Half the Sky and the Power of Story (RJS)

Half the Sky and the Power of Story (RJS) May 8, 2012

I expect this post to be one of my least well-read posts of the year.

That alone is an indictment of our church today – and of its leadership, as most of the people who read Jesus Creed are leaders in some form in the church. It isn’t an indictment because women’s issues should be of prime importance – but because compassion and care should be. We debate heady issues – doctrine and theology and sexuality and evolution and Adam … but I know from experience that issues of compassion and care receive less than 10% the views and reads of such posts.

I post this anyway, knowing it will send my numbers plunging … because some things are that important.

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a powerful book that explores the oppression of women worldwide, from rape, sex-trafficking, and maternal mortality to domestic violence, “cutting” and infanticide. They describe the problems in often graphic and heart-wrenching detail. They introduce real people in harsh situations and use their stories to give a face to the problems that exist and an example of hope that can be found. They examine the kinds of efforts for relief and reform that work, don’t work, and sometimes work or partially work to overcome the underlying economic and cultural factors that give rise to the oppression of women. They are honest about the messiness inherent in human societies and motivations. There is no magic bullet to be found in this book. But their book is an unabashed a call for action (as is their organization).

So was it cultural imperialism for Westerners to criticize foot-binding and female infanticide? Perhaps. But it was also the right thing to do. If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up to them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths and cultures. (p. 207)

Because the book is intended as a call for action – and designed for persuasion it consists primarily of stories. Stories inspire action in a way that facts, figures, and propositions simply do not. Facts, even accurate and overwhelming statistics, inhibit compassion. According to Kristof and WuDunn:

Social psychologists argue that all this reflects the way our consciences and ethical systems are based on individual stories and are distinct from the part of our brains concerned with logic and rationality. Indeed, when subjects in experiments are first asked to solve math problems, thus putting in play the parts of the brain that govern logic, afterwards they are less generous to the needy. (p. 100)

A point that is rather interesting in light of the article Scot linked last Thursday, Analytical Thinking and Faith (and here are links to the Science write-up and article).

How many who read this blog have heard of Half the Sky? How many have read it?

How many of the men have read it (or intend to)?

Does the power of story motivate?

The book has been having something of an impact in Christian churches (a group in our church has been inspired to take action through the power of the book). The May/June issue of Books and Culture has a review, Hard Truths by Amy E. Black, that considers both  Half the Sky and a recent book  Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James that claims some inspiration from Kristof and WuDunn. James’s book looks primarily at women in the bible, is  directed at an audience of Christian women – but makes connections with some of the issues raised by Kristof and WuDunn, drawing in part on the work of Amy Carmichael in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But this highlights a problem … Half the Sky is, it seems to me, having some impact in the church, but as a “women’s issue” or a women’s ministry project – and that is a crying shame. (You can correct me if I’m wrong here.) But Half the Sky is a book well worth reading (and acting on) for everyone, male and female. It provides a number of important lessons that span a wide variety of issues. The deep need and deep evil that permeates so much of our world. The tyranny of strong over weak … and the ever present temptation to rationalize strength as an intrinsic value. In Half the Sky the tyranny is primarily, but not solely, male over female; but on a much more fundamental level the tyranny is strong or powerful over the weak.

In a tale of Zoya Najabi

“Not only my husband, but his brother, his mother, and his sister – they all beat me,” Zoya recalled indignantly, speaking at a shelter in Kabul. … The worst moment came when Zoya’s mother-in-law was beating her and Zoya unthinkingly kicked back. Resisting a mother-in-law is an outrageous sin. First, Zoya’s husband dug out an electrical cable and flogged his wife until she fell unconscious.  (p. 68-69)

But even worse is the deep culture of violence in these hierarchical relationships. Zoya talked about the reasons behind beatings in general – not just her situation.

“But it also happens that the wife is not taking care of her husband or is not obedient. Then it is appropriate to beat the wife.

