When should a church be disqualified from having women in it?

Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”.  His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society.  This is also a mission I am committed to.  I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent.  I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty.   My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again.  As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.

 

Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”.  At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church.  Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.

 

Mez’s audience seems to be those who wouldn’t consider employing women in any role within the church and so it is a positive step that he is challenging such men (and women) to consider the role women can have in Christian communities.  Some of what he says is very helpful, including that:

 

  • Untrained “pastor’s wives” shouldn’t be offering pastoral support.
  • Women need other women to walk the journey with them.
  • 20 Schemes trust women and train them well
  • Mez explains he finds it “offensive to suggest that by giving women responsibility at [a pastoral] level we are opening the church up to serious error. Far more men have led churches astray than women.”
  • Mez states, “Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God and that they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”

 

I have become absolutely convicted that individual, organisational and church views on gender and sex are a primary Gospel issue.   Too many women (and men) are alienated from the Gospel because of Christians who insist that men’s and women’s roles are fixed with men being responsible for women (within marriage, church life or wider society).   Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” I understand this to include those who alienate believers by their views of men, women and sex.  Many of the radical feminists I know started off life in faith communities and the rejected Jesus because of the horrific oppression the were subjected to or witnessed in the church.  Complementarian Christians are quick to insist that their theology is Biblical and that egalitarian theology is not.  I will meet them on their terms, complementarian theology is not Biblical.  It is oppressive.

 

The question Mez’s blog raises for me is, “When a church exemplifies oppressive views towards women, should this disqualify them from having women attend their churches?” And I would suggest there are at least 10 reasons Mez’s blog evidences taking up such a policy.

 

  1. Women are prevented from being obedient to God

If women are called to worship lead, to be an executive pastor or to youth work, they cannot be obedient to God in following that call because Mez explains that: “[Churches] will talk about hiring a youth worker, or an executive pastor or a worship leader before they would even consider a woman”.  The only role women seem to be able to do is to be women.

 

  1. Vulnerable women are at extremely at risk in patriarchal structures

Mez explains that single mothers and those with other vulnerabilities are a large proportion of scheme communities.  Much evidence can be provided that patriarchal structures disempower and further oppress women and prevent them being released into the fullness of life Jesus offers them.  Sadly, most efforts to address the oppression of working class people maintain the oppression of women[1]. Seeking to support vulnerable women without having a good understanding of male violence is likely to perpetuate rather than liberate women who have been deeply hurt by male power.

 

  1. The male leaders don’t have time for the messiness of women’s lives

Mez tells us it is “not wise or prudent for a man to invest serious amounts of time into” women who have been subjected to abuse, violence or sexual violation by a partner because their “emotional needs are often so great”.  This statement is staggering in how pastorally insensitive and revealing it is of how little women’s pain should be invested in by men.

 

  1. A third of the male leaders are a sexual risk to vulnerable women

Mez explains that a third of the leaders who preceded him were removed due to sexual immorality that happened when they were intensely counselling women (who he acknowledges had likely been sexually abused prior to the intense counselling).

 

  1. Extremely vulnerable women will be blamed if male leaders sexually abuse their authority

Mez blames women (with possible histories of having been sexually abused) for male leaders sexually abusing their authority.  According to Mez “Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually [by vulnerable women]… A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some [vulnerable women] very hard to resist. They aren’t used to men listening to their problems. They are used to men being the problem.”

 

  1. The male leaders are powerless to stop themselves having sex with vulnerable women

In the above quote Mez is saying that the church leaders who sexually abuse their authority are not the problem; these leaders are the victims of women who find men listening to them so much of an aphrodisiac that they essentially place the male leader’s penis inside them and with the male leader helpless to stop it.  The male leader just passively allows for sexual activity to take place, unable to act.

 

  1. Men cannot and should not have deep long lasting friendships with women they aren’t married to

Mez explains this in his fifth point about women’s role as pastors pastoral assistants.  Jesus explained that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and as such should be seeking to build communities that are built on deep and long lasting friendships.  It is by our love for one another (not solely love of those who have the same sex as us) that people will know Jesus.  What state can a church be in if women and men can’t be good friends?  If the only deep interactions men and women have to be sexual?  Maybe that’s one of the reasons male leaders keep having sex with women who aren’t their wives?  Just a thought…

 

  1. It is unbiblical

Mez states that “The church is to be led by men after all.”  I shall put aside the fact his church is led by men who can’t stop themselves penetrating women unless they’re not allowed to be alone with them for too long.

