.  This man with all his power and followers felt the need to call Sarah out publically for her accusation, without thinking about how this may have intimidated her, and refusing to listen to her concerns or frustrations.

 


Of course being accused of sexism is hurtful and may even seem like a form of defamation; a strong response may feel the right thing to do.  However, when someone challenges us, should we respond with indignation, or listen to what they have shared, and consider it?

 


My thinking led me to working through how we respond to criticism.  So often when we are called on our behaviour our immediate response is to assume the person criticising us is wrong, and we feel indignant, “how could they say this about me?  I’m a good person!”

 


Then on the other side of this, when we attempt to call out others on their behaviour, we feel guilty for inconveniencing them the with truth, and think that perhaps we are really wrong for challenging them, and maybe it’s all just in our head anyway…

 


What occurred to me was that our individualistic culture, coupled with the warped teaching on grace and forgiveness that so many Christians have heard, we have a situation where it’s almost impossible to call out people and be sure they will hear us.

 


We’re taught to be gracious and listen and love others as ourselves; to turn the other cheek and be peacemakers.  But the times Jesus called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers” and the way he allowed the rich young ruler to walk away, and the way He called Peter “satan”, are often missed out in our understanding of what being a peacemaker looks like.

 


For those of us on the receiving end of criticism, we naturally shut down from hearing things which we don’t think we are like, especially it’s about sexism or furtherance of oppression.  We all like to imagine that we’re wonderful people (regardless of all that Christian stuff about us all being sinners, none of us actually wants someone to point out the ways we are sinning... ) 

 


But this is not the Gospel.  Not for any of us.  Jesus’ teachings were about showing us the state of our hearts.  He was about subverting power structures and showing each of us how to give up our power and be willing to die for Him, so that then we could truly live for Him.

 


To believe that we are not sexist, or racist or homophobic is to underestimate the very power structures that seek to keep oppression in place.  As a white, able bodied woman, born and living in the UK and married to a white man, denying the privilege and power this gives me would be to walk blindly through life.  Yes, I have also been on the receiving end of inequality and oppression and continue to live within a society which discriminates against women, but that in no way invalidates the privilege and power I hold.



So what next?   Do we just assume every critical thing someone says to us is true?  Do we live in a place of perpetual self hatred?  Clearly not, but we can live out the teachings of Jesus:

 


Repenting: Looking deep into our heart.  Recognising the amount of power and privilege each of us has.  Living each day, being willing to be broken by the state of the world and our contribution to it.  Not living in a place of guilt, but dying to ourselves daily, and picking up our cross, the cross of privilege and power, owning the ways we have added to oppression and choosing to be followers of the Way.

 


Discipleship: Not some sort of let’s talk about our feelings blah blah blah…  But a willingness to live in vulnerability to others calling us out.   I’m not talking about accepting abuse or bullying, but if we want to live in a truly anti-oppressive way we must be willing to repent, day by day, and then to listen and acknowledge the potential that someone’s criticisms of us may have validity.  

 


Fighting the Powers: This is a spiritual battle, and the powers of racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and other evils are very much in the Church; not only are they in the Church, they are upheld, perpetuated and perpetrated by Christians.  The devil is in the Church and we must fight him with all we can.  Not by using arguments of grace to shut people up, but by following Jesus’ model of a love that is strong and true.

 


And as Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”   Let us never forget that, in any of our interactions, either on, or offline.