Zoya smiled a bit when she saw the shock on our faces. She smiled patiently: “I should not have been beaten, because I was always obedient and did what my husband said. But if the wife is truly disobedient, then of course her husband has to beat her.” (p. 69)

This attitude is not limited to Islamic cultures and does not characterize all Islamic cultures. Similar examples can be found in Christian cultures in Africa and in cultures that are neither Christian nor Muslim. There is a strong cultural element largely separable from religion that justifies continuing violence and oppression.

The God Gulf. Kristof and WuDunn have some rather interesting comments on faith and compassion.

Religious conservatives have fought against condom distribution and battled funding for UNFPA, but they have also saved lives in vast numbers by underwriting and operating clinics in some of the neediest parts of Africa and Asia. When you travel in the poorest countries in Africa, you repeatedly find diplomats, UN staff, and aid organizations in the capitals or big cities. And then you go to the remote villages and towns where Western help is most needed, and the aid workers are suddenly scarce. Doctors Without Borders woks heroically in remote areas, and so do some other secular groups. But the people you almost inevitably encounter are the missionary doctors and church-sponsored aid workers.

… Aid workers and diplomats come and go, but missionaries burrow into society, learn the local language, send their children to local schools, sometimes stay for life. True, some missionaries are hypocritical or sanctimonious – just like any group of people – but many others are like Harper McConnell at the hospital in Congo, struggling to act on a gospel of social justice as well as individual morality. (pp. 141-143)

I am not so sure it is a gospel of social justice as much as it is a gospel that embodies the call to love one’s neighbor, even halfway around the world. I fear though that this influence is vanishing from the church. I grew up in an era where missionary week and tales of missionary doctors, nurses, and teachers around the world were highlighted (pastors were there too – but never alone). This simply does not seem a priority emphasis any longer.

I could pick out more pieces from this book, there were a number that moved me or caused me to think. Social insights into western thinking of both conservatives and liberals … and the reasons for the success and failure of various humanitarian efforts – the pieces that capture the interest of my analytical brain (I am, after all, a scientist).  More importantly the deep needs that exist and the power of the stories Half the Sky contains.

But I’ll stop here and simply recommend that this book should be required reading – and that as we debate the heady issues of  theology and science we should also remember that our faith is shaped and lived out by intuitive thinking as well. Our faith must have a heart.

My challenge to everyone, make and female, and especially to leaders is simple … read the book and think deeply about the issues.

What do you think? What role should faith based compassion have in our church?

Is this the kind of book that should move the church?

If you read the book – what struck you most deeply?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.


Angular Momentum Conservation in Plasmonics,
Aaron Rury1,2, Richard M. Freeling3; 1Applied
Physics Program, University of Michigan, USA; 2Department
of Chemistry, University of Michigan,
USA; 3SRI International Inc., USA.
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  • phil_style

    I bought and read this book about 5 months ago… I think I was linked to it from the Women in Theology blog.

    There are some pretty remarkable and eye-opening case studies/ stories in the book. It’s also obvious that breaking through this cycle of female slavery is a tough, tough ask.

  • Rhonda

    Yes, I read the book several months ago. To be honest, it was rather overwhelming. I give to World Vision through 3 sponsorships which I’ve been doing long before I read this book. Last Christmas I gave an extra gift that was to go towards young girls’ education. But this issue seems too big to wrap my brain around or feel like I can make much of a difference.

  • DAK

    Kristof was very recently at Willow Creek for Celebration of Hope; you can see the conversation between Nicholas and Bill Hybels about “Half the Sky” and the issues raised in the book at the Willow website, here (I think this link will work). media.willowcreek.org Worth your 41:33 if you have the time. BTW – I have not read the book, but it is on my “soon to be read” list; it is on-call at the library and I will read it when the book is available. I have followed Kristof’s several NYT columns on the book and related topics, however.

  • Rebekah

    I just finished reading it last week! Sheryl WuDunn is going to be one of the speakers at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit in August.

    I appreciated that the writers addressed the complexities of trying to make real, lasting change.

