#Me Too Goes to the Parliament of the World’s Religions

MeToo3 copyI’m finally getting around to putting down some of my many thoughts from being at The Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. It makes sense for this blog to begin with the recognition that there was a lot of opportunity to engage the subject of patriarchy. 

The Frustration of Abundance
As fantabulous as the Parliament is, one of the frustrations of the week (as well as one of the blessings) is the plethora of workshops and presentations that occur all within each time slot. For example, 
I would so loved to have heard Carol Christ speak on “Why We Still Need the Goddess: Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls.” (Thankfully, I did find this excerpt from her talk in a blog post called “Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls: God Is the Problem.”)

But as I was planning out my schedule for that day, I realized that she would be speaking at the same time as “Climate Change and Women: A Conversation with Margaret Atwood.” Now that is just not fair! How to choose?!

Women Rising Against Patriarchy in Religion
But it turned out that I didn’t make it to either one. I participated in my own workshop before theirs and then ended up continuing the conversation with a group of women out in the hallway afterwards. I was on a panel called “#MeToo, #Time’s Up, and Women Rising Against Patriarchy in Religion” and my portion of the presentation was on the religious roots of patriarchy in Christianity.

You can watch Part 1 and Part 2 here.

You can see why I would surely have appreciated what Carol Christ had to say.  Obviously, she has gone into greater depth on this subject than I have. And though I agree with her premise that “the Bible as a whole supports male dominance through the pervasive and almost exclusive use of language that portrays God as a male, most often as a dominant male, as Lord, King, Warrior, and Father,” I still unabashedly come at it from the perspective of a Christian pastor trying to reform the tradition.

Taking Action
Hence my list of action items at the end of my presentation:

1.  Use inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for the Divine in Church publications and worship materials     Here’s a good resource

2.  Encourage the reading of sacred texts with a “hermeneutic of suspicion” which questions traditional interpretations

3.  Recognize the misogyny of many of the early Church leaders and their ongoing legacy

4.  Recognize the “texts of terror” in our sacred texts and the violence that continues to be justified because of them

5.  Recognize the spiritual, emotional, and physical violence perpetrated by an entrenched patriarchal system, both within the Church and society in general

6.  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

7.  Develop systems of real, shared power, with representation by all groups

Leave Them Wanting More45681241_10156282713679102_8686646488022908928_n
Another frustration of the Parliament is that there is so little time for lengthier and
deeper engagement with what is presented in a workshop. We had very little time for Q&A, but the questions that were asked ranged from wondering why even bother trying to reform the church to advice on how to do it. Although the conversation did continue in the hallway, none of the original questioners was there (probably rushing off to the next workshop!) 

I sure would have loved to be part of a discussion that included the members of my panel, the leaders of the Gender Reconciliation workshop I attended, and of course, Carol Christ. Plus all the women and men who attended all of these and other workshops on dismantling patriarchy. 

However, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be there and to be part of the movement. As another member of my panel said, “always leave them wanting more.” There will indeed be more.

 

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.