I missed the registration deadline. Plane tickets were sold out. The hotel was fully booked. The leadership training was full. Over and over, I almost missed out on the “Truth Be Told” conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. So when I arrived, I knew God must have something special in store.
I was very excited – my book Good News about Gender was launching at the conference! But I basically expected to stand at a booth, sign some books, hear cool speakers, and collect a wad of business cards.
Well, was I in for a surprise! I ended up with several posts-worth of revelations (so stay tuned for the next two)!
It was no mistake that Christians for Biblical Equality and Gender Equality Matters hosted a conference in South Africa with the theme “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender-Based Violence.” South Africa has high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, but many of its neighbors also look to South Africa as a leader in economic development.
Yet as we saw in the conference speakers, post-apartheid South Africans are also highly conscious that ideas of inequality lead to discrimination and violence. “Ideas have consequences,” Mimi Haddad emphasized. She told the story of evangelical social justice activist Katharine Bushnell, who emptied brothels in the 19th century only to find them full the next day. Eventually, Katharine realized she needed to work “upstream” by tackling the theological misinterpretations that justified gender inequality.
It sounds obvious, but this conference reminded me that gender-based violence is the natural and nearly inevitable consequence of beliefs that women are inferior to men. Adv. Thuli Madonsela (above) explained that when we create a hierarchy where some people – simply because of the bodies they are born with – deserve a better life than others, then anyone who steps out of “their place” threatens the system and must be subjugated with violence. You cannot believe that women are in any way subordinate to men and yet expect them to receive equal treatment in society. Remember “separate but equal” in US history?
Suddenly I remembered why I wrote Good News about Gender. It wasn’t just to advocate for myself or defend my call to ministry. Sometimes I get tired of complaining about gender issues when I have a very privileged life in so many respects. But I realized that the reason I have such an amazing life is because my parents, my grandparents, my university, and my church all lived out the belief that women have equal value to men. My education, employment, and self-esteem is a testament to the effects of egalitarian views.
And my egalitarian upbringing is also why, when I saw women and girls in my church or school be mistreated verbally and physically, I knew they didn’t deserve it. It just took me a decade to figure out that the Bible was saying the same thing. Now I realize that, to the extent that my family and my society believed in equal treatment, they did so because they thought that all people were created equal, that is, made in the image of a Creator. Our practice springs from our ideology. In Jesus’ words, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.”
Writing Good News about Gender is not just a drop in the bucket compared to all the direct-service work addressing gender-based violence. And it’s not a trickle-down effect that leaves the masses thirsty. The reason the theology of gender equality looks small is because it’s upstream. Downstream, justice flows like a river.
…but that’s not all I learned at the Truth Be Told conference! Follow me to make sure you hear the rest of the story!