What counts above all else is faith working through love.
~ Galatians 5:6
Maybe you too have a heart that breaks grappling to make sense of all the enslavement and violence that falls so heavily on girls and women around the world and right in your own backyard? And you don’t want to just sit and feel bad about it, you want to be part of positive change in our world?
Maybe you like us the authors have been surrounded in your faith journey by a confusing mix of gender attitudes and beliefs which on the one hand presume the equality of males and females yet still teach a model of one-sided “submission” (females) and one-sided authority/“dominion” (male) as God’s ideal?
Maybe you are working to connect the dots between the mind-numbing global scourge human trafficking which falls disproportionately on females—roughly 70-80% of the estimated 27 million enslaved peoples today are girls and women—and the prevalence of traditional practices and beliefs, often sanctioned by religion, which right from the womb undermine the worth and human agency of girls as a lesser than, subordinate class of human beings?
If so, this book is for you! You—like us—are caught within this ancient web of “venerable traditions” which persists in our contemporary world in confusing blatant and latent ways.
You like us are caught in a global shift that is still happening—with confusing fits of progress and regression—to shift from centuries of traditions which enshrined a social ethic of male dominion as the status quo to reclaim the shared dominion of all human beings as image bearers of God.
As this image suggests, there is increasing awareness that our world’s gender-based humanitarian scourge—which has been chillingly called “gendercide”—is not due to accidental, random forces, like an earthquake or hurricane. Rather, it is the manifestation of centuries, actually millennia, of “Venerable Traditions”, which we will be exploring together in this book, which arose within the highly stratified, slave cultures of ancient empires which came to view being born female as a lower caste of humans, a rung up from slaves, meant for subjugation right in their own homes. These traditions pre-date Christianity and all of our world’s great religious traditions yet today in the 21st c., with the rise of religious fundamentalisms, it is religion which is now the primary sanction of arcane gender practices—which we see flaring up all over the news—like female veiling, genital cutting, bride price, early marriage, polygamy, “honor killings”, prohibitions against women driving and girls attending school, and various forms of indentured servitude/enslavement.
While these traditions tend now to be associated with Islam, they are actually portals back to the ancient cultural norms of male honor/dominion within which all of our world’s religions arose where females came to be seen as inferior, unclean, the source of evil in the world and thus meant to be owned and subjugated—like cattle, land, and slaves—and passed from one patriarch to another.
As we will be exploring together, these patriarchal traditions did not exist forever nor do they spring out of nature like the flowers and the trees and designs of the cosmos. Like all unjust social structures which arose throughout human history which have claimed to be based on a “natural order” or “divine right to rule”, all the patriarchal customs and beliefs still practiced today in our world are facets of an ancient social system of male honor/dominion which arose within a particular epoch of ancient human civilization and were formed along the same stratified master/subject axis as slavery where it came to be normal and acceptable to conquer another people group and own and subjugate another human being.
Like an invisible net which hovers over our world, these ancient traditions of male honor/dominion (and their corollary of female shame/subjugation) continue to practiced all over the world and by many accounts are experiencing a resurgence. Today, no one has firsthand experience with the original cultures which gave birth to these traditions so it is primarily the authority of religion which continues to sanction these practices. And yes, Bible-believing Christians too!
Our hope and prayer for this book is to engage followers of ancient faith traditions—particularly Christians like us committed to justice and ridding our world of all forms of slavery—to hold a mirror to our own faith traditions which are a living and global bridge back to the ancient soil within which traditions of male honor & dominion (and its corollary female shame and subjugation) arose alongside of slavery and overtime became codified into a complex web of patriarchal household customs, puberty/nuptial rites, and eventually into both common and written laws which shaped the flow of human history within all of our world’s great cradles of civilization.
Tough millennia have elapsed since the rise of these human dynasties where society came to be organized as a feudal caste system, girls everywhere on this planet are still born into an invisible web of ancient customs, beliefs, and common law practices—relics of a cultural norm that originated over 5,000 years ago in the patriarchal, slave cultures of ancient empires—which still today in the 21st c. treats them as a lower class of human beings not meant to live in mutuality as human agents their own right but rather to live as subjects under male dominion.
This mindset persists as deeply engrained common law in varying degrees and forms in different places in the world despite formal laws, constitutions, and international treaties which have sought establish a level playing field of equality and shared human and civil rights for all.
