Dismantling the Religious Roots of Patriarchy in Christianity

patriarchy-sucks-aug-17I’m working on this paper in advance of my participation on the panel at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto next month. The workshop being presented by OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership is called “#MeToo, #Time’s Up and Women Rising against Patriarchy in Religion.” I’ll be (yikes!) representing Christianity on the panel.

Dismantling the Religious Roots of Patriarchy in Christianity

“We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this.”
So begins the report of the grand jury in Pennsylvania detailing the sexual abuse committed against children by over three hundred Roman Catholic priests. It would be impossible for me to write about violence brought about by patriarchy without beginning with this news just published in August. The details of the abuse in the 1356 page report are horrific in themselves, but they are compounded by the fact that the institutional Church has consistently responded with indifference to victims in favor of protecting individual priests and the Church itself. This is patriarchy at work.

Patriarchy is all about power. Therefore it is not limited to issues specifically related to women. In the absence of shared power among all groups of people, one group is able to exert control over the others. Under the umbrella of patriarchy, we can find the intersection of racism, poverty, homophobia, and sexual assault against men, women, and children. The Catholic Church is not alone in exhibiting the effects of its patriarchal roots; there is evidence throughout Christianity of misogynistic thinking and behavior.  Some of this is so engrained that church members often do not even recognize it.  It is so pervasive that even those without a religious background are unaware that many of our cultural norms are based on patriarchal assumptions.

The Biblical Roots of Patriarchy
To get at the roots of patriarchy within Christianity, we have to go all the way back to “inCLc6EPOWUAA4I3E the beginning . . .” In a blog post entitled “Eve Was Framed,” I point to the story  in Genesis 3: 8-15 where Adam and Eve are caught eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In this version of creation (the other very different one is in Genesis 1), a talking serpent tempts the woman, who eats the forbidden fruit, then turns around and offers it to the man, who also partakes.  God eventually confronts the man (ha-‘adam: ‘earth creature’) who immediately points the finger at the woman ( ezer kenegdo: a ‘power’ or ‘strength’).

Not only is Eve traditionally relegated to the status of a helper, she is also blamed by Adam for succumbing to the wiles of the serpent and then tempting him.  In other words, Eve is responsible for the fall of humanity into sin.  The book of Sirach (2nd century BCE) states it plainly:
From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.

Some of the early Christian church fathers then picked up the theme. 

  • Tertullian (2nd century) claimed that all women carried the blame for Eve’s sin: 
    You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.
  • Ambrosiaster (4th century): 
    Women must cover their heads because they are not the image of God.  They must do this as a sign of their subjection to authority and because sin came into the world through them . . . Because of original sin they must show themselves submissive.
  • Jerome (4th century) also blamed women for The Fall.                                                            Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: but she shall be saved through the child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety.

This negativity – and even fear – created by the Christian church so long ago about women being innately evil is one of the foundations of the religious and cultural misogyny  expressed throughout history.  Consider, for example, the witch hunts in medieval Europe in which tens of thousands of people, about three-quarters of whom were women, were subjected to trial, torture, and execution. In The Holocaust in  Historical Context, Steven Katz quotes from the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of  Witches), published by Catholic inquisition authorities in 1485-86:

All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. … What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. … Women are by nature instruments of Satan — they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation. 
[1]

Katz then compares this misogyny with anti-Semitism:

The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. In both cases, a perennial attribution of secret, bountiful, malicious ‘power,’ is made. Women are anathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society. Linked to theological traditions of Eve and Lilith, women are perceived as embodiments of inexhaustible negativity. [2]

Now, lest you think this is dusty old history and of no significance any longer, think again. The underlying theology is still present in our churches. For example, several years ago, on the Sunday after Christmas, I attended a Service of Lessons and Carols. The traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, begun way back in 1880, tells the story of the birth of Jesus. And how does the story begin? With Genesis 3: 1-15: the fall of humanity. In the theology put forth in this service, the reason Jesus was born clearly was to undo the effects of original sin. And reading this passage reinforces the notion – held by many of early Christian theologians – that Eve was the cause of it all.

