Ken Fong: “Different but definitely equal in every way”

Earlier this week, I went to a local showing of “Half the Sky Live.” I got home with every intention of writing up my experience and my thoughts. But my friend Ken Fong got there ahead of me. Here are his thoughts:

At the urging of one of EBCLA deacons, I began reading NY Times bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunities for Women Worldwide. Co-authored by NY Times reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (who are married to each other), it’s an eye-popping revelation of how believing that girls and women are inferior to men is causing them to disappear from the face of the earth.

The ratios of male newborns to female newborns around the world is always pretty darn close to being 50/50. So why is it, when governments and agencies count the number of males and females in the world later, that there are consistently fewer females than males? I mean, we’re talking significantly fewer females than males and yet, according to an old Chinese proverb, women hold up “half the sky.” Girls and women are somehow disappearing off the face of the planet.

In far too many places there are all kinds of customs, religious beliefs, and prejudices that revolve around some form of the belief that women are not as valuable as men. When a poor family in Asia discovers that one of their sons is ill, there’s a great likelihood that the parent will take him to see a doctor. If one of their daughters is ill, the parents are hugely reluctant to spend time and money to take her the doctors. Same goes for food: sons are typically fed better and more food than daughters. Or if the family is destitute, the parents are far more likely to sell their daughter to shady character than one of their sons. Maternal mortality (dying while trying to deliver a baby) is another injustice that claims the lives of one mother every minute. Being trafficked as a prostitute in a neighboring country. Being denied the same education that boys are given. Being kidnapped and then raped so that she is no longer a virgin and ‘unfit’ for any other male in the village. Then the kidnapper/rapist has the gall to approach her father and ask for her hand in marriage! ‘Honor killings’ are committed by the girls’ own brothers in an effort to ‘regain’ the families’ honor if it’s found out that she no longer a virgin. Or, like in some parts of India, if a young woman spurns the advances of a male suitor, oftentimes he will surprise her later and throw acid in her face, horribly disfiguring and often blinding her. In the countries where these ‘honor’ acts of violence and evil towards women occur, the male culprits are rarely if ever arrested and then prosecuted. “She had it coming, you know.” It’s enough to make you blow a gasket, especially if, like me, you are committed to loving and honoring girls and women.

Through the CARE organization, the United Nations, and a growing “Half the Sky” movement around the globe, girls and women are being empowered to speak up and speak out, to insist that they are as valuable as any male. We heard numerous stories of even young girls who, when given access to education and protected from the perils associated with being born female in their societies, learned the laws of their countries, brought charges against the male perpetrators, and even eventually were the catalysts for shifting their culture’s paradigms towards girls and women. It was truly inspirational to ‘meet’ some of these valiant heroes who couldn’t, in many cases, restore their own virginity or dignity, but pursued this as their Heroes’ Journey on behalf of all other girls and women in their countries.

I came home with a disturbing question and a determined conviction.

The Disturbing Question: When some Christian groups interpret the Bible as teaching that God created women to live in a male-ruled hierarchy, that they must obediently submit to male ‘heads’ or risk violating a divine mandate, aren’t they also contributing to the oppression of girls and women? I left the theater no longer satisfied with just saying, ‘different strokes for different folks.’ Even if the point is made that the Bible teaches that women are of equal value before God, if a person’s being a female automatically and always means that they are overtly or subtly denied equal opportunities to learn, to lead, to teach, etc., that is oppressing them in the name of God.

The Determined Conviction: As a male whom the current Christian and societal system favors, I must take even more seriously God’s challenge to steward properly whatever power I’ve been given simply because I am male. Rather than use it to “rule over” those who start with less power, I am more determined than ever to use it to open doors that are now closed, to provide opportunities to grow as leaders and thinkers and preachers. I’ve been doing this for years, but now, more than ever, I will not simply enjoy my male privileges but use them to bless girls and women who today may not have access to those same privileges.

Ken Fong is the senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church, Los Angeles, and author of a number of books, including Secure in God’s Embrace: Living as the Father’s Adopted Child and Pursuing the Pearl: A Comprehensive Resource for Multi-Asian Ministry. He is also extremely awesome.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC

Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

8 thoughts on “Ken Fong: “Different but definitely equal in every way”

  • 6 March, 2010 at 5:39 pm
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    There is so much I want to say in response to this simple and elegant piece, but find I must settle for “thank you” at the moment. It is so important that society understand that equality is not a loss, but access to so much talent, drive and intelligence that is being squandered and lost by neglect and apathy.

  • 6 March, 2010 at 5:45 pm
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    The Bible teaches that women are to be treasured. That they are not inferior to men, but gifted with very different roles.

    As a fellow Baptist, I can attest that the Christian men I know are always more respectful and giving and open in their treatment of women than your average secular guy.

    I applaud your commitment to lift up women, but argue that it is the Christian faith more than any other on earth that honors and liberates women to be who God made them to be.

  • 6 March, 2010 at 6:39 pm
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    There are 100 million missing girls who are not on the planet today due to the ancient prejudices you describe. We will need 100 million people – one for every missing girl – to tilt the world toward fairness. At 5 for Fairness, members contribute $5 to a grant fund and when we reach $5000, we vote on which organization that fosters fairness for girls deserves our grant. Yesterday, we voted on where to send our first grant. I hope you’ll join us at http://www.5forFairness.org

    We need all the men we can get!

    Anna

  • 6 March, 2010 at 8:07 pm
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    One of the other commenters came up with the argument that many males of Christian fate would do the right thing. Because of the Christian faith ?

    It’s like as was said by the nobles of England in response to the king just before the Magna Charter: We – as servants – do not want to be in a position where our welfare just relies on the whimsies of the king. We want legally binding rules for the King and us as to what binds us – and when they do not – when and wherewith they do not. They introduced the State.

    /just-passing-by-today

  • 7 March, 2010 at 10:14 am
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    Ironically this same subject was covered on one of my favorite NPR programs–Tell Me More hosted by Michele Martin–this week in terms of black male privilege in America vis a vis black women. At first it may seem an oxymoron that African-American males with high incarceration, unemployment, and murder rates enjoy any sort of “privilege.” However some black men negatively impact their communities and center their life experiences around themselves as oppressed (black male ) minorities to the detriment of their own families and communities. They (we) need to do more to help our mothers, sisters, and daughters and bring them along by not ignoring the plights of others. As a gay black male atheist, I find your piece extremely powerful and moving, Pastor Fong.

  • 7 March, 2010 at 11:13 am
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    Beautiful, beautiful article. The Determined Conviction was written so well that I’m at a loss for words. I read Nick & Cheryl’s book a few months ago and it was life-changing for me (…not as life-changing as the Bible, but still up there on my short list of paradigm and world-view shifters.) Blessings to you and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • 7 March, 2010 at 1:09 pm
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    I saw Half the Sky Live too. I am just so grateful for male voices like Nick Kristoff and yourself who are deeply convicted that women have a profound place on this earth. Please keep speaking it. I recently wrote a post : Do Women Not Hold up Half the Kingdom, because it really blows me away that so many Christian believers are not leading the charge in empowering women. Someone like you, however, sounds like a man after God’s own heart. Thank you.

  • 12 March, 2010 at 3:27 pm
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    @Samantha Hill
    True in a perfect world, but we so seldom live there. However, I believe there is a growing movement to improve this very situation. I agree with the posting that women can be empowered through education and opportunity while still respecting the biblical principal of male leaderhip.

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