White men, including white pastors, are failing women’s health.
I’m not saying every white man in the Trump Administration, or every white male pastor in the country is intentionally working against women’s rights.
But here’s the thing.
Because they are white and hold positions of power, when white men in government, and white male pastors in the United States (and even in the United Church of Christ) are not intentionally and loudly advocating for all women’s rights, then they are effectively being complicit in silencing women and their health care needs in our country.
The pervasiveness of issues that disproportionately affect women in our country is staggering and deserves outrage and advocacy, not silence.
Consider that approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. In women under 20, that statistic rockets to 4 out of 5. Women of color and poor women experience even higher rates. Women do not get pregnant by themselves. Where is the outrage about this very preventable condition, and where is the overarching support for services to prevent it?
Almost 20% of women in America report experiencing rape in their lifetime, and over 40% of them were first raped before age 18. Higher percentages of students of color report having been raped than white students.
Nearly twice as many American women were murdered by current or ex male partners between 2001 and 2012 than American troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same time period. African American women experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white women).
The prevalence of these issues means they are all too alive and well in our congregations. Every Sunday, families affected by unintended pregnancy, by sexual violence, and by domestic abuse walk into churches. Using the above statistics, one in two children who come to church weren’t planned. One in five women in your congregation has been raped. And one in four women in your church have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
Politicians attend church and speak about upholding Christian values—but then vote against funding agencies that provide family planning and birth control services to people at low or no cost. They applaud themselves for voting to enact health care revisions that provide less coverage to families who have chosen to have those unintended babies and are having trouble caring for them on limited budgets. And they create loopholes, which can make it more difficult to access medical care and mental health services when someone experiences intimate partner violence.
That doesn’t seem very Christian to me.
So I ask you: Are you talking about these issues in church? Are you designing faith formation lesson plans to give an alternate message to violence in relationships? Are you having Bible studies to lift up faith-based messages of equity and hope? Are you providing outreach programs imbued with justice-filled actions?
I admonish you to:
Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for unintended pregnancies.
Use your power to create a culture where relationship equity is the expectation—instead of double standards regarding sexual activity, financial and emotional burdens for contraception falling to female-bodied people, and social stigma being born by the person with a uterus. Advocate for community agencies to maintain government funding for health care and family planning services.
Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for being sexually assaulted.
Stop spending money trying to teach them how not to be assaulted. Instead, use those funds and your privilege and power to loudly educate yourselves and your brothers on the gender roles, stereotypes and privilege that lead to attitudes condoning women being raped. Work to make consent the norm and expectation. Advocate for funding for health care services to survivors, regardless of when the assault occurred.
Stop blaming women, overtly or by your silence, for domestic abuse.
Instead, work to dismantle the culture of male violence, to cultivate norms that revere men for being peaceful problem solvers and healthy partners. End stigma about discussing these issues, and advocate for funding for health care services for those who have survived violence in relationships.
The question is, what are you NOT doing? What are you not talking about? What are you not actively advocating for? And why?
Find your voice and use it loudly. Lives are depending on it.
Amy Johnson, MSW, CSE is on national staff as the United Church of Christ Our Whole Lives Coordinator. She is co-author of Homegrown Faith and Justice and Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6, 2nd Ed. She is passionate about promoting safe and healthy sexuality education and culture in faith communities.