Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
There is a remarkable statement in the Hebrew Bible about two men brawling:
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to the rescue of her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity. (Deuteronomy 25v11-12)
The rule goes something like this: if two men are fighting, and the wife of one of them (who apparently is getting his butt kicked) comes over to rescue him from his attacker, and she reaches out and grabs him by his private parts, you are to cut off her hand and show her no pity. A few sentences before this rule is another one which says an ox gets to eat while treading out the grain. Just below is a warning that God doesn’t like anyone who uses false weights and measures. But apparently the woman who rescues her husband with an effective self-defense technique is left with a missing body part and no emotional support. Sound familiar?
The other day a friend told me about her awful treatment by the men in her workplace. She told me about receiving sexist and demeaning comments, emails and after-hours phone calls asking if they could come over to her house to discuss a presentation they had to make the next day. She told me about being ignored in favor of her male counterparts.
Some 2,000 years ago, a Hebrew sage named Ben Sira wrote, “the birth of a daughter is a loss” and “better is a wickedness of a man than a woman who does good.” Today we would consider Ben Sira’s words misogynistic, but they are part of the historical record and Ben Sira was not alone. From Mesopotamia to Egypt, women in the ancient world were considered property—valuable property, but property non-the less. Christopher Rollston, a tenured professor and author from a conservative Christian seminary wrote an article for Huffington Post stating how sacralizing patriarchy is wrong. His point is that gender equality may not have been the norm two or three thousand years ago, but today it is essential. “So, the next time someone refers to biblical values,” he wrote, “it’s worth mentioning to them that the Bible often marginalized women, and that’s not something anyone should value.” The financially strapped seminary reprimanded Rollston because his article ran afoul of their theological position on women. His article is also affecting the seminary’s fundraising efforts. Rollston resigned, and I think he did the right thing. Ultimately conservative institutions are going to continue losing highly trained and talented scholars over embarrassingly parochial issues.
I once asked a pastor why women do not have prominent leadership roles in his church. I wondered because he has a lot of terrific things to say about faith, life, and what it all means. But his response troubled me, “Women,“ he said, “would rather listen to what I have to say.” This is always about that, I thought.
Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem, Aurora Leigh has a few lines about the burning bush:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with god,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.
The monks at Sinai say their five-thousand-year-old mulberry is the bush. It occurs to me that for some, finding the bush is more important than what the bush represents: that faith is not about finding the right bush; it’s about taking off your shoes—this is always about that.
A true spirituality is one that affirms men and women at the level of their deepest identity—who we are in God which is much deeper than mere gender. This true self is more important than any issues of gender, culture, or sexuality, which are as Richard Rhor* says, “accidental to one’s foundational core as a child of God.”
It is “pure heresy” to call anyone whose gender is different “intrinsically disordered.”
The problems caused by labeling anyone “intrinsically disordered” are profound. The wounds are deep. I asked my friend how sexism affected her:
Sexism makes me feel deep in my soul that I am not good enough.
Sexism makes me think I might be overlooked;
Sexism makes me think that all the hard work I have done in school is not worth anything;
Sexism makes me question everything about my self;
Sexism pushes me to overcompensate and be critical;
Sexism causes anxiety and depression;
Sexism causes division among women because we see each other as competition and not trusted friends.
This could be shocking to some, but if you read the four Gospels carefully, you will note Jesus’ consistently distinctive attitude towards the two genders. Jesus always calls women upward (“Neither do I condemn you,” John 8v11) and men downward (“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last,” to the twelve disciples, Mark 9v35). Our selective memory is such that most of us have not noted this clear pattern in the Scriptures.
Could this be what we mean by sexism and patriarchy?
*To read more about Richard Rohr’s Unitive Consciousness: Beyond Gender, see his periodical, Radical Grace, Summer, 2012 issue. You can order a copy from The Center For Action and Contemplation.
*And of course, if you are a victim of sexism in the work place, please do not suffer in silence. Seek out help. Talk to someone you trust.
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