Article Nov 8, 2017

3 ways to support women who have been victimized

Major stories concerning male predators have sent deep reverberations through our society recently. The death and legacy of Hugh Hefner and the Hollywood scandal of Harvey Weinstein have brought to light abuse, harassment, and exploitation at the hands of these two men, with others accused as well. As part of a social media campaign, thousands of women joined in solidarity across platforms like Facebook and Twitter, sharing their own traumatic experiences of rape, molestation, and more.

These stories have formed a weighty moment and the question of how Christians should be responding to this grievous issue looms large. The  myriad of responses reveals just how much individuals approach the subject based on personal experiences, socio-economic status, theological views, and other factors. Does this mean there’s no hope for unity among Christians as it pertains to women and activism? No, I don’t think so. But I do think we need to be different in our approach.

Our activism should be infused with gospel hope and be modeled after Jesus’ treatment of women. Jesus’ kingdom justice is a justice that extends far beyond any sort of legal system. Though there is certainly a place for the judicial system, the biblical understanding of kingdom justice is much broader and is held in tandem with the concept of shalom (peace). I want to flesh this idea out, first, by looking at the way Jesus brought kingdom justice to women, and then, by unpacking what this sort of kingdom justice should look like for women who have been oppressed and exploited today.

Jesus’ example

Tom Minnery, the former president and CEO of CitizenLink (Focus on the Family’s public-policy partner), offers a poignant definition of biblically-rooted activism in his book, Why You Can’t Stay Silent: A Biblical Mandate To Shape Our Culture. He describes it as activism that shapes and transforms our society for Christ and his kingdom. When we read the four Gospels, we see that this sort of biblical activism begins with Jesus’ ministry on earth. He is the forerunner, and he sets the standard.

Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God, and from its very inception, it is a kingdom dripping with social care and justice for all. Think of, for example, the start of his ministry in Mark 1. What does Jesus do immediately following his introduction by John the Baptist and the calling of the disciples? He heals “many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (v. 34). Holistic care forms a major heartbeat of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and this holistic care brings peace for the body as well as the soul.

Moreover, Jesus’ care is not gender-partial. It is striking to note how much time he spends with women and the way he tends to their needs. In John 4, he invites a dejected, Samaritan woman at a well to find true and satisfying water in him, thereby caring for her soul along with her emotional thirst. Through this interaction, he also helps her break out of a vicious cycle of non-committal relationships. This is a woman who has suffered abuse from men and shame from society. Her heartache is doubly wrought, and Jesus intentionally seeks her out to give her eternal satisfaction and to help her reintegrate into her community. Peace.

This is but one example of the way in which Jesus transforms his society with one woman at a time. He never shames women. Instead, he makes deliberate efforts to cultivate relationships with them (Luke 10:38-42), let them cry before him (Luke 7:36-50), and care for their physical burdens (Luke 7:11-17; Luke 13:12-16).

When we read stories like these, the broad paint strokes of Jesus’ kingdom justice for women are slowly revealed. He acknowledges, helps, and defends women.

How we should respond today

In light of recent events, I think it’s time that Christians seriously (re)consider Jesus’ individual engagement with women in the Gospels. His relentless pursuit of them formed a bedrock to the advancement of God’s kingdom, and this prioritization should put into perspective our own involvement with those who have cried out in pain. The call for peace continues, and we can begin by practicing Christ’s examples of acknowledgment, help, and defense for the women in our life today.

1. Acknowledge. Though it may not feel like activism per say, kingdom justice starts with empathy. Too often, Christians get caught in the trap of suspicion and doubt. They dismiss women’s claims of assault, questioning instead the timing of their statements or, worse, rationalizing the abuse. Jesus never does that and, plain and simple, neither should we. In fact, it’s only when we truly acknowledge, care for, and even weep with these abused women that we can position ourselves to provide real help and defense. Holistic care starts at the level of the heart.

2. Help. There are many forms of help at the structural and individual levels. Though both are equally important, I want to focus on the latter, because much of Jesus’ transformative justice took place with one woman at a time. The situation of women in Hollywood is far-removed for most of us, but that doesn’t mean that the women in our own lives—our neighbors, coworkers, and friends—have not had similar experiences.

If we want to practice kingdom justice, the women we know are the ones we should begin reaching out to and inviting into conversations. In gentle and appropriate ways, ask your friends if they’d be willing to talk about the subject of abuse. You should also be prepared to start with your own stories first. It’s not that we want to rip open old wounds, but rather we need to recognize that most women never get the opportunity to share their trauma with anyone, and we simply want to create a place for that opportunity.

You could open conversations with statements like, “Do you mind if I ask you a question? Have the stories of Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein impacted you personally?” and “Has the #MeToo campaign struck a personal note with you?” Those are two suggestions amongst hundreds, but they are a start. Be sensitive. Listen more than you speak. Ultimately, like Christ, help women find healing and true peace, and that might mean also encouraging her to find a counselor, doctor, or pastor to talk to.

3. Defend. Finally, defend the women in your life. The story in John 8:1-11, where the Pharisees are trying to stone a woman for committing adultery, illustrates this point. I find this story so fascinating because while, yes, this woman was complicit in the act, Jesus’ sole focus is on protecting her and turning the finger around at the accusers. In many ways, this story is not very different from, say, the situation of women in the porn industry today. Too often, Christians and non-Christians alike don’t seek the welfare of these women, feeling that they “chose” this lifestyle, and therefore they deserve what they get. But, once again, this was not Jesus’ perspective, and it shouldn’t be ours either. He didn’t look at this woman as a monster who needed to be shunned, but rather as a broken image bearer in need of love and restoration.

The places in which attacks on women take place are almost too many to count. They happen in our offices, on social media, in the news, and in our communities. It’s all around us, yet sadly still goes unaddressed. We, as Christians, are called to come to any woman’s defense in such a situation, which means literally standing up at times, freeing these women of their tormentors, reporting incidents, and fighting for safer work environments, among other things. The old adage rings true: “If you see something, say something.” We cannot excuse or justify.

These are charges for both men and women. It was Jesus, as a man, who brought this kingdom justice, this peace, to women first. If we are to follow his example, then all of us must practice this as we advance his kingdom today, and we can start by offering it to one woman at a time.