Granted, it may be that the main attraction of Lessons and Carols is the music – favorite carols and the opportunity for choirs and church musicians to strut their stuff. But the theological underpinnings are rotten. I did find an alternative service,which “is based on the traditional set of readings with some changes. It retains lessons 3-9, but shifts the message of lessons 1 and 2 away from original sin toward original blessing.  But I wonder how many churches will seek out and use this alternative. How many will read this passage with no commentary or corrective?

12791077_10153899060326897_6860169802220910358_n“Wives, Be Subject to Your Husbands”
While I was serving in my first congregation, one of the women came forward and accused her husband of domestic violence. When she came to my office a few days later, I could see the bruises on her face where he had punched her. After telling me what had happened, she also confided that her sister, who had flown in from out of town to give her support, had warned her not to speak to me. I wasn’t surprised. Since the sister and I had never met and she knew nothing about me, she had every right to be wary of what advice a Christian pastor might give her sister.

The awful truth is that too many times, a woman is counseled by her pastor to go back to her abuser, to forgive him, and to submit to him – ostensibly because it says so in the Bible.  Passages used to support this are:

Ephesians 5: 22-24
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.  Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Colossians 3.18                                                                                                                                      Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

1 Peter 2.21-3.5
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps . . .
When he was abused, he did not return abuse . . .
Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands . . .

Of course, not all men are abusers  However, patriarchy is baked into the Judeo-Christian tradition. Many Christian couples still adhere to a hierarchical understanding of marriage, in which the husband is the head. Many women also still struggle to overcome restrictions placed on them by biblical writers.

1 Corinthians 14.34
Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

1 Timothy 2.11-15
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
 

If we do not understand the historical, cultural, theological context of the biblical authors and early Church leaders, we will be doomed to perpetuate a way of thinking and being that is unacceptable today.

Texts of Terror
In 1984, Professor Phyllis Triblewrote a groundbreaking book, Texts of Terror: Literary-1476473514687Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives.[3] In it she tells the stories of four biblical women: Hagar, the slave, exploited, abused, and rejected; Tamar, the princess raped by her brother and discarded; an unnamed concubine, gang-raped, murdered, and dismembered; and the daughter of Jephthah, who was sacrificed because a foolhardy vow made by of her father and then blamed by him for his violence against her.

Trible cautions that we cannot consign these stories to a “distant, primitive, and inferior past.” She tells of some of the people who inspired her to tell these particular stories: a black women who described herself as a daughter of Hagar outside the covenant; an abused woman on a New York street with a sign “My name is Tamar”; a news report of the dismembered body of a woman found in a trash can; worship services in memory of nameless women.

In 2016, Susan M. Shaw, Professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Director of the School of Language, Culture, & Society at Oregon State University, recalled Trible’s work in an article entitled Sandra Bland and Texts of Terror. Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas. She had been stopped for a minor traffic violation and arrested when she allegedly became combative.  Shaw wrote:
We can also read Sandra Bland’s story as a text of terror, illuminated by these biblical stories, leaving people of faith with difficult questions. Like the women in these stories, Sandra Bland was the victim of terror, of the power of patriarchal systems to confine and enact violence, of the intersection of racism and misogyny. Her dehumanization by police is evident in the video that shows police restraining her on the ground, even as she complains of injury. Like many of these women who disappear from their own stories and who do not speak for themselves, Sandra Bland, who had been an outspoken activist for racial justice, was silenced, first in a jail cell and then by death. The question for us now is how do we hear Sandra Bland’s text of terror? How do we interpret her story and the stories of those biblical women against the systems of power that abuse, terrorize, and kill?

