How Would Eve Vote?

kirsta-suh_midterm2018_bite-into-democracy

Here’s a great blog post from Krista Suh, creator of The Pussyhat Project:

What Would Eve Do?
She would totally VOTE Election Day
Nov 6th


Here’s what first attracted my attention:

Why do men hate women? Why are conservatives so  eager to take away our reproductive rights, our right to choose, our rights to our own bodies and lives?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with Eve. As a writer and screenwriter, I have experienced the power of story first hand. The stories we tell about ourselves create our world.

And unfortunately, the genesis story of our entire Western world can be reduced down to “A woman wanted something. And then she ruined it for the rest of us.”kirsta-suh_midterm2018_snakes-circling

 

Yes! She is a theologian! And she gets it right (OK, I know there’s nothing in Genesis about an apple). I’m giving her artistic license because she’s creating some really nifty artwork inspired by Eve that we can use to get out the vote.

 

So check our her blog and her creative endeavors. 

And don’t forget to VOTE!!!

kirsta-suh_midterm2018_pussy-hat

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.

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[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.

 

Ariana Grande Got Groped: It’s Typical

tumblr_p0zhg14V991vju0sko1_1280One way to take down patriarchy supported by religion is to call it out and name it. This is a repost from patheos.org

SEPTEMBER 1, 2018 BY KERRY CONNELLY

I’m not saying my head isn’t exploding after I just watched the video of Ariana Grande getting groped by a pastor in front of millions of people at a funeral.  I’m just saying I’m not surprised.  This is the kind of crap that women deal with all the f’ing time.

As in, #NotAShocker.

If you’re shocked, then chances are you’re not a woman. If you’re a woman and you’re shocked, than Go You, because you have managed to not have your body groped, or ogled, or unduly stared at, or debated about, or “thoughtfully considered by your boss” — at least, not that you’ve known about.

Congrats.

So, if you’re not a woman, or if you’re, like, the one or two women who hasn’t been through this yourself, let me break this shit down for you. Let me show you how this all works, because it’s once again time to #NoticeTheSystem.

First: there is the male ownership of space. This is the unconscious idea, this weird social more that says males own the space they are in, and thereby also own everything in it — including the women. They are entitled to them. They are there for the taking. This is the same ideology that makes some men think it’s totally okay to cat-call women. It’s what makes it fine to manspread all over the place. It’s the same ideology that assumes men’s good intentions, because after all, if they own everything, they get to grab at whatever they want, right?

Then: there is the context. The situation in which male dominance plays to the social construct of the situation counter-played against the societal expectations of women. Take, for example, the beautiful young performer, honored to appear at the funeral of a national treasure.

After all, one doesn’t make a scene at anyone’s funeral, much less that of a musical legend. When one is on stage. Being watched by millions of people. This is not the time, when one is being groped and molested, to confront. To make a scene.

Besides, you’re so shocked yourself in that moment you can barely process what’s happening to you as it actually takes place. Is that…the pastor’s…fingers…on my….wait, what? Taco bell?

Stay calm. Above all, smile.

This, after all, is what you’ve trained for. All your life. The mask of calm. The cavalier attitude, because if they know how much they are getting to you, you might actually lose it. You look around, hoping someone will help. You pull away, hoping to create a fucking* semblance of personal space. And despite the fact that there are hundreds of people watching, and at least ten probably know exactly what is going on, no one is coming to your aid. No one.

You, girl, are on your own.

So you smile. And pull away. And try not to ruin the funeral of the Queen of R&B by saying, “Yo, asshole, get your fucking* hand off my breast.”

Now we move on to the next phase of the system: your personal recovery. You have just been violated. It seems like it was just a fraction of a second — surely something you should just get over in about as much time. And yet — you feel dirty. As if somehow you were to blame. As if you want to take a decades-long shower. You play it over in your head…was there something you did? Something you said? You can’t stop thinking about it. You feel angry and disgusted and sad and ashamed and then really pissed off again.

