Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

One Humanity

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 13 October 2016,  the twenty-six Sunday after Pentecost, by Rune Nielsen. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 2:18-24; Galatians 3:23-29.

In February of this year a sixteen-year-old girl in Arkansas, USA, was walking through her high school to leave the building after classes had ended. She lived in a small town where she had grown up in a safe environment without fear of crime. It was an ordinary day for her. She was thinking about homework and her plans to spend time with friends on the weekend. Suddenly two boys appeared in the empty hallway and grabbed her. They forced her against a wall and sexually assaulted her. She became one of the millions of women worldwide who suffer from misogynistic violence in their schools, workplaces, homes, and neighborhoods. In the case of the girl from Arkansas, many people in the community posted on social media to show their support for her.  

One man in her community tweeted: “As a man who has a daughter, a sister, and a mother, I cannot approve of disrespect for women.” Many other men followed his example by posting similar statements about their care for female relatives, and this statement of support has also been given by several men responding to news articles about sexual harassment, sexist discrimination, and human trafficking. 

After the recent case of sexual abuse of a mentally disabled woman in Hong Kong, many reactions to the crime have been similar here. People are concerned for female relatives as well as disabled loved ones. 

Violence against women is not just a ‘women’s issue’ for all people have a responsibility and a role to play in supporting justice, aiding the abused, promoting social awareness, and preventing future attacks. According to the UN, worldwide an average of 35% of women experience sexually-motivated violence in their lifetimes, and in some countries that amount is as large as 70%.

Unfortunately, many myths still exist in societies all over the world which attempt to justify mistreatment of women. One such disturbing viewpoint is that men are entitled to sexually violate women because of men’s natural instinct for lust. This mistaken belief removes the blame from perpetrators of sexual assault and shames victims who seek justice. It is also insulting to men, for it suggests that men have the same intelligence as animals, acting as uncivilized creatures who cannot overcome their desires.

The mistaken belief that a man’s desires are more important than a woman’s is perhaps more common that we realize. A story from a female student studying criminal justice recalls this harmful tendency. The teacher of her criminal justice class told the students about a situation in which a crime had been committed: A man asked a woman to date him, and she said no. Over several weeks he asked her over and over again, but her answer was always no. Then one day the man showed her a knife and threatened to kill the woman if she did not date him. The woman called the police and the man was arrested. So, the teacher asked his students: who committed the crime?

Most of the boys in the class answered that the woman did, because she had rejected the man several times. They saw her actions as the cause of the crime. When the teacher pointed out that it was the man who broke the law, a male student said “But that’s not fair—the man was just defending himself.” This statement shows that the boy believed that for a woman to say no to a man was disrespectful to the man. But that view denies women of their basic rights to choice and equal treatment. 

Unfortunately, myths about the inequality of men and women also come from mistaken religious beliefs. Some Christians believe that all women should suffer for Eve’s sin in the story of humanity’s fall. Although the Bible says in Genesis that the “man shall rule over” the woman, the ultimate truth is that both men and women have sinned and we are all in need of the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3, Paul writes that “there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

As Christians, we strive towards making a more just world, to expand God’s kingdom to make Heaven on earth. In Genesis we read that in Eden, the garden of paradise, the man and woman were equal. Eden reflects the world as it ought to be, as God wanted it to be, before humanity fell into sin. Biblical scholars have noted from close study of the Hebrew text of Genesis that Adam, the first person, is not described as male until after the creation of the woman Eve. Male and female did not exist until God made the woman from Adam’s rib. Humanity was a single person, a single entity without gender before Eve was created. Our origin is not engendered.

When Adam first met Eve in the garden of Eden, he said: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Basically, it was as though he said, “Wow! This person is a lot like me.” Although commonly used at weddings, this passage is also relevant to the unity of the whole of humankind, not just the unity two people share in marriage. It is about the origin of us all. But sadly, today many people only focus on the differences between the two genders, not the similarities.

A few months ago in Hong Kong, a man was arrested for sexually assaulting his domestic helper. After going on trial, he said “I apologize to my wife and daughter, for I have hurt my family by this.” But he did not apologize to the domestic helper, the woman he committed the crime against. He felt remorse for negative consequences that affected his relatives, but not for those consequences, such as emotional and psychological trauma, that hurt a person outside of his family. He didn’t acknowledge a common humanity in the domestic helper. Clearly, acting in the interest of loved ones is not enough. It’s time that men and women see each other as members of the same group, as people with a common identity based not in gender, ethnicity, or other differences, but in their common humanity.

Some people decide not to respect the humanity and dignity of people of the opposite gender in their own families. … Statistics show that 90% of rape victims are assaulted by people they know well. A woman who endured rape by her father as a child described the feeling of abuse like this: “When it happened, I felt as though my soul was being ripped open. The vulnerability made me feel as though my skin had been removed and all of my internal organs were in plain view—everything that was supposed to be private and stay inside me was being taken from me and put on display. I was experiencing something worse than the things I had feared most.” While it can be hard for someone who has not experienced abuse to understand the suffering of those who have been victims, empathy is not impossible. Both women and men feel vulnerability. This vulnerability can come from many sources, whether gender, low social standing, criticism, prejudice, disagreements, and so on. Each person has a choice of how to respond to their feelings of vulnerability.

People who choose to abuse people of another gender are often insecure about themselves. Men who feel that they are weaker or less powerful than other men tend to compensate for their lack of power by dominating women. Men in positions of power sometimes discriminate against women or hurt them because they are afraid of losing their power over other people. These are cruel responses to feelings of vulnerability.

The better response to vulnerability is not domination, fear, distrust, and abuse of ‘the other’ but unity with others who are vulnerable, including those of another gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Galatians lists categories of people, all of them vulnerable to prejudice from the labels they are given by society: In Christ “There is no longer Jew or Greek”—labels of ethnicity, “there is no longer slave or free”—labels of social status, “there is no longer male and female”—labels of gender; and we could add many more categories, such as “In Christ there is no longer queer or straight, or abled or disabled…” When Jesus looks at us, he does not see us as man or woman, he sees us simply as humans.  

Living out this truth, many courageous men and women have supported the White Ribbon Campaign, which advocates for gender equality. Founded by men dedicated to spreading awareness of violence against women, the White Ribbon Campaign runs workshops for teaching men and boys about identifying sexism and preventing sexual violence. As the White Ribbon campaign reminds us, standing by passively, not doing anything, while men harass women or speak about them inappropriately, does as much harm as actively supporting the discriminating behavior.

Women are not being selfish when we stand up for our rights—we are claiming the dignity and respect we were meant to have, for we too were made in God’s image. In the first chapter of Genesis God says “God created humankind in his image, male and female he created them” and “God blessed them” both. Male and female come out of one image, sharing the same essence. As a pastor once told me, “The violation of any person’s body is a violation of God’s body because each person bears God’s image. If anyone is raped, God is raped and God suffers for it.” Sexual assault is a crime against humanity and a crime against God.

God knows what it is like to be abused and vulnerable. Jesus Christ faced vulnerability hanging on the cross. He was stripped almost naked, crucified painfully in front of an angry crowd. Jesus died and went to the depths of hell, but that did not stop him. He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. God’s Son has lived out a process of pain, suffering, and finding new life. The pain of victims can be transformed into strength and hope that makes them no longer victims, but survivors.

It’s time we take a stance. When we realize our common humanity, our unified response to sexual assault and discrimination of any gender will be “I am offended because I am also a human being, and this is a crime against human beings and God who made us all.”

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, November 13, 2016

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