The church is to be led by Jesus Christ, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Women and men are to serve God and those He calls us to love, giving up our lives in service to Him.  Jesus tells us that “the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”

 

  1. The church is playing Pharisaical mental-gymnastics with women’s callings

Mez explains, “When we say that our women’s worker pastors our women we don’t mean that she is a pastor, rather, she assists the pastors by providing day-to-day pastoral care to our women”.  The Pharisees played the same sort of mental gymnastics as this to keep their hierarchies in place, “Okay, so we don’t swear by the temple, we just swear by the gold of the temple.”  “I know we don’t support our ageing parents, but that’s because we’re giving all our money to God.”  “We’re being obedient by even tithing all our herbs, look at how awesome we are.”

 

  1. Women are used out of necessity

Mez explains that without women pastors pastoral assistants, “Even with a small church and multiple elders we would struggle under the weight of pastoral issues in our congregation”.  Primarily women are asked to take a role in the church because a) men can’t help putting their penises in women and b) there’s too much work for only the men to be able to do it.  This isn’t about women’s gifts or call.  This is an argument of efficiency, practicality and utility.  It is not about the unique ministry of women, the value of women or God-breathed life in women.  It is not about the image of God that is found in women.  According to the blog Mez has written, this is about men being sexually deviant in nature and therefore women having to lead, pastor and disciple work with women.

 

Mez finishes by saying something I am in total agreement with,

 

“The local church needs women’s workers. Most of the women living in our poorest communities are suffering without the hope of the gospel. They have not heard the good news that can set them truly free from their burdens. Women on schemes need more than women parachuting in to be another worker in their life, perpetuating dependency. They need women who will do life with them every single day of their lives. The harvest is great, the workers are few and women are being left on the shelf. They shouldn’t be. Employing more women for ministry should be our highest priority.”

 

It is heartbreaking to me that the rest of his blog undermines this hugely important message.

 

To find out more about the 20 Schemes perspective on women, have a read of THIS application process for church planters and their wives (only married men can be church planters).  It has been suggested the process may be in breach of various equality and data protection laws.

 

 

 

[1] Even the great Paulo Freire described a poor man beating his wife as the abusive man’s response to oppression and not as a form of oppression in its own right.  Women are always left behind in liberatory movements.

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Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 21.15.13.png

Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.

 

Christian Union in the US

Last week I was contacted by Emily Nielsen Jones who runs Imago Dei Fund.  She’d come across the university CU series I’d been running and wanted to share her thoughts.  After a couple of emails we interestingly discovered we were talking about two different Christian Unions.  In the US there is an organisation called Christian Union who run ministries on Ivy League university campuses in the US.  The blog series I’ve been running is actually focussed on UK Christian Unions which are organised by UCCF.

 

Fascinatingly, Emily read the content about UK Christian Unions and thought it was about the US organisation which has exactly the same issues with sexism and patriarchy.  These two organisations are entirely separate and on two different continents and yet both are infused with sexism!  Emily sent me a post that she wrote about the US Christian Union organisation, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.

Hannah’s CU Story

I’ve been posting people’s university Christian Union stories for a few weeks now and we’re at the final one!  This one comes from Hannah Mudge.  She’s a marvellous woman and you can follow her on Twitter @boudledidge.  If you’d like to read the other CU stories, you’ll find them all HERE.  

 

I started university in 2003, having been brought up attending a C of E church. In the year or so before university I had decided to explore other options and checked out various denominations and church groups, which led to me doing the Alpha course at my local Baptist church and also visiting church – an evangelical, charismatic ‘new church’ – with my boyfriend and his family.

