I have been reflecting on the extraordinary and unexpectedly comprehensive understanding that has emerged from the universally shared experience of women from around the world following on from a third Leadership course provided for Anglican women in Rome in November 2017 and which has been offered over the last three years.
Each woman who attended reported individual and collective experiences over a lifetime of abuse, misuse and occasionally, violence or the threat of violence, along with the experience of being subjected to deliberate male privilege used against them. Used to keep them in their place, in order, under the control and subjected to the whim of those who seek to make sure they remain second-class citizens.
It was both a visceral shock and spiritually devastating, to reflect that half the human race is by its very existence, seen as a threat by the other half. By simply being women, women arouse the contempt and ill will of men. And any apologetic excuses ignores the wilful blindness and deliberate male privilege held tightly in place to keep women outside of their full humanity and purposefully denies their humanity.
Many men and women are made into co-conspirators, colluding in these practices to maintain the status quo, the social and cultural order because if it isn’t, things will change and men might not be in control which is frightening and resented by them; and women might need to be different in their response to God and men which requires each person to think and trust in God and be fully human when in relationship with men.
Secondly, to understand and accept women and men are made in God’s image is a profound and abiding joy and delight in God’s creation. Yet it is as men and women sharing equally in God’s justice and love, sharing in God’s plans for God’s creation, that such a notion of equality creates overwhelming fear in men as to encourage them to consistently beat, break and kill women, subjecting them to unspeakable violence and contempt. The only conclusion one can draw is such behaviour denies and rejects all claimed belief in God. Women are being crucified alongside Christ, and today we will be with Christ in paradise.
Whether the violence is physical, sexual, economic or political, whether it is spoken or unspoken, unconscious or consciously applied, whether it is culturally established over generations and so no longer seen or noticed, there is simply no excuse! There is no excuse ever for such blindness and vindictive cruelty. Tradition and custom do not make it right or just. God’s desire for God’s creation to be in God’s image rejects such explanations, excuses or denials, or even alternative world views that are outside God’s kingdom.
In the end, the patriarchal underpinnings of such behaviours must be rejected; and as a human race, we demand justice for women around the world, in all places, countries, homes, schools and workplaces and in our families.
The leadership courses showed us irrespective or race, colour, theology, education, wealth or poverty, single or married, all women have experienced the violence of discrimination, rejection, contempt and hatred. As a woman made in God’s image this is not acceptable; it is more than past time for this to change.
While this particular issue was not the focus of the course, for women from around the world to have the opportunity to reflect on the models and experiences of leadership of women in the early Christian church and in the world today throughout our Christian faith journeys, it has led inevitably to a reflection on the experiences of those who have been and who are leaders on what such a recognition of violence and discrimination means, in the past and in the present; and, what it has cost individually and in their communities. Such a reflection is shocking and it has all of us asking what it means for our future.
My thanks to the Anglican Centre in Rome for its sponsorship and support for the courses, for the women attending and sharing their understanding and the rich contributions to leadership for the church and the world, for their hospitality and for their courage in seeking God’s face in this issue of justice and in seeking to support women’s leadership around the world, both in the world and in the church.