Recognizing oppression as a first step
Written by Sharon Ellis Davis
February - March 2007
March 1, 2007

'Women and children first' must be more than sea cruise rhetoric

Three years ago, my husband and I were celebrating our honeymoon by taking a seven-day cruise. Although both well-traveled, a cruise was something neither of us had experienced before.

Boarding the ship in New Orleans, we checked into our beautiful quarters for "just married couples." And, soon, we were called to the ship's lower level where all guests were asked to review safety and rescue operations in case of emergency.

We lined up on the outside deck of the ship in several rows. The orientation leader then asked all the women and children to take a step forward and exclaimed, "These are the people who will be rescued first in case the ship begins to sink."

I had several reactions. First, taking advantage of comic relief, I smiled and waved back at my husband, saying "Bye-bye." Then, second, I began to think how nice it was that this boat should have a "women and children first" policy, a place that values and cares for women and children most, especially when I compared that value to the broader culture in which we live.

When I seriously reflect on the persistent violence against women and children - rape, incest, emotional and physical abuse, unfair economic wages, and lack of health care for single, female-headed families - I ask, "Are we producing legislation, attitudes and people who care enough about women and children to ensure they have equal treatment and protection under the law?"

Last October, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I led a workshop entitled "Not in My Church" for 50 clergy, laypersons and denominational representatives. The goal was to increase awareness that violence against women and children, and how it occurs in all our communities of faith.

During our final session, a 60-year-old male made a profound confession. He admitted that, as educated and intelligent as he was (a former college dean, pastor and community activist), he would not have been able to interpret violence-laden scriptures (such as those relating to the rapes of Dinah and Tamar and the story of David and Bathsheba) from a feminist, womanist or abused woman's perspective. He also acknowledged that, beforehand, his mind was not attuned to recognizing the needs of abused women within his congregation. His skills and competency were lacking.

I appreciated his boldness and willingness to confess his inadequacies, because I believe he is not alone. His situation reflects that of many males who are leading faith institutions and denominations.

We cannot begin to put "women and children first" until we become sensitized to their needs and circumstances. We cannot put "women and children first" until we see them as valued contributors to the survival of our society. "Women and children first" must be more than rhetoric.

As church leaders, we must facilitate societal transformation that deconstructs any theology, doctrine or values system - be it religious or otherwise - that oppresses women and children, making them vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Luke 6:45 states, "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good." As clergy, denominational leaders, legislators and leaders in our society, we will ultimately be judged by the fruit we produce, not the words we say. If that fruit comes from the heart, it will produce liberation, freedom, justice and value for all of God's creation.

The Rev. Sharon Ellis Davis is a UCC pastor and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. A Chicago police officer for 28 years and a full-time police chaplain, she is a trainer for FaithTrust Institute. 

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
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