On Sunday I stood and watched as thousands of women marched through the streets of London as part of Processions 2018 and I was inspired. There was a sense of joy and community as the sun was shining and the colourful banners waved through the streets. It felt like each of the thousands of women knew each other yet it was strangers laughing, smiling, walking, chatting, chanting and marching processing together. The banners from across the UK told a story of the hundreds of thousands of women who clearly did not know each other but were united in their womanhood. The atmosphere was celebratory, it felt like all generations, classes, ethnicities and abilities were represented and as a man it was an honour to witness and to be made to feel welcome. I wanted my son and daughter to both see this historic event, to know of the hard fought campaign for women to be treated as equals to men but also to know that we also have a responsibility to keep on pressing forward.
I stood in the centre of Parliament Square with my young children running around on the grass, surrounded by strangers it felt like we were amongst friends. I wondered how it would feel for a woman with children if this had been a march of men. As a man I think I would feel intimidated by a march of men yet as a man I was welcome and completely at ease at a march of women. This tells something of the story of how much has changed and how far there is still to go. Whatever one may think about the female Prime Ministers of the UK I felt a shiver of pride as when we walked past Downing Street knowing that 100 years ago women could not vote and today a woman holds the highest office of the land. Yet the commentary about the Prime Minister revolves about what she wears rather than what she believes and what she achieves, I don’t recall the same regarding any male Prime Ministers.
The day after the celebratory possessions of women took place in London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh I read a report that Jess Philips (MP for Birmingham Yardley) had spoken about her experience of being trolled online. For example, in just one evening she received 600 rape threats, she receives daily threats of violence and aggression, her office has been vandalised twice in two years and two people have been issued with harassment orders because of their emails of constant bile and abuse. Amnesty International report that for Black, Asian and Minority Ethic (BAME) female MP’s the situation is even worse, with on average 35% more abusive tweets received than their white colleagues.
And where is the church in all of this? Leading the way? Fighting for justice and equity? There are some positive stories – just as there is much to celebrate from the achievements of the past 100 years. However, there is a considerable way to go. A female minister I know commented recently that in becoming a pastor she has been made to realise that she is a woman. Obviously she already knew this, but coming from a secular work place she found that for the first time her gender had become significant in the way she is treated, expectations upon her and judgements about her ability to perform the functions of ministry. As a recent ‘Open Letter’ recently stated,
“There is a problem.”
The problem is not small and it won’t just take a stand or a march of women, it requires men to stand with women, it requires men to recognise and relinquish the power and authority we have simply because we are men.
It requires us seeing one another as equals – made in the image of God.
It requires male and female clergy modelling equality to our congregations and parishioners. It requires a willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of Christ, his Church and his Kingdom.
It requires the patriarchal church to be broken and not replaced with a matriarchal system but to become a one church with the mind of Christ, a body of God’s people broken and resurrected like the body of Christ.
It requires that we keep on marching, keep on processing, keep on telling the story.