“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
In the Western tradition I come from, we often separate the physical from spiritual realms and individualize our faith practices. Oppression, then, is viewed as having physical causes. And spiritual attacks are seen as events that happen to individuals, not groups.
But I believe that the thief of abundant life in John 10 is more strategic than that.
In corporate jargon, you might say the enemy attacks the Kingdom “at scale”. He targets mindsets, behaviors, and conditions that sabotage entire groups of people. After all, stifling human potential is a way to strike against the glory of God.
This is why I see the issue of gender equality not only in physical, but also in spiritual terms.
When I say gender equality, I am talking about the biblical truth that men and women are created equally in the image of God, reflecting his nature and characteristics, with equal invitation to walk in relationship with God and join his redemptive work in this world.
In the Kingdom of God, God’s image is reflected equally in women and men. But what better way to do high-volume damage than distort the truth about those who bear God’s image?
It is actually a pretty ingenious tactic to play up male prominence and importance and downplay female significance and influence. Through politics, culture, and at times even the Church, the enemy has used a strategy for centuries to dull women’s brilliant reflection of God: he has stifled God-given dreams and destroyed flourishing. How? He has done this by erecting and fortifying barriers against girls and women – half of all humankind.
I have felt this even in my own life of middle-class privilege.
I grew up in a conservative Christian environment where few women in our circle worked, much less led, outside the home. Early messages I interpreted from my faith community reinforced a singular calling for women and a range of divinely appointed vocations for men. When I started out as a young professional, I was confused. I wondered if it was worldly and wrong for me to live out my leadership gift instead of marrying and staying home.
I also wrongly believed that I couldn’t possibly lead and be a mother at the same time, which meant we were married for years before I was ready to have children. This was until I internalized the idea that God never limited women to being wives and mothers alone. He also never made ministry binary, only in the home or only outside it.
Over the years, I struggled to live calling in the workplace: People mistook me for administrative support again. As a young leader before becoming a mom, a male colleague told me I needed to go have children. I was excluded from male networking circles. Critiqued and gossiped about by women. Subject to managed opportunity. And more than once, I had to directly ask for equitable treatment.
My experiences are micro-examples of the subtle but successful distractions that affect women’s ability to flourish in their God-given purposes. They stung and interrupted my focus for a time. Now, they help fuel a much larger motivation to build communities where all women and girls can flourish.
Every day, hundreds of millions of women around the world face far more overt and crippling challenges than the ones I faced: Extreme poverty, discrimination, abuse, and exploitation present obstacles to basic survival and make flourishing impossible. We know that:
Subtly or overtly, the enemy sows confusion, self-doubt, and obstacles to disrupt the worth and work of all the Kingdom’s potential citizens.
Fortunately, the scripture doesn’t stop at the story of the thief’s attack. That second part of John 10:10 reminds us that Jesus came to bring abundant and full life. He came to make all things right again, for everyone.
God through Jesus has extended an invitation we can choose to accept and in turn, extend to others. The systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice, that cloud the image of God in people, can continue or change with us.
So where do we start?
The pursuit of all forms of biblical justice, including gender equality, is holy work. Calling forth and making way for the image of God to be fully reflected in others is sacred. It is to stand with God, believe his truth from creation, accept his invitation for redemption, and be used by his Spirit to reconcile all things. It is to join in a God-sized discipleship adventure!
We exist to partner with you and other members of the Church to do just that – to accompany discipleship journeys that lead to human flourishing.
May we join you? Will you join us?
Emily Sarmiento is the CEO of Tearfund USA.
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