The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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The Christian “F-word”

     One day, I was talking after church with a woman who shared with me that her son had told her he was offended by a poster she has up in her living room, stating that she is against domestic violence.

      “Are you a feminist?” he asked, making a disgusted look on his face. 

      “Well,” she answered him, “if you mean by ‘feminist’ that I fight against domestic violence and am unwilling to stay silent about something God detests, then yes, I guess I am a feminist.”  Her son was furious, and stormed off, slamming the door.  She shrugged her shoulders and looked at me, shaking her head and saying, “What are you going to do with people like that?”

      Then she and I discussed for a moment how often people make assumptions about those who take a public stand against domestic violence.  Such people are viewed with distrust and suspicion, as if they call into question all things sacred.  Anyone willing to speak out on the issue is branded a feminist, which is about the worst thing you could ever be called in Christian circles.  I shared with her a few little stories of my own.

      My husband and I serve on the camera crew at our church, filming the sermon so it can be adapted for television.  In the course of taping, we wear headsets so we can hear instructions from the director, and we occasionally chat to our fellow camera operators about something occurring during the service.  It was in this context that one day I commented on the headset about a joke our pastor had made about a woman mistreating her husband.  Surprised, the man who heads up this ministry at the church said to me, “I thought you were only opposed to violence against women!”

      “Of course not, “I responded.  I’m against abuse, period.  Whether it’s a man abusing a woman, a woman abusing a man, a parent abusing a child, a child mistreating their parent or elder, or a human being cruel toward an animal, I’m against it all.  No one has the right to do violence to another living being.”  Incredible. How could anyone think that one type of abuse is wrong, and should be condemned, while another form is acceptable?

      “People think that you’ve got to be some right-wing, militant, bra-burning feminist in combat boots to speak out against abuse,” I chuckled while I talked with my friend.  Radicals, both of us: Two middle-aged, gentle women of God, who happen to be bold about our convictions.  The contrast from the misperceptions and our appearance was striking.  I stuck out my pantyhose-clad leg and pointed to my white leather low-heeled pumps, from underneath my calf-length dress. “These are my combat boots!”  I said sarcastically. Then I dug out the strap from under the shoulder of my clothing, suspended it under my thumb, and said, “See, I didn’t burn my bra, either.”  We giggled at the silliness of it. 

      In many Christian circles today, accusing a woman of being a feminist is the contemporary equivalent of being charged with sorcery in the time of the Salem witch trials.  The accused is looked at with scorn and derision, suspicion and distrust.  And I founded a Christian organization to tackle the taboo subject of domestic violence in the church, so that means—in some people’s minds, at least—that I’m guilty by association.  I must be a feminist, right?  There we go again, with the F-word.  As offensive in some conservative Christian circles as an expletive.

      Perhaps that’s why, so often, our message gets silenced.  Like a censor edits out curse words on the airwaves, our call to end abuse in Christian homes gets muted.  Beeep.  But still, the fire of God burns in our hearts to speak out against interpersonal violence among believers.  Beeep.  The pulpits of America are largely silent about the epidemic of abuse occurring within our congregations.  Beeep.  Even the mainstream media bellows recent headlines about releasing from prison a pastor’s wife who killed her husband, but the Christian world turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to her abuse.  Beeep.  Domestic violence couldn’t occur in our homes, in our churches, in our denominations, we reason.  Beeep.  A televangelist is publicly beaten by her ex-husband, a preacher, and then stands in front of his church the following week and blames the devil for his behavior.  Beeep.  Like unbelieving Israel, centuries ago, we refuse to consider the destruction that was prophesied to occur if the nation did not repent and turn from their wicked ways.  We’ve beeped ourselves into oblivion, lulled into complacent thinking that abuse is not important if it’s not happening to us.

      But I remember a time not so long ago, where bumper stickers on cars touted another definition.  A popular sticker defined feminism as “the radical notion that women are people.”  Okay, so maybe I am guilty, then.  If thinking that women—or children, or men, or elders, for that matter—are people and not property, and that each is unique and special and precious in the eyes of God, then yes.  Maybe I really am an F-word. 

      So then call me a feminist, if you must.  But I have another F-word in mind that I think describes me better: freedom fighter.

      One who is willing to speak up for those who are oppressed.  One who is willing to stand for righteousness, even if it means standing alone.  One who is willing to fight denial of the problem, suspicion toward the messenger, and lack of concern by the leadership.  One who fights-- sometimes daily--the inevitable discouragement that comes with the territory of engaging in battle with a faceless foe, who was rendered powerless two centuries ago but refuses to cede power, and continues the war using deception and ignorance as his weapons of choice. 

      I will fight for the freedom of those who are being abused, mistreated, demeaned, and assaulted.  I will not be guilty of a conspiracy of silence that covers these sins under the guise of Christian love.  I will be the voice for those victims who have been silenced, and I will cry out to the God of justice on their behalf.  And I will issue a call-to-arms to every other Christian to join me, to fight against the oppression and abuse so many of my sisters in Christ face daily.  Let us join together to fight for their freedom, bought and paid for long ago, by the One who holds the keys to Life, Death, and Hell in the palm of His scarred hands.

--Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 03/16
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