Watching the PBS airing of the "Half the Sky" documentary is taking me back to 2009 when I first cracked open "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." I read the book as I crisscrossed the country to speaking engagements. Only a few pages in, I realized I had more than one reason to buckle up on those flights.
"Half the Sky" is a disturbing exposé of the world's dark and largely forgotten underbelly where the misery and abuse of women and girls break the scales of human suffering. If you haven't read it already, it belongs on your reading list. Sex trafficking, female genocide, genital mutilation and honor killings are but a few of the atrocities against millions of women and girls that the book brings to light. These may not be normal topics of polite conversation or suitable bedtime reading, but authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn fearlessly identify a battlefield of epic proportions that the civilized world needs to engage. Here evil has gained the upper hand and countless souls are trapped, helpless to break free without significant outside help.
As graphic and disturbing as these stories are, what jolted me more was when I read, "Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses."
That statement hit close to the bone! The inconsistency was unavoidable. How can anyone be passionate about saving the lives of the unborn and turn a blind eye to atrocities that are destroying the lives of women and girls globally? Does pro-life just mean pro-Western lives? If we rightly understand Jesus and his prophets, do we not have responsibility for and are we not called to address these other global issues?
Old Testament prophets voiced divine outrage over atrocities and injustices against women. "Woe to those who ... deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless" (Isaiah 10:1).
Don't the words of the prophets speak powerfully to this 21st century global crisis and to my responsibility to do something?
Jesus shocked his male disciples by his open regard for and valuing of widows, prostitutes and shunned women. Rabbi Jesus broke with cultural convention by talking with women in public and by teaching them deep truth in front of his male disciples. In contrast to his culture that privileged boys over girls, Jesus interrupted an opportunity to address a large gathering to rush to the side of a 12-year-old girl who just died and restore her to life.
Am I not to imitate Jesus?
Certainly, the early Christians took to heart these admonitions of Jesus and the prophets. In the fourth century, the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate wrote with amazement that Christians "support not only their poor, but ours as well." In those early centuries Christians were renowned for their active opposition to infanticide. They scoured garbage heaps for baby girls thrown out to die, took them home, and raised them as their daughters.
My response to "Half the Sky" was to write my book, "Half the Church," as a companion volume and a call to action for Christians. I am grateful that Sheryl WuDunn endorsed it as "an unusual and compelling book ... and how [we] can respond with greater fervor to the Bible's call for change and betterment of the world."
I only hope the history books will tell future generations that Christians today were pro-life for the unborn and that our pro-life convictions extended to and blessed the lives of the women and girls represented in "Half the Sky."
To read more: Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women (Kindle edition is currently available for $1.99).