    It was deeply disturbing to reflect on how much virginity is elevated in many societies…to the extent that I felt that these women’s souls are valued less than their physical bodies. (Not saying virginity isn’t significant, just explaining that it breaks my heart that women can get tossed aside over it.)

    I would like to find someone to ‘buddy up’ with to discuss it b/c as Rhonda mentioned, it is pretty overwhelming. I don’t want to simply read about it, feel powerless, forget about it, and move on.

    Personally, I appreciated my parents a lot more by the end of the book because when they found out they were having a daughter, they were overjoyed! I come from a conservative Christian background, but my parents are very supportive of my education and opportunities for me to grow and mature in my career. They accept that I’m not married with kids and don’t think ‘oh, she’s not fulfilling her purpose.’

    So many women around the world don’t have the love and wholehearted investment of their parents simply because they are…girls. That isn’t God’s heart for women!

  • RJS


    I agree that it is overwhelming at times. Like many things, none of us will make a big impact. But we can all do something. As a family we also have three sponsorships, and try to be shaped to be generous (with not enough success).

    One of the things that struck me in the book was the reflections on conservative Christian efforts, which recieve almost reluctant respect. I don’t think they realize how much has been done through the centuries in the name of Christ. Scot has posted on “Kingdom Work” pointing out that kingdom work does not happen outside the church; and perhaps one reason is that if it is not done in the name of Christ it does no bring glory to his name and people to his mission. One of our greatest witnesses in the secular world is to be truly compassionate because we are truly Christian.

  • Kristin

    I read the book in Feb 2010 (thank you goodreads for helping me remember exactly). I thought it was excellent, but so heart-rendering. It has made me pay more attention to women. When I give to organizations, I usually try to give to women or girls or organizations that help women and girls. I think books like this are just part of the gentle push some are giving to think more about women. I felt like 3 Cups of Tea was that was as well (too bad about the fall-out since then), and although it’s overwhelming, just beginning to think more about it helps in the long run. I DO think this is a book that should be read and discussed in church groups. I wish more Christians were the ones writing these books, but we should be open to take and use books that aren’t explicitly “christian.”

  • RJS: I’m a white male who (a) actually read this post, (b) have heard of the book (as well as Half the Church) but not yet read either, (c) am actively involved in Christians for Biblical Equality, and (d) attend a church with no discrimination toward women in any roles of the church (or home or society for that matter!). Thanks for posting on these books. Be encouraged!

  • Scott Bryant

    Read this in 2011 while working with International Teams on an anti-human trafficking project. Almost made it on my top 10 books of 2011 list. Well worth the read as a primer on these sorts of issues.

  • I hope you’re very wrong about readership of this post. I know that Half the Sky has been hugely influential at Bethel. Last spring we had a dozen groups (students, faculty, staff) reading and discussing it. It’s assigned in several courses, and has inspired at least a quarter of the student projects currently being presented in my Human Rights in International History course. Kristof’s interview with Krista Tippett is a nice introduction to his theory of the role of compassion in journalism: http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/journalism-and-compassion

  • Peter

    My daughter recommended this book to me. I have really enjoyed what I have read of it so far, but haven’t finished it. Our family’s peculiar set of experiences have made it so that we were already aware of many of the issues illustrated by the stories in “Half the Sky.” I hope that our efforts to influence the culture of the church that we attend regarding these issues will bring good fruit. Thanks for posting this – it has reminded me that I should be recommending this book to others.

  • Juniper

    I hadn’t heard of the book, but it looks promising so I’ve ordered it. To Rhonda and anyone else who feels overwhelmed by the topic, just do the one little thing at a time. Give to a charity one time. Read a book. Have a conversation. Look for similar issues here at home. Statistics and global issues are made up of individual people. Having said that, I’m surprised compassion issues generate so little traffic, especially amongst church going people. Doctrine is important but love is more important. Without it, everything else is empty.

  • Joe Canner

    I’ve heard of the book but not read it. Thanks to your encouragement I will be checking it out of the library very soon.

