The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence against Women and Girls
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The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence against Women and Girls

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Violence against women and girls is a human rights epidemic that affects millions of lives around the world. While many Christians are addressing this crisis through education, advocacy and philanthropic support, there has been a reluctance to name gendercide as a theological and confessional issue, a matter that strikes at the very essence of the Christian faith.

In The Cross and Gendercide, Elizabeth Gerhardt draws on Luther's "theology of the cross" to provide a theological basis for naming and responding to the grave sin of global gendercide. She lifts up the work and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an especially powerful resource for mobilizing the church today toward political action and social engagement. From the perspective of Christ's cross, the church must raise a prophetic voice against systemic violence and speak up for the myriad women and girls who are invisible and voiceless in the world today.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 200
Vendor: IVP Academic
Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)
ISBN: 0830840494
ISBN-13: 9780830840496

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Author Bio

Elizabeth Gerhardt (ThD, Boston University) is professor of theology and social ethics at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, New York, and adjunct professor in the department of religion and humanities at Roberts Wesleyan College, Rochester.

Endorsements

The Cross and Gendercide is a thoughtful and thought-provoking call to action for the church to be holistic and creative in our response to ending violence against women and children by our close attention to an informed theology of the cross. Elizabeth Gerhardt examines global gender-based violence and offers the reader a sustained theological response using notions of confession and resistance. This book offers an invitation to churches and their leaders to imagine a theological approach to the evil of gendercide and then to act. Every pastor and every seminary student should have this book on their reading list.
-Nancy Nason-Clark,
University of New Brunswick

Elizabeth Gerhardt asks us to 'imagine a theological approach to ending violence against women that is holistic, and creative, and results in local and global initiatives.' This is what The Cross and Gendercide does. It feeds our imagination by bringing together in conversation a lifelong experience of dealing with the issues and a lively theological-ethical understanding shaped by Luther's 'theology of the cross' mediated through the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The frightening global escalation of gender violence demands such critical theological reflection if Christians and churches are going to respond in ways shaped by the gospel, and with the commitment and urgency required.
-John de Gruchy,
University of Cape Town

This book argues that sophisticated theological thinking has practical consequence, and it demonstrates this truth in great detail. This is its brilliance. With equal attention to the theology of the cross and violence against women, Gerhardt shows that the suffering Christ is the framework through which the church may recognize and actively resist gendercide in concrete ways. In doing so, she furthers a turn in Bonhoeffer scholarship, addressing pervasive evil by constructively appropriating Bonhoeffer's writings to our own historical context.
-Jennifer M. McBride,
Wartburg College

Those who carry the cross of Christ to the farthest reaches of the Himalayas will find that in some villages there are no girls over the age of twelve. Gerhardt helps us make sense of the maddening global violence against women and girls by providing a theological response - a heartening call to live out the confession of our faith. From the foot of the cross, she challenges us to identify with those who suffer as we bind up the broken hearted and set the oppressed free. In The Cross and Gendercide, the church is urged to elevate the discussion beyond proclamation vs. social action to what Bonhoeffer described as a faith that gives us the courage to take risks as we bring good news in all its fullness to those in peril. Read this book and then join the resistance of the greatest injustice of our century: the wholesale abuse and exploitation of women and girls.
-Michele M. Rickett,
president and founder of She Is Safe and coauthor of Forgotten Girls

In The Cross and Gendercide, Gerhardt does an in-depth theological study of Christ, the cross and its purpose for humanity. She justifies a call for the church to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Abuse against women and girls is not only a sin, but it is a crime and a human rights issue. Christians need to stand up for the social injustice being perpetrated on women and girls, not only in America but all over the world. Many are screaming in silence. This must change.
-Donna Watson,
CBA Retailers + Resources, May 2014

Editorial Reviews

The media has in recent years given increasing attention to global violence toward women and girls. In 2012, the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) went to Saving Face, which focuses upon survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan. In October 2014, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager, became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her activism on behalf of young people (especially girls) denied access to education. Another past Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former US President Jimmy Carter, has also committed himself to activism on behalf of subjugated women. In light of these occurrences, Gerhardt’s The Cross and Gendercide is a timely work.

Gerhardt confronts domestic violence, rape, gender-selective abortions, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, early marriage, disfigurement, and other acts of violence toward women and girls around the globe. Gerhardt utilizes the term “gendercide,” coined by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunities for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009), as an umbrella term that can refer to all of these acts of violence. She also notes that many women and girls live in poverty and lack access to education, nutrition, clean water, and basic health care.

She warns the church against “detached confessionalism”— the preaching of the gospel divorced from the “reality of the plight of millions of women and girls” (19).Alongside the need for prayer and reflection, she argues, “What is needed is a powerful, holistic and missional response rooted in a biblical theology of the cross because a theology of the cross does not separate proclamation of the gospel from the prophetic and active role of working to end injustice for millions of women and girls” (25). She sees the gospel as “the right point of departure” for the church’s response to gendercide (32). In addition to theological resources, she utilizes the writing of journalists, social scientists, and statisticians, as well as her own extensive experience with victims of gendercide as a clinical counselor, battered women’s program director, and educator.

Gerhardt notes, “Historically, most societies have tolerated physical abuse of women when it occurs in a family setting,” seeing this violence as a “private matter” (60). Many have blamed the victims of abuse rather than supporting and protecting women from male aggressors. Unfortunately, the Christian tradition has also often tolerated domestic violence. Gerhardt connects this tolerance with theological views that blame women for the fall or see women as an impediment to male sexual purity. Fortunately, support for abused women has increased through the building of women’s shelters and the criminalization of domestic abuse. Unfortunately, Gerhard notes, “Christian churches in the United States were marginally represented in these late-twentieth- century efforts to end violence against women” (65).