There are other opportunities to address misinformation in the Bible, for instance, the unfounded identification of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Another corrective would be to call the story of King David and Bathsheba what it really is: a story of rape. In another blog post entitled “Redeeming Bathsheba,”I cite examples of commentators who declare that Bathsheba is equally at fault as the king, bringing on the attack by her seductive wiles, or (and this by even progressive writers) that she willingly participated in adultery. Thankfully, many women scholars are coming writing more truthful versions, but these versions have not yet become mainstream.

If we’re serious about dismantling patriarchy, we have to get at its biblical, cultural, and theological roots. The framing of Eve and all her biblical sisters is at the root of our cultural misogyny, too. Genesis 3 lies in our collective subconscious. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe the story; it doesn’t matter if you’re not religious at all. Misogyny is baked into our national psyche. 

stephan-juette-churchtoo-171230

#MeToo Goes to Church
And now the #MeToo movement has hit the Church. Hundreds of women have come forward to tell stories of how male pastors have used positions of power to spiritually manipulate and sexually coerce them.  It’s not unsurprising that most of these incidents have occurred within denominations with “authoritarian, patriarchal leadership and by cultures that routinely silence the voices of women.”For example, William W. Gothard, Jr., minister and founder of the conservative Institute in Basic Life Principles, was forced to step down amid multiple allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases.  As one woman reported, “Bill had sworn me to silence with both guilt and fear. I was the one who was at fault because I was tempting him (italics mine).  If I told anyone, the future of the entire ministry could be compromised. Why would I want to hinder God’s work? He told me that this was our little secret, just between us.”

As we continue to reel at the extent of Catholic priest sexual abuse of children, we should look beyond the rationale that these incidents are the result of a few “bad apples” to recognize the effects of patriarchal leadership and culture. The Church must confess that its very system is the breeding ground for abuse. According to the  conclusions of Jane  Anderson in “Socialization Processes and Clergy Offenders,” “the socialization processes that operate to maintain the perfect celibate clerical masculinity and patriarchy have ongoing implications for endeavors to protect children from violence . . . concrete measures must be taken to ensure that power is more evenly distributed across church membership. This requires a rescinding of PDV (“Pastores Dabo Vobis,” which provides a theological basis to clergy formation) which works to maintain a hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy that prevents reform of the clergy community.”[5]

Conclusions
Dismantling the religious roots of patriarchy in the Church will take a concerted effort to face our past and present sins. It will also take a recognition that patriarchy intersects with racism,  classism, ageism, xenophobia, and other issues of unshared power.  To begin, these are steps that we can take in order to begin to heal humanity:

  • Use inclusive language for humanity and expansive languagefor the Divine in Church publications and worship materials
  • Encourage the reading of sacred texts with a “hermeneutic of suspicion” which questions traditional interpretations
  • Recognize the misogyny of many of the early Church leaders and their ongoing legacy
  • Recognize the “texts of terror” in our sacred texts and the violence that continues to be justified because of them
  • Recognize the spiritual, emotional, and physical violence perpetrated by an entrenched patriarchal system, both within the Church and society in general
  • Commit to the revision of theologies, teachings, liturgies, and practices to reflect the goodness of all people especially those who have been most impacted by patriarchy
  • Develop systems of real, shared power, with representation by all groups

Self-awareness is the first step in the process of transformation.  The history of misogyny and the sins of patriarchy are there for us to see. It is only with repentance and a change of direction that Christianity can truly by “good news.” We can only hope that the Church will heed the call.

26805265_10213773989517253_952116539923756464_n

[1]Katz, Steven The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. I, pp. 438-39.

[2]Steven Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, Vol. I, p. 435.

[3]Trible, Phyllis, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives.Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1984.

[4]“Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,” 2016, Vol. 25, No. 8, 846–865.

 

Internalized Misogyny: Fact or Fiction?

