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.

 

 

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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