The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women

United Nations International Eliminate Violence Against Women Day

The United Nations established November 25 as the official International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It begins a sixteen day initiative of activism to end this global pandemic. They put substance behind this commitment by defining “10 ways you can help end violence against women, even in a pandemic.”

They’ve labeled violence against women and girls as “The Shadow Pandemic.” It often flares up in the shadowsbehind closed doors in homes, the workplace, and other secluded spaces. All too frequently the abuser is an intimate partner or someone the victim trusts or who simply has more power. Considering the debilitating trauma and the fear that no one will take her word over his, this kind of violence is extremely difficult and risky to report.

Violence against women and girls has been with us since the fall of humanity. It can be verbal, emotional, spiritual, sexual, or physical. Yet all stem from an abuse of power and take a terrible often life-diminishing toll on the victim. The UN’s focus is on women and girls. But plenty of men and boys are victimized by the brutality and violence of other men.

Outrage and the resolve to address this pandemic come in waves and can easily diminish as other pressing global problems turn our attention elsewhere. In 2018, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements revealed that this Shadow Pandemic has infected the American Christian church at epidemic levels. That revelation instilled in many women and men a determination never to let the matter drop. Then, in 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic turned the world’s attention to Covid. Not only did that detract from mounting attention on #MeToo and #ChurchToo abuses, Covid-19 has had a significant adverse impact on violence against women

According to the United Nations report,

“As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified – in some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.”

Thankfully, we now have important, well-written resources designed to educate us to the complexities of this pandemic and to expose and prevent the abusive and dysfunctional patterns that protect abusers and re-abuse the victims all too frequently inside the church. The courage it took for these three women to step forward and tell their stories is hard to fathom. Their stories are disturbing. Tragically, justice is not always servednot even in the church. We do well to honor their sacrifice by listening and learning from them.

What is a Girl Worth?is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of sexual abuse against women and girls in secular and religious contexts. Attorney and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander was first to raise allegations of sexual abuse against USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar (now serving a life sentence). She tells her own story of abuse, the long-term impact of the trauma, fear that no one would believe her, and the whole saga of Larry Nassar’s trial.

Her courage empowered 250 other gymnasts to speak up providing insurmountable evidence in the case against Nassar for his crimes.

She doesn’t stop there. She brings what she learned to church, educating readers about the trauma triggered when pastors and church leaders make disparaging remarks about and blame women in the Bible who were sexually abused. She is candid about the evangelical church’s mistreatment of victims who come to them for help. Her book can be a big step toward healthy change.

Author Christa Brown is also an attorney and an activist working to address and prevent clergy sexual abuse. As a teenager, she was groomed and sexually abused by her Southern Baptist youth pastor. It wasn’t until she reached adulthood that she realized what happened to her was abuse.

This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang is her story of bringing the truth to light, of being disbelieved, blamed, and mistreated by SBC leaders, yet staying in the fight to prevent other young girls and boys from being abused.

At the time of her book’s publication, her abuser was still in ministry. So her fight for justice continues and for new protective procedures to protect the vulnerable and prevent further abuse from happening.

Mary DeMuth was a helpless little five-year-old, when a group of teenage boys repeatedly raped her. The violence against her was compounded by the failure to respond of grown-ups she turned to for help and who should have been protecting her. I grieved and wept for little Mary as I read her story and was outraged that no one intervened to stop the horror.

Mary’s love for the church turned her pain into action. She tells her story with the ultimate goal of providing the church with a way forward. Her book We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis achieves that objective.

This invaluable resource will enable us to respond to sexual abuse survivors with compassion and wisdom and to involve proper authoritiesboth legal and counseling professionals who are responsible and trained to address abuse allegations without making a bad situation worse.

Admittedly all three books were hard for me to read. But then this is not the time us to remain ignorant of what is happening. These eye-opening books are indispensable resources that will aid the church and motivate us all to engage this pandemic battle. May we never rest until global violence against women ends for good. This is must reading for every pastor, elder, ministry leader, seminarian, and anyone who care about the flourishing of women and girls.

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National Love Your Red Hair Day!

With everything else on our minds today, let us not forget today is National Love Your Red Hair Day! Time to celebrate our favorite little redheaded ezer-warrior again. And we have plenty to celebrate.

Arden is six now and in the first grade. She’s two years on the recovery side of her hip dysplasia surgery and she is thriving. No more spica cast! No more wheelchair! Lots of physical therapy and hard work, and she’s on the go again. You should see her fly on her scooter!

Many of you have prayed her through that ordeal and generously helped financially with her GoFundMe campaign. We will never forget your outpouring of support, the ongoing inquiries about her progress, and reminders that you’re still praying for her.

We don’t need reminders to celebrate Arden or her little sister Avery. They both have their hands around our hearts, and we thank God for them.

Happy Love Your Red Hair Day, Arden!

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Where is God when trouble strikes?

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In my opinion, the book of Ruth is perhaps the most shockingly relevant book in the Old Testament. I often describe it as a bomb that went off in my life. If you’ve only heard the traditional version—the Ruth and Boaz Cinderella romance that concludes with a “Happily-ever-after!” banner floating over the ending—that’s not the version I’m talking about. We all know that version won’t preach. Certainly not in a world plagued by Covid-19.