1493426378050Many years ago, before becoming a pastor had ever crossed my mind, I was a pastor’s wife. One day, I received a package (actually I think it was addressed to the church with the directive to give it to the pastor’s wife). It was a copy of Marabel Morgan’s book, The Total Woman. Enclosed was a letter inviting me to start a women’s group discussion of the book at the church. This was 1974 and The Total Woman had become the bible of those opposed to the women’s movement. Morgan’s advice was directed to married women and came straight out of evangelical Christian theology: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (I think this translation is from The Good News Bible). As Morgan wrote: “It’s only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him.” The book is famous for advice such as greeting your husband at the door when he returns from a hard day of work in a sexy outfit or, better yet, naked and wrapped completely in Saran Wrap. (If you weren’t around for this silliness, watch Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes to see predictable consequences!)

Needless to say, I threw the book away and did not wrap myself in cellophane nor redgirls_valenti_0encourage other women to do so. I also wrote back to whatever group it was who had sent me the dastardly thing and excoriated them for assuming that all Christian women would subscribe to such nonsense. 

Fast forward 40+ years and here we are wondering why white evangelical women voted for and still support He Who Shall Not Be Named. How could it be that we did not dismantle patriarchy back in the 1970s? And I keep wondering when are we going to get serious about the religious roots of misogyny that continue to affect all women – religious or not.

So I was intrigued by the article that crossed my desk last week entitled “Internalized Misogyny: When Women Are the Part of the Patriarchy Problem.” It’s actually part of an interview with author Rev. Erin Wathen about her new book, Resist and Persist: Faith and the Fight for Equality (which I immediately ordered). It’s only part of the interview, but you can access a video of the entire segment. It’s well worth listening.

Her definition of internalized misogyny: 
Basically, internalized misogyny is when women have so thoroughly bought into the lie of patriarchy and the assumption of male power and superiority that they work against their own interests in order to uphold that system. And a lot of times it’s because it’s what is comfortable. Often times, buying into what is is more comfortable than recognizing the deep brokenenness there, the pain of how it has affected women’s lives for generations, and how it continues to harm women. It’s when you have just internalized that message so deeply that you are just as complicit in sustaining the system as men are.

To me, that is such a no-brainer. I’m grateful to Erin Wathen for bringing it to the surface so clearly. And I know I shouldn’t be surprised by some of the ignorant comments following the article: words like “pitiful” and “shallow,” and this gem: “Internalize (sic) misogyny? Sounds like people engaging in mind reading. It seems that once Erin tosses reason to the wind, the only thing left is pejoratives and labels.” 

My word(s): typically dismissive. Ask any woman pastor. I bet most of them will tell you that they’ve received a hard time from some of the women in their congregations. My theory has always been that I represented a threat to the power that they had carved out in the church. That power was often subversive, deferential to men, and suspicious of female leadership. In the church, they can easily use biblical passages to back them up, but it’s internalized misogyny just the same. That’s why it’s so important to get at the roots of it embedded in our scripture, liturgies, hymns, prayers, etc. Exclusively masculine language for humanity and for the Divine continues to reinforce patriarchy throughout our church – and culture. 

detail-midway-1And this is not just an issue for evangelical churches. Mainline Protestant denominations have been slow to respond, but seem to be creeping forward a bit. The Episcopal Church is wrestling with it now; see “Is God male? The Episcopal Church debates whether to change its Book of Common Prayer”.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is also working on a new Social Statement on Women and Justice which calls for a commitment to inclusive and expansive language. My reaction: about damn time. We were arguing about this when I was in seminary in the 80s. 

So I’m looking forward to the arrival of my new book. Maybe I’ll send out copies to all the women I know and start a discussion group about it. It worked for Marabel Morgan 40+ years ago. Maybe we can smash this patriarchy yet!  

 

 

 

The Bible’s #MeToo Problem

I’m reposting this excellent op-ed piece from the NY Times a few days ago by a colleague in Baltimore. 

