Christianity Helps Women Rise Out of Poverty, Domestic Violence

Jesus Christ is the world’s greatest revolutionary.

People who believe Him and follow His teachings are empowered on every level of their existence. It is impossible to be a true follower of Christ and not realize that you are worth something, no matter what the larger world has to say to the contrary.

This revolutionary aspect of Christianity is most evident in its impact on marginalized people, including women.

The women who are part of the “untouchable” or “Dalit” class in India are currently experiencing and demonstrating this powerful revolutionizing effect of Jesus Christ. It begins, as Christian revolution always does, with one individual who says “yes” to Jesus. This “yes” starts this person on the life-long walk with Christ that slowly changes who they see themselves to be and what they want to do.

Jesus doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do. And by changing that, He works through you to change the world.

This power of conversion is what is so sadly lacking in the hearts and minds of tepid Christians here in the West. The rich-kids Catholic school in Seattle that I wrote about earlier today is an example. These people are salt that has lost is savor and is no longer of any use in the work of Kingdom building.

On the other hand, the Spirit is moving and empowering the “untouchables” of India to be more than their society has allowed them to be. That is the power of Jesus Christ. He levels the mighty and elevates the cast-offs.

Perhaps no one is more cast off and marginalized than the women of the bottom tier of a caste society. India is a caste society where women are so far down the scale that baby girls are routinely murdered both before and after birth simply because they are girls. A Dalit woman occupies the bottom of the bottom in that world; the place from which there is no arising.

Yet, by the grace of God and the leavening influence of Jesus Christ, these women are rising. They are seeking education, buying homes and reporting domestic abuse. They are exercising their freedom as full human beings made in the image and likeness of the living God.

That is the revolutionary force of Christianity when we live it as it is given to us instead of trying to shape it to fit the society in which we reside. We each face a choice every day of our lives as to who or Whom we will follow. We chose. And we make this choice one day, one moment, at a time every day of our lives.

In course of living out our choices, we become what we do. You can not turn your back on God when it is socially convenient and use Him for your puny purposes when you need a dose of feel good. That is an illusory Christianity, a “cheap grace” as Bonnhoeffer called it, that avails nothing.

From CNA/EWTN News:

From CNA/EWTN News:Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2013 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A researcher at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University has found that impoverished women in India are more likely to improve their economic circumstances after converting to Christianity.

“Conversion actually helps launch women on a virtuous circle.”…  said Rebecca Samuel Shah, research fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Shah presented her initial findings of a pilot study looking at “patterns and directions where conversion had an impact” on Dalit women in Bangalore, India at a conference on “Christianity and Freedom” held in Rome on Dec. 13-14.

Dalits are considered the “outcasts” of or “pariahs” of society in India.

“One is actually born a Dalit, you cannot leave a Dalit status. You’re born and you live and you die a Dalit,” Shah explained. “Dalits are employed in the some of the worst jobs…they scavenge, they sweep, they’re tanners. They do the smelliest, dirtiest work, and therefore they ‘polute’… they’re ‘untouchables.’”

… Shah’s study yielded some surprising results about the impact of Christian conversion on the lives of Dalit women in “a very violent urban slum.”

The majority of Hindu, Muslim and Christian Dalit women interviewed were illiterate. Many belong to a microfinance program which gives them access to loans which they then use towards their children’s education or to run a small business.

The first “unexpected pattern” Shah encountered was in housing. “The converts converted their loans to purchasing houses, and turned dead capital into resources to generate additional capital.”

…  The impact of home ownership is crucial, since “by being able to own a house, these poor women were able to get bank loans, commercial loans, which they didn’t have access to before that. When you have a house you can get a loan at 3 percent, instead of from a money lender at 18 percent.  So having a house is a very important investment in your future, so you can have access to very affordable credit.”
The second “dramatic” finding in Shah’s study concerned domestic violence.

A national family health survey in India in 2005-2006 indicated that 86 percent of the women interviewed nationally had never told anyone that they had been abused.

According to Shah, this large scale study indicated that a woman’s religion was an important indicator of whether or not she would seek help. “Only 24 percent of Hindu women sought help, and 22 percent of Muslim women, but 32 percent of Christian women sought help,” she noted.

Shah’s own study “echoed” the national health data, in that “57 percent of women – a very large number of women – actually tell their pastor” about domestic violence.

…  “It was a unique finding. We were not looking for this,” added Shah.

The Georgetown researcher then pointed to the underlying factors that accompany an improvement in circumstances after conversion.

“Conversion activates in the converts a powerful new concept of value and initiative,” she explained.

It offers “a radically different way of seeing themselves: seeing themselves as a new creation, a new identity, made in the image of God, seeking a better life for themselves.”

“Poverty is inherently depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s debilitating. It breeds hopelessness: ‘why bother?’” she reflected.

Yet with a new Christian vision, “The future is not terrifying. It can be achieved. Because God is with them, they can invest in the future. It’s not something to ignore, not something to be terrified of.”


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