Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Great Against the Powerless

Sir Robert: "The other one is this. It's from a slightly older source. It is this: you shall not side with the great against the powerless."
Member of Parliament: "Mr. Speaker, point of order."
Sir Robert: "I am on my feet."
Member of Parliament: "Will you yield?"
Sir Robert: "I will not yield, Mr. Speaker. You shall not side with the great against the powerless. Have you heard those words, gentlemen? Do you recognize their source? From that same source, I add this injunction. It is this: what you do to the least of them you do to me. Now, now, gentlemen..."

-Excerpt from The Winslow Boy

I was recently asked why I write about women's issues, why I make it one of my interests and passions. My answer was twofold. One reason I wrote about in the past: I feel that misogyny is as much and more of a threat to what complementarians hold dear as gender blurring. The other is summarised beautifully by the above quote.

In the beginning of time, God created humans, without sin, in beautiful harmony, with binary gender, with love and relationship at the heart of what it is to be human. But we sinned. Our relationship with God was broken, and by extension our relationships amongst each other became broken. Ashamed but arrogant, humanity has been trying to make ourselves look better than we are ever since. Genocides, bullying, social climbing and materialistic greed, self-righteousness, self-harming, an obsessive pursuit of physical beauty or physical strength, "in" crowds and outcasts, unhealthy competition-- so much of what is sick in our world stems from the deep underlying knowledge of our fallen condition and our futile efforts to secure our standing without the sacrifice of Christ.

One way this manifests is in the strong-- whether socially, financially, physically, what have you-- using their strength to oppress the weak instead of to protect them.

God calls his people to protection of the disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and forgotten. This value was embedded deeply in the moral code of the Mosaic law. Over and over in the prophetic judgements against Israel is the refrain of their callous heart towards the poor and needy in their land. As this value relates in particular to women, 1 Peter 3:7 specifically enjoins husbands to show honour to the weaker vessel.

In a rightly ordered world, women, physically weaker in terms of sexual dimorphism, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and menstruation, would only be protected and honoured by men. This is not so. When we look at human history, we see that across cultures, across eras, across belief systems, women have been oppressed. Women have been denied protection under the law, we have been denied education, we have been denied sexual agency*. We have been subjected to physical alterations**, we have been denied employment and financial independence. We have been told our minds are weaker, our emotions hysterical, our bodies shameful. We have been denied dignity and a public voice.

Some will suggest this is a 'victim mentality' and that men suffer at the hands of women as well.  Of course they do; sin is not restricted to one gender. Individual women do great wrong against individual men. However, I strongly argue that the systemic, institutionalised oppression of men by women has been very rare if not unheard of in human history, and is likely to remain that way, given sinful human nature which sides with the strong and oppresses the weaker.

Perhaps I am overzealous in my commitment to women's rights. However, I think it prudent as a Christian to err on the side of being overzealous for the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Certainly being oppressed does not make one a saint, and the oppressed can be greedy, selfish, self-pitying, manipulative, and so on. But the sympathies of our Lord routinely fall on their side nonetheless, and I should prefer to do the same, in as balanced and Scriptural a way as I can. It is the opposite of what sinful nature would have us do: shut up and side with the strong, protect ourselves, ingratiate ourselves, cling to our own comfort, and try to get in on the benefits the strong are reaping.

Secular feminists frequently hold forth the hope that the work of feminism will eventually bring about a better world, one of equality for women. I hope the church rises ever closer to that standard, but I have not much hope for the fallen world to get there; not as it is now. However, one day the risen Redeemer Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, will come back and make all things right. Until then, "You shall not side with the great against the powerless"-- and "What you do to the least of them you do to me."

*From genital mutilation to child brides to rape and sex trafficking to sexual exploitation in advertising and media.
**From footbinding and neck rings to corsets and plastic surgery.

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