How can we enlist our venerable traditions themselves—in particular those which spring from faith—to get beneath the surface of the “mountain” of harsh and enslaving humanitarian realities that fall like fetters on the shoulders of too many girls to transform and uproot this underlying, ancient social norm of male dominion that still persists around the world treating girls from the moment they are born as subjects to be owned, dominated, and transacted within their own families and communities?
This is our task as we journey with the Girl Child to the “promised land” where her basic dignity and shared dominion as an image-bearer of God are not so tenuous and prone to endless backlash and regression. Our task is both spiritual and humanitarian: to open our hearts and minds to find tangible and practical ways to loosen the grip of this ancient web of subjugating beliefs and customs, all too often sanctioned by religion, to co-create a world where girls can grow up to presume their own equality and God-given birthright to live fully and freely in mutuality and shared dominion rather than the ancient hierarchy of male dominion. This isn’t an easy task for the faith of heart, it requires tremendous grace and cultural sensitivity, and above all else a roll-up-your-sleeves faith working through love that is humble and so committed to the shared flourishing of the human family that it is willing to look deep within even the most enduring and cherished sacred cows and traditions to see where change needs to happen to chart a new way forward where all human beings can be free.
As followers of the ancient path of Christ, we hold onto the belief that faith in its deepest essence is liberating to the human spirit vis a vis the vast forms of oppression that have been part and parcel of human civilization. The Bible itself is a grand story of the journey of humanity from slavery to freedom and salvation. But we are not so naive to sugar-coat our own tradition, as many tend to do, as always being on the “right” side of history and standing up for justice and human emancipation. History has shown us that it is not enough to say “The Bible says…” because as we know this same Bible can and has been used to sanction slavery and myriad forms of unjust social practices as “God’s created order” which appear cover to cover in the Bible which we no longer accept today as relevant or in keeping of the deeper, truly inspired message of our faith traditions. On the contrary, we are convicted that the only way to be part of positive change is to own the dark side of our tradition in order to reclaim its deepest, most true essence—the mustard seed of faith—has been and continues to move the seemingly impenetrable mountains of injustice which have plagued human history creating one apartheid-like oppressive system after another.
Open your mind and heart and join us in this shared project of faithfully and with great love bringing consciousness and transformation to deeply entrenched harmful gender norms which are maiming and disfiguring the entire human family.
~The Progress of Nations 1997 UN Report
“Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today. Its for both
subtle and blatant and its impact on development profound. But it is so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that it is almost invisible. Yet this brutality is not inevitable. Once recognized for what it is—a construct of power and a means of maintaining the status quo—it can be dismantled."
Imagine a people routinely subjected to assault, rape, sexual slavery, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, verbal abuse, mutilation, even murder—all because they were born into a particular group. Imagine further that their sufferings were compounded by systematic discrimination and humiliation in the home and workplace, in classrooms and courtrooms, at worship and at play. Few would deny that this group had been singled out for gross violations of human rights.
Such a group exists. Its members comprise half of humanity. Yet it is rarely acknowledged that violence against women and girls, many of whom are brutalized from cradle to grave simply because of their gender, is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world today.
Gender violence is also a major health and development issue, with powerful implications for coming generations as well as society in general. Eliminating this violence is essential to constructing the paradigm of human security—and by that I mean peace, peace at home and peace at large. Without it, the notion of human progress is merely a fantasy.
However, opening the door on the subject of violence against the world’s females is like standing at the threshold of an immense dark chamber vibrating with collective anguish, but with the sounds of protest throttled back to a murmur. Where there should be outrage aimed at an intolerable status quo there is instead denial, and the largely passive acceptance of ‘the way things are’…
In all societies, poverty, discrimination, ignorance and social unrest are common predictors of violence against women. Yet the most enduring enemies of a woman’s dignity and security are cultural forces aimed at preserving male dominance and female subjugation—often defended in the name of Venerable & Tradition.”
For the entire piece, see http://www.unicef.org/pon97/40-49.pdf
A picture speaks thousand words… Did you know that the Catholic nun habit and the Muslim burqa and the wedding veil (image here from an Orthodox Jewish wedding) arose from the same ancient cultural soil which viewed being female as intrinsically unclean, morally inferior, the cause of evil in the world and thus meant to be shrouded and silenced in shame and subjugation? This doesn't sound so pretty but as we will be exploring in The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom, this is the face of what we are calling "male dominion" which over the centuries has been preserved and enshrined in a vast tapestry of beliefs and traditions—still in effect today in the 21st c.—which have systemically and with the power of sacred sanction sought to undermine and cover over the image of God in the female half of the human family.