  • Dave

    I heard the Krista Tippett interview as well, and have the audio book ready to pick up at the library. Thanks for bringing this up, it needs more thought and discussion within the church. It is much too easy to spend our time and energy getting our doctrine and thinking “right” while losing sight of the world around us. I know that is one of my struggles.

  • Kyle

    Haven’t heard of the book before, but thanks for posting on this issue.

  • Mark

    On my growing summer reading list. Thanks, and ditto to DC. Me too.

  • DRT

    I never heard of the book.

    In the 1910s my grandma was a nun in pittsburgh and the bishop would go to the convent and beat the nuns. grandma got the nuns together to escalate the problem. but when the time came the other nuns did not back her up. the situation ended poorly for her nun career.

    dad went to the convent a couple years ago and they still have a picture of her on the wall, and all the nuns knew her name and story. as itvturns out someone is writing a book about the convent and grandma was a key figure in its history. although it ended badly for her, her efforts ended up making the situation known and it helped all the nuns in the diocese after that. the nuns revere her!

    it takes a lot of guts for a solitary woman to standup to the system and the ppowers that be. we all need to be on the lookout for these type of situations

  • I read this book (and the post!), and was moved by it. In our insulated, comfortable middle-class lives, it’s easy to forget the plight of so much of the world’s population. Some of the stories are oh-so-hard to read – graphic and disturbing – but it’s so important that they be told.

    I certainly think this is a book that should be read by the church and it represents causes that should be championed by the church – and, as you said, it’s really not about women’s issues or women’s rights, but human issues and human rights, loving our neighbors as our selves.

    As important as this book is, I did have a few reservations – the main one being its tendency to villainize the men. The implication seemed to be that the women could lead healthy, productive, brilliant lives if only given education and the means to do so (which I don’t dispute), but that the men are indolent and tyrannical by nature (which I do). I would argue that the problem on both sides – for both women AND men – is a lack of education, and the men could also rise to the occasion if educated beyond what they are now.

    Overall, though, an important book and one that should be read, thought about, and discussed – and then should drive us to action.

  • BradK

    I haven’t read WuDunn’s book, but I did see her TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_wudunn_our_century_s_greatest_injustice.html.) It was quite powerful and compelling and I immediately showed to my wife and daughter and recommended it to friends. I completely agree that this is not a women’s or women’s ministry issue, but an issue for the church at large. Even though my church is Southern Baptist and is not as progressive as I would like in the area of women in ministry (and sometimes even in general attitudes towards women) missions are very much a priority as you mention in your experiences growing and our church actively reaches out to respond. For example, our church participates in projects to pull women out of the sex trade in places like Thailand. As the body of Christ focuses much more intently on some of these kinds of issues, i.e. furthering the kingdom, some of the other problems that are seen to plague the church tend to somewhat fade into obscurity.

  • GEW

    I was over watching a show on the PBS website yesterday and stumbled upon a preview of the “Half the Sky” documentary based on the book that will be airing on PBS in October. http://video.pbs.org/video/2228350237
    It seemed interesting and I considered reading the book, so after this post showed up today, it looks like I’ll have to add it to my reading list.

    Somewhat related to the comment about decreased readership of the posts about compassion issues, we’ve watched an interesting (and sad) dynamic play out in a local church we have worshipped with. As the pastor decided he wanted to do deeper and more more “biblical” teaching, the sermons and classroom teaching became almost exclusively out of the New Testament (and more specifically Pauline) letters with the gospel message taking on an almost exclusively soterian shape, and all of this with little grounding in the overall story of the Bible. As the focus has turned almost exclusively to combatting personal sin (with an emphasis on marriage, family and how living godly lives helps us fight the “culture war”), we’ve seen a decline in the promotion of and participation in compassion and missions efforts and a lack of a desire for the whole church to come together in support those efforts. There are some members of the congregation who are working to change and bring compassion more to the forefront, but part of me wonders how successful they will be in getting the church on board if church’s teaching doesn’t undergo some sort of shift.

