7 Inspiring Women: Julia Baird
In this series of posts, we’re looking at 7 inspiring women – passionate, courageous, prophetic women, who inspire us to think deeply, act courageously, embrace others, and bring hope to the world.
Dr Julia Baird is both an outstanding scholar and public intellectual, who has made a sustained and distinguished contribution to the wider community in the areas of justice, equality, and religion.
Julia received her PhD from the University of Sydney in 2001, researching the relationship between female politicians and the press, and she used this research to write her book “Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians” (Scribe, 2004). The book examined the Australian media’s treatment of women leaders in politics, and asked tough questions about Australian culture, politics, media, and portrayals of women. She is also the author of an outstanding biography on the life and legacy of Queen Victoria, called “Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire” (Random House, 2016). The book has been a bestseller, receiving international, media and scholarly attention, and being profiled in The New York Times, Vogue, Marie Claire, Esquire, The Guardian, Newsweek, The Monthly, and more. The book was chosen and profiled by The New York Times as one of the best books of 2016, receiving an Editor’s Choice award. This further established Dr Baird’s reputation as a leading, internationally-recognized public intellectual. She has an international influence in the areas of politics, society, media, and religion.
Julia is a dedicated Christian who has made a significant and ongoing contribution to the Australian and international community in the area of society and religion. She is well known in Australia as a journalist, broadcaster, and author, and is host of The Drum on ABC TV. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Guardian, The Washington Post, the Sun-Herald, The Monthly, and Harper’s Bazaar. She has served as a fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. She has served as the deputy editor of Newsweek, as senior editor for Science, Society and Ideas.
Julia has recently risen to further national prominence with her extensive investigation of domestic abuse in Christian and pastoral families. In mid-2017, she released her findings on Australian television current-affairs program the ABC 7.30 Report, and showed how many Christian women endure domestic abuse. Her research involved interviewing dozens of survivors of domestic abuse, as well as church psychologists, denominational leaders, and clergy. Her research also investigated domestic violence and Islam (even though her investigation into violence within Christianity has received the most attention). Julia says that when women are heard, change will happen.
What is needed now is profound cultural change. A reckoning. A broad education about the way abusers manipulate, obfuscate, control, and the way shame operates. An understanding that some perpetrators are leaders, some in the high echelons of the church…
The series we have run on the way faith communities respond to domestic abuse wasn’t about two reporters being mischievous or angry, or driving a “feminist agenda” — noting, of course, that too often in the church men are said to have “convictions” while women have “agendas” — or trying to drive a stake into the heart of an ancient faith.
A call for justice and truth, for transparency, love and healing is the heart of this ancient faith. What we were doing was reporting. We were giving voice to those who didn’t have any, who weren’t being heard or believed, who came to journalists they trusted when they were desperate.
As we stated repeatedly, they were seeking not the destruction of the church, but its reform.
These are the voices calling for a world where women don’t sit for television interviews wearing wigs, shaking, crying, twisting fingers, anxious and afraid. Where women don’t have to hide their faces to speak, where they shift from foam mannequin to living, breathing, speaking beings.
The first step is for women to speak. The second is to listen to them. And the third is to believe them.
When women are believed, the church will change.
In late 2017, Julia released her findings into research into clergy wives who have been subject to domestic violence. In response to Julia’s research (and to other factors as well), the following groups have issued public apologies to victims of domestic violence: The General Anglican Synod of Australia, the Uniting Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, the Sydney Anglican Synod, and the Baptist Churches of Australia. Forums have been held in Australian cities where denominational leaders, pastors, parishioners, and heads of agencies meet to discuss the prevalence of domestic violence in church and society, and collaborative responses. These forums on domestic violence have been held around the nation, and have widened awareness about domestic violence, and stimulated positive responses and actions.
As a public intellectual, scholar, media personality, and Christian-witness-in-the-marketplace, Julia is outstanding. She is an academic who bridges the church, the media, the academy, the political realm, and public intellectual life. She has achieved enormous success, and has made a sustained and distinguished contribution to the wider Australian community in so many areas, including in religion. She challenges the church to truly be the church, and to listen to, honour, and care for some of the most vulnerable and courageous people in our churches and society (and especially women and children). And she invites society and its institutions to seriously address issues of inequality, displacement, injustice, sexual discrimination, racism, and more.
[Love your neighbour as yourself] is not an instinct it’s a commandment. It’s not optional but compulsory. And caring for the homeless, the orphans, the widows, the strangers is not just an occasional, arbitrary tangent in the Bible but a central theme throughout… [Love thy neighbour] is at the very core of [our] faith and [our] church.
If you really want to know what someone cares about — what they are passionate about and what difference they hope to make in the world — ask them what they would say to their children about what’s important in life.
On 1 June 2018, Julia wrote a piece called “What I really want to teach my son – and what he is teaching me.” In that piece, Julia gives us a personal insight into what matters to her and what she cares deeply about: integrity and character, compassion and care for the vulnerable, justice and mercy, friendship and relationship, family and parenting, writing and poetry, recreation and the ocean, love and laughter, spirituality and prayer, forgiveness and loving our enemies, and enjoying the precious and sacred gift of life by paying attention to the joy and love and mystery all around us, every day.
What I really want my son to know is that life, with all its striving and seriousness, its cerebral quests and spiritual yearning, is contained in crisp red apples and white-marble moons, furry caterpillars and leopard-spotted slugs, the slobbering of excitable dogs, laughter, the crashing of waves, the sighting of a seal over a cliff or a cuttlefish on a reef, the scent of jasmine after a morning swim, a steaming bowl of fresh pasta, the smell of a just-baked cake; that of all these jostling, bobbing moments sustain us. They are the string that threads our days.
But if I am completely honest, this is actually what he is teaching me.
Other posts in this series
See Dr Julia Baird’s website HERE, for more of her columns, books, and media
Graham Hill (PhD) teaches at Morling College in Sydney, Australia, and is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and “Salt, Light, and a City, Second Edition: Ecclesiology for the Global Missional Community: Volume 1, Western Voices (Cascade, 2017).”
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