“How Long – Justice?”

gender equalityPastor Russell Edwards

August 6th, 2017

Proverbs 31                Luke 18:1-8

 

So many things in life shape who we are and the values we develop and cling to throughout our lives.  And it takes either a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, or one big dramatic or emotional event to change those values – that can be a positive thing, because if those values are sound we want to uphold them when they come under attack – or a negative, when those values are harmful.  I am a product of the 1960’s and 70’s (which is scary to have to admit) but it was the social upheaval of those times, the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Viet Nam war movement and the women’s equality movement which played a tremendous role in forming the values I cling to today.  It was especially those values influenced by the women’s rights movement, which formed the basis of my reaction to Sandra Dallas’ historical novel “True Sisters”[1] which I read this week.  It is the story of four women who were part of the tragic 1,300-mile trek on foot, by Mormon converts from England, across the prairie and mountains to Salt Lake City in 1853.  Dallas invents conversations and scenes, but the migration was real, the women were real and the disaster was real; hundreds of the men, women and children, who began the walk where the railroads terminated in Iowa City, died before reaching Brigham Young’s “new” Zion, primarily of starvation and by freezing to death when they were caught unprepared by early winter storms.

I had great difficulty seeing and appreciating the inner strength of Dallas’ four female characters through my righteous anger for the institutionalized sexism which was so inherent in the 1800’s society in general, and in the Church of Latter Day Saints, in particular – which and held the practice of polygamy, as virtuous and ordained by God until it was officially ended in 1890 (although there still exist isolated sects which embrace it).

When I began thinking about this morning’s message I had not known I would mention Dallas’ book, I hadn’t gotten past the first few pages; instead my vision (and righteous anger) was focused on two reports I had listened to on the radio, which were so compelling I had to download them and read them again.

The first was a story on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show titled: “How ‘The Boyfriend Loophole’ Arms Domestic Abusers”[2] in which his guest Katie McDonough, who writes for Fusion Media Group, describes the loopholes in existing federal and state laws which allow domestic abusers to own guns.  A federal law prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun, but the definition of a “domestic” relationship as being married to, having children with, or living with a partner, leaves a loophole large enough to drive a tank through.  “Dating partners who don’t meet any of these criteria are left out of the law entirely and there are only ten states that have laws closing the loophole allowing a man convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to buy and own as many guns as he’d like because of a technicality about his relationship.”[3]

So it’s a Friday night; you’re under a lot of pressure (for whatever reason), and you beat your “significant other” senseless.  She is taken to the hospital, the police are notified, and you are arrested, and eventually convicted of domestic violence.  If you are married, living with, or have children with your victim, we (the people) think you’re dangerous enough to take away your guns… but if you didn’t happen to be living with her, or weren’t married to her, you get to keep those guns – no questions asked.  Sounds a bit ludicrous right…?

McDonough, who is fighting to change the law, goes on to cite some pretty indisputable statistics: “The involvement of a gun in a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent.  Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other wealthy nations.”  And “in at least 54 percent of mass shootings (a shooting involving four or more individuals), that occurred between 2009 and 2016, a current or former intimate partner or family member was shot by the perpetrator, (including 181 children).”[4]

But the NRA (National Rifle Association) feels it is more essential to protect the 2nd amendment rights of convicted domestic abusers, than the lives of their victims.  A bipartisan bill to close the loophole has been introduced in the House of Representatives for the past three years and still hasn’t received a hearing or a vote.  In a comment to Fusion on the Senate version of the bill, NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said in 2015: “This gun control bill exploits emotionally compelling issues such as domestic violence and stalking in an attempt to keep as many people as possible from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

The other story was a broader look at wage equality, by BusinessWeek writer Claire Suddath, titled: “Why Can’t Your Company Just Fix the Gender Wage Gap?” in which she describes the crusade of Natasha Lamb, a 34-year-old managing partner at a Boston investment company, which concentrates their investments in firms practicing environmentally sustainable and socially equitable policies.  Her crusade has pitted her against giants like Citigroup Corp., American Express Co., Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Mastercard and JPMorgan Chase, asking them to produce compensation data for men and women employed in comparable jobs.

