An Interview with Elizabeth Gerhardt
Linda walked tentatively into my small basement office. She was a young woman with short-cropped hair and a fresh, newly stitched wound that stretched from her temple, ran across her cheek and ended at her chin. Linda related her terrifying story with little affect and trembling hand gestures. “My husband chased me around the house with a butcher knife and caught up to me, slashing me in my arm and face.” She rolled up her sleeve to show me more stitches. “I ran out of the house screaming, and my neighbor called the police.” Linda’s face finally began to mirror the pain in her voice, and she began to sob. “The policeman walked across the lawn, looked down on me and asked me what I had done to deserve my husband’s abuse.” She pointed to her cheek, “I feel like I’ve been victimized twice, first by my husband and second by the police!” Linda was my first client and my first introduction to the shadow world of violence against women and girls. Over the years I heard hundreds of stories from battered women and girls. Through each story I learned more of the cultural, religious, historical and political supports for violence and the global scope of these heinous crimes. — Adapted from Chapter 1, “A Point of Departure: The Cross and Global Violence Against Women and Girls”
One of the things I love about reviewing books is the opportunity to read things that simply call out to me. Last year when I saw the title The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Violence Against Women and Girls I knew that I wanted to read and review the book (Review Here). I knew that it would be difficult but I could never have imagined how hard a read it was. I can honestly say that the early chapters plunged me into a type of depression for about a week. The book was immensely powerful. Not because it demanded something of me per se but because it demands much of the church. Violence against women across the globe demands a confessional response from the church. A unified confessional response.
It is with that I mind that I've done my best to push this book to as wide an audience as possible. In an effort to push The Cross and Gendercide even more I contacted author Dr. Elizabeth Gerhardt with a few brief questions about herself, gendercide, and what the church can do. Enjoy.
Professor Gerhardt, can you introduce yourself, your ecclesiastical affiliations and your current academic teaching position?
I am first a mother of a wonderful teenage daughter named Virginia. I adopted Virginia from China when she was 9 months old and it has been a wonderful journey since. She once asked me what the best decision was that I have ever made, and without missing a second I responded, “Adopting you!” I have learned much about the love of God from loving her. I am also a teacher, writer, and activist. Teaching over the years has morphed from teaching grades school, to training counselors, to teaching undergraduates, to now teaching graduate students at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. My title is: Professor the Theology and Social Ethics. I am a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, although, I grew up Roman Catholic, attended 12 years of Catholic schools and have a MA in Catholic theology. However, I have now found a home with the Lutheran church in my community.
In The Cross and Gendercide you quote some rather incredible statistics about victims of violence being women (pg 37) and the current state human slavery (pg 47). Can you restate these numbers and depict the mission of service that lies before Christians?
Statistics regarding global violence against women are overwhelming! An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States alone are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Females between the ages of 20-24 years old are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Twenty-five percent of women will have experienced some form of violence by an intimate in the US by the time they reach adulthood. Approximately 1-2 million women and girls are trafficked globally each year. Half of all trafficked victims are children. One hundred million girls and women globally suffer the atrocity of female genital mutilation. Acid burnings, the one child policy in China, economic deprivation, the lack of schools for girls, rape as an instrument of war are some of the other forms of violence that women suffer. In 1990 the renowned Indian economist Amartya Sen put the number of Asian females missing, aborted, killed, neglected or put to death at one hundred million!
Admittedly, I believe the modern church to be justification-centered to its detriment. Can you explain how a proper focus on the theology of the cross might turn the church from its justification focus towards service and social activity for the persecuted and oppressed?
A theology of the cross reminds us that Christ is known through suffering and the cross. Jesus identified with the poor, marginalized and oppressed. Therefore, we must be reminded that we are called to enter into the work of the cross, that is, the mission of Christ in the world. The confession of the theology of the cross is to give assent to Christ mission. The freedom we have received through the work of Christ is a freedom for the other (Luther). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer maintained, the cross is the point of departure for the work of service in the world.
Once again, it is my opinion that compassion is most truthfully found when the eyes of Christ’s followers are on the oppressed (based on John 11:33-35). The early chapters of The Cross and Gendercide are about as descriptively visual as can be achieved without crossing certain lines. Have you or IVP discussed doing a video or documentary based upon this written material?
No, we have not discussed doing a video or documentary. One of my students suggested I develop curriculum/materials for church development on this subject. I am considering this type of project.
One of the major themes of The Cross and Gendercide is that the response to violence against women must be confessional. For some in the evangelical world this might ring hallow. Can you take the time to express how laymen in confessional and non-confessional churches could take steps to emulate a theology of the cross towards global violence against women?
Global violence against women is an issue concerning the heart of the gospel. When we fail to act to end misogyny, objectification of girls and women, femicide, and all types of violence perpetrated against females due to their gender, we in fact, violate our confession of faith. By confession, I mean the essentials of the gospel that unite us by being identified as “Christian.” Some steps to emulate a theology of the cross towards global violence against women may include:
a. use of the language of the cross: identifying violence as “sin.” Perpetrators of violence must be held accountable, called to repentance and conversion, and work towards making amends to the victim/community.
b. We must as disciples of Jesus confess our sins of silence and collusion. By way of not breaking silence about this sin, not aiding victims, and not proactively working to end violence, the church has sinned and needs to return to the foot of the cross to repent. Through confession and prayer we enter the world to bring healing and restoration to victims of violence.
c. As Jesus gave his life and because of this great love, we must approximate the love by way of acting justly (Reinhold Niebuhr). Confession our sin of silence and collusion is not enough. We must live out our confession of faith by way of action (Bonhoeffer). We should work to break down evil systems of exploitation that continue to bind and oppress women and girls. In this way we remain faithful to our confession of faith.
d. Being “confessional” also means being willing to engage in the theological reflection with our brothers and sisters, no matter their political ideologies and theological paradigms, to work together to free others from oppression.
You list some agencies for individuals to participate in to help women throughout the world. Can you reiterate some of those here for individuals who have not yet read The Cross and Gendercide?
There are countless great organizations helping women globally. Here are a few websites/resources to check out:
International Justice Mission
Women’s Rights are Human Rights (website)
United Nations website
Women’s Microfinance Initiative: www.wmionline.org
Human Rights Watch
Finally, to end on a lighter note. Do you prefer coffee or tea? And what was the last book you read?
I enjoy both coffee and tea, but am a bit of a coffee latte (nonfat) addict. Just reread Henri Nouwen’s The Prodigal Son: The Homecoming. Nouwen is one of my favorite authors.
Many thanks to Dr. Gerhardt for her time in this interview. If you'd like more information on The Cross and Gendercide, a lengthier excerpt and additional Q & A can be found here. Ultimately, I hope you will all consider purchasing this book for yourselves and for your local pastor/elders.