The Bible’s #MeToo Problem
By Emily M.D. Scott06scott-jumbo“The Rape of Dinah,” a painting left unfinished by Fra Bartolomeo and completed by Giuliano Bugiardini in 1531. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

 

ONE recent morning I happened across a scene of biblical violence. Flipping through Genesis, tracking down a quotation for a sermon, my eye caught on a chapter heading, “The Rape of Dinah.” I paused and turned the phrase in my mind. My heart began to ache. I took a breath, sat back in my chair, and read the story of Dinah.

The Bible tells us that Dinah was the daughter of Leah, and devotes a single sentence to her rape: A prince of the region “saw her, seized her, and lay with her by force.”

The rest of the chapter is devoted to the revenge carried out by Dinah’s brothers, who barter her off to the prince as part of a strategy to attack his people. They succeed, and kill all the men of his nation. One can only imagine what happened to the women.

In the study bible I’ve dog-eared and underlined since seminary, I searched the book’s notes for some mention of Dinah in all of this, and found one. Among historical references and exegesis, it simply read, “Dinah’s reactions go unrecorded.”

The myriad writers of our sacred stories, presumably all men, devote little time to women’s perspectives. When women appear, we are often mute or nameless, pawns in men’s games of war or violence, our reactions “unrecorded.” But read between the lines of the Bible and you can detect the narratives of women deleted by uninterested editors, or left untold. Not all of these stories are of sexual assault or abuse, but many are.

There is Tamar, whose half brother meticulously plans her rape, calling in a crony to assist in the scheming. Her father, King David, is angry, but, “would not punish him, because he loved him.” Sounds like a story I’ve heard before — especially considering David has some issues of his own, placing Bathsheba’s husband on the front lines of war so that he could marry her himself.

Bathsheba’s response to all of this? Unrecorded. She sleeps with the king with no reference to her consent, or lack of it.

There’s also the almost unreadable story in Judges 19 of the Levite who pushes his concubine outside the walls of the house to be gang-raped by a lawless mob. By the morning she is dead; the Levite later mutilates her body.

The women of the Bible would be just as unsurprised as I am by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Eric Schneiderman or any of their compatriots. They would know, as I have come to realize, that the more vulnerable you are — a child, a woman of color, a foreigner, a slave or a concubine, a transgender man or woman — the more you are singled out to be used and discarded.

Christians owe a debt to scholars like Delores S. Williams and Phyllis Trible who have approached these texts from the victims’ perspectives. Dr. Trible labels such stories “texts of terror.” But rarely are these stories told in our churches. When we remember that a third or more of the women sitting in our pews have been sexually assaulted and the majority of them have been sexually harassed, the absence of biblical women’s stories is telling.

People of all genders in our pews have been subjected to a range of abuses including childhood sexual abuse, while almost half of transgender individuals report being sexually assaulted. I would not wish to have these stories read from the lectern as a simple matter of course (and they certainly should not be held up as Gospel). But of all the Bible’s stories, tragically, these “texts of terror” may be more resonant than any others when it comes to the heartbreaking, quotidian violence of the lives of women and gender and sexual minorities.

The muting of the #MeToos of the Bible is a direct reflection of the culture of silence at work in our congregations. An assumption is woven into our sacred texts: that the experiences of women don’t matter. If religious communities fail to tell stories that reflect the experience of the women of our past, we will inevitably fail to address the sense of entitlement, assumption of superiority and lust for punishment carried through those stories and inherited by men of the present.

Recently, I attended sexual boundaries training for pastors. The workshop was largely focused on avoiding certain behaviors. “Leave the door to your office open during counseling sessions,” we were told. “Don’t visit congregants’ homes alone.” While these are all good and necessary practices that protect congregants and clergy members from harm, I await the day when we will robustly address the roots of abuse.

Statistically, perpetrators do not lurk in shadowy corners, waiting to pounce. They are men who have a hint of power, or wish they did, who understand women in much the same way so many of the stories of the Bible do — as objects to be penetrated, traded, bought or sold. They are sitting in our pews, or, sometimes, standing in our pulpits.

