It’s my honor to introduce Megan Westra as she shares her battle cry against gender-based violence and the hope she has for safe communities for all women. Welcome Megan.
I grew up idyllic and carefree in a valley just beyond the coal fields in West Virginia.
I heard about abuse, I read about it, I knew that it sometimes happened. That sometimes a woman would get beaten by a boyfriend or husband. I knew about rape, but it never happened in my world. It was a far off “other” thing that you only thought about when you were already sad and needed that one more gut-wrenching thought to push the tears over the brim of your eyelids.
I never would have imagined the scope and magnitude of violent acts committed against a person simply because she happens to be female.
But I began to learn. I went to college, a pint-sized Christian liberal arts school in my hometown. During my freshman year, I heard hushed whispers around campus about a girl in my class who was raped. Shame coursed through the words, “She deserved it though, I mean, what a flirt.”
I wouldn’t walk past the tennis courts on the edge of campus by myself for quite a while after that.
I graduated and moved to the inner city of Milwaukee. I watched as my neighbor across the street was slammed head first into the pavement by her raging ex-boyfriend. I called the police from the living room while my husband and neighbor ran out to help the woman and see if she needed medical attention. What else could we do?
I’ve had men shout and ask my husband if they could “borrow me,” as if I was some deaf, voiceless object to be consumed. And the veils that kept reality at bay as an occasional horror story or a terrifying anecdote began to tear top to bottom, falling in shreds. I sat in the tattered veils of idealism like sackcloth and ashes and wept.
I wept over this reality of gender based violence, over this system and culture of oppression that brings “physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.” I wept for the one out of every three women in the world who will be the victim of some form of violence or abuse in her lifetime. And I wept for a Church who has by and large stuck its head in the sand and done nothing about it.
Yet, even as I sit in a heap of torn veils, ashes and tears, I still hold on to hope. I hold on to hope because I know that my Redeemer lives and that tears fall from the eyes of the victims and the ultimate Rescuer alike. I hold on to hope because in so many instances, God broke through and upheld the cause of women whom society was literally beating down. God upheld the cause of Tamar, who was left in the cold time and again by husbands who did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
God upheld the cause of Abigail, whose husband Nabal was foolish and harsh. Jesus refused to engage in the slut-shaming and condemnation of the woman caught in adultery. Our God is not one who delights in the desecration and dehumanization of any person, let alone doing so arbitrarily based upon ones gender.
Violence against women is a justice issue. It is a justice issue that Scripture clearly speaks to. From the very beginning as man and woman are created equally and gloriously in the image of their Creator God, to the ever-present lasso of redemption which pulls us along, slow and steady like a metronome throughout the Scripture.
Creation is broken, your desire, oh woman, will be for your husband and he will rule over you. Yet, you are mine. I see your pain. I see your tears. I forget not a moment.
It will not stand. Anything which diminishes My image within her, it will not stand.
I think it is long past time for the Church to take up the cause of the women bleeding and broken right there in our pews, our folding chairs, our movie theater seats.
To take up the cause of the women on our street corners, in the shelters and living next door.
Because the truth is, it’s everywhere. 1 out of every 3 of us.
It’s time to stoop down with our Savior, dirt grinding under our fingernails as we sketch in the sand in the presence of the critics and predators.
To draw a circle of protection around our mothers, our sisters, our daughters.
Out there, you may be exposed, shamed, beaten, spit on and torn down, but not in here.
Never in here.
In here there is life.
In here there is hope.
In here is your Redeemer.
We can no longer stand for broken systems that call into question a woman’s voice or account. That ask:
“Why was she in that part of town?”
“With that skirt on? She was asking for it.”
We can no longer quiet victims and tell them to be more forgiving. We must stop fearing our reputation will be ruined if certain stories get out of the front door of our homes or our churches.
It must stop.
Because life isn’t about a perfect, glossed and polished image to present to the world around us.
Life is about the restoration and redemption of shalom, wholeness, the life that is truly life.
This is a messy business, the digging up of old roots that leach truth from our souls, the binding up of wounds, the muddy paste spread over blind eyes to be opened.
So wherever there is a sweeping generalization, let it stop with us.
Wherever there is the woman at the brunt of a joke, let it stop with us.
Wherever a mother is fearing for her and her children’s lives, may they find safety without judgment among us.
Wherever a girl sits shamed in the wake of a rape, may she find hope and healing among us.
How have you witnessed gender based violence in your own life?
What is the impact of gender based violence on the family unit? On society as a whole?
What steps can you take to raise awareness and end gender based violence in your circle of influence?
* The definition of gender based violence taken from the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Statistics and facts relating to gender based violence taken from the book, Half the Sky. For more information about GBV and how you can help, please visit www.halftheskymovement.org.
Megan Westra serves as a children’s pastor and worship leader at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; she also blogs regularly at http://www.crazylovemke.com. Megan lives with her husband, Ben, and her daughter, Cadence Grace, in the inner city of Milwaukee as part of an intentional community. She loves to run, practice yoga, drink good coffee and read old books whenever a free moment arises.