Friday 7 June 2013

Deeds Not Words

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Queen Alexandra, George V’s mother, described it as a ‘sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman’. History has been kinder to suffragette Emily Wilding Davison who, 100 years ago this week, squeezed through the railings at the Epsom Derby to make a grab for the king’s horse as it raced past.

Davison died four days later, and thousands of suffragettes turned out in London for her funeral. Buried in Morpeth in Northumberland, her headstone is inscribed with the King James Version of John 15:13, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’, along with the maxim of the Women’s Social and Political Union – ‘Deeds Not Words’.

Although speculation has always surrounded her intentions – fueled by some documentary evidence that she was willing to give up her life for the cause – there is now good reason to indicate she didn’t intend to commit suicide. Close analysis of grainy footage of the incident suggests she was seeking to attach a scarf to the bridle of the horse.

Still, it’s clear she was prepared to go to considerable risk to make a dramatic statement, as part of a wider struggle against the inequalities of a rigid class-based society. And she did so, along with others, in the face of hostility, imprisonment and violence. A century on, her death still raises the question of what we would fight for, even be prepared to die for.

Earlier this week, The Guardian asked ‘prominent figures’ what still needs addressing in the fight for women’s rights. Economic inequalities, power imbalance, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and media misrepresentation were all mentioned, along with the need for women to be freed from a sense that their value lies in how they are seen by men. Some also commented on the need for men and women to collaborate in challenging oppression of all kinds.

Along with others seeking the common good, Christians have a stake in addressing those issues. Christians also have a stake in exhibiting to the world what renewed relationships in Christ look like, not least between men and women in different spheres of life.

Originally the Suffragette slogan, ‘Deeds Not Words’, was a call to radical action, but it resonates with the biblical injunction that faith without works is dead, and is seen most notably in the supreme sacrifice of Jesus giving his life for his friends.

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