Trigger Warning: The following references sexual violence. It does not describe any events in detail, but names things that could be difficult for some readers.
Jesus valued what society dismissed. He didn’t care which of his disciples could most accurately quote scriptures or put the most in the offering bucket or walked the longest distance. He didn’t care if Peter could say with this lips that Jesus was the Messiah and he didn’t care that they had all left something behind to follow him. What mattered to Jesus was how they served each other and those around them. Did they see the least among them? Did they gain power by taking it from someone else? Did they disregard the outcasts of their day or did they seek to bring hope and healing?
I don’t remember the first time a man demeaned me with inappropriate comments or actions. At seven I was told that girls don’t play baseball and at nine the wolf whistles began. I was bullied because I cried easily, among other things. At twelve a photographer told me I would be beautiful if I lost a few pounds. It got worse from there.
I’ve been sexually assaulted and raped. I’ve been propositioned by teachers, professors, family friends, and strangers. I’ve been dismissed by potential employers because I’m a woman. I’ve been paid less than my male colleagues by most of my previous employers. I’ve lost friends because I was ordained and, according to them, women shouldn’t be ordained. I lost more friends when I divorced because, even though the relationship was very unhealthy, divorce was not Christian. More friends walked away when I came out because what’s worse than being a divorced, ordained woman? Being those things and not being heterosexual, apparently.
Men have stalked me, propositioned me, hurt me, abused me, dismissed and devalued me for most of my life. I don’t talk about these experiences often because I am more likely than not blamed for what happened to me. Surely, I wore the wrong clothes, said the wrong thing, led the man on, didn’t have the proper qualifications for employment, or whatever else gave men permission to treat me badly. The funny thing is that none of it was my fault.
As it turns out, girls really can play baseball and it wasn’t my fault that puberty struck when I was nine. Being a sensitive child shouldn’t be a defect; where else do poets and artists come from? And no, I didn’t need to lose weight when I was twelve; I was beautiful as I was. And nothing I did or didn’t do gave anyone the right to physically or verbally assault me or rape me. As far as the other stuff goes, woman are quite capable of doing whatever it is they feel called to do. It’s ridiculous, outdated, misogynistic, social conditioning that says otherwise. Worse still is that the church has supported these dangerously foolish notions either by endorsing gender biases with an erroneous reading of scripture or by remaining silent on the issue of sexuality in general and the abuse of women and children in particular.
Too many children and women remain unseen in our society. Being unseen and unheard and invalidated with startling frequency contributed to the development of an eating disorder and a long struggle with suicidality. This happens all too often. Children who are brave enough to report abuse are seldom heard and validated. Women who report sexual assault or rape are dismissed and blamed. It’s also very likely that the perpetrator of such crimes won’t be convicted or will be imprisoned for a comparatively short time.
It’s long past the time to change this. Instead of watching women who are brave enough to report sexual assault be harassed, demeaned, and destroyed, we would do better to listen. Instead of assuming that such stories are made up or excusing the behavior of the perpetrator, we would be doing women a great service by celebrating their strength and supporting their endeavors to end victim-blaming and hold abusive people accountable. In addition, wouldn’t it be a healthier option to teach our children that all have equal value and no one’s body is a plaything for those who are more powerful? And that male or female or Trans* makes no difference in one’s value as a human being?
Jesus overturned the disciples’ understanding of greatness. He placed a child among them and told them that to be great was to be in service to all, especially those who were viewed as the least. To follow Jesus and be truly great is to be servant of all and to uphold the value of every human being, especially those who are vulnerable because they are unseen and unheard by those with power. Jesus saw the value in children and women centuries ago. He saw them and offered them wholeness and abundant life. When will we?
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com