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Women are prominent characters in Luke’s gospel. It begins with Mary, the blessed one through whom grace and hope is born into the world; it ends with women running from the tomb, proclaiming the gospel. In between there are powerful stories that tell of Jesus’ encounters with women, like the one who anointed his feet. The Pharisee in the story fell short of the hospitality expected of a host; it was the woman “who was a sinner” who washed Jesus’ feet and welcomed him with a kiss. Sure, the Pharisee could claim a posture of moral superiority, religious freedom, and doctrinal purity, but it was nothing more than a dressed up version of judgement and condemnation, first for the woman “who was a sinner”, and then for Jesus because he associated with her. Jesus’ response, both in the parable and the granting of forgiveness, reveals the radical hospitality of the kingdom of God that refuses to affirm the oppressive cultural hierarchies and gender roles of the first and 21st centuries. Notice how the story ends—Luke names the women following Jesus who had been “cured of evil spirits” that included the demonic social and cultural patterns that left many women unnamed and marginalized.
So what does this have to do with Baylor? What is happening at Baylor shines a light on a problem facing colleges and universities everywhere, including those that claim to be Christian. These institutions often adopt the power games of a masculine capitalist paradigm that emphasizes competition, money, and status, all with the right amount of piety and doctrine. In many ways the Christian community plays the role of the Pharisee in Luke 7, insisting on orthodoxy and moral purity, taking pride in standing up for religious freedom, unconcerned with the plight of the “sinful” women caught in patterns of violence and abuse. It’s not that we’re unconcerned with important issues, we make sure that people are “aware” of sex trafficking in far off places, but we find it difficult to take up the cause of the women on our own campuses, in our dorms, in our classes, and in our own homes. When it comes to the issue of sexuality and gender it often seems that the Christian community wants grace without justice, and freedom without responsibility. I find it disturbing that many of the young women in my class last spring admitted they would rather be male—”It’s easier”, they said. Until we deal with the way we talk about gender and sexuality in some parts of the Christian community, sexual abuse and sexual violence will continue to be a problem that is continually overlooked.
Sexual assault is a systemic issue grounded in cultural and linguistic patterns that frame gender and sexuality in the context of violence and control. Women who are victims of sexual assault face the daunting task of having their voice heard, let alone believed. This is particularly difficult in the Christian community where they feel the burden of moral and doctrinal expectations. Often they face accusations of immorality, and even mental illness, as a part of a broader masculine narrative undergirded by religious jargon. Too often in the Christian community victims hear the words of the Pharisee, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is…” What they need is an advocate, someone who will hear them, someone who knows their name, and someone who can offer the same hospitality that Jesus gave. What they need to hear is a good word—”Go in peace”.