You maybe tell someone — your mother, maybe. A boyfriend, a sister. And they respond by saying, “Well, was your dress really short? Did you smell too good? Were you too pretty?”

And all of a sudden, it all comes crashing down on you — are you pretty enough, or too pretty? Should you smile, like you’re always told to smile, sometimes by perfect strangers when you’re just walking down the street? Or if you smile, will that guy think he gets to feel you up? Are you supposed to be nice and sweet and friendly, the way they always tell you to be? Expect you to be? Don’t make waves. Don’t speak out. Don’t share your truth. But then, when you are careful to smile, when you are certain to be nice, and try hard to be friendly — then there are hands on your ass unexpectedly**. Then there are man-parts being shoved through your car window at the bagel store after you’ve just gotten your usual cup of coffee**.

It’s 7 am. Have you been molested today?

Then all of a sudden, you’re to blame. For all of it.

And the dynamic of dominance at play here is not just about male dominance. Let’s throw in pastoral authority while we’re at it. It’s the guy who is supposed to be good. Above reproach. The one who is supposed to know better.  The one who is supposed to see you as God’s holy creation.

A holy creation, it seems, designed solely for his own pleasure.

But surely, you don’t want to 1) ruin the legendary funeral of the Queen of R&B by 2) being all confrontational while 3) millions of people watch you 4) be “rude” to a pastor?

#WinningSituation.

Meanwhile, step 4 of the system is playing out in the gossip column. Now, depending on your star status, this gossip column may be the hyper-local high school food chain, the college campus, the pre-worship Sunday School, the workspace. Or, if you’re an icon yourself, it’s the whole entire interwebz, where at least a few people are speaking out against what happened to you. Because, like, we actually saw that shit get caught on camera.

Because that’s the only way we’d believe you, anyway.

But you’re so busy trying to shower off all the creepy-crawlies you’re feeling you haven’t even barely noticed your Twitter feed, where all the people are debating — as if it’s fucking* debatable — whether you deserved to get felt up because your dress. And the way it, like, affected that former president who sat behind you while you sang your talented heart out, and all.

Let’s get this cleared up right now: Nope. No. No way.

Ariana, girl, you get to step into the fullness of your talent and abilities wearing whatever the hell you want to wear and no one gets to squeeze your boobs because of it. You don’t owe anyone shit*, much less the right to put their hands on your body.

But let’s not forget to #NoticeTheSystem. Step 5 is when the good pastor gets called out on his behavior — and it’s all, Gee, shucks, I was just being friendly, everyone. No need to get all up in arms.

In other words, don’t be so sensitive. In fact, you should take it as a compliment. I mean, I hug everyone, but I only cop a feel off the women young enough to be my daughter that I really, really like.  Seriously, you should feel honored that I bestowed my grabby-grabbiness upon you.

But seriously, everyone, just calm down. I guess maybe there’s a line, and maybe I crossed it, but really, I hug everyone.

And after all, my job is just so hard, because 9 hours of a funeral, I just wasn’t in my right mind anymore.  I’m so sorry you’re being so oversensitive about this. 

Meanwhile, the patriarchally-indoctrinated will continue to blame Ariana for her own molestation because she was wearing a cute black dress, and obvs a pastor shouldn’t be expected to have any self-control*** or anything.

Meanwhile, no one will even think to call the cops and report the actual crime that was committed, because #NoticeTheSystem. It’s plays out the same way everywhere you go.

###

* If you’re offended that I cursed in this post, I’m more offended that you’re less offended at #TheGropingofAriana than you are at my cursing. So there.

**Two of my own personal #MeToo moments

***See 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 5:17.

 

Sr. Simone: “We’ve Got to Begin the Dismantling Now”

nunbus.1_0_0I was already excited to hear that the Nuns on the Bus were getting ready to go out on the road again – this time to collect stories from people who have been affected by the GOP tax law. But then today I saw this headline from Democracy Now!

       Catholic Sex Abuse Stems from
“Monarchy” & Exclusion of Women from Power
(click here for full article)

This interview with Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, an advocacy group for Catholic social justice, is mostly about recent developments in the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. 

