There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3.28)
By now you’ve heard the name Malala Yousafzai. By now you’ve joined millions the world over made sick at the thought of such barbarity. That anyone—let alone a religious sect—would attempt to assassinate a 14-year-old advocate of educating young girls is beyond comprehension. The more I’ve thought about this perverse tragedy, the more I’ve wondered about the man who actually pulled the trigger. What was going on his mind as he pointed his rifle at a school bus, waiting for the precise moment when Malala passed into its sights? How did he feel in the seconds after he shot her? What is he feeling now? Does he feel like a hero—a warrior of Allah? Has he any remorse at all, or has his inner compass gone so awry that he’s rationalized his crime as an act of righteousness? These questions quickly brought to mind Eudora Welty’s famous short story, “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” Written immediately after the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers (who, like Ms. Welty, lived in Jackson, Mississippi), the story chillingly imagined the killer’s madness from the inside out. Describing what prompted her to write the story, Ms. Welty said she somehow realized, “Whoever the murderer is, I know him; not his identity, but his coming about, in this time and place. That is, I ought to have learned by now, from here, what such a man, intent on such a deed, had going on in his mind.”
In the West, we can’t help but regard the attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life as too monstrous to contemplate—particularly since it was allegedly committed in the name of Allah. Yet in our rush to condemn, we must also grapple with our complacency about the treatment of women in our own culture. And, tragically, many of the attitudes and policies that relegate women of all ages to second-class status are rooted in antiquated, erroneous Christian dogma. There is simply no excuse—civic or religious—for accepting gender inequality in American society. There is no reason why women don’t earn equal pay for equal work. There is no justification for denying them full access to healthcare, control of their bodies, and the right to safeguard their future with every advantage given to men. What does it say of us as a people—especially we who claim discipleship—that we aren’t grievously troubled by a culture that puts more emphasis on telling women how not to get raped than teaching men rape is unacceptable? What does it say of us that we value male opinions of gender-related issues more than women’s? What does it say of us as a Church that we’ve not yet fully rejected the notion that God is a male and that men are more qualified than women to lead us in worship and service? Like Welty, we know where these voices are coming from—we know their coming about, in this time and place. The question for all of us, but believers in particular, is: are we raising our voices against them?
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul experiences a magnificent “Eureka!” moment that rebuts the sexist slant of his other writings. “There is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” he proclaims. Gender discrimination—or any prejudice, for that matter—has no place in a believer’s life. It simply doesn’t belong in God’s kingdom. We can sigh with great relief that we don’t live in a culture that tolerates the heinous religious violence perpetrated on girls and women like Malala. Yet our daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers nonetheless are the objects of male-propagated injustice. We know where these voices are coming from and they will continue to come until we lift our voices for equality and justice in obedience to our faith. Paul has set before an ideal, prevailing on our belief in Christ as the Great Equalizer, Who makes all of us one. May that belief pierce our hearts and disturb our complacency with a world where men and women are not yet equal.