Good news week

We are bombarded with so much that is weird, dangerous or fake, I thought we might need some quiet and positive stories of women and girls who are getting on with life in all its wonder and mess (back to the bad and dangerous next month).

It’s the time of year for exam results in the northern part of the world – so much pressure to achieve straight As (or maybe A*s) to get into the most prestigious courses.

Three daughters of my friends did extremely well but maybe not as well as they were dreaming. That final A* eluded them.

But these girls are all incredibly passionate about life. One was school captain, they all study music, they are involved in youth groups at church, they speak fluent German or Russian,  and they all care about politics and justice.

One woman in our prayer group, Naomi, whose children are all now in their 20s, wisely wrote, “Achievement is a fickle thing. Much better to be happy in one’s own skin, take the opportunities life presents and not be afraid.”

I don’t think that is a Bible verse, but it should be! God told Joshua, “Don’t be afraid”, Jesus told the churches in Thyatira and Philadelphia, “Hold on!”

Jesus says, “Hold on to what you have until I come…I will not impose any other burden on you.” Rev 2:24-25

When we are under pressure to crave success, high achievement, money and ….straight A’s, God reminds us through Naomi’s words that God’s opportunities are varied and strangely wonderful – we should say yes and not be afraid. Good news indeed.

My second story comes from Rwanda via Australia. My friend Nicky has been a counsellor and academic in Sydney for over 20 years, and has, through those years of faithful and Spirit led counselling, become an expert in dealing with people who have been damaged by abuse inside the Church.

Nicky’s patient defence of victims (overwhelmingly female) and mending broken lives have opened the way for her to train pastors and bishops to be aware of abuse, to deal honestly with perpetrators and work humbly with survivors.

Nicky is not welcomed by some church leaders in Australia, but she is so respected and experienced, she cannot be ignored.

How does she hold on? It can only be God.

And in God’s wonderful wisdom, Nicky has been using her skills in places like Indonesia, the Pacific and eastern Africa to heal wounds of exploitation. She was part of a training team on Biblical gender justice in Rwanda last week. The meeting was covered on national TV in a nation which is way ahead of many others in encouraging women to fully participate in public life: 61% of parliamentarians are women, as are 50% of the judiciary.

In the midst of life’s challenges, sin and pain – the ordinary ups and downs and the huge barriers – God is always quietly at work through any of us who are willing to ‘hold on’ and not be afraid. Thank you to Naomi and Nicky, and young women like Elena, Grace and Katya who inspire others to flex their muscles of bold faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rise in Strength

Sixty women leaders from 18 nations gathered in Amsterdam in June to celebrate the gifting, service and leadership of women in the Church across the globe. They mourned the injustices women suffer and called on Christians to take steps to honour women’s leadership in family, church and community.
Women are leaders. They lead businesses, families, law firms, theological colleges and charities. They are writers and counsellors, mothers and mentors. They also lead in churches in various ways, using the gifts and natural talents given by God.
During three days of ideas, worship, networking and united determination to speak for women across the globe, key ideas emerged. I want to share some of those ideas, to demonstrate the beauty and the burden of being born a girl in our world.

1. We love our calling despite setbacks: Before the consultation we surveyed 500 women (496 to be precise) to seek their insights. The survey highlighted that we think that sexism in the Church (57%) and cultural obstacles to women in leadership (50%) are the biggest hurdles to women being able to follow their calling.
The women at this consultation were mostly over 50 and established in leadership – they had pioneered projects, set up ventures and earned high educational standards; but they still wanted to talk about the setbacks they had to overcome and were concerned that young women still experienced the same obstacles.
The strongest social concerns were about poverty (52%), faith-based or gender-based violence (46%), marriage and family pressures (39%), and social media pressures on girls and teens (38%). Is the Church active in addressing these issues?

2. We need numbers: It’s often said that women make up 60% of the Church (and more in some places like Nepal or rural Europe). But we don’t know for sure because there are few global statistics on the number of women who are Christians or their roles. Barna research tells us that women are leaving church in the USA, but we only have anecdotal evidence for women becoming Christians or the number of women who lead churches. Good data will help us know how women and men experience church. After all, the closest disciples of Jesus (120) counted their new members at Pentecost (3000). Numbers would help us understand how women are contributing and where.