  • August 14 – the report from the grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was released.
  • August 17 – a letter began circulating calling “on the Catholic Bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People.” To date, more than 1,000 Catholic theologians, educators and parishioners have signed.
  • August 20 – Pope Francis addressed a letter on the subject to all 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, confessing, “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

But what Sister Simone Campbell has to say here is a really, really important perspective on the subject (the bold italics are mine).
“. . . in allegations of abuse, it’s critical—critical—to have a comprehensive view. By eliminating women, by eliminating laymen in the decision-making process, they focused on the wrong piece. They focused on the institution, not on the children who were suffering. So we need a huge change in the churchBut I’ll tell you, it’s going to take time to change the culture, change the orientation. I mean, our church is old. It’s like 2,000 years old. And it’s spent a long time building this, as the letter said. So we’ve got to begin the dismantling now.

I hope the Catholic Church pays attention.
As the mantra has become: listen to the women! 

 

 

Redeeming Bathsheba

bathsheba-web-2Here we go again! Another “bad girl of the Bible” in need of our voice in telling her true story. This Sunday’s reading from the Hebrew Bible is the story of David and Bathsheba (if you’re not familiar with the story, see below). Even many progressive commentators continue to describe what happened between a powerful king and a powerless subject adultery. Thankfully, some recent commentaries (mainly by women) have called the incident what it really was: rape. 

WHOSE FAULT WAS IT?
It will take many more of us to raise our voices in order to restore Bathsheba’s good name. Consider the recent book (and Facebook page) 
Really Bad Girls of the Bible: eight more shady ladies from Scripture (argghh, it’s a series). The chapter on Bathsheba tells us that “Bathsheba captured the wandering eye of a king.” Notice who is the subject of the action here: the powerless woman. 

Another example, a Bible study outline, is entitled “Bathsheba: The Woman Whose Beauty Resulted in Adultery and Murder.” The author goes on: “Her beauty made her victim to a king’s desire” and “co-responsible in David’s sin.”

And this gem: “Caught in the Tempter’s Trap—The Story of David and Bathsheba”
(italics mine)
Bathsheba is not guiltless either. She may not have purposely enticed David, but she was immodest and indiscreet. To disrobe and bathe in an open courtyard in full view of any number of rooftop patios in the neighborhood was asking for trouble. She could easily have bathed indoors. Even so in our day, some women do not seem to realize what the sight of their flesh can do to a man. They allow themselves to be pushed into the fashion mold of the world and wear revealing clothes, or nearly nothing; then they wonder why the men they meet cannot think of anything but sex. We must not fail to instruct our younger girls in these matters, particularly as they enter their teen years. Christian parents should teach their daughters facts about the nature of man and the meaning of modesty, then agree on standards for their dress.

“David found out who the beautiful bather was, sent for her, and the thought became the deed. There is no evidence that this was a forcible rape. Bathsheba seems to have been a willing partner. Her husband was off to war and she was lonely. The glamour of being desired by the attractive king meant more to her than her commitment to her husband and her dedication to God. They probably cherished those moments together; maybe they even assured themselves that it was a tender and beautiful experience. Most do! But in God’s sight, it was hideous and ugly. Satan had baited his trap and they were now in his clutches.”

BEAUTY WAS TO BLAME?
The insidious rule of patriarchy declares that men must be protected from the beauty of women’s bodies. They simply cannot help themselves. And when they succumb to temptation and take what they deem to be rightfully theirs, they place the blame on their victims: “her beauty captured the wandering eye of a king; her beauty made her victim to a king’s desire; she was asking for trouble.”  

Bathsheba may indeed have been gorgeous. I love the sensuality of Benjamin Victor’s sculpture pictured here. Her body is beautiful. But that does not mean that it’s an object to be used, abused, and then blamed for another’s actions. And that’s true for all bodies – whether “beautiful” in a classic sense or not. 

