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Published Date: May 3, 2014

Published Date: May 3, 2014

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The Hunger Games and the Gender Debate

I am a big fan of The Hunger Games series, and devoured each book in a matter of days after release. Recently I saw Catching Fire(1), the movie based on the second book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. There are many powerful moments in the film, but I thought one scene in particular had implications for the gender debate taking place in conservative evangelical circles today.

For those not familiar with the story, here is a brief summary.

[Spoiler Alert] After winning the 74th Hunger Games (a competition in which “tributes” are forced to fight to the death), protagonist Katniss Everdeen returns to her home in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. Because her defiant actions in the arena have fueled a rebellion against the oppressive Capitol, President Snow forces the remaining tributes to return to the arena for another round of competition. Before Katniss sets out, her coach gives her these words of advice: “When you are in the arena, you remember who the true enemy is.” As the deadly games proceed, it becomes obvious that the government’s aim is to make sure none of the tributes return alive, and this advice ends up making all the difference in the final outcome.

Remember who the true enemy is.

As the debate about women’s roles is played out in the arenas of church and society today, many Christians seem set on characterizing the issue as a conflict between men and women. Men are accused of selfishly holding onto their privilege and power at all costs, and women are accused of wanting an equal share of that power for power’s sake. Some seem to have the idea that this is a zero sum game; meaning that men will lose something if they share their power with women, when in fact, both would gain. Still others frame the issue as a conflict between Christians and secular society. The end result is often a barrage of “friendly-fire” with collateral damage to both sides.

Could it be that we’ve lost sight of who the true enemy is?

When we draw the lines of the battle so narrowly it’s easy to forget that there is another player in these “earthly games”, one whose role in the conflict is described in Genesis 3. After being cast out of heaven, Satan’s Plan B was to become the ruler over earth. So he entices Adam and Eve into disobeying God, thinking this will give him some kind of sovereign power over them(2). But instead God’s response is this: “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15b). It’s like God is saying “Don’t be too smug about your success here. From now on you will be the enemy of the woman and her offspring, and One will come from her who will crush your head,” a reference to the coming Christ.

Remember who the true enemy is.

Sometimes I think our preoccupation with the consequences of sin described for Eve (“your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you”, Genesis 3:16b) causes us to underestimate the depth of Satan’s enmity towards women. Enmity means conflict. Enmity means anger and loathing and hatred.

We are naive when we fail to connect that enmity to the oppression of women that has taken place through the centuries and continues today. As Paul reminds us, “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). Satan knows that one way to hold back the Church is to marginalize and oppress women.

It will take the joint efforts of both women and men (empowered by the Holy Spirit) to overcome the impact of Satan’s enmity. I believe this is a spiritual battle, not a secondary or cultural issue. Indifference or apathy only gives Satan the upper hand. Men must recognize who the real enemy is and actively advocate for women. Women must recognize who the real enemy is and prepare for battle by “armoring up” to stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18). And we all need to pray earnestly for gender reconciliation in the church and in the world.

Let’s not forget who the true enemy is.


(1) The Hunger Games movies are not for the faint at heart. Here is a link to a review by Alissa Wilkinson in Christianity Today. Skip to the last page for information about violence (a lot), language (some), and sexuality (very little) portrayed in the movie.

(2) We know the serpent in the garden is a reference to Satan because of Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2. The serpent becomes an earthly symbol of Satan’s reprimand.