Like Ms. McDonough in the domestic violence arena, Ms. Lamb was also armored in statistics; she cited statistics from a job-search website (Glassdoor) which reports women employed in the (well-paying) financial industry, having the same education and training, earn 6.4 percent less than men in the same job.[5]

Suddath writes, “Over the past 50 years, women have achieved an astounding level of equality in the U.S. They have become astronauts and U.S. Supreme Court justices and have come so close to winning the presidency it’s easy to forget that until 1974 they couldn’t get a credit card unless a man co-signed the application.  Women are the primary breadwinners in half of all U.S. families. They’re more likely to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree than men. …But one of the most intractable and measurable differences between women and men in the U.S. is the kind of jobs they hold and how much they’re paid.  The most frequently cited figure when discussing this gender wage gap is that full-time working women in America earn roughly 80 percent of what men do.  But that number, though true, doesn’t offer much insight into the underlying social and economic forces generating the inequality, nor why it’s remained relatively unchanged for the past 20 years.  It also doesn’t explain how incredibly difficult it is to change the status quo.”[6]  Nor does it reveal the far greater wage disparity that exists in the low-paying jobs, disproportionately filled by minority women, which balance the statistics from industries like finance.

I had a friend, a young woman who was intelligent, resourceful and talented, she had a decent job – but was clearly capable of much more; she received a decent salary, but not what she should – or could – have been earning.  The problem was she didn’t see herself that way; she didn’t recognize her potential, didn’t see herself as being exceptional.  Her first marriage ended leaving her with three young children, and so she was both mother and, by necessity, father.  She expected no more from life than what she had, and on those nights when she was trying to figure out how to pay the bills and get kids homework done, felt burdened by it all, but was probably a little too grateful that she had the things she had.  I can’t tell you this woman’s name, not for confidentiality reasons but because, as I wrote this, I realized it was a description of many women I’ve known… the specifics of course may vary, but I have known too many women who lived into the roles society had defined for them, and no further; woman who had never dared dream of what might be beyond, of the wonders they had been gifted with.  That is the way society has raised them, programmed them, and us, to think.

Women have made incredible progress since the days of the Hebrew texts when they were considered possessions; when multiple wives and slave wives were considered blessed by God.  We have made incredible progress since the days when women you and I have known, witnessed the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.  But if you think the woman I have described is an isolated aberration in our culture, then I would suggest that kind of thinking is what perpetuates the life this woman, and so many like her lead.

The quote “Justice too long delayed is justice denied,” is attributed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his April 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I think there is some irony in the fact that King did not originate this maxim; justice has been delayed to so many for so long that British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone used almost identical words in an 1868 speech; they also appear in an 1842 Louisiana Law Review, and even as early as 1646, when John Musgrave wrote, “the delay of justice, is great injustice.”

Justice is a long time coming.  McDonough, Lamb and Suddath document their claims of physical abuse and wage discrimination with statistics which hit home – your home and my home.  Whether you acknowledge it, or even realize it, these are stories which directly and negatively impact the lives people you and I love.  Yet we live in a society that too often would prefer to look the other way when a husband abuses a spouse; where we would rather delude ourselves than believe that our daughter will be among the one-in-four who attends college, and will be sexually abused before she graduates;[7] where we are comfortable accepting that our wives, our sisters, our daughters will not earn as much as (and usually less than) the man they work next to.  When our eyes are finally opened to the injustice of gender inequality we will be moved, by our faith, to righteous anger and demand that the time for justice is long overdue.

But the thing is, “society” is not a thing we can identify by pointing an accusing finger.  “We” are our society; society’s values are our collective values; our culture is a compilation of our beliefs and traditions, and that culture and society will not change until we begin to change how we view women.

Jesus tells the parable of an old woman who had been ill-treated, who went again and again to an indifferent judge to plead for justice, and was repeatedly refused.  Finally, the unjust judge, out of frustration at her persistence, awards her relief.  Jesus says that God will not delay in granting justice.  So rather than ask, “How long – justice?” Jesus tells us that to bring about the change our righteous anger demands we must to be persistent in our prayer that our own hearts be changed.

 

—  Amen  ―

 

 

[1] True Sisters, St. Martin’s Press, © 2012,  Dallas, Sandra

[2] http://www.wnyc.org/story/arming-domesitc-abusers-boyfriend-loophole/

[3] http://splinternews.com/disarm-all-domestic-abusers-now-1796101206

[4] http://splinternews.com/disarm-all-domestic-abusers-now-1796101206

[5] http://www.wnyc.org/story/struggling-bridge-gender-wage-gap

[6] Why Can’t Your Company Just Fix the Gender Wage Gap?, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, June 21, 2017, Claire Suddath

[7] http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php, http://www.nsvrc.org/saam/campus-resource-list

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2 Responses to “How Long – Justice?”

  1. Star Chipman says:

    Also women are verbally abused. This is also horrible and makes her feel worthless.

  2. lorraine sniderman says:

    I’m a child of the 50’s so I still have trouble speaking up for myself especially when it comes to fair pay! I don’t think I can do anything to change anything ,but be available to support and encourage and protest!! Thanks for another wonderful sermon! Lorraine.

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