  • /em added it to my Amazon wish list

  • Rob Henderson

    One of the great tragedies of my American Indian ancestors was the sex-trafficking of the girls and young women from Indian tribes to Europe when Europeans began their immigration to America. What is even more tragic is that this horrific crime has not been eradicated since.

    I have not read the book but plan to get it right away. Thanks for posting.

  • PLTK

    Jenn “As important as this book is, I did have a few reservations – the main one being its tendency to villainize the men. The implication seemed to be that the women could lead healthy, productive, brilliant lives if only given education and the means to do so (which I don’t dispute), but that the men are indolent and tyrannical by nature (which I do). I would argue that the problem on both sides – for both women AND men – is a lack of education, and the men could also rise to the occasion if educated beyond what they are now.”

    This is a good point, but not much researched yet and a more complex problem to deal with. We NEED to help the women but it does need to be in the context of the society. Some of the help for women has made things worse for families as men become marginalized and tend to go to drink and prostitutes and become drains on society as they don’t contribute. Which in not way obviates the need for help, and the fact that women tend to use help more wisely for the families, but somehow we need to find ways that don’t don’t worsen the male-female relationship/situation.

  • Steve Sherwood

    The book group I am a part of (all men) read it last year. Absolutely harrowing. Most of us could only make it about 2/3 of the way through it was so heartrending. George Fox University, where I teach, had it as a finalist for its “freshman experience” common read. It did not ultimately become the book chosen, but not because of any thought that it wasn’t profoundly important.

  • Jerry

    White male, never heard of it. Looking forward to reading and applying.

  • Jim

    Kristoff and WuDunn were among the most popular speakers at last year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, a decidedly secular and left-leaning gathering of movers and thinkers.

    I don’t know what kind of traction this tragedy is getting in the church… I do know I was both heartened and chagrined by the response I saw from *outside* the church last summer in Aspen.

  • TriciaM

    Here’s a recent story about a group of women who couldn’t just read this book and forget about it: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Daphne+Bramham+real+housewives+West+Vancouver/6568956/story.html

  • Stephen

    RJS –

    I have not heard of Half the Sky, but based on your post I plan to pick it up this week. There are a number of women in my church and at the university I work at that are very burdened by human trafficking (as we all should be), but have just as strong a burden for informing men and getting us to care as well. A number of these bold young ladies work at the local abused women’s shelter, in social work, or (as students) dedicate their time to raising awareness for social issues facing women. Some of these same women visited Australia a couple of years back and ministered to women throughout the red light districts and brothels in Sydney (I believe it was Sydney). Upon returning, their calling led to monthly visits to the strip-clubs of a nearby city where they prayerfully enter in, converse with, and drop off gifts for workers to this day. All that to say a) I am proud of my sisters and b) reading this book you have suggested sounds like the perfect way for myself and OTHER MEN OUT THERE to encourage those thankless women who have carried this burden long before we have ever thought to and, perhaps, to bring us to a new place where we find ourselves laboring right alongside of them.

  • Todd

    While male. Read it last year – in fact, could not put it down. Very important book! Glad you have drawn attention to it.

  • Tom Howard

    White male…yes, I have heard of the book some months ago and am now moving it up in the “to read” list….always a compassionate interest, but some months ago The Cities Project being done by Christianity Today and their coverage of trafficking reignited my interest in the broader topic as well.

  • Val

    Thanks, RJS, I am now motivated to read it!

  • RJS,
    You recommended it so it is now on my Kindle. Thanks for this post along with all else you contribute here. I’ve learned much.

