Incredible amounts of discourse around the roles of men and women are being generated, whether through online chatter, over drinks at the pub, or in small groups. Wherever we sit on the idea of women in leadership (home, church, or society), we cannot deny that the long-felt rumblings of a fundamental paradigm shift within churches are now erupting into full fledged earthquakes.
Rachel Held Evans, author speaker and egalitarian, is featuring "A Week of Mutuality" (see above link) -- that is, people invested in this issue coming together in respect, admiration for others, civility, and a desire to learn -- in order to gain a greater godly perspective about the realities and roles of women. She has developed a 'synchroblog' where those of us wanting to participate with our own blogs can add our voices. I would encourage you to click on the above link to get a sense of definitions, parameters, purpose, and engagement.
My approach today is not terribly theological. Oh it involves God, for sure, but I'm not wishing to dissect Scripture at this point. I believe my fellow bloggers will bring out some excellent theological and philosophical thoughts for us all to consider. My purpose is more practical. The Underground Railroad exists to share the struggles, stories, and songs surrounding the abolitionist of modern slave trade.
An estimated 80% of trafficking victims around the world today are female (Batstone, 2010; Bales, 2004). Even if a woman or girl is sold into slavery for a purpose other than sex, commerical sexual exploitation (or CSE) is often involved.
Based on researching authors who have conducted studies, journalistic works, or advocacy efforts around human trafficking (Batstone, Bales, Perrin, Malarek, Cherry, Baptie) - some of whom were at one time a part of the trade - plus adding my own experience engaging girls and women exiting the trade, I want to pose a common question:
"If we are free from our captors, why must we submit to male headship in the church? Isn't the church a place of freedom where God declares our humanity and equality?"
All right, that was two questions, but you get the point.
I could start at the beginning and roll off about how Eve was created second... delve into Paul and the tradtionalist interpretation that submission to husbands in a home and male leadership in a church is a reflection of Christ's plan for the church... but I won't.
I am not trying to force Scriptural authority to fit into a worldly paradigm. I am, however, bringing to light a glaring discrepancy complementarianism creates for trafficking survivors. Women are still a vulnerable people group in our world, no matter the country. We are the sexual objects, servants, property, and chattel that male dominated societies declare that we are. Most of the demand for CSE is male. Most of the profiteers off of slavery are male.
For example, prostitution-related offences were recently declared legal in the province of Ontario (Justice Susan Himel), meaning not only is prostitution still legal in Canada, but it is also legal to own and keep a brothel, and live off of the avails of prostitution. However, women are still the ones to live up to health codes, prove they are STI free, watch out for their safety, live at-risk of being owned by pimps (excuse me, "managers" as they are called now), and are still subject to rape, assault, HIV/AIDS, and live for the exclusive purpose of pleasing men.
Johns, however, are not required to produce any such records of past criminal assault (sexual or otherwise), nor are they required to prove they are STI free. Women are still enslaved and at-risk, in Canada and around the world.
The dialogue of the role of women in terms of what Jesus did or did not say is difficult here, to be sure, because we could conveniently put words into His mouth about any issue (or take them out just as quickly). However, when I look at Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4), His response to the adulteress woman (John 8), and His glory revealed to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection (John 20), I see a Saviour-figure intent upon elevating a part of His creation that had been trampled down, beaten up, raped, scorned, and considered less than men. This is what I draw from the character of Christ in the texts I read.
Understand something about modern slavery: you do not belong to yourself. You no longer exist as a person. You are told when to eat (if anything), when to sleep, who to sleep with (and how many), where to sleep, who will be punished if you step out of line, and what you will wear. Your identity is effectively destroyed. You are, as Kevin Bales so aptly puts it, a disposable person.
When a woman encounters Jesus Christ in an authentic way where He is glorfied and the woman is truly free, you can almost hear the chains fall off. Yet it is a long, hard road to tread, learning that men and women are equal, that Jesus elevated women not above men, but back to their proper place from the beginning, and the His desire is that we be fully functioning in our roles whatever our pasts.
When women are freed or break free from their oppressors, what is the difference in oppression when they enter a body of believers and told: "You may not preach: you are a women", or "You may not speak: you are a women", or "Yes, you are equal to your husband in theory, but you must submit yourself to him as the head of the home"?
Is it too harsh to call soft patriarchy 'soft oppression', especially in light of the reality of trafficking?
Are vulnerable women being made to trade one form of oppression for another in the name of love?