 

On visiting my university for the first time I had heard a lot about the Christian Union (CU) and was impressed by the number of members, the amount they seemed to have going on and how exciting everything appeared to be. Coming from a small town I had never had much experience of Christians my own age and was really looking forward to meeting some. Like most people going to university, I just wanted to make lots of new friends and ‘get stuck in’ to socialising.

 

People at church had encouraged me to get involved with the CU so I signed up at the Freshers’ Fayre and started attending meetings, also becoming a member of my hall’s cell group. A few years ago I dug out a lot of leaflets and notes I’d kept from that time. My leaflet from the first main meeting of term tells me that there were four prayer meetings a week, three ‘cold contact’ sessions a week (in which members went out and about on campus to evangelise), one ‘lunch bar’ per week (lunch and a talk on one aspect of Christianity, which we were encouraged to bring friends to) – and of course the main meeting. Then there was ‘Mission Week’ in Semester Two, the main outreach event of the year and a ‘house party’ at a residential centre in the countryside. The first flyer I received also included details of the now-infamous PURE course, which received a lot of attention from the national press in the mid-2000s.

 

I think I came away with quite a positive impression of the CU from that first meeting. My notebook tells me that it focused on being fearless about proclaiming the truth of the gospel in a world where people are ‘afraid to stand up for what they believe in’. My notes included: “God is the most important thing. We live in a society where tolerance and doing what you want is most valued but it requires great courage to speak up and say that we know how to live the right way.”

 

Topics covered at a later date included: ‘The church is the Spirit’s megaphone to the world’, ‘False teachers and the world leading us astray’ and ‘The persecuted church’. As time went on, I began to make some observations that went beyond my initial impressions – observations that weren’t always positive. I should probably point out that at first, I didn’t know or hadn’t understood that the CU wasn’t some sort of ecumenical organisation, so was slightly surprised that almost everyone was evangelical.

 

  • The emphasis on quite in-your-face evangelism seemed quite obsessive and intrusive.
  • There was an expectation that you’d attend all meetings and get-togethers, which I wasn’t always able to do due to visiting my boyfriend or simply due to wanting to spend time with friends.
  • I therefore didn’t feel as ‘included’ as many other people. I also ended up feeling quite paranoid that people felt my lifestyle was unacceptable. I came from a sheltered, middle-class background but one that was outside the evangelical bubble and I often felt as if I was saying the wrong things and doing things – like going on nights out, having close friends who weren’t Christian – that were disapproved of. There was a definite sense of ‘concern’ about people whose social life didn’t revolve around church and CU activities and the problem of non-Christian friends ‘leading Christians into sin’ was often discussed. Your non-Christian friends were people you invited to CU events and asked along to church, but not people you should spend too much time with.
  • Talk about sex and relationships was a key focus. Let’s expand on that:

 

I know it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen at a university. It’s full of young people – it’s unavoidable – and so there was plenty of discussion on ‘purity’ and ‘modesty’. Most of the people in my cell group were in a relationship – and like me, all but one of them were in relationships with someone at a different university. There was a lot of talk of ‘temptation’ and the importance of resisting it.

 

So during my first semester, I attended the PURE course –  billed as ‘Sex and Relationships – God’s Way. This took some commitment for a fresher – it was held over breakfast and involved getting up at 6.30am and trekking across campus in the cold and dark when no-one else seemed to be up. Interestingly, I looked back at the notes and handouts from the course some years later when PURE was making headlines about its allegedly homophobic teaching and interestingly there was absolutely nothing to be found about LGBT issues – so this may have been added into the course at a later date. Some session outlines were as follows (taken from handouts and my notes):

 

What does it mean to be a man/a woman? Man: work in and take care of the earth; be united with women. Women: Man’s helper on earth, be united with man. Equal but different. The world says men/women are not different and focus now is on empowered women and demeaning marriage. I was young; I’m not sure I had any critical thinking skills; I hadn’t yet encountered feminism and this was the first teaching on gender and Christianity that I’d ever heard. So it wouldn’t have registered that this is was complementarian teaching or that many Christians would not agree with it.

 

What’s wrong with relationships these days? Sex used wrongly – flirting, promiscuity, jealousy, control.

