by Charity Hamilton.
It began with Eve and it is still dangerous and visceral and real today. It began with Eve and it is still silencing and diminishing today.
It began with Eve and it is violence, specifically gender-based violence.
If you don’t think that Eve was a victim of gender-based violence think for a moment about the kind of woman she has been mythologized into and the kind of violence that such mythologizing inflicts upon the human soul. Violence isn’t limited to a physical action but rather there are violences inflicted upon our souls, psyches and bodies every minute of every day; gender is often a key stimulus for such violence. Every discriminatory word uttered is an act of violence. Every hushing up of the truth is an act of violence. Every misuse of scripture to justify a lack of equability is an act of violence. Every patronization is an act of violence. Every lingering look at our bodies is an act of violence. Every attempt at power-over is an act of violence.
Some weeks ago a woman called Sarah Everard walked home. It was neither a provocative act nor a reckless act she simply walked home. Sarah Everard did everything that each and every woman has been conditioned to do, she did the ‘right’ things. She wore brightly coloured clothing – visible, she wore trainers – able to move quickly, she spoke to her partner on the phone – contact. Despite doing all the things we are ‘told’ to do, Sarah Everard was not safe: she was kidnapped and murdered.
The days that followed Sarah’s murder were particularly hard for me, my social media was full of an outpouring of grief, anger, shock and experiences from thousands of women. The fact that the alleged perpetrator was a serving police officer added to the vocalization of thousands of sites of deep-seated embodied pain and I didn’t know if I could respond adequately. Whilst equally full of grief and anger, there was no shock for me. Men have been perpetrating unimaginable violence against women since Eve and the very people we should be able to trust are often complicit in such violence.
I love Methodism to its bones; it is my weird, dysfunctional, beautiful family but it is also a family that is laced with and in many ways grounded in a deep form of violence[i]. It is the violence of a male church steward at a female probationer’s welcome service using sexualized language in his words of welcome and the apology from the female chair who was too afraid to call it out. It is the violence of male colleagues telling her she is “too much” borne out of their own inadequacies. It is the violence of a senior male leader inhibiting her flourishing in the life of the Church because of her gendered experiences. It is the violence of a hundred angry men raising their voices in church councils. It is the violence of power-over and control. In parts of the life of our Church that violence is displayed as a coercive control of women, LGBTQI+ people, black and ethnic minority people, disabled, chronically ill and neurodiverse people; coercive control practiced under the banners of paternalism, well-being and good order. I love Methodism to its bones but those bones are imbued with violence.
It began with Eve but it moves on to Tamar and Bathsheba and Hagar and the Levite’s concubine and Mary Magdalene and on to Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry and Sarah Everard and on and on and it seemingly never ends. However, amongst the anger, grief and shock is a place for communal shame, a place for real embodied repentance. Repentance, redemption and resurrection are intimately linked in the Divine narrative, the thread that holds them together is love. Love is not an easy task; love is a radical, painful, confronting inhabitation of the embodied journey toward the kingdom of justice and joy, a setting right of all that is wrong, a breathing of life into all that has become death.
I, like many women, have been walking with keys grasped between my fingers for 25 years whilst simultaneously reaching for the keys of the Kingdom. Keys that would see justice for the oppressed, fill the bellies of the hungry, bind up the broken hearted. Those same keys are in between our fingers and I pray that one day it will be safe enough to let our grasp relax.
[i] Such violence is sometimes referred to as the patriarchy.