  • Alan K

    White male. Have heard of the book but not read it. Have read Kristof for years as he is the only NYT columnist that tries to make me aware of the places in the world that I ignore. The International Justice Mission is an organization that has been combating this tragedy for the last 15 years. It is Christian and its raison d’etre is Isaiah 1:17: “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” It’s founder once came to a church I was attending and he showed us a video of the work they do. I was not prepared to see what he showed us: actual footage of adolescent girls being rescued from a hidden room in a brothel in Thailand. I’ll never forget the look of sheer fear that was on the faces of these precious girls–as if their capacity for trust had been totally removed. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the sanctuary as we witnessed the horror of sex trafficking followed by the beauty of seeing these young girls brought back to life–given safe haven so they could learn to trust the world again. RJS, please, feel free to do so much more than challenge us to think. Encourage us to realize that those girls are our daughters as well and that the priority of God’s mission is always the vulnerable and that sex trafficking is every bit as much our reality as theirs on the other side of the world.

  • Thanks so much for this post and for calling my attention to the book!

  • “Half the Sky” has finally reached the top of the queue and receiving my full reading attention. Good to see others are doing likewise. I consider my foray into earlier articles, sites, and on-line video posts related to “Half the Sky” just teasers. I’m interested to see how the push to the PBS special pans out. I’ve also placed Carolyn Custis James’ “Half the Church: Recovering God’s Global Vision for Women” in queue. Thank-you for posting RJS. Much appreciated.

  • This book has been on my “to read” list for about two years. Grad school, a thesis, and now teaching have kept me from actually doing so.

    Thank you for the reminder. The semester ends in two weeks. I’ll order a copy and start it then.

  • Vicki

    Thank you. In more recent years, I am personally drawn to have a more active role in women’s rights and empowerment. I need to read this. I am also in the midst of a DMIN dissertation on women’s issues in the church. We need to be advocates for both. Maybe this is one of the more active springboards toward equality and empowerment for all, whether in the church or outside the church.

  • RJS

    Chris Gehrz(8:33 am),

    Thanks to Google Analytics I am able to watch how my posts do fairly carefully. There is a number of unique views (call it X) that I regard as indicative of a post that has hit the mark in some substantial fashion. This post is currently at 0.95 X and will almost certainly hit X later this afternoon. It won’t be the least read post – but it will probably be in the bottom 10 to 15% of my posts since I’ve been able to track. It has gotten a pretty good readership though, and I hope it makes an impact, driving more people to the book and then to act, even in very small ways, on the issues involved.

    In contrast the patriarchy post Scot put up this morning hit X within 90 minutes of posting and is currently at 2.12 X, the post on the Keller’s book is at 2.17 X.

  • Male and white (also don’t tan well). Never heard of it. Grew up Southern Baptist so women never made it in front of men unless it was to sing a “special.” I think a book like this is needed, though I can’t possibly speak to my approval of the arguments not having read it. Anything, though, that brings light to an oppressed sector of society–especially an entire gender!! should be given serious, serious press. I fear the church is the most difficult place for women to gain ground, and this is something I’ve just recently realized in my own understanding of Scripture and social norms.

  • CDL

    I hadn’t heard of this book. Thanks for bringing it up. I have a rather lengthy need-to-read list, but this is going at the top.

  • P.

    Excellent post. Topics like this are part of the “doing” of Christianity. I’ve noticed that posts about justification, predestination (or any topic having to do with Reformed theology), etc. generate many, many comments, but in my lay-person viewpoint, these topics have nothing to do with the “doing” of Christianity. We lay people need the clergy to help us the with the “doing” – loving one another, etc. That loving one another stuff can be very hard!

  • Dana Ames

    Saw Wu Dunn’s TED presentation. I may read it, may not; other books are more pressing at the moment, and I think I’m pretty informed overall, since I support IJM, but certainly could learn more.

    I’ll say something to you here, RJS, because Scot’s post highlighting Rachel’s (wonderful) essay is already full of the same back-and-forth insanity, and I’d rather boost the comment count on this post than that one.