 

What can men/women do to help the opposite sex? Good communication, respect, friendship, modesty. girls can be helpful to guys by being careful what they wear. It was claimed that ‘Girls want friendship from guys, but guys need us to be helpful’. ‘Helpful’ was defined as dressing and behaving modestly and not ‘obsessing’ over getting into a relationship.

 

Pure sex Stay away from sexual sin and avoid immorality. Don’t lead people on, flee temptation, be accountable to a friend, control your thoughts. The ‘Big Five sexual problems for men and women’ were highlighted, with no. 1 for men being ‘masturbation’ and no. 1 for women being ‘fear of singleness’.

 

After the course, my hall group leader let me borrow her copy of Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It confused me, bemused me and angered me. It was my introduction to the idea of ‘courtship’ rather than just ‘going out’ with a person and I found it bizarre – never being alone with your partner, chaperoned dates, the idea that women shouldn’t make any moves and are ‘in need of protection’. It seemed totally irrelevant to UK culture and I didn’t find much to take from it, but at the same time felt vaguely ashamed that I might not be conducting my relationship with my boyfriend the ‘right way’ in the eyes of God.

 

As my first year wore on I attended CU meetings less and less. The feeling of having very little in common with other members had deepened. I remember feeling that the topics discussed were too repetitive (evangelism; resisting the evils of the world; relationships) and I had picked up that other students were quite hostile towards the CU and its methods in a way that they weren’t towards other Christian groups on campus. I was also struggling with mental health issues – becoming quite reclusive – and didn’t feel I could talk about this to my CU friends. They were nice people, well-meaning and committed Christians and just like me, young in their faith and their ways of relating to and understanding the world – but I just didn’t feel at home among them and I also felt that there was a very particular stereotype of being a woman promoted that I could never live up to. This point in particular was something that I struggled with for years after starting to attend evangelical churches.

 

It was after I left university that I started to understand more about gender and the church and it was around the same time that controversies over Christian Unions began to make headlines – the PURE course, a refusal to let women speak at main meetings or include women in leadership, negative attitudes towards other Christian groups, the UCCF doctrinal statement. My former university’s magazine ran a feature on sexism within the CU, in which the President affirmed a complementarian position.

 

It had never occurred to me to think too much about these issues as a first year student – but I was essentially new to evangelicalism and completely new to any church teaching on gender. It also didn’t necessarily occur to me to question anything I was told was fact. A couple of years down the line, it gave me great cause for concern that complementarian teaching seemed to be the default and that there was a lot more about gender going on in CUs that I had probably been oblivious to.

When Men are People and Women are Novelty

This week Donald Trump’s misogyny became clearer to the world.  We now all know that he likes to sexually assault women.  Many were upset because they have wives and sisters and daughtersOthers were upset because he used bad wordsYet others wanted people to grow up and stop being so sensitive about the things men say in private.  Even when those things are a man admitting sexual assault.

 

Another thing that happened this week is that two brand new Christian events were announced.  Naturally Supernatural is a new event from the Soul Survivor team and replaces Momentum.  And Jesus Culture announced a new event that will be happening in Manchester.  These new events that haven’t happened previously.  Currently the Naturally Supernatural line-up includes five white men, one black man and one white woman.  The Jesus Culture event has seven white men (two of them are called Chris) and one white woman.  This event has more Chris’ speaking than women speaking.

 

Now, dear reader, you may be wondering how on earth Donald Trump’s misogyny is related to two new Christian events.  So I shall tell you.

 

Donald Trump’s misogyny started as a seed.  It grew in a soil of white male entitlement, wealth and power.  It grew as he was socialised to understand that men are people and women are novelty; where his power and wealth gained him impunity.  It has been cultivated most recently by white, male conservative Christians, who have either been silent on his comments, have undermined the seriousness of them or have reluctantly admitted that he’s in the wrong.  When these same conservative Christians have expressed concern, it’s because they are fathers and husbands.  It seems it’s only possible for men to care about women if they are emotionally invested in one.  Because men are human and women are novelty.  I wrote about that HERE.

