One of the words we associate most with Advent and Christmas is “peace.”
One of our traditional Christmas carols has the angels proclaim: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men…”, but on the way home from a Christian Conference of Asia gathering of 250 Christian women from across the churches and countries of Asia this November, I wondered when we will stand by that call to bring “Peace on earth and goodwill to all…” especially including our Asian women and children?
We sing songs of Jesus “the Prince of Peace.” However, for many women in our world today, and especially those suffering unjust treatment in many countries of Asia – whose stories I heard in Taiwan last month – this is far from their truth.
As we traverse the eschatological aspects of the end times that relate to death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind, how does that fit with the world of some marginalised Asian women who cannot feel the joy and peace of Christmas like we do in Aotearoa?
In some places this very day, women are opting to kill themselves rather than having to endure another day of violence, rape, threat of honour-killing, or any other of the atrocities that plague them – without the foreseeable hope of protection, relief from pain, or justice offered to them by societies that culturally or politically choose to turn and look the other way.
Mourning, tears, grief, disappointment, anger, and frustration are only some of the emotions they feel. And in that environment of violation is profound mistrust. That lack of trust is so deeply entrenched in many women that their access to the basic human experience of peace and joy is very elusive.
As we try to make sense of the world in which we’re living, consider the inward demeanour of women who are lonely, hurt, fearful, and prayerful for change.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Reflecting on these powerful words of scripture, alongside the horrific stories of violation against women and children I have heard, I tried to figure out how I felt about it all on the long journey home to Aotearoa. I found I had nine responses:
I'm angry because of the injustices that have been passed down for generations seemingly destined to continue. Angry because those who commit heinous acts against women and children in some countries are not held accountable to anybody or authorities.
I'm frustrated because marginalisation against women is rife. Cultural patriarchy exists in most contexts of our lives. Women who courageously speak out about these injustices are considered a threat and may influence other women also. The extra mile we need to take to bring about change is costly.
I'm embarassed because when an institution validates stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment of women, I haven’t done more, sooner.
I'm sad because another young female life was lost because she ran away from her abusive husband, 50 years her senior, and was then stoned to death in an ‘honour-killing’.
I'm sympathetic because women are violated by husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles every day. We are oblivious as to how we can help when they need us most, and when we cannot guarantee protection for all innocent children.
I'm offended because of the insensitivities around women not being considered as capable of making decisions and leadership. I’m offended that when we question bad behaviour women are not taken seriously and thought to be either going through the change of life or having hormonal difficulties. I’m deeply offended.
I'm confused because I don’t know why it’s okay to beat or rape a woman. Mistaking responsibility for power is not a weapon to brandish physical, spiritual, cultural, or social violation.
I'm hopeful because I know that while we still have gender issues in many places, we can enjoy a much different ‘normal’ than those of previous generations. Things have slowly changed for the better. And that’s a beautiful thing.
I'm encouraged because ultimately God has provided a solution for all sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind.
This Advent we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and we pray that all whānau will get along. We all have hopes and dreams about how this season will be for women, men and children alike.
As we approach the stresses, joys, griefs, celebrations, loneliness, and excitement of Christmas my prayer is that God will visit us through worship, dreams, music, prayers, scripture, and stories in a way that uplifts all people out of the experiences of violence, oppression and discrimination.
In our quest for change as we await the Christ child, let us walk in the light of Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love!
The Rev Jacynthia Murphy is Operations Support Manager at Tuia, The General Synod Office of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
Her full report from the Asian Women's Ecumenical Assembly in Taiwan this November is available here.