As the world remembers the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya suggests that Christian men look to the example of the person and life of Jesus of how to be a man in a patriarchal, violent and misogynistic society.
It is hard to believe that there was a time when the phrase, “Gender Based Violence”, was a phrase that needed clarification. Today it is commonplace. Although nothing about the expression explicitly identifies women or girls, everybody today knows that this is about the violence men perpetrate against the female gender.
This makes one wonder why it is not called by what it is: Violence By Men Against Women. Perhaps VBMAW is not as easy a catchphrase as GBV.
By naming the source of violence – men – we might have made better progress in addressing this scourge. If we scratched the surface a little more, we would find that violence against women and children is the result of the power men have given themselves over women and children.
To begin with, it is not a new problem; it is as old patriarchy itself.
Given the pervasiveness of violence against women and children in society and even within the Church, it stands to reason that Christian men are also part of the problem.
What then can a Christian man do to be part of overcoming this scourge? Can Christian men say that in their relations with women and children, are they worthy of being of the same gender as the Jesus they allege to follow?
The scriptures give many examples in the life of Jesus of how to be a man around women.
Jesus not only showed us the face of God, but also gave us a hint of what it means to be masculine without being patriarchal. This was as key then as it is today, when masculinity and patriarchy tend to be wrongly regarded as synonymous.
Even in the deep patriarchy of first century Palestine, Jesus was not shy to show what in today’s language would be called “being in touch his feminine side”.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling” Jesus says (Matthew 23: 37).
Considering what women wore in biblical times, Jesus’s warning that “anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery in his heart”, tells us that the objectification of women, which continues to this day, begins with the one who looks lustfully, rather than with the woman’s attire.
When his disciples chose to act like overzealous bodyguards, not wanting their celebrity client to be mobbed by curious children, Jesus broke free and went against what the apostles thought was the protocol.
“Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them.” The disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus said: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19: 14-15)
The story of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is another example of Jesus disassociating himself with the patriarchal rules of his day. That only the woman was charged and convicted of a crime that requires at least two participants, showed the injustice committed by men against women.
An untold number of women today live in shame for being victims of crimes such as rape, domestic violence or biological factors that include an inability to conceive or being lesbian. They would love to hear the same “neither do I condemn you” that Jesus uttered when reassuring what was surely a petrified woman staring death in the face.
If men are to use the example of Jesus as an example of how to be a man, they must empty themselves of their self-given divine status and be more like Christ who “though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”.
Writing to the Ephesians community, St Paul speaks to men today when he implores that we “be the imitators of God, as beloved children”.
Men can learn from Jesus to be “meek and humble of heart” instead of holding the patriarchal ideal of being macho and arrogant. If men are to make a decisive contribution to ending the violence they perpetrate against women and children, they can do no better than follow Jesus’ guidelines on how to be a man.