The Father’s Song

The Life of Jesus by James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902)

[Image from Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries ]

When it comes to issues of justice patriarchy has often had a poor track record.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines patriarchy as

social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line; broadly: control by men of a disproportionately large share of power

There is little question that patriarchy, as described above, has indeed spawned injustice, prejudice and inequality and even condoned and perpetuated misogyny – the hatred of women. However, this is not the focus of this particular post; I want to consider the protective, relational aspect of ‘Father’ –pater– as one which is important to the affirmation and realisation of social justice.

This morning, as I was rushing through the usual family routines I was stopped in my tracks (yes I was late on the school run) by an impassioned interview on Radio 4’s Today Program (2.34.30). Matt O’Connor, founder of Father’s for Justice  was speaking of the process which currently takes place in the UK’s Family Justice System to decide post-separation parental contact. He judged this process to be unfairly prejudiced against the rights of fathers to have ongoing contact and involvement in their children’s lives and went as far as to say that it was as “an abusive, secretive regime…which almost makes the regime in North Korea look tame”. His protest was passionate.

When protest becomes passionate or shrill it can be easy to ‘switch off’ (especially for those reasonable Brits amongst us!), and surrounded as we are by global protests and uprisings such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, we can become blase, or simply lose track of the reasons behind a given protest and fail to discern the part we have to play in redressing unjust situations.

Yet, protest is foundational to justice, it sounds the alarm.  The history of Christianity is replete with examples of protest; rooted in the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, Jesus affirms throughout his ministry the importance of protest. He re-draws relational boundaries which are mutually respectful and inclusive. He affirms those despised  and excluded by a corrupted patriarchy which had become polarised under the oppression of the Roman Empire and extends a protective arm to fend off rabid acts of violence against the vulnerable. Yet, even in closing one of the Bible’s most blistering protest accounts, Jesus softens and confesses the reconciling love of a protective heart:

[and yet]… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. (Mat 23:37)

In a world where children and women are minute by minute being sold into slavery at a rate unprecedented in history, forced to be child soldiers, stripped of their rights and their dignity, there is surely an intolerable deficit of community protest which requires everyone to participate in protecting and nurturing the vulnerable against harm?

The Father’s song is one of shalom, which brings peace and well-being to all.

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