This social ethnic of male honor and dominion lives on in myriad visible and invisible, conscious and subconscious forms in our world today. The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom seeks to faithfully and lovingly make conscious this invisible and ancient root belief which underlies our world's gender-based humanitarian crisis. It is the 21st c. and still in every corner of the world, ancient social norms, beliefs, and customs persist which undermine the God-given "dominion"/agency of females to live in mutuality and shared "dominion" making girls vulnerable to myriad forms of normalized subjugation, enslavement and human rights violations. If this language sounds inflammatory, count yourself lucky that you live in a place where progress toward a more mutual gender norm has happened. But if you see and listen to firsthand accounts of what it is like to grow up as a girl around the world, you will know that Elizabeth's Cady Stanton's description is all too true today: family life itself is still structured around the top-down "kingship" of a father/husband which creates a systemic pattern of devaluation, overwork and disempowerment for girls throughout their human life cycle.
Here are some voices which give testimony to the lingering hold of male dominion in our world today.
"Girls are like servants of boys and men." ~ a girl from Cameroon
"Here in Cambodia, the man is the ‘head of the house' so if he doesn't like the meal you made or what you say, he can beat you." ~ a woman from a rural village in Cambodia
"Girls here wake up really early while the boys and men in the house sleep in. We are expected to serve them food on our knees. Even when we go off to school and make it through university, when we come home we are expected to be a "good African woman" who serves and knows her place. The oldest boy in the family is given a lot of power. He has beaten us when a meal was not ready or we did not do as he asked. My aunt/mother often quotes the Bi-ble to us girls saying that a good woman wakes up early and her role is to submit and serve. Sarah called Abraham "Lord" and obeyed him so we too need to serve and respect men, and this includes your father, your uncle, and your brothers." ~ a young woman from Tanzania
"You don't understand, when a woman tries to advance herself in some way, like going back to school or even going to a women's Bible study, men here are threatened. They expect you as the wife to be available to serve their needs because they are the 'head of the house'. In most churches, it's not much different than in the larger culture." ~ a woman from a big city in Cambodia
"In essence, kingship undeniably belongs to the husband. As we embrace that, we as husbands must lead. We must lead clearly and boldly. We must be out there on the edge looking to the provision and the protection of our kingdom. To do less is to fall short of our calling to headship. The privilege is ours to rule our home." ~ Cru's Family Life To-day Ministry, a US-based ministry with a presence in almost every country in the world
Girls right here in the US in evangelical churches are experiencing a renewed surge of male dominion in the form of a popular new leadership schema which is proliferating throughout a movement called "family-integrated churches" which seems the church as a collection of patriarchal units and a web of church plants being started across the country which teach that the father is the "prophet", "priest", and "king" of the home. Not surprisingly, this is not only disempowering to the wives of these men, but also girls in these homes who are being socialized to learn submission when they are young and some even to not cultivate independence.
"For fathers, being Jesus in the home is no small burden, it means Dad must simultaneously be the Prophet, Priest, and King of the house - as Jesus is with his. But what does it mean for Dad to be the King of the home? And what does this look like day-to-day?"
These contemporary voices are speaking and animating the modern face of this ancient social norm of male honor/dominion and female shame/subjugation which we are exploring together which sadly came to view male/female relations more as that of a king/subject than one of true complementarity and partnership. Sadly this cultural norm shaped the trajectory of Christianity which—like all of our world religions—became more patriarchal overtime as the great church fathers of the faith lost touch with the emancipatory seed of faith that gave birth to Christianity and internalized this cultural norm of females as inferior, unclean, and meant for subjugation through this lens read the Bible as saying that females were not fully made in God's image.
"And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert— that is, death— even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?" ~ Tertullian, Church Father, 155-245
"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence." ~ Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the church, 13th c.
"… All women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior in consequence to the superiority of the male sex." ~ John Calvin, French theologian, pastor and Protestant Reformer, 1509-1564
The theological legacy that was passed down through the centuries by the great "fathers of the faith" was deeply shaped by cultural norms of an ancient world view which saw all of life was as ordered by a cosmic "hierarchy of being" which believed that certain groups were ordained by divine and natural law to rule over others, including males over females who were believed to be a lesser than category of humans who were unclean, morally and intellectually inferior, the cause of sin in the world, and thus meant for lifelong subordination. We hear echoes of this today in all the shade of patriarchal gray which continue to use the Bible to support a social model based on male dominion rather than the shared dominion of male and female as partners meant to live in mutuality not a one-sided authority of one over the other. If we truly want to rid our world of slavery and gendercide, we must be willing to hold a mirror to how our own tradition has been complicit in creating social norms which undermine the God-given dominion of females.