3. We recognise the truth of The Bible: over 180 women are mentioned by name in the Bible and many more who are significant are not named. Too little is taught about the contribution of women to the flourishing of faith. We are conscious that Bible teaching about the role and leadership of women can divide Christians but God’s character is to value men and women equally. And there are many examples from the Gospels and the early Church that show women leading church groups, teaching, giving financial support and having roles like prophets and apostles.

4. We value each other: The event was unusual because we did not have any ‘main’ speakers – 32 women had roles in presentations or leading some aspect of our time and that was a strong signal to us all that no-one was more special than anyone else. Kay Arthur, whose Precept ministry has 11 million books in print (!), showed gracious humility in all our discussions. Other women are successful business entrepreneurs, or work with the most vulnerable women in war-torn areas. God sees and values all. If only all leadership in the Church was as wise and humble as the women gathered in Amsterdam. It is not easy: we all want recognition for what we do, a bit of praise, especially if we are volunteers or low paid. This group of dedicated and professional women were willing to acknowledge each other’s giftings and achievements without jealousy and that is a moment to celebrate.

5. We have influence: Our influence in terms of day-to-day contact and leadership is around 3300 people, an average of 55 per woman, which sounds good but not spectacular. But when we added the next layers of influence – emails, books, social media, radio, TV, our Boards, and friends, we got to 5 billion! That’s the reach of TV and radio as well as having some big denominations present. You might say, ‘Hang on a minute, that sounds like overclaiming’. And the quick survey we did in the room was not meant to be scientific. But if we take only 10% of that figure, the women gathered in Amsterdam reach a potential 500 million people. This gathering in Amsterdam, sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and the Lausanne Movement is a significant step to heeding the insights of women.

6. We united in our prophetic voice: Gender inequality continues to be a barrier that diminishes the effective witness of the Church to the transforming power of the Gospel. Views on theological hot issues like headship or women pastors varied but all of us acknowledged the pain when women’s voices are silenced, single women are ignored, girls are seen as second class and when the Church has tolerated abuse. Such behaviour has harmed the gospel message.

7. We had one mind in the Call to All Christians: We know that that Jesus came that we may all have life and have it in all its fullness. and that Jesus called, accepted, healed and restored women. We committed to sharing and demonstrating this Good News, women and men together empowered by the Holy Spirit. And we called on the Church to take notice of the cries and concerns of women and girls so that we can be honest when we say, Jesus transforms individuals and communities.

You can read the full text of the Call at http://www.worldevangelicals.org/wc/
In my next blog, I’ll be looking at how the Church could respond to the Call to action.

Here is the full text of the Call to All Christians, just in case it is slow getting online:
We, sixty international women leaders[1], met at the Rise in Strength consultation in Amsterdam, June 2019, to celebrate the contribution of Christian women to the work of God in the world.
We gathered from diverse backgrounds, recognising the changing context in which we find ourselves.
We were united in our conviction that gender inequality continues to be a barrier that diminishes the effective witness of the Church to the transforming power of the Gospel.
We affirm that Jesus came that we may all have life and have it in all its fullness[2]. This Gospel transforms lives; the Bible affirms that Jesus called, accepted, healed and restored women. We commit to sharing and demonstrating this Good News; women and men[3] continue to be compelled by God’s grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit[4].
We affirm the theological approach of the Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment as a foundation for our Call to all Christians: “That all of us, men and women, married and single are responsible to employ God’s gifts for the benefit of others as stewards of God’s grace and for the praise and glory of Christ. [We] are also responsible to enable all God’s people to exercise all the gifts that God has given for all the areas of service to which God calls the Church.” [5]
We are compelled, building on this Biblical foundation, to broaden our awareness, increase our attentiveness, and commit to specific actions to restore God’s intention for all people.
AWARENESS
We recognise that our communities and leadership structures have not always been encouraging, freeing or even safe for women and girls, who are each valued and loved by God.
We acknowledge that the pathways for women to serve as leaders in the global Church are limited, and this has prevented many from contributing to the Church in this way.
We acknowledge that the Church has deeply hurt many women and girls, and not heard or acknowledged their pain.
We acknowledge that violence, in all its forms, towards women is perpetrated not only outside the Church, but also inside.
ATTENTIVENESS
We recognize that the global Church has too often ignored the voices of women in its communities.
We commit to being attentive to these voices, including experiences, perspectives, joys and suffering.
We commit to being attentive to women and girls among the most vulnerable populations and regions of the world, especially those living in extreme poverty, or with disability, those endangered by human trafficking, persecuted for their faith, denied education and legal rights – and so at greatest risk of gender-based violence and discrimination.
We commit to discerning the spiritual gifts of all women and girls, so as to draw upon resources God has given for the full health and strength of the whole Church, wherever it manifests across every sector of our society.
ACTION
We must all act to:
Engage in a positive dialogue, mourning and repenting of mistakes and the pain we have caused, and seeking reconciliation; believing this is a first step to making our communities more empowered in Christ and safer places for women, girls, men and boys.
Celebrate the strength, courage, gifts and work of women in churches around the globe.
Work in unity to address the issues which concern us regarding the most vulnerable populations, especially those in extreme poverty and facing persecution for their faith.
Consecrate our gifts and opportunities to further strengthen, grow and mature our local churches and the global Church, in imitation of Christ’s example of Servant leadership.
Commit to collaboration between women and men.[6]
Equip women and girls to take up leadership positions in the Church and wider society, including training and development, making the most of innovative resources .
We call on men and women of the global Church to act so that women, men, girls and boys can all embrace their spiritual giftings to strengthen the work of the Church, and Her witness to the glory of God.