More research into the story has unearthed a profoundly down-to-earth narrative that touches real life in the present with surprising force. Which is why I keep learning from and talking about Ruth.

For the latest discussion, check out the Jackie Always Unplugged Podcast below. This discussion with my friend and host Jackie Frazier Roese centers on Finding God in the Margins—my second book unpacking more of this ancient narrative and one of three books she’s featuring on her podcast book club.

Similarities between then and issues we face in the 21st Century are abundant. Which is why I keep digging and finding even more ways the book of Ruth speaks into the present. Consider the current moment we are experiencing.

Ruth’s story takes place in a time of political upheaval (“the days when the judges governed” and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) and during a fierce famine-driven economic crisis. The story zeroes in on one family that is devastated by premature deaths.

Sound familiar?

A shattered Naomi (rightly recognized by Old Testament scholars as a female Job) plummets to ground zero of her own life. She assesses the wreckage of what used to be her full and satisfying life and draws dark conclusions about God’s love (hesed) for her.

Fears she expresses then are all-too familiar to us now and can strike the strongest among us when calamity strikes and God seems absent. We need Naomi’s story more than ever right now because many of us are feeling exhausted, isolated, depressed, fearful of or having suffered already the loss of health, loved-ones, jobs, businesses, and homes.

Inevitably we can’t help wondering along with Naomi if God has forgotten us and withdrawn his love.

We also need this story because Naomi discovers through the sacrificial hesed actions that Ruth initiates and Boaz empowers that God hasn’t forgotten his love for her. Their story is a powerful reminder that this pandemic creates a context in which the simplest acts of kindness can speak loudly of God’s unrelenting love to someone who is in despair.

That’s a lot to think about.

Here are a few questions that came up in this conversation:

  • Ruth is often characterized as a “damsel in distress,” but is that even accurate?
  • How have we mis-read this story as contemporary Americans, distanced from a full-fledged patriarchal society?
  • What do we do when we can’t see signs of God’s love for us . . . when the lights go out and grief overtakes us? What can we learn from Naomi’s story?
  • What can we learn from Boaz, as he takes his power and privilege and employs it for the good of others?

Listen here.

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Redeeming Power

Dr. Diane Langberg’s new and utterly relevant book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, ships October 20 and cannot be released too soon!

It is not overstating things to say this book is as desperately needed as a coronavirus vaccine, for it addresses an ongoing global pandemic that has been with us since the fall of humanity—crushing and shattering human lives. But unlike Covid-19, for which at present there is no vaccine, there is hope for us to recover the goodness of redeemed power as God intended at creation.

Dr. Langberg’s latest book is the culmination of years of professional experience as a psychologist dealing face-to-face with the human wreckage caused by the abuse of power, as well as with abusers themselves and their enablers. Readers will benefit from her candid treatment of the subject, her wisdom in addressing this crisis, and her heart for the church to become a place where power reclaims its goodness for others.

Redeeming Power is available for preorder now! Order a copy for yourself and be sure your your pastor and other ministry leaders know about this important resource.

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Something to ponder . . .

“We are in a crisis: pandemic, racist violence, political uncertainty, cultural clashes, economic downturn. All this is exposing fragility of our lives and calls our way of life as individuals and society into question. The truth is we must be confronted with fragility and death to seek a more promising life. That’s Jesus: the healthy do not need—and do not seek—a doctor.

We are sick and yet, faced with death, most of us crave not a new life, but the life we’ve always known, the very life whose cracks the crisis is exposing.  —Miroslav Volf

Ponder also what Professor Volf has to say about repentance in his incredible book Exclusion and Embrace. This book is not a quick read. That’s said, it is deep, rich, and utterly profound—without question one of the best books I’ve ever read! It couldn’t be more timely either, given our current crisis.

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Book Sale! Half the Church

“God is shaking his daughters awake and summoning us to engage. His vision for us is affirming and raises the bar for all of us. We cannot settle for less. We have work to do. There’s a kingdom to build, and what we do truly matters. Our compass is fixed on Jesus. We can no longer listen to those who call us to love him with less than all our heart and soul and strength and mind. We may not have titles, position, or power in the eyes of others, but leadership is in our DNA. The call to rule and subdue places kingdom responsibility on our shoulders. Conflict draws us out. And as we answer God’s call, our brother will be first to benefit.” Half the Church

Half the Church is on sale this week! Save 50% on the print edition or save even more on the ebook:

Sale ends September 6.

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Lead Bold 2020 Conference

If you are, or know someone who is, a woman in ministry leadership or who aspires to a career in ministry, Lead Bold should be on your radar.

The 2020 Lead Bold Conference is set for Saturday, September 12, 9:00am-3:30pm/PT. The Coronavirus pandemic made an in-person conference out of the question. But the Lead Bold leadership team persevered and are moving forward with a virtual conference, which could, in the long run, reach more women across the country and beyond.

