The good news of the gospel is never more jarring than when put alongside the raw facts of human suffering, yet that is precisely the place where it has the most to say. It is in this place of tension that Christian educators stand when facing students—somewhere between the cross and the unavoidable brokenness of life in this world. The educator names the truth of both places and helps students find ways to navigate this tension in ways appropriate to their age and understanding.
In her recent work, The Cross and Gendercide, author Elizabeth Gerhardt stands firmly in this place by laying out both the unavoidable truths of the various kinds of violence against women and girls happening all over the globe, and also a well-grounded theological basis for response.
The statistics are chilling: “In the United States, one out of every four women has experienced domestic violence and one out of six has experienced attempted or completed rape” (14). Think about that for a minute: this is the context from which female students and colleagues arrive at school each day. Educators cannot afford to ignore the issues Gerhardt brings to light in her book.
As Gerhardt insists, the problem is so widespread that the best way to label what is happening is gendercide. The author’s case is as urgent as the issues she presents. Women and girls across the globe deal with violence, abuse, early marriage, trafficking, poverty, AIDS, and a host of other forms of interrelated forms of suffering.
Gerhardt draws on more than twenty-five years working with abused women to put forward a compelling case for a theologically-based response “that is faithful to the proclamation of the whole gospel of life and is equipped to address the underlying economic, cultural, religious and political causes of the violence” (17). Interwoven with personal stories, theological reflection, and call to action, the book presents the reader with a clear sense of the complexity and terrors of these issues.
The difficulty is not to feel so overwhelmed in the face of gendercide that we do nothing—that we stand back and fail to face our own complicity in systems that may be fundamentally unjust, that we fail to see it as an urgent issue among so many other forms of oppression in the world today. This book is a call to name sin and stand in the place of suffering, which is ultimately a call to the cross.
Gerhardt’s thinking is rooted in Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, which “insists on the proclamation of the gospel as the primary focus of the church” (92). Every educator, every person of faith receives the “invitation to join Christ’s mission to heal, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to free those who are oppressed” (84). We do this—and we teach our students to do this—by getting our hands dirty and acting as agents of renewal who stand against all forms of oppression of women and girls. This task is essential and not optional: “To abandon the call to root out evil systems that support violence is to abandon Christ’s mission” (104).