[1] 64 women from 18 nations participated in the consultation
[2] (John 10.10b)
[3] (Gen 1.26-8, 2.23)
[4] (Acts 1.8)
[5] https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment#capetown, p.6
[6] Eph 5.21, John 17.21-3

Can you hear the voices of these women?

Lily, a pastor’s wife from Indonesia was sobbing quietly. She and her husband with their two young children have moved to an isolated part of Java to plant a new church. It is an exciting time for her husband, but she feels left out – she has to spend all her time establishing their new home and settling the children and she wonders how she will ever use her gifts in the church. Her husband is so busy he has no time to notice her sadness.

In India, Shuna is a young woman working for a Christian agency. She is growing frustrated  because she is not listened to or respected. She is expected to take notes and make the tea at meetings even though she has more training and experience than some men round the table.

How do we nurture and develop gifted women leaders across the globe? We all know that women make up 60% of the Church, yet how many women are leading to their full potential as God gifted and created them?

More and more men (and women) are asking how to develop women’s gifts and leadership in their churches.

A recent WEA/Lausanne global survey of 500 Christian female leaders identifies 5 key social and spiritual challenges facing women around the world: poverty; faith or gender-based violence; marriage and family pressures; the pressures of social media; and church teaching that women cannot preach or lead men.

These are BIG issues. Is the Church taking them seriously and making them a priority in its planning?

We will not be able to ‘solve’ all these challenges but it is vital for us to respond wisely and humbly.

One of the best things church leaders can do is LISTEN to the heart and insights of women and seek to understand what women are going through in their communities. It will make our mission work more effective and relevant.

Another step male leaders can take is to ENCOURAGE women to take up bigger and more up-front roles. This was the number 1 recommendation of women in the survey! Women achieve a lot in their workplace and in the family but in church, opportunities to contribute are more limited and they lose confidence and enthusiasm. We don’t want to miss out on all those talents and giftings.

It is vital to have men who encourage and champion women just as Jesus did.

A third thing the global survey identified that would encourage women in leadership was a need for GOOD BIBLE TEACHING about women (there are 188 named women in the Bible and many more un-named heroines like the woman at the well). Pastors tend to use male examples in their sermons (because they are comfortable with those stories) What if they talked more about women in the Bible so they can relate more to the women in their congregations. We need sound teaching on marriage, family and women’s giftedness.

Both Lily and Shuna (not their real names) had the chance to recover a fresh sense of calling at leadership meetings organised in Asia by leaders of the Women’s Commission. What vital support and guidance these meetings provide.

We have thousands of equipped and faith-filled women leading amazing ministries and helping local churches disciple families and young people. In India, women train churches in how to detect and tackle trafficking in rural villages. In South Africa and Egypt, women have started many projects in poor areas to help young women. In Myanmar, women have a special role in reaching across denominations and ethnic groups to bring unity.

nepali woman
One of 150 women from across Nepal who learnt new ways to think about women in the Bible and in Nepal, at Micah/NCF/NCS training in Kathmandu

In Nepal, women are setting up groups in each state so they can help local communities respond to needs, not out of charity, but because God wants us “to do justice and love mercy” (Micah 6:8).

These ministries are not a side activity of the Church – they are key integral mission strategies. Churches can only benefit when they listen to women, champion their gifting, pray together and welcome women as equals in the Kingdom.