    When I was investigating Orthodoxy, the two biggest hurdles I had were male-only priesthood/place of women in the church, and devotion to Mary. I won’t go into all the details; I’ve said a lot in other comments. Since some “Orthodox countries” still have a patriarchal tone wrt to cultural norms for men and women, I was expecting to find something in O. theology itself that would support women being looked on as less than human, and perhaps even supporting subordination within the Trinity – iow, what patriarchalists say is what Christianity has taught since its beginning. I looked far and wide, believe me. I could not find anything – not one word! – in Orthodox teaching to indicate that women are regarded as anything other than fully human. And of course there is nothing that even remotely comes close to subordination within the Trinity. All that is said is that the Father is somehow the source of the Son and Spirit, but beyond that O. does not go, and does not need to go; the Trinitarian Persons are co-equal and co-eternal. End of story.

    Not only that, but female saints, including but not limited to Mary the Mother of Jesus, are revered as much as male saints, and by men as much as by women, as far as I can tell. In everyday life, it’s assumed that all Christians – women and men alike, married and not married alike, in all walks of life – are to be seeking humility (Christlikeness) and practicing askesis.

    I’ve been to three Orthodox weddings so far. The Gospel reading is the wedding at Cana; the Epistle reading is the Eph 5 passage. There is nothing in the ceremony itself, other than a prayer that echoes the Eph 5 passage, to indicate any “roles” for the husband and wife. It’s very open-ended; the two are looked upon as adults, able to negotiate the scriptural exhortation. (The Wikipedia article on Marriage in the EOC is actually pretty good at describing the theology.)

    The result has been a real haven for me. No more haggling about what is “biblical” for women to do. No more fighting to assert the obvious, that God actually created me and ever other female as a human being. I find it to be an exhilarating freedom! The continued upheaval over this in USAmerican Protestantism is to me the #1 example of biblicism, even ahead of the origins issues. This article recently came to my attention. It’s so relevant.


    My very, very best regards to you, R.


  • Amanda F

    I admit that I started reading this last year and only got halfway through. Not the least out of boredom but feeling really overwhelmed.
    I also had to wrestle with God about some stuff the book brought to the surface. Namely, why the curse seemingly has fallen so much harder on girls and women. Also certain aspects of the OT law, which if I’m not mistaken, the book talked about.
    I certainly haven’t found all of my answers yet, but I think I’m ready to finish it now. Anyone else have a similar reaction?

  • Trav

    I’m a regular reader of this blog and these issues do matter to me. I haven’t heard of this book until now.

    The power of story definitely does motivate and helps bring powerful emotions to the surface that can provoke action. Often those actions are spurred by emotion, but then once the emotion has worn off the decision is not regretted- ie: The emotion has just unleashed the power to do what the person needed to do anyway.

  • PM says, “I fear the church is the most difficult place for women to gain ground”

    Recently stumbled upon a website for a religious gathering called “World Leaders Conference” (bit.ly/x78ZcW). Browsing the speaker line-up, it’s 12-2 men, and 13-1 white. The board is 8-0 white males.

    Half the Sky is an important book. Leadership starts by recognizing our world as an organic (realistic) balance of gender and ethnicity. There are now more women than men in our universities. By 2020, 40% of the US-UK-India workforce will be female, and salaries of women will be at par or -greater- than men. By 2020, females 20-30 will dominate job migration into urban centers.

    The “church” – as exemplified by the “World Leader” conference – is becoming increasingly marginalized into ghettos of cultural irrelevancy. While the “church” is out there promoting a white male agenda, a groundswell of courageous women leaders are finding their voice outside of religious institution.

    Look at highly influential leadership conferences like Pop Tech, Skoll, TED, Renaissance Weekend, and Summit Series. While the mix may not be ideal, speakers at such gatherings tend to represent a realistic cross section of humanity, not some archaic religious patriarchy. I would also suggest a wonderful anthology addressing this issue – amzn.to/K9s8uy – with essays from writers as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Frank Viola.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Amanda F, yes reading about honor killings and such today and reading the OT very closely can quickly make one uneasy. In fact, for me it raised questions around just how inspired I thought every “law” in the OT was. I wouldn’t say I’ve resolved that, but it did make a simple “it’s in the Bible, it must be God ordained” position difficult to sit with.

