I read with sorrow a recent article on Time magazine’s web site.
This article has stirred so many thoughts for me. The subject of violence against women is a world-wide tragedy. The specifics may vary from country to country and culture to culture, however, there is apparently no place or culture that is immune.
I was directed to this article by a Facebook friend, Carolyn Custis James. The comment she included with the article link was “how is the church a sanctuary for women in crisis?” When I read Carolyn’s question, my thoughts ran in two directions. (Truth be told, and no surprise to those who know me, my thoughts ran in more directions than that. However, I’m focusing on two to try and keep this post a manageable length.) My first thought was to ask how the Church is a sanctuary for women in general, before trying to discuss how it’s a sanctuary for those in crisis. My second thought was to explore how people who choose to follow God, as revealed in Jesus, can and should be impacting the world around them.
Sanctuary has two primary definitions, the idea of protection or safety, and a sacred place or altar in close proximity to God. I’m immediately drawn to the analogy between these two definitions and the two main doctrines regarding women in the Church. One doctrine holds that, among other things, women are to be protected and kept safe by a male whose responsibility it is to be the “head.” The other primary doctrine, among other things, teaches that women are to be serving God at the altar, in close proximity to His presence, including leading men into His presence. The tension between these two definitions clearly impacts any understanding of how the Church can be a sanctuary for women, and women in crisis.
Has the Church’s current priority on the value of the family become an obstacle to recognizing the value of women as individual creations of God? Also, at what point does the desire to maintain the family or save the marriage (or in the case of the Time article, maintain the honour of the family) sacrifice the woman in the midst of the crisis? Can the Church refocus its investment of resources into providing opportunities to educate women, as well as an avenue of removal from the violent environment? When that education is across cultural lines, how can the Church ensure it’s not teaching culture as doctrine?
I’d like to refocus Carolyn’s original question, though, in keeping with the raison d’etre for this blog. How are Jesus followers, those who choose to follow God as revealed in the person and pattern of Jesus, to be sanctuary for women in crisis? Is it enough to protect women and provide a place of safety? Without stretching the analogy too far, is there also a component of being a sanctuary for women in crisis that includes educating them on their role ministering to God in His sanctuary, based on a foundational understanding of their value to God?