The full results of the survey are being analysed over the next month and there will be more helpful recommendations coming – look out for them – it is the voice of over half the Church.

 

Legacy of quiet service

My mum, Lenore Claire, coming up to her 92nd birthday, had a mini stroke 10 weeks ago that set in motion a spiral (ever downwards) of changes in her life – from overworked but determined provider and homemaker for my 94 year old dad, to a ‘client’ in a nursing home.

Mum has cared full-time for Derrick, the only man she ever loved, for around seven years; he has been increasingly dependent on her to be his eyes, his memory, his cook, cleaner and medical advisor.

dads 90th
Dad’s 90th with my sisters Chris and Liz

Now all that has stopped. My parents have reluctantly moved to a nursing home in Canberra where they will be close to my sister. They have separate rooms so Mum has no direct role in Dad’s care and now relies on my wonderful sister for many decisions.

Mum has lost her daily routine of to-do lists and the security of her vital role, but she has also been freed from the 24/7 burden of keeping Dad alive.

With none of her daughters or grandchildren living in Sydney (how she must have talked to God about that!), my mother has missed out on weekly support –  phone calls don’t quite replace popping in for a cuppa and a ride to the doctor’s. My parents also missed out on church community when they moved to a retirement village in their eighties and never made new church connections.

So what does married life look like now for a woman who wed at 21 in the post war era, and contributed three children to Australia’s baby boom?

Mum at 16
Mum looking gorgeous as a teenager at around the time she met Dad

Who never had paid work after she married  71 years ago but who volunteered in various vital ways to church life locally and across the state. Who cooked and cleaned with zeal (I found over 20 different cleaning products in the flat when we were clearing it).

She has certainly fulfilled her vow to love in sickness and health, for richer and poorer – mostly poorer! As Dad has grown frailer and his mind has grown weaker, Mum must be confused and all I can hope and pray for is that she will find comfort and strength in God and in the next generations of her family.

Written on a chart on the back of the door to her new “home”, she answered the question,

“What gives my life purpose and meaning?” with seven words: My family, going to visit my husband.

In Canberra, my sister and her daughter and grandsons will provide news, laughter and diversion for my mother. And though she still follows the machinations of Aussie politics on the nightly news, her world is now focussed on family.

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Three generations: Mum enjoying time with her oldest grandchild Alexandra and me in Canberra sunshine last week

We should have managed the process of Mum and Dad’s declining health more carefully so that changes happened with their full involvement, but few people I know have avoided some sort of trauma in caring for aged parents (and mum and dad have been rather stubborn!) But that word ‘care’ is obviously key.  How blessed we are to have a family that works together and has the capacity to give time and love.

I know Mum prays for us all each day – may her prayers be powerful to bring hope and meaning to the very different lives of her three daughters, five grandchildren and 4.9 great-grandchildren. And may she, like Anna in Luke Chapter 2, rejoice in her legacy of service, knowing she is a daughter of the King.

 

 

 

 

 

A non-passive madonna

I love art galleries – wandering in the muted light and stillness, amazed by the liveliness or colour or beauty of an artist’s imagination.

My favourite places are the small gems – the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, the Frick in NY, or the glory of the Frank Lloyd Wright room at the Met. Or places like the Boston gallery, where the building sings of creativity as much as the artworks.

In the less popular rooms of many galleries are the medieval religious works, with static haloed figures or obscenely ornate crucifixes.

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But sometimes I stand in wonder in front of the Christmas nativity scenes – Mary holding her baby,  dressed in 14th century robes surrounded by saints or gazing with love at her child who will be the Saviour of the world.

The painting by Venetian artist Vivarini shows us such a Mary, gazing down with a background of sumptuous gold (real gold!)

 

 

And Lorenzetti shows us an enigmatic Mary locking us with her eyes. She is remotely beautiful, and yet seems protective of her baby boy.IMG_0858

Mary often looks passive and serious, but the Bible tells us she ‘pondered all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:19) – the angel’s visit, the birth, the shepherds, the star.

Of course she did! A teenage girl whose life has been turned upside down by the visitation of an angel. And she is thoughtful because somehow she understands both the love and sorrow that Jesus will bring her.

 

Foreshadowed in the gifts of the wise men is Jesus’ kingship (gold) but also his suffering and death (the offering spice of frankincense and the burial perfume of myrhh)

I love the painting by Philippe de Champaigne (though it’s not medieval).