 

These new Christian events are contributing to the soil.  At a very fundamental level they are saying men are people and women are novelty, in a Christian world where 65% are women.  Jesus Culture say, “There is a stirring.  God is on the move.  A hope for the nations.  The inescapable truth that He will do great things in our day.”  If Jesus Culture are unable to discern that God’s move involves a whole load of women, I’m not sure we can trust that they are really hearing from Him.  The world is changing, the roar of woman is finally being heard across our nations and yet Jesus Culture are deaf to her voice.  Because for them men are people and women are novelty.

 

Naturally Supernatural is “Equipping the church to live spirit-led lives.”  The Kingdom of God currently has a female majority, yet as an event they can only find enough women for novelty.  When the men who attend this event can only be upset about Donald Trump’s actions because of their wives and daughters, who can blame them when women’s only roles at the event are as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters?  There will be little that shows women are Christian teachers and leaders, competent and skilled, capable and trusted by God and by well-known Christian organisations to bring God’s Truth to all.

 

We can all imagine that we are nothing like Donald Trump.  That his words and actions are disgusting.  But unless we are actively working to create a world where women are no longer novelty, we are part of the soil.

 

Ali Campbell has also written about this over on his blog and has some really great stuff to say!  Read it HERE.

Stephanie’s CU Story

I’ve been sharing people’s stories from their experiences within university Christian Unions.  You can read the previous stories HERE.  Today is Stephanie’s story:

 

I did have great kindness from some within the CU from other churches and I did find some of the speakers inspiring and helpful. Noteably Roger Carswell talking about his battle with mental health, a talk I cried through and which helped me come to terms with my own problems.

 

I became a Christian towards the end of my first year of university, so I had no previous experience with church or Christian culture therefore I assumed that this was how Christians should behave, going to loads of meetings and being very busy and frenetic. It was disastrous for my ME, but I guess to some extent I was trying to please God and although there was a cognitive dissonance between my feminist, more liberal values and the Christian world in which I found myself I felt it was part of being a Christian and “how things were”.

 

From a gender perspective, in my CU:

 

  • Clothing was policed at times, I remember a friend being very upset to be told that her top was too low. But the men saw nothing wrong with going topless in summer, women not being visual creatures etc.
  • Women didn’t even lead the small midweek groups in college CU meetings from memory.
  • It was very complementarian. There were lots of capable, gifted women who would talk about how wonderful it would be to be a vicar’s wife, but sadly none of my female university contemporaries have yet been ordained, although loads of my male university contemporaries have.
  • I was told swearing was worse in a woman than a man.
  • All this said there weren’t many male and female separate CU events, and I think women could be part of the worship team.

 

The university CU was very hardline while I was there (even 24/7 prayer rooms were considered suspect).  What I’ve seen in the time since I left is that they have softened a bit. One problem was that a particular extremely conservative evangelical local church was dominating everything.

 

I sometimes feel like my faith journey since I left university has been unpicking some of the hardline conservative doctrine I was taught at university.  In my third year when my health was in a terrible state in general (and my mental health was in a right state) I found Adrian Plass’ books and they were like a window into a different Christian world and helped me so much.

 

Students are very, very young and for some reason my CU seemed only to be undergraduates, some input from postgrads would have helped I think. It is hard when there are a lot of young people and insufficient older Christians in the student churches to disciple them.

Political Narratives and Vulnerable Women

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article about a vulnerable woman from Pennsylvania.  She was subjected to severe sexual harassment and discrimination in a male dominated workplace.  Successfully suing her employer, she was awarded $450,000 in damages, to then have the “verdict overturned by a federal judge who did not question the facts of the case but decided that the matter had been handled appropriately”.

 

She continued working in an environment where she explains that men were abusive to her every single day.  Her sister became seriously ill and died of cancer.  She was sacked from her job after making a dangerous decision in the midst of severe anxiety and has been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

 

Yet, the article was not about the appalling injustices the woman, Melanie Austin, has faced or the ways she has suffered.  Written by Stephanie McCrummen, THE ARTICLE focusses on Melanie as a passionate Donald Trump supporter.  It is brilliantly written and powerfully shows how Trump’s political success and approach to campaigning validates dangerous and ludicrous ideologies; views more at home on conspiracy theory websites than in a presidential campaign.  Reading it, I variously laughed aloud, made shocked faces and loudly exclaimed “WHAAAAAT?” to myself.

