At a recent Wednesday night church service, a group of us wandered away from the topic of the night to discuss the old baptismal font recently decommissioned by our church. A parishioner had tripped over a leg that protruded too far into the aisle, injuring herself and damaging the font. We all agreed that it was time for the font to go.
Our conversation returned to the topic of the evening: human dignity. I was struck by the many acts and attitudes of oppression that were and are sanctioned by the church in the past and present. These structures cause harm to the body of Christ and are broken, just like the damaged baptismal font.
It is time for these oppressive structures to go.
Patriarchy is an earthly system that oppresses, limits, and silences women. The church has been complicit in the oppression of women for much of history.
It is time for patriarchy to go. We must make room for the freedom of all women in our world and in the church.
The church is often driven by an exclusive, power-based theology that keeps the poor, immigrant, and marginalized from entering the mainstream.
It is time for this exclusiveness to go. We must make room for the liberation of all people.
Our conversation that night challenged me to think about the scope of social justice for the church.
Christians are called to fight for equality. Yet, if we focus our efforts only on gaining our own place at the table, we fail to love well. We fail to honor our sisters and brothers who experience oppression in different ways.
If we seek only to remedy our own oppression and don’t speak against injustice of all kinds, we participate in the oppression of others.
So, as we advocate for the inclusion of women in the church, home, and world, we must fight for more than just our own place at the table. We must fight for the human dignity of all people.
We have to do the hard work of evaluating our thoughts and actions toward all who experience oppression and marginalization in the church and world.
There are older people in the church who are slowing down, but they have a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and time spent walking with God. Do we demonstrate to our elders that they have dignity and worth in our communities?
There are “aliens among us” in the form of immigrants and refugees. Do we reach out to our new neighbors, helping to meet their needs without removing their dignity? Do we welcome them into our communities?
There are women of color who are marginalized in the fight for gender equality. Do black women, African women, Latina women, native/aboriginal women, and other women of color have an equal voice in our churches, organizations, and causes?
Do we see and hear those on the margins of our communities? Do we convey to all our sisters that they have innate dignity as image-bearers of God?
Do we really believe that all people reflect the image of God? Does how we fight for justice reflect that truth?
We must dig through our thoughts and attitudes to identify the oppressive structures in our hearts and minds.
These are difficult things to evaluate. These questions probe around in the muck and mire, in the ugly stuff of our lives.
Sometimes we cannot see that the mission of equality has become an exclusive one, one that glorifies the agenda of the powerful and obscures the stories and perspectives of the marginalized.
Often, it seems that we want equality for ourselves and for those “like us,” but are embarrassingly fine with the marginalization of others. Perhaps we rationalize that “they” need to fight their own battles or that “we” are already working hard on our own projects. We can only stretch ourselves so thin, after all! Perhaps we have a deeply hidden fear of “the other,” a fear that is rooted in our own insecurities and history of oppression.
Whatever the reason, in our quest for equality, we don’t extend the same dignity to others that we are fighting so hard to gain for ourselves.
Being female does not make women immune to participating in oppression.
Sisters in Christ, let us do the hard work. Let us dig through the mess and muck of centuries of oppression, recognizing where we have upheld the agenda of the powerful. Let us decommission the broken bowl of oppression still present within us and replace it with something new, something whole. Let us spread the good news that all people have dignity and worth as image-bearers of God.