Gloria Steinem, an icon of feminism, often speaks—with irony and humor—of male oppression and patriarchy. She describes the persecution, oppression, and domination women have suffered throughout history at the hands of the Christian church. So goes the criticism of the relationship between Christ's church and women. Abuse, and yes, even violence.

While we can't change such one-sided characterizations of the institution we know represents our risen Lord, our Deliverer from oppression, we needn't make it so easy for them either.

We must face an unwelcome truth: Many of the attacks on the church come from women who have experienced great pain in their lives, either because someone in the church caused their pain or they found the church impotent in response. One woman tells of being counseled to be "more submissive" so that her husband would quit battering her. Another describes a Christian organization covering up the abuse of children by a powerful executive. Yet another describes her abuser as a wealthy, well-respected leader in her church and community. Another woman, in telling about her journey of escape from domestic violence, reports that when she finally found the courage to approach a pastor, he responded: "God never gives us more than we can handle."

It is, of course, true that God gives us grace to handle the circumstances of our lives. However, it is also true that in his calculations of what we can handle, God intends that, in our earthly frailty, we will have earthly support.

As Christians, we are meant to be burden-bearers. We are meant to have a heart for the hopeless, for the weary, for the abused. And yet, the church needs to do better in this area. Too often, we have had our heads in the sand.

While ...

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