 

Melanie Austin believes President Obama is gay, that Michelle Obama is a man and that their children have been kidnapped, possibly from a family in Mexico.  She was involuntarily hospitalised after stating online that “Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground”.  The fact that Donald Trump’s campaign (and the people who support it) has validated and normalised her views is one of the most shocking things about the article.

 

Usually my empathy levels are extremely high when I encounter women who have been sexually harassed, emotionally undermined and/or dominated in ways that leave them anxious, their confidence decimated and their lives in tatters.  I feel their pain, I feel anger and outrage at what they have been put through and the ways structures and systems have damaged them even further.  However, as I read the Washington Post’s article I did not feel much empathy for Melanie Austin.  I was incredulous of her views, horrified by her politics and disgusted by Donald Trump’s political campaign.

 

The empathy deficit that occurred as I read was because the narrative caricatured her rather than focusing on her as a multifaceted human being.  Just as a cartoonist may enlarge their subject’s facial features to create an exaggerated likeness, so this article enlarged and attended to Melanie’s offensive political views, without really examining the system in which those views have been cultivated.  And I became complicit as I read openmouthed about her.  Her views reduced my capacity to see her as a human being.  To conclude that I (a passionate supporter of women, particularly women who have been broken by male abuse and by patriarchal institutions) had dehumanised this woman who had been damaged so badly, shocked me almost as much as Melanie’s views about the Obamas.

 

As we navigate this complex and extremely stormy political waters, we can become fixated on the extraordinary views of individual people, unable to step back and see that their views have grown to fruition in a soil of lies sold to them by large media corporations, politicians, multinational companies and also (much to our shame) faith leaders.  We of the “educated class”, look at the likes of Melanie Austin and, alongside our horror, we feel relieved that we are not so stupid, so ignorant, so disgusting as to believe such utterly vile lies.  And in so doing we dehumanise Melanie as stupid, ignorant and disgusting.  We are enlightened and we can be sure that only stupid, ignorant or disgusting people would vote for Donald Trump.  We are, of course, the superior class.

 

And yet, Melanie has been subjected to abuse, systemic injustice and is living with the consequences of that.  She looked for answers and found them in the conspiracy pages, in right wing politics, in televangelists and in Donald Trump.  She views herself as a Christian.  She prays daily, sings hymns and says she feels, “happy and blessed.”

 

I write this article from the UK where the threat of Donald Trump (and his most passionate supporters) are a whole ocean away.  Yet Brexit may be perceived in similar ways to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  The demonising of immigrants and false and misinformation abound.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally Brexit has validated racist and xenophobic ideologies and people are divided, not along traditional political lines, but by deep values that are hard to even recognise, never mind articulate.

 

Stephanie McCrummen’s article expertly enables us to see the danger of Donald Trump, but at the expense of the humanity of a vulnerable woman with a long history of trauma and hurt.  She becomes a parody, no longer a person, but a spectacle for those of us with more progressive views to stare at.  Her humanity is lost as she becomes a vehicle for demonstrating the danger of Trump.

 

It is in our realising Melanie Austin’s humanity that we have some hope of changing the narrative.  Rather than dehumanising her and seeing her as the enemy, we could seek to find ways to relate with her and offer alternative answers to her struggles.  Jerry Falwell has told her that September 11th was the fault of the “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians.”  Instead of feminism giving her an analysis of the violence perpetrated against her, she sees it as causing a terrorist attack.

 

We must make visible the systems and structures that created Trump supporters, just as we must find ways to demonstrate how Brexit is the result of political decisions (by both the Labour and Conservative parties), a lack of political education, class inequality, long-term biased media reporting and the capitalising of the injustices facing the least powerful in society.

 

As Christians, this mandate is clearly laid out by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Ephesians 6:12).

 

And Jesus taught us how to behave in these situations, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:44-48)

 

“If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”

 

As Christians we may be fighting for our voice to be heard above “Christian” extremists like Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, but we must choose not to ridicule or dehumanise Donald Trump’s supporters, for what reward will we get for that?