This book is one that I picked up from a friend recently, and wish I’d read when it was published back in 2014! The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls is a superb book, that could easily have been three books; one on the gendercide, one on the Cross, and one on practical theology.
Firstly, this is a book about the task of theology. It is practical theology in the best sense, in that it takes seriously the theological resources of the Church and applies them to the challenges of the world today. Rather than letting the ethical or missional cart lead the dogmatic or doctrinal horse, this is a book that is ultimately very practical and offers a myriad of practical responses, but is fundamentally and robustly rooted in some serious theology. Gerhardt writes “I propose that a theology of the cross provides the church with a critical foundation for offering assistance to victims while it works to change systems based on gender inequality“. This is, as I say, practical theology in the best sense: drawing links between the classic and vital doctrines of Christianity and the challenges of the world today. In this, it follows particularly Bonhoeffer in suggesting a properly and historically theological response to social challenges today.
Secondly, this is a (Very good!) book about the Cross. Not focusing on models of the atonement, but rather rooted in the reality of the Cross, Gerhardt draws particularly on Martin Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’, and Bonheoffer’s aforementioned appropriation of it. The fundamentally uniting nature of the Cross is important for Gerhardt; “A theology of the cross provides the right point of departure not only because it is centred on the incarnation saving work of Christ but because it is rooted in the common confession of faith. All Christians share the same baptism in Christ and are unified by faith in the one essential act on the cross… The gift of freedom for Christians is a freedom for the other. all Christians… share this common foundation of faith“. Gerhardt’s engagement with Luther touches on questions of suffering, ethics, and the nature of the Kingdom of God, in a deep but readable style of writing that beautifully connects theological truth with the questions at hand.
Thirdly and most importantly, this is a book about ‘gendercide’, which Gerhardt recognises as the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, from before birth, and in every country. Whilst her research on the problem in the USA, her own context, is troubling enough, she also offers global examples of the scale of this blight on humanity. Readers interested in the scale of this problem should also be aware of Elaine Storkey’s Scars Across Humanity. Reading some of the effects of, say, the One Child Policy in China or the usage of rape as a weapon of war, is chilling, and paints a picture of a menace that can only be effectively countered by God. As she writes in her closing chapter;
“The cross and resurrection of Jesus provide us freedom, and the power of the cross in the world enables us to join in without concern for our success. The Christian church is called to be faithful, not successful. The whole of the church is called to end gendercide. This is a confessional issue as defined by a theological approach of the cross. Violence committed against women and girls because of their gender is a sin against their humanity and dignity. Misogyny, domination and patriarchy are the roots of gendercide and the causes of the sin of idolatry“
Gerhardt has written a profound and practical book. Often, theology is seen as being disconnected from the realities of the world. The Cross and Gendercide demonstrates powerfully that theology can be deeply practical, and drive action even when the evil we face seems insurmountable. As a man in the church, this book challenged me to think and pray about what more I could do to play my part in confronting gendercide. I would recommend this book to Christians thinking about structural issues of justice and evil, as well as those particularly interested in challenging and ending violence against women. In an unexpected way, this could be one of my Top Ten Books of 2019, as The Cross and Gendercide so faithfully and provocatively invites us to imagine what the world could and will be like. I’ll close my review with a beautiful quote from Gerhardt’s final chapter:
“At the cross, death to self lies in the hope of the person and work of Jesus Christ. But this hope exists not only in a kingdom yet to come but in the fulfilling of our call as peacemakers in this world…“