DISMANTLE PATRIARCHY!
It may seem a small thing, this insistence on recognizing this story for what it is: Bathsheba’s #MeToo moment. But it’s not a small thing. The patriarchal religion that originally told the tale is still too much in operation. And the writers and commentators (both male and female) who perpetuate the abuse by blaming the victim need to be called out. And writers, commentators, preachers, and teachers who soften it by calling it adultery need to be called in. 

I get it. These stories are so ingrained in us; we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. But if we’re going to dismantle the religious foundations of patriarchy, we must bring to light all the #MeToo moments of biblical women like Bathsheba.

And listen to them!

 

2 Samuel 11:1-15  (from The Inclusive Bible)
In the spring, that time of the year when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out along with his officers and troops. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah. David, however, stayed in Jerusalem. As evening approached, David rose from his couch and strolled about on the flat roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman  –a very beautiful woman  – bathing. David made inquiries about her and learned that her name was Bathsheba, and that she was the daughter of Eliamand the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Then David sent messengers to fetch her. She came to him, and he slept with her, at a time when she had been declared ritually clean after her monthly period. Then she returned to her house. But she conceived, and sent this message to David: “I am pregnant.” 

Then David sent a message to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came, David asked how the campaign was going. Then he said to Uriah, “Go home and wash your feet after your journey.” As he left the palace, attend-ants followed him with a gift from the king’s table. Uriah, however, did not go home that evening. Instead, he lay down at the palace gate with all the king’s officers.  Learning that Uriah had not gone home, David said, “Uriah, you have had a long journey; why did you not go home?” Uriah answered, “Israel and Judah are under attack. So is the Ark. Joab and your officers are camping in the open. How can I go home to eat and drink and to sleep with my wife? YHWH lives, and as you yourself live, I will not do such a thing.”   

Then David said to Uriah, “Stay here another day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem another day. On the following day, David invited him to eat and drink with him and got him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to lie down on his blanket among the officers, and did not go home. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it with Uriah. The letter said, “Put Uriah opposite the enemy where the fighting is fiercest, and then back off, leaving Uriah exposed so that he will meet his death.” 

“Bathsheba” image used with permission
https://benjaminvictor.com/2013/01/gallery/bathsheba/ 

The Real Mary Magdalene

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. In honor of her day, I’m reposting a sermon that was preached by the Rev. Heidi Neumark of Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan. We can start dismantling patriarchy by dismantling the smear campaign begun in the early church which identified Mary as a “sinful women,” i.e. prostitute. This is Mary’s #MeToo moment.
You can also watch a 
video of Pastor Neumark’s sermon here.

CAT-CALLING MARY
1499Two weeks ago, during day camp, one of our counselors was walking down the sidewalk past the parking garage and health center entrance with a group of children when she was cat-called. She stopped and asked not to be spoken to like that and even more so, not in front of campers. The man called her an f-ing b.

This young woman is an amazing person. She has overcome many odds with grace and grit. She is creative, talented and resilient. You may not know her, but we at Trinity are deeply indebted to her, She is carrying on part of our ministry this summer. She is sharing God’s grace in word and action with dozens of children in day camp, in the name of Jesus, and also in our name, representing this church. But all this man saw was a female body to objectify. And then when challenged, to try to denounce and degrade.

Last Sunday before church, Vicar Sarah was standing outside and a group of men came by. Men who appeared to be around 5 or 6 decades older than Vicar Sarah. They stopped and one of them commented on her appearance. It was leering and suggestive in a subtle way. I’m certain that if challenged, he would have said something like, “Can’t you take a compliment?” Putting the blame on her. But unless you are in a friendship or intimate relationship such comments have no place in public. None.

I know that young women clergy face this all the time. Comments about their hair, their body, their clothing, their appearance and they don’t want to hear it. They want, and deserve, to be recognized and noticed for their preaching, their teaching, their caring, their leadership, their ideas- not their bodies. Not their sexuality. No matter how it is intended, and some intentions may be good but misinformed, it ends up being degrading. You don’t go through 4 years of college, and 3 years of graduate school, and many hours of supervised hospital ministry, and a year of part-time field work and a year of full-time internship because of your hair cut or your bra size or fashion choice any other physical attribute that another person may or may not find attractive.

