Sadly, our Federal Parliament reached a shocking new low recently as manifestations of sexism, bullying and harassment came to the fore. During a debate in the Upper House on making pepper spray and tasers available to women, sexual slurs from an independent Senator from NSW again raised serious questions about male attitudes and behaviours towards women in Australia.

Is it okay for “boys to be boys”? Should we tolerate smutty “locker room” talk that demeans women? Can men continue to demand power over women that so often surfaces in the form of domestic violence? Should women have to live with the likelihood of becoming sexual objects, making them vulnerable to all sorts of abuse?

Some pundits suggest there is an emerging “war against men” taking place here. But recent events in Australia, where women have been subject to horrific violence, indicates it’s time to seriously take a look at these issues.

The evidence is clear. It’s definitely time for us to address entrenched attitudes, continuing gender gaps and unequal power relationships that perpetuate this kind of abuse.

One place where all this change has to begin is the church.

As a people of God, the Body of Christ, the challenge is for us to model ourselves on the one who we claim to follow. Jesus’ approach to all people was one of love, mercy, respect and compassion. We see this in Jesus’s encounter with woman of his time. Meanwhile we know that a significant number of those who followed Jesus were women while women played a vital role in the early church.

Mutual respect between men and women is a “must” for the church. Here everyone is to be nurtured and valued as human beings created in the image of God. Attitudes and behaviours that single women out for comment or serve to trivialise or belittle them have no place in this community. Neither do assumptions or practices that are condescending, patronising or are plainly disrespectful.

I trust West Epping Uniting Church will be a place that nurtures, cares for, respects and values every person that walks through our doors.

The kind of behaviour we witnessed in the Senate just over a week ago together with comments made through media outlooks, including Sky Television, have absolutely no place in our community.

It’s time to change – and to value, respect and nurture every person.

Rev John Barr