Abuse takes place when one person fails to see the humanity of another, taking what he wants in order to experience control, disordered intimacy or power. It is the symptom of an illness that is fundamentally spiritual: a kind of narcissism that allows him to focus only on sating his need, blind to the pain of the victim. This same narcissism caused the editors of our sacred stories to limit the rape of Dinah to only nine words in a book of thousands.

Refraining from troubling behaviors is not enough; abusive narcissism must be unraveled through a transformation of heart and mind. A shift in the larger culture depends on putting the stories of women front and center. We must create space for them to be heard, not only by women but also by men, who are steeped in a culture that valorizes those behaviors. Seeing women as the rightful owners of their own bodies depends, first, on encountering women as fellow humans.

If I were preaching the story of Dinah, I might simply ask, “How do you think she felt?” It’s a question that some men have never considered. Though some abusers are beyond the reach of compassion, I have in my work as a pastor witnessed the ways hearts can open when someone tells a story. It is empathy, not regulations, that will create a different vision for masculinity in our nation, rooted in love instead of dominance. But transformation happens only in the hard light of truth. When we silence the stories of Dinah and her sisters, perpetrators continue to violate. And those who are victimized? Their reactions go unrecorded.

Emily M.D. Scott is a Lutheran pastor and the founder of St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, who is starting new faith community in Baltimore.

Eve Was Framed

CLc6EPOWUAA4I3EOh, joy! One of the scripture readings for this Sunday is one of the banes of my preaching existence. Genesis 3: 8-15 is the story of when Adam and Eve get caught eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, it’s also perfect fodder for this blog; the religious roots of patriarchy can be found right here in this story. 

WOMAN BLAMED FOR FALL OF HUMANKIND
In this version of creation (the other very different one is in Genesis 1), the talking serpent tempts the woman, who eats the forbidden fruit, then turns around and offers it to the man, who also partakes. The passage for Sunday begins with God confronting the man (ha-‘adam: ‘earth creature’) who immediately points the finger at the woman ( ezer kenegdo: a ‘power’ or ‘strength’).
(For more insight about a better way to translate ezer kenegdo than ‘helpmate,’ a good article is 
Gender from Eve’s Point of View.)

Not only is Eve traditionally relegated to the status of a helper, she’s also blamed by Adam for succumbing to the wiles of the serpent and then tempting him. In other words, Eve is responsible for the fall of humanity into sin. The book of Sirach (2nd century BCE) says it plainly: From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die.

EARLY CHRISTIAN FATHERS PILE ON
Some of the early Christian church fathers then picked up the theme.

  • Tertullian (2nd century) claimed that all women carried the blame for Eve’s sin: “You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”
  • Ambrosiaster (4th century): 
    “Women must cover their heads because they are not the image of God. They must do this as a sign of their subjection to authority and because sin came into the world through them. Their heads must be covered in church in order to honor the bishop. In like manner they have no authority to speak because the bishop is the embodiment of Christ. They must thus act before the bishop as before Christ, the judge, since the bishop is the representative of the Lord. Because of original sin they must show themselves submissive.
  • Jerome (4th century) also blamed women for The Fall. Women could overcome their guilt only by childbearing or by abstaining from sex.

And lest you think these dusty old guys are long dead and gone and of no significance Eve and the Serpentany longer, think again. Several years ago, on the Sunday after Christmas, I attended a Service of Lessons and Carols. The traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, begun way back in 1880, tells the story of the birth of Jesus. And how does the story begin? With Genesis 3: 1-15, the fall of humanity. In the theology put forth in this service, the reason Jesus was born clearly was to undo the effects of original sin. And reading this passage reinforces the notion – held by many of early Christian theologians – that Eve was the cause of it all.