This California-based gathering of kindred spirits is designed to equip women ministry leaders “to be refueled, revived, and refocused.” With all the the changes, isolation, and catastrophic loss of life, health, and jobs that Covid-19 has brought to our lives and communities, the value of such a ministry is hard to overstate. Ministry comes with responsibility to care for and support others. Under these dire circumstances, ministry can be exhausting, and leaders face their own struggles too.

Anyone who has access to a computer can attend via ZOOM. I’m looking forward to participating as a speaker.

For more information and to register go here. And help spread the word to others who may be interested!

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New Wine Tastings: Pursuing a Vaccine for the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic (Part 2)

Recent events remind us that abuse against women, even in the hallowed halls of Congress, is alive and well in our nation.   

Last Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took a stand on the House floor to raise awareness of and to condemn abusive conduct against women and girls—after an unpleasant encounter on the steps of the capital with her Republican colleague, Rep. Ted Soho. Soho had used obscene language to demean Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who responded in a speech described in the Washington Post as “a comeback of a lifetime.”

She was prepared to let the matter drop, until Soho raised the subject himself in the House and defended his behavior by pointing out that he is a husband and the father of two daughters. According to AOC,

And that I could not let go. I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and, worse, to see that—to see that excuse and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance, I could not allow that to stand. 

Her “comeback speech” lit up the Internet. Her detractors and supporters had plenty to say and responded as expected. But she earned new respect from others who applauded her courage and her willingness to use her national platform and her power as a U.S. Congresswoman to engage the abuse pandemic on behalf of others.

One response on Twitter was especially poignant and worth repeating as it cuts to the heart of Part 2 of the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic discussion below between Paul Metzger and me. The response centers on AOC’s statement about daughters:

Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too.

My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect . . . and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

That last line drew this response on twitter:

AOC said that her parents didn’t raise her to accept abuse from men. A friend said, in response, that she realized when she heard it that her parents DID raise her to accept abuse from men. So did mine. So did an entire culture. And now I can’t stop thinking about it.

Part 2 of the New Wine Tastings series focuses on the root causes of abuse that perpetuate the #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic to the next generation. Some of the roots are cultural, systemic, and multi-generational. Some are theological and have Bible verses to enforce them.

One generation passes on to the next generation flawed teaching about masculinity and femininity, male/female relationships, about power and authority, silence and submission. And the cycle keeps repeating. In the church, these teachings are sanctified as “biblical” and set in stone, instead of subjecting them to the scrutiny of the whole of scripture and to the radical, life-reconfiguring teachings and example of JesusGod’s perfect image bearer.

Instead, as author Rachel Simmons puts it in her book Enough As She Is,

“Women have been taught, by every cultural force imaginable, that we must be ‘nice’ and quiet’ and and ‘polite,’ that we must protect others’ feelings before our own. That we are there for other’s pleasure.”\

We undermine efforts to to address abuse against women and children that surface in the church and elsewhere if we fail to uproot the faulty teachings and theological systems that create an environment that is conducive to abuse in the first place.

Part 2 of the #MeToo/#ChurchTooPandemic examines some of the root causes and points to the Bible’s #MeToo stories as an important resource in raising awareness and preventing further abuse.

Watch Part 1 here: Bringing Awareness to the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic

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New Wine Tastings: Bringing Awareness to the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic (Part 1)

Coronavirus isn’t the only pandemic currently destroying human lives.

Although Covid-19 remains a deadly threat to human lives around the world and warrants a serious response from all of us, we cannot afford to allow this pandemic to turn our focus away from other sinister global forces that persist in actively destroying human lives on a staggering scale.

The brutal death of George Floyd again turned public attention to the pandemic of systemic racism—a history-old pandemic that hasn’t declined. Floyd’s desperate yet unheeded cry for mercy “I can’t breathe!” recharged the #BlackLivesMatter movement which large segments of the U.S. population still don’t understand, sparking nation-wide angry protests against police brutality.  

The investigative reporting of NYTimes journalists into sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered the #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic. The courage of a few prominent women who spoke out about the sexual abuse they’d suffered emboldened other women (men too) to speak up. The #MeToo hashtag created by Tarana Burke went viral, followed in short order by a tsunami of #ChurchToo tweets making visible a pandemic of sexual violence against women that continues to fester both outside and inside the church, even though for the moment other pandemics have eclipsed it.

After I gave a series of lectures in June on #MeToo/#ChurchToo for Professor Paul Metzger’s DMin cohort at Multnomah Seminary in Portland, Oregon, he pressed me for an additional interview to call the attention of a wider audience to the ongoing destructive #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic.

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah University and Seminary. Paul is editor of New Wine’s journal Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture.

He and I have collaborated on several projects—including co-teaching seminary classes at Missio Seminary in Philly and Multnomah Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am blessed to call him my friend and to share our conversation with you.

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Something to ponder . . .

“This for me is the defining argument for diversity: Diversity is the best way to defend equality. If people from diverse groups are not making the decisions, the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly—with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society.

If you’re not brought in, you get sold out. Your life will be worth twenty shekels. No group should have to trust another person to protect their interests; all should be able to speak for themselves.

That’s why we have to include everyone in the decisions that shape our cultures, because even the best of us are blinded by our own interests.”

Melinda Gates,
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

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