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07.05.2021

Remembering Sarah

Is Sarah Everard already forgotten?  

Sarah’s murder last month made headlines for days, as did demonstrations and proposed legal changes to better protect women. Yet a few weeks on, news has moved onand I wonder whether anything is really going to change. 

It is easy to be outraged, easy to demand change, particularly from ‘others’ whom we consider a threat; it is easy to retweet articles, or attend a demonstrationThe problem is, how do we, collectively, address the real issues? Measures to try and protect women are good. Yet they focus on managing our external environment, rather than addressing the root problem: the human heart. 

Scripture does not shy away from this question. In Judges 19, a woman is raped and murdered by a gang of ‘worthless men’. The entire nation is outraged, and rises up to punish the tribe they blame. Yet by the end of the story, the woman is forgotten, and we do not even know her name. In chapter 21, those who had gone to war in outrage plot the abduction and forced marriage of hundreds of women. The attitudes that made violence against women possible were still there, and the narrator tells us why: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes’. 

In other words, human beings love to make themselves judges of right and wrong. They resist submitting themselves to God and his vision for healthy communities, and prefer to protect their own freedom of choice. When we prize individual choice above all else, ironically, individuals suffer. Social protection ebbs away and the most vulnerable are hurt first. 

It is the culture as a whole that needs changing, and change will happen by recognising an authority beyond ourselves – the Lord. Of course, this is a challenge in contemporary secular nations 

Yet there are things we can all do: we can take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions and the way in which each one of us contributes to shaping the culture and country we share. We can highlight the need to own our responses, behaviours, and desires; as friends, parents, familyand coacheswe can teach our boys respect; we can move away from focusing simply on women who get hurt, and start dealing with why it is that men hurt women. At that point, we will have a very different conversation and, maybe, the beginning of change. 

 

Revd Prebendary Dr Isabelle Hamley
Secretary for Theology & Ecumenical Relations and Theological Adviser, House of Bishops

 

Comments

  1. Such an important topic, Isabelle. Thanks for offering wise leadership in this space.

    (Just a note, as an editor – we delayed publication of this piece a week, making the author’s initial reference to Sarah Everard’s murder [March 10, 2021] being ‘last month’ slightly off, but in every other regard, correct. Apologies.)

    By Dave Benson  -  7 May 2021
  2. I wish it were as simple as ‘teach our boys respect’. In a way that in itself already misses the point. The only truly transformative event is the coming of the kingdom of God in each life followed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to support & sustain change. God’s word is clear that ‘all have sinned’ and that to love, including our enemies, is to fulfill the law. It is true that we need to teach our boys respect and it is equally true that we need to teach our girls respect. Most of all we must show them the gospel in action accompanied by words which explain it and then continually pray that they receive the kingdom of God too. Each life transformed, one by one. Over many decades I have seen enough shocking and appalling treatment of humans of both genders by humans of both genders to realise that God is right. The generalisation and over simplification of ‘all men are evil, all women are pure’ and ‘trust in women’ mantra’s are sadly mis-guided. Jesus teaches in the sermon on the mount that our inmost thoughts are a proxy for the condition of our hearts. The best advice is left to the writer of Proverbs captured in what we have classified as chapter 3 v 5-6. Come, Holy Spirit.

    By Brian Smith  -  7 May 2021
  3. Amen and amen Sister!

    God bless.

    By Gary Stacey  -  7 May 2021
  4. Yes, powerfully put. How to encourage recognition of an authority beyond in our culture… that is indeed a challenge…

    By Bruce Gulland  -  7 May 2021
  5. Thank you Isabelle. I agree with your comments. It is distressing to see that with increasing frequency we are able to quickly generate a societal response and then just as quickly move on. The conversation about attitudes towards women deserves a much deeper and prolonged reflection. Sadly, I don’t think it’s a conversation our society is really willing to have. For example, it’s entirely appropriate to critique men’s attitude to women. Yet as abhorrent as we may find such attitudes, it’s striking how little critique we are hearing of the culture that spawns and nurtures these views. Are we really naive enough to think that these attitudes originate in somewhere in the individual male psyche and that moralising on social media will be the solution?

    By Colin Gillies  -  7 May 2021
  6. On reading the police chiefs’ observations, during the wave of outrage, that there is a rape culture fuelled by ubiquitous pornography, I couldn’t help remembering the work of Mary Whitehouse 40-odd years ago and the ridicule and abuse that was poured on her in response. It would seem she was right after all.

    By D Stephens  -  7 May 2021
  7. Re Isabelle’s insightful second paragraph, I’ve just finished reading “Those who show up” by Andy Flannagan – a readable and inspiring book about the difference that Christians can make if we are prepared to get involved on the INSIDE of politics rather than just going on marches and signing petitions (though these are also valuable). If we want real change, one way to make it is to roll up our sleeves and get involved with the actual decision-making processes which are a big factor in the shape of our society. It’s certainly made me think!
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25443172-those-who-show-up

    By Martin Tiller  -  8 May 2021

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