Now granted, it may be that the main attraction of Lessons and Carols is the music – favorite carols and the opportunity for choirs and church musicians to strut their stuff. But the theological underpinnings are rotten. At the service I attended, several women actually hissed during the Genesis reading. I did find an alternative service on the Process & Faith website, which “is based on the traditional set of readings with some changes. It retains lessons 3-9, but shifts the message of lessons 1 and 2 away from original sin toward original blessing.” Yes! But how many churches will seek out and use this alternative? How many will read this passage this week with no commentary or corrective?

BEYOND THE CHURCH
If we’re serious about dismantling patriarchy, then we have to get at its roots. The  Framing of Eve is at the root of our cultural misogyny, too; Genesis 3 lies in our collective subconscious. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe the story; it doesn’t matter if you’re not religious at all. Misogyny is baked into our national psyche. 

Those of us who are in the church have a responsibility to everyone – inside and outside the church – to identify and dismantle the toxic interpretation of sacred texts. This week, we can begin by liberating Eve, metaphorical mother of us all. 

 

Magnificat! Means Dismantling Patriarchy

il_570xN.1204613865_kp6cDid you know that in the 1800s, British authorities banned The Magnificat from being recited in church? And in the 1970s, Argentinian authorities banned The Magnificat after the ‘Mothers of the Disappeared’ used it to call for nonviolent resistance to the ruling military junta?

And Mary said:My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones,
and raised the lowly to high places.
you have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1: 46-53)

I found this great tee shirt on Ben Wildflower’s Apocalyptic Art store on Etsy. And I absolutely love it! This image of Mary illustrates what I’ve been thinking for a while now: Mary is one of our greatest prophets. 

The Magnificat is Mary’s response to her cousin Elizabeth after telling her about her pregnancy. For too long, Mary the mother of Jesus has been portrayed as virginal, meek and mild, The-Visitationand obedient. Then, of course, these attributes are lifted up as the example for all of womanhood. But here we have another way to look at Mary – a faithful, obedient servant God, speaking in a powerful, prophetic voice of God’s justice. 

SUBVERSIVE MAGNIFICAT

Throughout history, the rich, mighty, and proud were quick to get Mary’s subversive message. Yes, The Magnificat was banned being sung or read in India under British rule. Yes, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo plastered her words on posters throughout the capital plaza. In the 1980’s, it was banned in Guatemala. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran theologian killed by the Nazis in 1945, wrote:

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here….. This song…..is a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth. (The Mystery of Holy Night)

I love to preach about revolutionary Mary in Advent when the Luke text always appears. But now, I’m also claiming her as patron saint of this blog, which is dedicated to the dismantling of patriarchy.

DISMANTLING PATRIARCHAL DUALISM
By definition, patriarchy is a system in which men have power over women patriarchalfeminist-critique-chart-pb society consists of a male-dominated power structure throughout organized society and in individual relationships. But I want to go beyond just the male/female power dynamic to address all patriarchal dualities.

Dualism divides the world into opposed pairs of concepts. In this system, one concept in each pair is deemed superior to the other: men better than women, humans better than nature, mind better than body, etc. It’s easy to see how judgments about gender, race, class, etc. arise out of this way of seeing “reality.”

8b0014107689b62ab7bf9dadf5b07ad9-300x300In the patriarchal belief system, ‘masculine’ qualities of reason and analysis are deemed superior to intuitive, emotional ‘feminine’ qualities. Misogyny isn’t just about women; it includes anyone perceived to be ‘like a woman,’ which explains much of the homophobia directed towards gay men. Homophobia is underpinned by patriarchy, which defines what it means to be a ‘real man’ and a ‘real woman.’ The domination of women and the domination of nature are also fundamentally connected, which has lead us to the brink of environmental destruction. 

IT’S YOUR RELIGION, STUPID

Unfortunately, it’s been religion that has propped up this dualistic, misogynistic, body-denying, earth-destroyng worldview.  And it’s time for it to end. This blog will continue to explore the religious roots of patriarchy – in all its forms – and hopefully contribute to dismantling at least a small piece of it. 

*** The Magnificat image is used with permission.
*** You can find other prints by Ben Wildflower here.

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