IMG_0853It shows the visit of Elizabeth to her younger cousin, Mary. They are both wrapped in the happiness of pregnancy as they are also wrapped in their capes. They embrace in a moment of feminine mutual support. The men (presumably their husbands) are in the background, out of the main action.

And I love that Mary is tall and proud, and her clothes are bold red and blue.

Mary is not a passive pushover. Her song in Luke Chapter 1 (still sung in many traditional churches as the Magnificat) is a bold declaration that God’s rule will bring justice for the poor and hungry, and salvation for his people.

So this Christmas, I ponder again like Mary, the mystery of a virgin birth, a humble teenage girl and a song of justice and freedom that rings true today just as it did in Palestine over 2,000 years ago.

Have a happy and holy and just Christmas.

And here is Mary’s song:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favour on his humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

 

 

God’s police

I’m fascinated and appalled by the way many people still like to stereotype women and girls as either pure goodness or immoral seductress.

In a rape trial last week in Ireland, the defence barrister (a woman) asked the teenage victim to hold up her lace underpants worn on the night of the attack. The implication for the jury was that any girl who wore underwear like that was asking for trouble. The man was found not guilty (though I cannot know how important that part of the evidence was in the jury’s mind).

Story tellers in Hollywood Westerns used to draw the same simplistic picture – women on the frontiers of white settlement were either virtuous wives and homemakers bringing civilising values or bold bar girls with revealing clothes and little virtue.

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In ‘Stagecoach’, a classic John Wayne and John Ford Western, the stereotypes are certainly there: the doc who drinks too much and the sanctimonious women of the Virtue League. But the coach passengers include Dallas, a girl of ‘easy virtue’ (their male clients are never described like that!) with a good heart. Wayne’s character, Ringo Kid, is drawn to her lack of hypocrisy and they fall in love. The ‘moral’ characters evoke little sympathy.

Maybe we need to allow for more Dallas models in our Barbie collections.

 

Wives in British colonial settings also carried the flame for moral rectitude and civilised values: in the face of challenging cultures where western men had affairs with local girls, British memsaabs were charged with upholding Victorian values. That meant church values too.

Australian historian Anne Summers summed up the colonial mindset in Australia with a wonderful phrase – women were either ‘damned whores or God’s police’. She argued that colonisation reduced 19th-century women settlers to one of two narrow roles: virtuous wives and mothers, “God’s police” who made sure colonists did not get drunk or gamble; or the transgressive “damned whores” who answered the repressed needs of men, in a colony where females were in short supply.

Bible commentators do the same thing – put the Bible’s women into one of 2 columns – very good or very bad.

Jezebel is ‘very bad’, so is Potiphar’s wife, so is Herod’s wife. And it’s mostly to do with sexual sin – these women tempt men to sinful behaviour. Eve is described as a temptress and blamed for causing Adam to sin.

On the ‘very good’ side we have young women who are usually described as beautiful, like Ruth, Esther or Mary.

I think this is why Billy Graham’s ‘rule’ about not meeting with women in private has been taken up so enthusiastically by a new generation – we still see women as unbalanced tempters and men as victims.

Billy Graham was a famous figure who I am sure attracted all sorts of needy people who wanted his attention – men and women. He was travelling a lot, away from his circle of support. He also knew that the media would pounce on any whiff of indiscretion.

I do not criticise his way of dealing with the issue of temptation but somehow now, we leave the man’s response out of the equation as if they do not have intelligence and strength to deal with vulnerable men and women.

(Well maybe they don’t, considering the huge number of cases of male leaders who have abused their power and influence over young lives)

We all have to get better at acknowledging the whole spectrum of behaviour of women. We don’t want to see women as static romantic heroines of chivalry but we don’t want the opposite either. Women are loving, nurturing, strong, brave, impetuous, emotional, intellectual, frail…..the list goes on.

It worries me that in these days of hate-filled discourse, there is a revival of idealising ‘traditional’ roles, and putting a soft glow on the complementarian idea that women are sort-of-equal, but just not equal enough to lead or teach.

Some women and men are totally happy to be homemakers, family builders and supporters of others. If that is their gifting and desire, fantastic.

But for those who are called and gifted to be teachers, preachers and leaders, we should not be vilified, and random Bible verses should not be quoted to imply that we are rebellious. The ‘blame women’ thread in contemporary commentary needs to stop.