Of course, this happens in many fields of work, not just church work, but it definitely does happen in church work. Even here, it has happened, multiple times over the years. Not in a grossly aggressive way, but in ways that still create discomfort and distress. Yes, there may be times when complimenting someone on their appearance is well-received, but sadly, for a woman in ministry, especially a young woman who already faces multiple prejudices about authority and competence, just don’t do it. Ever. Never. Compliment a sermon. Compliment a caring moment you noticed. Compliment her worship leadership. Just leave appearance out of it.

I bring this up today because it’s July 22 and July 22 is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene was a leader in the early church- a female leader who endured an onslaught of catcalling, objectification and degradation that continues on and on and on even centuries after her death.

So who was Mary Magdalene? Let’s start with the Bible. She is called Mary Magdalene or Mary of Magdala, not after her father or husband, but her hometown. I saw Magdala when I visited Israel. It is a thriving fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee that’s still there today. It was Mary’s hometown, so she is Mary of Magdala.

In lists of women who accompany Jesus in his ministry, Mary Magdalene is always named first. She is described as part of a group of women healed by Jesus. In her case, we’re told that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. In most cases in the NT, such casting out of demons is related to what we would consider to be a mental illness. In any case, she recovered. Jesus healed Mary and she followed him and supported him.

Mary Magdalene is named first among women as being present at Jesus’ crucifixion, holding vigil after the disciples have run away though in all fairness to them, they were in more danger of arrest.

In all four gospels, she is named first as being at the tomb on Easter with other women or alone. The identity of the other women vary depending on who tells the story, but Mary Magdalene is always there and always first. She is the first person to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection and she is the first to go and tell the good news of Easter. Mary Magdalene is the first preacher of Easter. This is remarkable given the dominant attitudes toward women at the time, the fact that women’s testimony was viewed as invalid, so if it were possible to erase the leading role of these women of Easter, it would have been done. The fact that they are remembered as first-hand witnesses of the central event of Christianity and that Mary Magdalene is first among them carries lasting historical power. And because this challenged patriarchal power structures it was threatening as the church became more structured. And so the smear campaign against Mary Magdalene begins. Some looked at the gospel of Luke and noticed that just before he introduces Mary Magdalene, he tells the story about a nameless woman who comes to a house where Jesus is visiting with an alabaster jar of ointment. She bathes his feet with her tears and dries them with her long hair and kisses his feet and anoints them with ointment. The Bible says that Jesus forgave her many sins. It says nothing about demons cast out. Nothing about prostitution. It’s just assumed that if this woman had many sins and had cash to buy expensive ointment, well, she must have been a prostitute. Mary Magdalene, who is mentioned many times is not named here. If this was her, there is no reason not to name her. Except that it was not her.

But since the next paragraph is where Luke introduces the Mary Magdalene and the women following Jesus, Mary Magdalene is identified as the sinful women. Since one story is next to the other story, why it must be the same person. Guilt by association. Discredit this Easter witness by bringing up a steamy past, a past that wasn’t even her past.

The literal cat-calling began in earnest in the 6th century with pope Gregory the Great. He preached a series of not-so-great sermons on Mary Magdalene where she is described in lurid detail as a temptress and a prostitute. I share one brief passage from one of his sermons because his words have had a huge impact down to today.

“It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.”

Thus Mary of Magdala, who was a leader among the community of Jesus followers, became, as one person put it: “the redeemed whore and Christianity’s model of repentance, a manageable, controllable figure, and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.”

