Tom Hanks is everyone’s favourite actor and I’d like to apologise to him from the outset for distorting one of his most famous and frequently quoted lines – ‘Australia, we have a problem!’ But I think Tom (as he insists on me calling him) wouldn’t mind once he found out the gravity of the problem that Australia is facing. This problem has been front and centre of Australia’s attention for the past few weeks and while all of the attention has been on the seedy side of Canberra, it was a brave Tasmanian girl, Grace Tame, who set the ball rolling. The shameful scandal over the sexual abuse of the former Parliamentary intern Brittany Higgins may have given some the impression that Canberra has a problem, but the truth is that Australia has a problem, and since this year’s Australian of the Year was announced, we here in Tasmania can no longer deny that the problem is actually rife in our state as well!
WOMEN’S GREATEST FEAR
Brittany Higgins’ resolve to seek justice for what happened to her and the way she was treated was spurred on after Grace Tame, herself a survivor of predatory sexual abuse, took up the cause of many other women in a similar situation to her where the legal system seemed to protect the perpetrator and offer no such similar rights to the abused. On the morning of the Prime Minister’s response to the scandal of what had happened to Brittany Higgins broke, the ABC TV News Channel interviewed a woman who was a former lawyer-turned-Canberra-journalist who described her time in the Parliament House Press Gallery where she repeatedly endured inappropriate sexual harassment (which included inappropriate touching and lewdness) during her time there, and, she said, to her shame, that did not report it. Eventually, she too suffered what women fear most. She is now a women’s rights campaigner.
In that interview she said that the problem was that men wrongly viewed sex only on a purely physical level which in their minds has very little consequence beyond the momentary physical encounter. She went on to say that most men do not understand what really happens when they sexually assault a woman. There was, she said, a starkly different reality for women who endured unwanted sexual violation from a man. This stark difference between the viewpoint of men and women was borne out in what men and women fear most. According to her, all of the surveys of what women fear most reveal the same thing: the fear of being raped. Men’s greatest fear, on the other hand, was the fear of being humiliated. She explained that rape was not just a violation of a woman, it was a “breaking” of a woman. It leaves her broken. I was fascinated that she chose to use this word to describe what happened to a woman’s soul as a result of rape.
Our western legal system is largely based on the Judeo-Christian moral code (or at least it used to be). The protection of women was enshrined into that code and the rape of a woman was equated to the capital crime of murder.
¶ “But if the man meets the [engaged] woman out in the country, and he rapes her, then only the man must die. Do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no crime worthy of death. She is as innocent as a murder victim. Deuteronomy 22:25-26 NLT
It is a sad reality that women are routinely objectified by men (treated like sexual objects for their gratification) rather than treated as human beings worthy of respect. This is one of the reasons why we can no longer as a society regard ‘porn’ as an “industry” — then deceptively describe it with the euphemism (the art of using nice words to describe something horrible in order to trick people into thinking it as a good thing) that it “empowers women.”
You might remember that when Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner died he was widely described in the media as someone who empowered and helped to liberate women, when what these confused journalists should have said was that he objectified women for the gratification of men and in the process robbed them of something sacred! I recently asked a female lawyer how I as a pastor should go about addressing this problem, she said, “Teach men about biblical manhood—how to properly treat women!” So here I go.
[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. First Timothy 5:2
I MEAN BE A MAN, NOT A MEAN MAN
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
I was told recently that the term gentleman referred to a man of substantial means. The Oxford dictionary seems to confirm this definition, but it also states that a gentleman is “a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man.” The word chivalrous isn’t used very often today, but I hope that after men have read this pastor’s desk article this adjective might be heard more often. To be chivalrous is to be “courteous and gallant, especially towards women (typically used of a man or his behaviour).” It is a word that describes a man’s respectful and kind treatment of women. It is therefore a word that we should hope to hear used more often. The best example of a chivalrous man is Jesus of Nazareth. Women felt safe around Jesus. Jesus never hit a woman. When alone with a woman in a private setting (note John 4 where Jesus was alone with the Samaritan women at the well), Jesus never did anything inappropriate.
¶ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Ephesians 5:25-27
A chivalrous man protects women. A man who truly loves a woman will patiently listen to her and give her his attention.
A SCARRED WOMAN
Broken women are inevitably scarred and also invisibly scarred. Men have an odd appreciation for scars. Women don’t. Many women who have experienced the humiliation of scarring will use different forms of ‘make-up’ to cover and hide their scars including personality make-up, hairstyle make-up, fashion make-up, and even cosmetic make-up.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 15:13
Some men seem to be able to sense a scarred women and for some despicable reason see them as fair-game. Jesus didn’t. It is my hope that every man who might be disposed this way will accept the challenge to repent, change their view of such women, and learn how to be sensitive to her.
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If I touch even His garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in Himself that power had gone out from Him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34
THE SACRED INVITATION
Australia — Tasmania — we have a problem. The rate of sexual assault in my home state is unacceptable. It is sad to hear that the problem has become so prevalent in some parts of our state that some Tasmanian communities have had to establish their own community based sexual assault support services, such as in Geeveston (which has a population of 616). But there is a solution.
If what I have shared sounds like pious moralising then I have failed in my attempt to persuade men that women should not be considered as objects. If to those who have endured their worst fear I have sounded like an out-of-touch just-get-over-it ignorant male, then again I have failed. The pain – the brokenness – is real. What I hope to have made clear is that what has been happening in Australia’s Parliament House behind closed doors is not isolated or restricted to Canberra. Spend a day in any Magistrate’s Court during an open sitting and you too will begin to realise the extent of Australia’s problem. It is a cultural problem that effects millions of homes across Australia and therefore thousands of homes across Tasmania.
WHERE WE MUST START
It is my hope that all men who know and have surrendered to Christ will commit to helping their local church community to become a sacred space where the scared find sanctuary, and the scarred find soothing. The gospel of Christ offers hope and healing for those who have been traumatised and betrayed. It offers the hope of a new start, a new beginning — not just as the moment of conversion — but any moment that a child of God cries out to their Heavenly Father. Salvation, or deliverance, is available to the son or daughter of God any time they call on the name of the Lord — especially when they have been wounded.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved [rescued].” Romans 10:13
If you are a woman who has been scarred, the Spirit invites you to come into the Father’s sacred place by simply calling on the Father (Matt. 7:7). If you are a man who the Spirit is now convicting of your wrong actions or attitudes toward women, then He invites you to come into the sacred place through the door of confession and repentance (1John 1:8-9). And while I hope that each Sunday becomes a safe and sacred place for every man, woman, boy and girl, I also hope that as we continue to build a church without walls, we might imagine that ‘Houston’ might respond to “Jim Lovell” (Tom Hanks) — “We’ve found a solution Jim, a sacred solution, it’s Christ’s redeeming and rescuing and transforming grace that heals, saves, and delivers.”
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk...