The cover image that took down a giant.
That’s how I see it. This week, New York Magazine published a cover of 35 brave women (warning: explicit content), all of whom share one tragic event in common: Each woman was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. In one beautiful image of solidarity, these 35 women did what none of them could do on their own. They stood together in united witness against abuse and violence.
Bill Cosby still walks our streets a free man. But, in the long battle to make known his formulaic victimization of women, the cover image is a fatal blow. He may never see a literal jail cell, but he will live the chains of isolation he has created for himself. Unless he admits his wrongs, repents, and suffers the consequences of these wrongs, Cosby will remain free only in the legal sense. No longer will the world believe “his side” of the story. The 35 women present a shared account that silences the posturing and explain-it-away-stories Cosby concocts.
In Playing God, Andy Crouch writes, “Here is what we need to discover about power: it is both better and worse than we could imagine.”
When Cosby lured, drugged and raped young women, he demonstrated just how terribly power can be used. His power afforded him the opportunities to commit these crimes, and his power prevented these victims from having any recourse. He was too wealthy, too well loved, and too famous for the powerless to fight back. Or so it seemed.
But in the New York Magazine image, we also see power at its very best. What one woman could not do alone, many women can do together. In community, they stood up for orthodoxy, fighting for what is true, right and just.
And, in a small farming town in south Asia, another group of women is rolling back injustices in their community.
Shanti is joined by ten women in a savings group. They have elected her president and have been together as a group for over two years. During that time, they have helped one another financially. As they’ve saved together, their shared bank account has grown from very little to over $500 today. They’ve helped each other start and grow small businesses. They’ve helped one another with medical fees and school bills. The group even made Shanti an $80 loan to help her start a grocery store.
But more valuable than loans or savings accounts was the newfound power this group of women had together. In their village, “society’s look toward woman is very backward,” Shanti lamented.
Many of the women in her group experienced this backwardness. When they gathered together each week in a local church, they shared their stories—their joys and pains. Several women in the group shared that their husbands regularly would abuse them physically.
“I always felt that as a single person,” Shanti said, “I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything. But as a group, we can do a lot. So that’s what I did. I mobilized our whole group to get involved and make use of our unity.”
When one woman shared she had been abused, the whole group would go and name the offense and confront the abuser, warning him that they would call the police if it happened again. The results are encouraging.
“The community has realized our unity and the power in it,” said Shanti. “It’s changed our whole outlook on life. It’s given us confidence that we can do anything as a united group.”
Shanti’s group hasn’t stopped at confronting domestic abuse. They’ve chased out a bootlegger in their community. They’ve pressured a local councilwoman to make good on her promise to clean up the sewer system. And they are keeping their sights set how they can together make their community better.
Like the 35 women victimized by Bill Cosby, these women created power they did not have on their own. Both groups practiced a sort of “beautiful orthodoxy”—a powerful phrase coined by my friends at Christianity Today. Beautiful orthodoxy is perhaps a counterintuitive pairing. Holding truth and kindness in tension is terribly difficult. But it’s also the most powerful, as evidenced by the actions of these two groups of women.
Their message is orthodox. They spoke truth to abusive power. It affirms what is right and exposes what is wrong. And, the ways both these groups of women have communicated this truth is beautiful. They made their statement in solidarity. In unity. A posture modeled first in the Trinity and again-and-again throughout scripture.
Joan Tarshis, one of Cosby’s victims, called her group of 35 a “sorrowful sisterhood.” Chelan Lasha, a fellow victim, said she’s “no longer afraid.” She said she feels “more powerful” together with this group. Shanti said she no longer feels she is without power. These restorative actions of beautiful orthodoxy do not undo the pain. But they do create a more just future. They embody the ancient proverb from Ecclesiastes: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The cover image that took down a giant.