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.
17 thoughts on “Violence, Love and the Keys”
Thank you, a much needed statement at this time. It angers and saddens me, in equal measure, that these truths to power still need to be spoken, and that we must continue to push for these situations not to occur. Until all are equal we cannot have the righteous justice we claim.
What an excellent and important article – thanks so much Charity.
What a fantastic piece. It deserves to be shared widely.
Yes! Female Lives Matter! Thank you for this. We’ve all been there – ‘we’ being at least half the human race.
One good thing (and there are some good things) about old age is that men who are inclined to be sexually predatory lose interest, and one no longer has to fend off unwanted attention.
There are still problems in the post-retirement sunny uplands, but ageism, which succeeds sexism even in the Methodist family (!) can affect both sexes.
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Really energised by this, and angry (as always) that you have to write it. I’m a man, I don’t know what it’s like to feel this fear, but this helps me. I do recognise the gender-bias in Scripture you mention, and I do all I can in conversation and preaching to highlight and correct it. Thank you.
Thank you for this thoughtful, powerful and helpful reflection.
What practical steps are you proposing to remedy “the violence with which Methodism is imbued”?
I suppose I shouldn’t really comment, as I tore up my membership card this week when I finally had to accept that the Bible and the Cross have become the crumbs under the Methodist’s table (literally, in my local church!) But I couldn’t leave without making a final contribution which is a little dose of realism:
Just as the backlash against the Black Lives Matter campaign is bringing more racists out of the woodwork, so the backlash against the campaign to emasculate macho man and submit him to feminine dominance will bring forth more misogynists.
Causing unrest and disorder on our streets, especially at a time when most people are sticking to the Covid restrictions and our police are trying to enforce the rules, is just inciting and inflaming the very hatred you are calling out.
Only God has the power to defeat evil.
‘I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33 (The Catholic Bible)
Thank you, Charity, for expressing so well how devalued and ‘patronised’ our half of the world continues to be by the ‘half’ which continues to dominate including in the (my beloved, too) Methodist Church.
Pavel asks what to do. As when women were granted the vote, it will not happen until men allow it. Men who are in control and take for granted their right of domination over women, need to relinquish that right of domination .
Look to the example of Jesus and Jesus’ dealings with every category of person devalued by the society in which He lived. If ‘we’ could apply that, and identify every category of person devalued by our society, including our Christian society and our Methodist society, and equalise our attitudes, God’s way will prevail. Until then, we continue to attempt to love and love and love as Jesus said….
Again, thank you, Charity – what you said soooooo needed saying.
Sorry, I’m still hanging around (yes, like a bad smell, some might say!) but I couldn’t leave without paying tribute to all the wonderful Methodist men who have accompanied me on my journey of faith through the past decade or so. Far from feeling ‘devalued’ and ‘patronised’, I have been welcomed, befriended and encouraged along the way by some very caring male ministers, preachers, church stewards and fellow Christians, without whom I would have given up before I even started (I have always felt more at ease in the company of men.) As far as I am concerned, you have done a fantastic job and I can now take my place in the Catholic Church, deeply rooted and grounded in the Christian faith.
I feel I need to speak up on your behalf, because those of you who are feeling affronted probably daren’t comment for fear of being accused of committing an ‘act of violence’ and subsequently ‘cancelled’ from your church (along with traditionalists of both genders.) Please don’t be too disheartened by the woke warriors; they are a product of their upbringing and culture, just as we all are.
I must say I have known countless lovely Methodist women as well, and I appreciate their help and support too, but they are not under attack here, and by nature I do tend to side with the ones being picked on rather than the bullies (regardless of gender!)
My sincere thanks to one and all, and on a lighter note, I can’t help wondering how things would have turned out had it been Jean Wesley and Georgina Whitfield who founded Methodism? 😉
John Wesley must be turning in his grave.
Yes Pavel! What practical steps can we take to deal with patriarchal attitudes? The bible is the main problem. It was obviously written by men and for men and this leads to the assumption that if God is man, then man is God! The usual defence is to be given a list of the women in the Bible – as if by making such a list patriarchy is somehow eliminated!
I have always thought I was a but odd because when I think of God, the person I address is “She”. Also, for me, if we must have the concept of the Trinity, then why not Mother, daughter and Holy Spirit or better still Parent, child and Holy Spirit. And as for the Lord’s Prayer my alternative would be a Lady’s prayer beginning “Our Mother, ever present to us”. And, again, Jesus was male, yes, but surely the icon of the Risen Christ must be, in some way, female as well.
There is no way anyone would consider rewriting the bible without this male bias, but we ought to approach it with an hermeneutic of suspicion.
Actually I do not think it helps to simply replace male bias with a female bias: That’s just second wave feminism. I go along with the third wave feminist, Toril Moi (1), who pointed out the obvious fact that we are all primarily human beings and should deconstruct the metaphysical distinction between men and women. To my mind the antithesis between patriarchy and feminism is wasting time that could be better spent in responsive love towards all we meet. And while I am thinking outside the box wouldn’t it be marvellous if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope were women.
(1) Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (New Accents) Paperback – 14 Jun. 2002
by Toril Moi (Author)
Are we forgetting that Jesus called God ‘Father’ and he called Mary ‘Mother’ which is why the Catholic church venerates Mary the mother, as well as God the Father and Jesus the only begotten Son. Here we have a loving Holy Family, each loved and valued in their own right, whereas in the Old Testament we have only a judgemental God and two errant created beings.
I don’t understand how Methodists can complain about male dominance in the church. In your denomination there are more female ministers than any other, and they can and do rise to the top leadership roles.
The US book “Why Men Hate Going To Church” by David Murrow and a UK survey by the Single Friendly Church found very similar points:
The church is feminised i.e. services appear to be structured for a stereotypical woman. “Tell me what lies on your heart” and “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs make most men run for the hills. Services requires long attention spans of a particular kind, which are unsuited to men. There is little opportunity to be active and asking questions is discouraged.
There is a lack of male leadership – no guy’s guys. The church encourages passivity and men fear they need to give up their masculinity. Indeed, many single Christian women complained that the men they met in church were not “real” men. When asked further about this, the complaint was that men in church were “perceived to be passive, compliant and obedient” (even using the expression “being controlled”).
Change and decay in all around I see,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
We can read the bible as a justification for prioritising patriarchal attitudes or as justification for the sort of sentimental, “feminist”, love affair with Jesus that Pavel describes. My agenda is to deconstruct both these attitudes which means, for me, a suspicion about the motivation behind the bible, the creeds, most of the hymns and the content of the Service Book. The Beatitudes, the parables, the actions of Jesus and some of the words attributed to Paul (especially in Corinthians) are another matter.
Our ethical concern for others (love of our neighbour) mirrors, or should mirror, the unconditional love of God for all humanity. The demand on our hearts is that we do as Jesus did and deconstruct the dualities that divide us:- male/female, white/black, sinners/non-sinners, straight/gay, saved/not-saved, religious/secular, family/not family, the powerful/the powerless etc. and to follow this leads to a church that is radically inclusive and non-judgmental.
Thanks Charity- just catching up on emails following a break. powerful and challenging piece as ever.