Published September 12, 2022
Since the story broke of Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher’s abduction while running early in the morning on Friday, Sept. 2, my wife and I followed the story closely. We were heartsick to learn of the details of the 34-year-old woman’s kidnapping as the search commenced, a search that all hoped would bring her back to her family.
We prayed for her return. By media accounts, Eliza Fletcher was a loving wife and mother, a pillar of her community, a teacher, and from all appearances, a lovely Christian woman. One video shows her on social media singing “This Little Light of Mine” to her students during the darkest days of the pandemic’s lockdown.
In the small worlds that social media can create, I saw a Facebook post from a friend of a friend who knew Mrs. Fletcher personally and who described her in the most wonderful of ways. All the stories about Mrs. Fletcher move this story from one of just statistics to visceral outrage at the injustice done to her by a man reported to be a career criminal.
I can’t think of any other purpose for writing this column than to honor a life that news cycles will invariably move on from. But the tragedy of her death and the life-long wounds caused from her vicious murder will not simply go away. There is now a widower and two small children without a mother in Memphis, Tenn. For the family of Eliza Fletcher, please know you are in my prayers.
I also write for one other reason, and that is to issue a charge to men to honor and protect women. A rejection of vicious brutality should remind us of what men are actually for. As a runner myself, I take it for granted that I can exit my house at any time of the day and not have to consider my safety. Female runners aren’t so fortunate. When I’m running in my neighborhood and another female runner is nearby, I always wonder if she grows worried by the sheer presence of a male. My least favorite situation is when I’m running behind a woman. I try to run as loud as possible to let her know that someone is behind her so that she’s not startled. Even then, donning running shoes and a hat, I think to myself, “Is she concerned a man is running behind her?”
These are all considerations I don’t have to factor into my life. Even in the suburban neighborhood my family lives in, my wife told me all about the strategies she undertakes to protect herself when she goes walking. She walks with her phone, with only one Airpod in so that she can hear around her. There are other precautions she takes. On one occasion, a suspicious vehicle made her bolt back to our house. All because she is a female and her physical stature more easily taken advantage of. This should not be.
No woman should live in fear of any man’s violence. The Bible’s teaching on creation order shows how men were designed to care for, provide, and protect women—not to intimidate them through brutality or marauding conquest. While every individual is doubtlessly responsible for his own actions and must give an account for them, no man can be separated from the culture that incubates him. Whether it’s a failed criminal justice system that puts criminals back on the streets, or a culture that makes healthy expressions of masculinity (which includes restraint) more difficult, women in our culture all too frequently bear the burden of male excess. This should not be, and here we can look to Christianity, which ought to give no quarter to either violence or unbridled machismo. Fletcher’s killer did the exact opposite of what a properly ordered masculinity demands.
How on earth we can live in a world where a woman can do something as simple as get in a morning run and lose her life for it still confounds me, despite my firm grasp of humanity’s sinful plight. How can humanity be so evil, so cruel, and so vicious? How long, O Lord (Psalm 13)?
Lest I end this column grimly, let me draw attention to what the best of humanity can do when confronted with evil—grieve and honor. Friends of Mrs. Fletcher within the Memphis running community hosted a “Finish Liza’s Run” memorial to commemorate her life. It looked to be a beautiful tribute to a beautiful life lost to a horrific injustice that one can only hope and pray is swiftly and rightly judged.
I never met Mrs. Fletcher in this life—that will have to wait until the life to come. She now rests in the presence of her Savior.
EPPC Fellow Andrew T. Walker, Ph.D., researches and writes about the intersection of Christian ethics, public theology, and the moral principles that support civil society and sound government. A sought-after speaker and cultural commentator, Dr. Walker’s academic research interests and areas of expertise include natural law, human dignity, family stability, social conservatism, and church-state studies. The author or editor of more than ten books, he is passionate about helping Christians understand the moral demands of the gospel and their contributions to human flourishing and the common good. His most recent book, out in May 2021 from Brazos Press, is titled Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Secular Age.