Where were you 25 years ago? Where were you 25 years ago when you hear the news that fourteen young women, engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique at the Universite de Montreal? What did you feel at that time?
Of course, some of you were not even born yet. But if you are over the age of thirty you may have some memory.
I was newly ordained, serving a curacy in St, David’s Church in Welland ON. But the Universite de Montreal was in my brother’s neighbourhood, and I had been at a pub on campus a few years before. It was a place I knew. I had written a sermon, but after these horrific events I had to write another one. How could this have happened? How could this have happened in Canada?
It was then, as now, the week in which a story about John the Baptist was the reading. He was a man of anger and wrath at what was being done to his people. He preached personal transformation and subversively threatened the status quo.This passage from Matthew 3 captubres his fiery appeal:
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
Jesus followed in his footsteps, feeding on the same disquiet and anger, sadness and frustration, proclaiming that God’s reign was near. His gospel was non-violent, and did not use the same angry metaphors, but it was no less subversive and unsettling.
So I wondered then, how can we channel those same emotions to address this national disaster? And now, twenty-five years later, I ask the same question?
We are called not just to change ourselves, but to challenge systems of discrimination. The murderer was not just mentally disturbed, but predisposed as a man and by society to think that anger and violence against women was a rational thing. Rejected by the Ecole Polythenique he sought revenge on the women whom he thought had unjustly taken his place. How do we challenge this kind of thinking, which remains rampant in our society still to this day, as anyone looking at the comments on an internet article about attacks on women will see? Then there are the facts.
- On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. In 2011, In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.
- On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full.
- Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada. Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
- About half (49%) of all female murder victims in Canada are killed by a former or current intimate partner. In contrast, only 7% of male murder victims were killed by intimate partners.
- As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.
So what do we do?
First, recognise that despite all the progress in women’s rights and women’s status, we still have a long way to go. We cannot afford to be bystanders. If we as Christians claim that we genuinely care for those who are mistreated and oppressed, this is an issue we must attend to. We need to be people of comfort and justice. We need to look to build those highways in the desert, no matter how daunting they may seem. We begin by educating ourselves. If we are men, we begin by listening.
Second, join with others in action. Support the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre. Question laws that contribute towards violence against women, such as the legislation that came into effect yesterday that criminalizes sex workers rather than helps them. Advocate for a change in the way police departments deal with all women, but especially the marginalized. If you are male, join the “Don’t be a Bystander” campaign that encourages men not to put up in silence with violence and harassment.
Third, as Christians, challenge theologies that inscribe patriarchy. Every theology is also an anthropology, and what we say about God is a reflection of what we think about humanity. Do we challenge ourselves with new metaphors and images of God, such as God our mother? Do we see women as weaker vessels, failed males, or do we see in both male and female the image of the fullness of God? In our ecclesial politics do we not only invite women to be bishops, priests, and deacons, but encourage them to transform the male-patterned hierarchies into egalitarian servanthoods that recognise the diversity of gifts and ministries?