Gerhardt notes that while human rights language concerning violence toward women and girls is relatively new in the United States, statements on human rights by the United Nations or other organizations in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa have used rights language for decades. She argues that human rights language “ensures its high visibility” (69). She also discusses the relationship of human rights to the Bible and theology, noting the use of human rights language used by Lutheran and Reformed theologians, as well as in encyclicals by popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Gerhardt rejects the discussion of human rights in the abstract and says, “The gospel is the foundation for human rights” (77).

Gerhardt primarily develops her theology of the cross in dialogue with Martin Luther. She argues, “A theology of the cross is rooted in the self-giving act of Jesus on the cross” (84). While a theology of the cross does not negate human experience, Gerhardt notes, it “shifts the center of ethics from human experience to the theologia crucis” and “provides a broader paradigm for addressing” issues of injustice like gendercide (84). Since Christians are called to take up their crosses and die to themselves, then “Christ is the starting place for the mission of the church” (86). The cross of Christ conquers evil and gives the church freedom “for the other as God has acted for us” (86). As Luther emphasized, the Christian is justified by faith “that empowers works” (102).

Gerhardt sees Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church’s response to Nazi Germany as “a helpful example of one church response that was rooted in a theology of the cross” (114). She sees Bonhoeffer’s discipleship, confession, resistance, and proclamation that the church act on behalf of the other as a framework for the contemporary church’s response to gendercide.  Gerhardt  closes  the  book  by  calling  the  church to theological reflection, confession for its past sins, activism, prophetic speech on behalf of the voiceless, and providing aid to victims through programs like counseling services, transitional housing, and microfinancing. Churches should also provide leadership opportunities for women.

Gerhardt’s work has a few weaknesses. While she is correct that Christians have misused theology to tolerate abuse of women, in her historical account of Christian views of women she paints with too broad of a brush and misses resources that could have aided her theological critique of gendercide (e.g., John Chrysostom’s critique of violence toward wives and female slaves). In addition, she associates the medieval church with emphasis upon “piety” at the expense of “social ethics,” ignoring the role of the church and monasteries in developing hospitals and other services for the poor and downtrodden. Gerhardt’s account lacks any engagement with Christian ethicists, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Oliver O’Donovan, and Stanley Hauerwas, who see “rights” language as inadequate because of its complicity in liberal social orders, and instead understand justice as right order and/or mutual obligation within particular virtue-forming communities. She also accepts the view popular in the twentieth century that God suffers in God’s nature.

Despite these weaknesses, Gerhardt’s work has much to commend, and her own experience with victims of gendercide only bolsters her scholarship.  She correctly identifies abuse and oppression of women and girls due to their gender as sin and heresy, and provides churches with resources to confront gendercide locally and globally.
---Shaun C. Brown
---Used with permission from Christians for Biblical Equality

Author Q&A

What made you want to research the topic of gendercide to write this book?
Elizabeth Gerhardt: I have worked with victims of domestic and sexual violence for over twenty-five years in different capacities: shelter director, clinical counselor and educator. In addition, through research and networking I developed an interest in global violence against women and the common roots of violence that exist both in domestic abuse in the United States and gender violence around the world.

How does your experience working with victims of violence here in the US relate to global gendercide issues?
Gerhardt: Years of working with abused women has led me to a deeper understanding of the systemic causes of violence against women and girls. These underlying causes of violence, patriarchy, domination and objectification of girls and women are the same for domestic violence in the home, exploitation of women and girls in sweatshops across the world, gender-selective abortions, female infanticide, widespread rape during war, female genital mutilation and many other types of horrific gender-related violent crimes. Currently, there are many good reading resources that focus on education, counseling and self-help in the area of domestic violence. However, it is important for the church to develop a holistic and theologically based response to global violence against women that addresses the underlying economic, cultural, religious and political causes of violence against women and girls.

Why did you want to write a book that integrated theology with the global struggle of violence against women?
Gerhardt: I was interested in not only providing a global perspective but also a theological paradigm that would enable the church to view this problem as a confessional issue that needs broader and deeper solutions. I thought that my background in the areas of counseling, theology, social justice and research in global studies would provide a unique perspective for addressing violence against women and girls. . .A theology of the cross offers a useful approach and methodology by providing a perspective that roots social ethics in faith and a correction to the misuse of the Christian tradition. From this viewpoint, global violence against women and girls is defined in both legal and spiritual language and challenges the church to engage in both realms. A theology of the cross provides the foundation for the church to be a prophetic voice that counters violence.

What do you want The Cross and Gendercide to accomplish within the church?
Gerhardt: The purpose of this book is to educate church leaders, scholars and lay persons on the global issue of abused women and girls, the subsequent complexity of this problem and the need for a theologically based response. It is vital that the Christian church gain an understanding of violence against women and girls as a particularly heinous type of violence that is related to other global social concerns such as poverty, the international AIDS crisis and the proliferation of orphaned children in undeveloped countries. . .The major unique contribution of the book is to challenge the church to engage in a paradigm shift in addressing the problem of global violence against women and girls, and related social issues. Luther's theology of the cross and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ethics and activism provide a framework for addressing the church's prophetic role in the work to end violence against women and girls. This book proposes a cohesive church response to the problem of global violence as a confessional issue, not merely an ethical and moral issue.

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