 

 

 

 

An Open Wound

Another week of revelations about abuse and cover-up in the Church. Pope Francis visits Ireland last week and the topic on everyone’s lips was unfortunately sexual abuse. Everyone who admired Willow Creek Church in Chicago, which has influenced thinking about effective church growth for a generation of evangelicals, has been stunned by allegations of sexual harassment

I try to be deliberate and positive in my blogs because there is so much vitriol online. However, it makes me angry and very sad that Christian leaders – overwhelmingly men – are willing to compromise the character of God whom they say they serve, to satisfy their own desires for power and then lie to protect their jobs, their colleagues or their power.

The stories are so frequent and so widespread – an investigation into sex abuse by the Church in Australia said that 7% of all Australian RC priests were involved in sex abuse in the last 60 years – that the worldwide church should be contrite, and sorrowful, and determined to change poisonous practices.

But there are still excuses and still a tendency by male pastors and some of their followers (both male and female) to blame the victims. It happens across denominations and across nations.

Here are some ‘excuses’ we might hear that need to be exposed as lies.

EXCUSE: The victims are too pretty, too needy or too easy to seduce and therefore somehow it is not the man’s fault.

I have heard this argument from a number of men. Women who come to pastors for counsel or prayer may be needy and vulnerable but ‘pastoral’ care means discerning wise action and taking steps as a shepherd and leader to be both caring and careful.

Men, especially leaders in the church should be strong enough to walk away or call for female back-up if they feel tempted. It’s a good reason for having male and female leadership of all ages so that there can be accountability and support.

EXCUSE: Women and children who have suffered abuse should stay quiet to protect the church from scandal.

A number of women who have come forward about historical abuse have said they felt explicit or implicit pressure to be silent about what happened.

In the case of Willow Creek, Hybel’s assistant, who has accused her former pastor of fondling, inappropriate touching and more, says she felt enormous loyalty to the church ad the leadership and did not want to wreck reputations. (The church leadership initially backed Hybels when he denied allegations but has since apologised for its initial inaction.)

Since when is it the role of a victim to protect the powerful? It is the job of those with authority in the Church to protect their flock and anyone who has been exploited by a church leader or in a Christian institution.

If there has been criminal activity, the police should be involved. The Church cannot think it can quietly push aside serious allegations of any sort – financial, sexual or violent misconduct.

Churches, especially those with powerful and charismatic leaders, need to examine their governance and accountability.

EXCUSE: Women should quietly forgive – their submissive attitude will lead the perpetrator back to God.

This argument is especially used when the abuse is within marriage. If there is no sign of repentance, no genuine change, can a woman stay in a destructive situation that threatens her wellbeing and that of her children?

If it was your daughter being abused, would you ever say, “You just need to submit more, forgive more?” In some cultures there may seem to be no way out, but the Church exists to transform cultural practices to reflect more of God’s values.

That means releasing men to be loving and servant hearted and releasing women to be the same.

EXCUSE: Some women are dangerous – they have a ‘Jezebel spirit’.

Women are not always innocent and some do tell lies about abuse or deliberately try to provoke a man. Their wrong behaviour should be called out just as much as bad behaviour by men. Jezebel is the archetype of the wicked woman – the wife of King Ahab who encouraged the worship of Baal and clashed with Elijah and Elisha. She was cruel and unjust.

She was definitely a bad woman.

But is there a Jezebel spirit? Surely a number of Judah and Israel’s kings were just as cruel, vicious and ungodly. Why do we hear so much about Jezebel’s evil?

Maybe because Bible commentators (overwhelmingly male) want to believe in the purity and goodness of women and anyone outside that model must be totally evil, evil that is very often seen in sexual terms. Whereas Biblical men are allowed to be imperfect – indeed we celebrate the humanity of heroes like King David, Abraham and Peter, the church (and the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day) is less forgiving of weakness in women.

Recently in the US, a pastor who admitted to his church that he had strayed as a youth pastor twenty years before, was given a standing ovation for being open and honest.  I understand the need to forgive but his action was criminal (the girl was only 17) and it seems there has been no justice for her (she was told to stay quiet by two pastors at the church).

So I plead for women to speak out about abuse, and for male leaders to champion truth and justice rather than shuffling their feet or thinking that the whole issue has got a bit out of control (another excuse!)

Pray for wisdom and humility for church leaders who must respond to abuse allegations. We do not want people to be wrongly accused but we do not want victims to be ignored.

Pray for the Church to be truly repentant. The Pope talked in Dublin this weekend of ongoing abuse being an “open wound”. He went on, “I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family.”