Even though the Roman Catholic Church said in 1969 that Pope Gregory was mistaken in portraying Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute, the popular imagination has stuck with this make-believe portrayal and not only Roman Catholics. This invented version of the sultry Mary Magdalene will be touring the nation starting in the fall of 2019 in Jesus Christ Superstar. Probably the most well-known song of this show is: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” where Mary croons: I’ve had so many men before. In very many ways, he’s just one more” It’s great entertainment, at least when Sara Barellis sings the part, for which she got a well-deserved Emmy nomination. In fact, Jesus Christ Superstar got 13 Emmy nominations, which is great for the show but kinda sad for the real Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene stood outside of expected female roles for her time. She was not married. She is not identified by her father or spouse. She did not depend on male protection, in fact, she appears to have independent means to support Jesus’ ministry, as Luke’s gospel tells us. Her key identity is as a woman transformed by her encounters with Jesus- the healing she experienced that drew her to follow and support him, her presence at the key moments of his death and resurrection and her role as the very first witness of Easter, the founding event for the church. After the stone was rolled away, the voice who got the good news rolling belonged to Mary. “I have seen the Lord,” that’s Mary’s clapback that has echoed down through the centuries to us.

As important a theologian as Thomas Aquinas (not known for his feminism) called her “An Apostle to the Apostle.” But this opened roles and authority to women that the church was not ready for, so people tried to stuff her back into safe and familiar roles.
She is variously described as Jesus’ concubine, lover, or wife. The focus is on her sexual and private, emotional intimacy with Jesus. Scholars linger over titillating questions. How far did their relationship go? Were they “just friends?” Were they lovers? Did they get married and have a baby as the Da Vinci Code supposes? This would cause no scandal at the time the Bible was written so there would be no need to hide it if it were true. But in any case, it makes no difference.

Women can have sex and lead churches. Women can have babies and lead churches. Women can be married or single and bear witness to Jesus’ death and rising up. And they do. But directing our attention to her sex life, (a sex life we know nothing about) tries to distract us from her powerful, authoritative leadership. We are prodded to be peeping toms at her bedroom window – or bordello- instead of recognizing her brave testimony- “I have seen the Lord!” And by the way, let’s not linger at the bedroom window of interns and seminarians. Let’s not ask about their personal life, ie do they have a boy friend or a girl friend? Are they having sex? If they choose to share that information with you, great. But don’t ask. It’s been a loaded, distracting question for centuries. The real question that matters is “Do you know Jesus?”

For some, diverting of attention to Mary’s personal life was not enough to erase her authority and silence her voice. According to the Gospel of Thomas, which we don’t have in the Bible, “Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life.” In other words, get rid of her. She’s not worthy of being an apostle, a leader like us, shut her down and shut her up “for women are not worthy of the life.”. But then according to the gospel of Thomas: “Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males.” If cat-calling and turning her into a redeemed whore while still objectifying her temptress body doesn’t make a dent in her leadership, well, then she will have to be stripped of all female attributes to become a man. In which case her witness will be acceptable. She’s either bound to a male-fantasy of exaggerated, whorish femininity or stripped of her gender altogether.

But nowhere in the bible does Jesus do any of this. He liberates Mary Magdalene, he frees her to be her full and true self and he accepts her and honors her for who she is. He welcomes her support. When the risen Jesus appears to her on Easter in John’s gospel, he calls her name- Mary! not to draw her into a private embrace but to send her forth as a public witness of hope. And despite all the mis-labeling and cat-calling and abusive, demeaning talk against her, that’s just what Mary Magdalene does. “I have seen the Lord” she proclaims, her explosive clapback that rocked the world and sent ripples down through the centuries that touch, even us, the beneficiaries of her witness, in church today.

Take heart, her witness says. Whether you are female, male or gender queer. Do people mis-label you? Judge you? Try to bury you in their prejudices and small-mindedness? Do people objectify you to gratify their own desire for control and domination? Do you hear voices that question your capacity, including those internal voices of internalized anxiety and shame and being less-than? Those voices do not come from God. Ever. It happened to Jesus too. Jesus knows what it’s like and as Jesus came to free Mary Magdalene, Jesus comes to free you and me. As he called Mary Magdalene, Jesus calls you… by name. To shake off whatever it is you need to shake off and to clap back with hope, clap back with love, clap back with joy.

It turns out that the real Mary Magdalene did know how to love him.