How do these contemporary and ancient voices and faces of male dominion make you feel as you read them? Part of the aim of this book is to awaken and trust one's own inner knowingness—which is the deep essence of faith—to sort through all the gender teachings and customs that you have inherited as part of your cultural and religious conditioning… What gender norms and beliefs have you inherited through both your religious upbringing and your cultural context? As you contemplate the task of "putting faith to work through love" to help accelerate positive change on behalf of our world's girls, allow yourself to hold these in your heart in love and ask yourself does this seem like the timeless heart of my faith? Or might it be emanating from another more time-bound place that need not be carried forward in our world today? If you "scale up" this belief or practice in the world, does it promote and create a more just and free world where all human beings can thrive and flourish and exercise dominion together? Or might it be contributing to an imbalance that is in anyway devaluing and usurping the God-given human dominion of girls and women?
Childhood is a time when we as human beings begin to learn to develop a sense of agency—the capacity to make choices and “live and move and have one’s being in the world free of external control.
An ancient spiritual word for this innate human quality is “dominion”—from the first chapter of the book of Genesis—which connotes a God-given sense of authority and power—a sense of I can do this!—that we as human beings all are given at birth. This capacity for dominion/agency is cultivated over the course of one’s life into adulthood but in a healthy development is cultivated in childhood though play, going to school to develop their mind, and being given the opportunity to make choices about their own life.
Yet today in the 21st c. this basic capacity is denied to and underdeveloped in the lives of too many girls who are seen by their families, their culture, and too often by their religion more as subjects living under someone else’s dominion (male) than as human agents in their own right.
Today roughly 63 million girls around the world are out of school to stay home and do household chores and look after younger siblings. When they are in school, research shows that girls in many places still work longer hours compared with boys and have less free time to play and do their homework.
1 in 3 girls in the developing world are married off before the age of 18 usually to an old-er man. Roughly 280 million girls around the world are at risk of becoming child brides. (Girls Not Brides)
Way too many girls around the world do not know that they have any say over when they will have their first sexual encounter.
Every year, an estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing a dangerous procedure called female genital cutting which attempts to remove their sexual agency/desire which is so central to our humanity.
For countless girls around the world, their worth and their human agency is limited and tied to serving men in their lives—fathers, brothers, husbands, sons not to mention the web of human traffickers which preys on vulnerable girls who are socialized to not have a will of their own. And sadly, all to often it is the sacred authority of the Bible that is invoked to socialize girls to subordinate their own will and be submissive and defer to the will and desire of boys and men.
Change begins with awareness of what is. And as Jesuit priest Antony de Mello describes, “Love springs from awareness.” And a willingness to put one’s time, energy, and resources to work in the world springs from love. Reading the Bible is important but not sufficient in getting to the root of the crisis of gendercide and female enslavement that is wreaking havoc on our planet. Beliefs aren’t enough. Even faith isn’t enough. What our world’s girls need more than anything is for people of faith to reclaim the deep seed of consciousness which lies deep within each of us and which gave birth to our faith traditions themselves and put this seed of faith to work in the world to emancipate the human family from the ancient fetters of male dominion which plain and simple do not belong in the 21st c.
The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom is part of an unsung yet brave global movement which is awakening a movement of spiritual consciousness and love across religious lines to do the long, slow, hard work of transforming harmful and disempowering gender norms from within their cultural and religious contexts to restore wholeness, balance, and peace to how we grow up and relate as male and female within the family of God.
Willing to put both to work for the sake of our world’s girls?
if so, you have all you need for this journey of becoming part of effective solutions which are in-vesting in girls and transforming ancient fetters which still keep her from being free to be all God made her to be.
Hold this theme verse in your heart as a reminder of the inner current of faith which has always been on the side of human freedom and justice.
It was for freedom that Christ sets us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. What counts above all else is faith working through love. ~ Galations 5:1, 6
holding onto that little seed of faith within…grab your walking shoes to walk with the girl child on her long walk to freedom through centuries upon centuries of beliefs, practices, and social norms which say she is not meant for freedom to chart her own course but rather for lifelong subjugation.
This is her moment.
But she needs all of us by her side.
to live, grow, and do what we can
to make this world a better place for
all people to enjoy freedom.
~ Rosa Parks