  • CK

    Kristof recently spoke on this topic at my school (a Jesuit college), and I’m very sorry to have missed it. Thank you, RJS, for renewing my motivation to read this book and find some way to act. These issues of contemporary slavery and the oppression of women have been on my heart and mind for some time. My church is starting to take steps toward serving women who have escaped from trafficking, and I’m hoping to see and do more.

  • Matt O

    I am a head pastor and I read it over a year ago. Our church bought copies and began to distribute them with the instructions to read and share. Our members are “digesting” the immensity of the problem with the intent of forming long-term strategies to participate in the movement of change. Folks have already gotten involved personally on a number of levels.

    Thanks for posting this. If it were the worldwide oppression of men, I fear it already would have been addressed with a fierce and unrelenting unity.

  • RJS, I actually put this book in my Amazon cart last night. I had not heard of the book until a few weeks ago. I was at a conference and was sitting at a lunch table with an older woman whose ministry if focused on providing care to missionaries and their families.

    At one point, someone asked her what she was reading. She told those of us at the table about Half the Sky and said that it was a deeply disturbing book. She suggested I read it and I made a note of the book. Up to that point, I had been totally unfamiliar with the book.

  • Percival

    I understand your frustration, but don’t judge the influence of anything by what kind of initial impact it makes.

    The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.

  • I’m so glad you brought this book to readers’ attention, RJS! We gave it to our daughter for Christmas when it first came out, 2 years ago (IIRC). I’d heard of it, shared w/ her some of the stories I’d heard or read, and she put it on her list! There is a Half the Sky page on FB for those who are interested in participating & staying in touch with the initiatives they have in the works. She left it here while she’s overseas, so that I can read more than just snippets at a time! 🙂

    Another book which I read long, long ago which transformed my understanding beyond the DV work I’ve done here in the US was Alice Walker’s, Possessing the Secret of Joy – about genital mutilation. It’s a heart-breaking, intense and in-depth story of FGM, culture, societal pressures, history – all woven into a very readable book. (I finished it in 1 or 2 nights, staying up too late!)

  • Jane

    I got the book for Christmas, am in the middle of it and overwhelmed like others. Need to go back to reading it. Have not had much response from other believers when mentioning the book, so I am encouraged by the comments from others who are reading and acting justly because of the book’s influence. Thanks for bringing this up, RJS.

  • Renee Y

    Read the book 2 or more years ago after its authors were featured (and the book availability date was announced) in a New York Times Magazine dedicated to the topic “Saving the World’s Women” (August 23, 2009). Have been recommending it for all to read at various church conferences I’ve been to or spoken at. I think this is a “must read” for Christians to at least be introduced to the atrocities that are taking place around the world. The Bible is very clear on followers of Christ helping the poor, the widows, the orphans and the fatherless. Jesus even had compassion on women (stories are in the New Testament) in a society where women weren’t valued very highly. There are many Christians out there making a difference in the lives of women, children (girls and boys alike) and families. I know about IJM and World Vision and Action International and about the many missionaries trying to make a difference in the places God has called them to. I hope we can all catch the vision to work towards making a difference in – and even putting an end to – things like sex trafficking, slavery, and a host of other human abuses. I think we could even say that this is a “pro life” issue, promoting the sanctity of life – treating people with dignity and worth. When you read the book “Half the Sky,” follow it with Gary Haugen’s (IJM) “Good News About Injustice” (updated 10th Anniversary Edition). Gary’s book points out many scripture passages having to do with God’s heart for justice to be done and for injustices to be done away with. I hope these topics – human trafficking, sex trafficking, slavery, rape and abuse of women and girls, etc. – soon become the hot topics in our churches and that the church will be known for its action against injustices in our world.

  • RJS


    Thanks, you are right. The post has been reasonably well read and I hope it gets people thinking about the issues, and what can be done. None of us are going to set the world aright by ourselves – but that shouldn’t be an excuse for doing nothing.

    I was not as overwhelmed as some by the book – because I wasn’t really surprised by the injustice. I was more encouraged by the difference small efforts (including especially Christian missions) can make.