First published on Christian Sexuality Focus
The issue of the treatment of women and the honouring of their sexuality, not just in society but in the Church, has been foremost in the world for at least the last century, but more especially in the past 50 years due to something called the sexual revolution. Whilst the SR is widely panned with good reason in evangelical circles, it cannot be denied that there has been a corresponding shift in theology over that time as Christians take a closer look at church practices and beliefs as they relate to women. Inasmuch as there have been sustained efforts to challenge patriarchical thinking within the Church over that timeframe, there has also been a conservative backlash that has resulted in more strenuous denunciations of female leadership and to a certain extent, female sexuality within Christian family contexts. There are also grounds to be concerned that conservative attitudes to female sexuality have led to abusive situations, like some of the recent scandals that have engulfed the Southern Baptist Convention in the US.
Outside of the Church, these issues are important in wider society because the 97% statistic mentioned above refers to
a UN Women UK survey which was reported to have found that 97% of women aged 18-24 had reported being sexually harassed in public spaces. This number was subsequently revised downwards to 86% (as described in The Guardian newspaper) but still is very significant. In Australia in particular, the issue of sexual abuse in society came to the fore as a result of the appointment of Grace Tame as 2021 Australian of the Year. Tame, who is from Tasmania has a particular established track record as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, and in March 2021 she led the March 4 Justice event in Hobart.
Grace Tame’s appointment has resulted in a catalyst of sexual harrassment embarrassments for the Liberal-National Coalition federal government led by Scott Morrison. In February 2021, a Liberal Party staffer alleged she had been raped in a senator’s office, and further allegations were made against a Cabinet minister. Evidently these events have not gone unnoticed in New Zealand, and in Christchurch they resulted in protest marches led by students of Christchurch Girls High School targeting alleged behaviour at Christchurch Boys High School. This resulted in a brief flurry of publicity for this cause, although it has somewhat sunk below the radar since then. We hope that the issue will continue to be raised as it is clearly the wish of school management at CBHS to sweep the issue under the carpet and keep the name of their school out of the newspaper headlines.
It is of course appropriate for church and ministry organisations to ensure they are places which are free from sexually harrassing or abusive practices, particularly as the Abuse In Care Royal Commission is currently sitting. Fundamentally this starts from an attitude of respect towards women, and therefore requires these organisations to treat women as equals with men at all levels. The old patriarchical beliefs which are still prevalent in some churches are a hindrance to this.