Redressing the balance
Redressing the balance
8 March 2018
My two earliest memories of church are very different.
The first was aged four, standing beside my mother and staring up at an image of Jesus hanging on a cross – his feet and hands beaded with thick blood. I was crying as my mother leant down to ask me what was wrong. I pointed to Jesus. “Why is he there?”, I asked. “Why is he bleeding?” I felt a deep sense of sadness as I learnt of the pain Jesus endured for my sake.
My next memory is of sitting in our Baptist children’s church and using my brand new “How To Tell The Time” watch to shine the sun in the teacher’s eyes. Zing, zing, zing! around the room went the little ray of blinding light, searching for its righteous target. “Rosemary!” The teacher stopped the class to look at me and said, “That’s not very nice”.
I have always had a deep sense of the power and presence of God, combined with a wilful, wild and sometimes prideful nature that has to be kept in check by ensuring I “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).
I walk incredibly quickly, and when I’m going places with my husband I will often veer off into side streets or blow past the path we should be taking. “Do you know where you are going?”, he will ask me. “You don’t? Then why not let me show you?” I sense God asking me that same thing sometimes.
I joined The Salvation Army in Tauranga at the age of 18 because my flatmates were loosely associated with the Army. I simultaneously applied for two jobs: one as a Salvation Army youth intern and the other as a tattoo artist. When I didn’t get the tattoo job (my preferred choice!), I spent the next five years working with young people in The Salvation Army.
My mother then revealed that her parents had belonged to The Salvation Army, as had my great-grandparents, and that she herself had been a soldier. My grandfather had been a notorious alcoholic and abuser, while my grandmother stoically attended the corps by his side every Sunday.
My great-grandfather was Indian and became a soldier in The Salvation Army in the early 1900s. Being one of the only Indian Salvationists in New Zealand at that time can’t have been easy. Our family’s Salvation Army history was permeated by great “otherness”, secrecy and sadness, and yet somehow God had directed my steps back here.
It was in the Church that I discovered I had a deep fire in my bones to preach with the breath of the Holy Spirit. How I long to see the world know Jesus and bow before him! But to my surprise, it was also in the Church I discovered that as my spiritual gifts and faith progressed, people took great offence at me. I was simultaneously “too much” and “not enough” ... as a woman.
I was too different, too young and too out-there. I was “not experienced enough to offer anything”. I became disheartened by strong men who would seek to invalidate and undermine my ministry rather than further it, often because of my gender.
And still, I discovered that while God’s will is for us to work together, he will work justice for himself should it not come through the Church. When avenues were closed through human indecision or weakness, God threw open French doors on the other side of the house!
New Zealand has the worst rates of domestic violence in the world, and women suffer disproportionately in being murdered or maimed at the hands of their partner. It is so bad that every five minutes the police are called in response to cases of it.
It is estimated that one in three women will be abused in her lifetime. Fewer than 10 per cent of abuse is reported and less than
14 per cent of those abusers are prosecuted (rpe.co.nz/information/statistics). #churchtoo is a social media movement reflecting abuse women have experienced within church walls.
Gender pay inequity
A recent Ministry for Women study in New Zealand shows that up to 80 per cent of the gender pay gap can only be explained byunaccounted for gender bias (women.govt.nz/work-skills/income/gender-pay-gap).
Female genital mutilation, foot-binding and cosmetic surgeries utilised in “rites of passage” to womanhood and marital viability
are crippling horrors.
Girl-child marriages, daughters sold for sex, women abducted or forced into sexual trafficking, aborting female children, Christian “caste” systems where women are subjected to the role of a submissive servant – these are all tied to a low view of women and their economic and spiritual worth.
This is not a victimless crime. Studies have shown that viewing the violent, degrading sexual abuse of women through pornography
changes the brain’s plasticity and ties women’s pain to men’s pleasure – and the demand for new content increases as the videos are consumed. This perception of women as objects for harm and sexual gratification is outworked not only against the women being filmed but also the women in the pornography user’s everyday life.
Women are being crushed underfoot in ways never intended by God when he formed Eve, but I had never really had to consider these things before I began working in women’s ministries two years ago.
The more I learnt, the more overwhelmed I became. In deep prayer and distress, I sought the Lord and asked, “What do you want from me?
“Do you know where you are going?”, God replied. “You don’t? Then why not let me show you?” And further still, God said, “Redress the balance”. “Redress” meaning to set upright again or restore. “But when has the balance ever been equal for women?”, I asked, and “When have women ever lived in harmony with men?” God replied: “In Eden.”
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
In his book The Shadow of an Agony, Oswald Chambers observed: “God created man to be master of the life in the earth and sea and sky, and the reason he is not is because he took the law into his own hands, and became master of himself, but of nothing
God calls us to have a radical perception of humankind – where we are one body. And yet we have traded this for a personal pursuit of authority, power and domination – the brunt of the ensuing violence often being borne by women and their children.
In the book Why Not Women, authors Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton refer to a “berakhah” – a Jewish prayer that men would pray every morning while in bed:
Blessed be he who did not make me a Gentile;
Blessed be he who did not make me a woman;
Blessed be he who did not make me an uneducated man (or a slave).
That’s a pretty bleak indictment for women to hear daily against their sex. And yet, Galatians 3:28 paints a direct reversal of that picture, in and through Christ’s blood: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
God calls us to see the radical reality of humankind – man and woman as equal image-bearers of God where the gifts, talents, hopes, dreams and perceptions of both sexes are given equal weight in the Body of Christ.
We need women’s voices to be heard, and as we stand up to be counted, trust that our brothers will recognise this.
We need a future where the mystical, supernatural, beautiful pursuit of God is encouraged. We need thinkers, academics, homemakers, carpet-layers, dairy workers, preachers and prayer warriors to band together, regardless of marital status, experience or the social conventions of women, above all that of needing to be “nice”.
The following anonymous poem is purportedly by an eight-year-old girl:
The True Feminine
I am not sugar and spice and all things nice.
I am music, I am art. I am a story.
I am a church bell, gonging out wrongs and rights
and normal nights.
I was baby. I am child.
I will be mother.
I don’t mind being considered beautiful,
I do not allow that to be my definition.
I am a rich pie strong with knowledge.
I will not be eaten.
As small girls and grown women, we aren’t sugar and spice and all things nice. We’re made of sterner and more righteous stuff than that.
Now, please don’t go around shining your watch in your Sunday school teacher’s eye (that isn’t nice), but do embrace the wildness and freedom that Christ brings you – the authority and the cleansing of the Holy Spirit.
You are made of holy source materials.
Sister, will you remember that we came from Eden and are made for perfection? Will you remember that Christ enables us to find the right side up in his presence and power?
Seek afresh the wonder of a small girl at the foot of the Cross, marvelling at how Christ could be broken and beaten for us.
Remember – his victory means the restoration of humankind.
Remember – keep in step with the Lord and we will truly be an Army of salvation.
“Do you know where you are going?”, God asks. “You don’t? Then why not let me show you?”
Rosy Keane is Territorial Social Media and Resources Specialist for the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory.
This story first appeared in the April-June Revive magazine.