"Woman Walks through Market Holding Severed Head of Man Who Tried to Rape Her." The 2008 headline resurfaced on Facebook recently along with the story on an online news site, and I found myself wanting to cheer. No, scratch that. I didn't find myself wanting to cheer; I cheered.
Apparently, a man in a village in India had been stalking and harassing a woman for three months. One day while she worked in a field, he attempted to assault her sexually. She fought back and sliced off his head with her sickle. And then she went to the local market covered in blood and walked through the vendors' stalls with the man's head hoisted high, vindicating her actions.
I'm not proud to admit that I smiled picturing her parading the man's head like the Bruins raising the trophy after winning the Stanley Cup. I shouldn't be smiling, I thought. I should be feeling bad for the headless man and his family, who are probably mourning deeply over his death.
But the truth is I felt good for the woman with the sickle. She took matters into her own hands and kept this man from raping her, something thousands of women around the globe haven't been able to do.
This feeling of righteous vindication welled up inside me like a natural spring I didn't even know existed. I'm not a spiteful, revenge-seeking woman, so I was startled by the force of my reaction. Maybe it's been bubbling beneath the surface for a while, especially since I started reading Half the Sky, a book by husband and wife journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They recount disturbing, true stories of oppression of women around the world, women who are raped, mutilated, sex trafficked, acid-burned, and left to die with treatable medical conditions. Every night I read a few pages—as many as my heart and stomach can take—and then I set the book down on my night stand and go to sleep with these images in my head. I realize now that this is probably how the spring got to bubbling up in me.
In my sleep, my mind processes images of terror and oppression, the likes of which I have never come close to experiencing, and by God's grace, never will. The issues that lead whole societies to devalue women in 1,001 horrific ways are deep-seated and systemic. Not the sort of issues that can be dealt with in a single blow to one man's head.
But a sickle to the head sends a message. Women can—and may—rise up in unexpected ways. (Think Lorena Bobbit, who, in 1993, after enduring one too many drunken abuses by her husband, lobbed off his manhood, and then cast it in a field as she fled her home).
I don't condone these violent actions. As effective as a sickle or a kitchen knife may be in righting wrongs, these are probably not long-term solutions. So what can women do to turn the tide of evil that exists toward our gender?
Carolyn Custis James poses the same question in her book Half the Church. Written in response to Half the Sky, she makes a strong case for women joining forces to end oppression. If women hold up half the sky, as Mao Zedong says, they also hold up half the church. It's incumbent on us to be a voice for those who can't—or don't have the chance to—speak for themselves.
If James were speaking to me, she'd probably say it's not enough just to feel righteous indignation for the injustices I'm discovering in the world; I need to convert that well-spring into action. It's time for me to wield a "sickle," figuratively speaking of course. I can't sit back and do nothing anymore.
In Half the Church, James recounts the story of Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the early 1900s. When Carmichael discovered that young girls and boys were being sold into prostitution, often by their own destitute widow mothers, she was gripped by a similar impulse. Quoted in her book Things as They Are, Carmichael sounded the battle cry: "I mean it with an intensity I know not how to express, that . . . such unutterable wrong . . . in the name of all that is just and all that is merciful should be swept out of the land without a day's delay."
Although Carmichael had gone to India with a vision and passion for proclaiming the gospel, her life's work became about rescuing children from sex trafficking—showing mercy and justice, proclaiming the Good Word by deed.
Following Carmichael's example, there are plenty of role models among us today who are trying to sweep out such unutterable wrong as AIDS, poverty, and sex trafficking without a day's delay, including Carolyn Custis James, Bethany Hoang, Shayne Moore, and Lynne Hybels, to name a few.
Oppression of women around the globe may be a "Half the Church" problem, but it requires a "Whole Church" solution—a solution that taps into the gifts and passions of all God's people, men and women alike.
"With an intensity I know not how to express," I join Amy Carmichael and our modern day justice league, the church, to help right unutterable wrong. It's time for the church to take matters into her own hands.
Marian V. Liautaud is managing editor for Kyria's GiftedforLeadership.com and editor of Christianity Today's church management resources.