Christians are still in the season of Eastertide, reflecting on the meaning of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection for the Church. About 10 years ago, I got sick of the Passion story as I had learned it growing up. What I had been taught by Sunday School teachers and by sophisticated theologians alike was this: Jesus came to earth, lived a powerful and transformational life, and had to die in order to save humanity from our sins. That was the party line. Jesus is the Paschal lamb. Child of God given in love, but had to be killed on a cross to stand in for the rest of us.
The "had to die" part -- that is what really threw me. If God not only authorizes the murder of God's only child, but plans it ahead of time as a way to make things right in the universe, then murdering children gets a big Holy blessing.
No, I don't think so. That is not acceptable.
This Palm Sunday, I preached the plainest sermon of my life. I said that fear made Jewish and Roman authorities kill Jesus. And everyone standing there at the cross, every person frozen in place in the temple and on the streets, every silent adult afraid the Empire would swat them like a fly for speaking up, they killed Jesus, too.
I believe that all of us who are Christian, who are too timid to speak truth to power, too frightened to challenge systems that intimidate, violate, and invalidate human life; all of us who see suffering and shake our heads and say, "Lord have mercy," but don't get in the game; every single one of us that thinks being political is inappropriate when lives hang in the balance -- we need a reminder of the way Jesus lived his life. He crossed boundaries and risked his life to include the marginalized, the women and the children in his movement for love and justice.
To me Christian means finishing what Jesus started. Healing what is sick, repairing what is broken, standing up for those on the margins. Standing up for women and children.
On the way to Easter, female children were being violated. On April 2, in Columbus, Ohio, a 13-year-old girl waiting for a bus was grabbed by a man, dragged into an abandoned house, and raped. On April 21, in a small town in India, a 14-year-old girl was on a bus riding home to her family. The driver of the bus and four other men assaulted her and raped her. Then they discarded her broken and bleeding body on the side of the road, like trash.
On April 14, 17-year-old Saratu was taking science exams in her classroom in Chibox, Nigeria, when she was kidnapped. A girl, who wants to be a doctor, snatched out of her life by terrorists, with 275 other girls. This is not the first kidnapping, nor is Nigeria the only place in which female bodies are ruined, raped, wounded, stoned, kidnapped, sold, and mistreated. But the sheer number and the audacity of their kidnappers blows my mind: 276 girls, and then more. More than 276 families, mourning, grieving. Their daughters, our daughters. I am angry and tired of it all. But frustration and fatigue won't stop the violence. Concerned people around the globe -- empowered by our prayers and impassioned by the convictions of our faith -- must speak truth to all who would objectify women and children.
All of us who are Christian -- and all people of faith -- are called by God to see wrong and right it, to witness suffering, shine a light on it, and stop it, to act like Jesus and have a "temple tantrum" when we encounter evil at work in the world. The kind of love-of-neighbor Jesus taught is neither wimpy nor namby pamby. It takes action. Those girls are our girls. We must act, pray, and mobilize to bring them home. We must act, pray, and mobilize so that violence against women and girls around the globe ceases. Their lives matter. And how we live our lives matters as well.
I am mad as hell, and I am terrified that this story will drop out of the news cycle. I am terrified that more little girls will be grabbed, raped, and killed, and we will not weep with their parents because we will not know. And just in case we think this is not our problem, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. In our country. That's more than 2,000 a day.
So what can we do about this? On May 13, more than 200 people gathered at the invitation of the Collegiate Churches of New York for prayer. With Groundswell at Auburn Seminary, we started a prayer petition, that you can sign and pray with us. One of our colleagues, Tehilah Eisenstadt, said, "Each of the girls represents a world. Pray for those worlds."
Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, posted a simple way to invite your Senator to sign the International Violence Against Women Act. Join me in sending a letter to your senator, and spread the word.
In this season of Eastertide, let's remember this: The rabbi whose life inspired a movement broke the rules of his day to include women and children in it. Our faith demands that we act to end violence against women and children.