March Synchroblog: All About Eve

You’d have to be living under a rock these last few years to not be aware of the escalating frenzy around women’s health and women’s rights that is going on in political and religious spheres. There have been a myriad of bills that include unnecessary intrusive procedures, limiting birth control coverage, diminishing the definition of rape and even the “Protect Life Act” bill H.R. 358 which would allow women who need abortions due to life threatening conditions to be turned away. There is an extreme obsession with female “pelvic issues”, as one theologian has named it.

Then there was the recent kerfuffle about Rush Limbaugh’s vile tirade about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute for testifying about mandated insurance coverage for birth control. (Originally, no female voices were going to be allowed at all at the committee.) In addition, he showed quite a bit of unfortunate ignorance about how female contraception works, adding weight to the questions, why are men deciding what is good and necessary for the female body? Why the need for such obsessive control? I was saddened but not surprised to hear some female conservative Christian friends support him, even with the clearly uninformed and misogynistic attitudes. This all came not long after John Piper asserted that, “Christianity should have a masculine feel.” He justifies that by listing all of the men involved in Jesus’ ministry in that very patriarchal society. Apparently, God intended that the subversion of women into a male dominated religion was meant to help her “flourish.”

While so much of this is justified and defended as “biblical truth” it more accurately reflects an interpretation forged through long term, deep-seated, negative attitudes towards women. These attitudes deny the humanity and dignity of women as full Image bearers. To believe that woman can only flourish while being ruled over by men is the same rationale used to justify colonialism in Africa and the worldwide slave trade in which it was believed that whites should rule over blacks for their own good. The roots of beliefs like these spring from the ancient patriarchal belief system that held women to be property and whose duty it was to enhance the power and numbers of the male leaders’ tribe. Therefore, he must control her reproduction to protect his interests.

What we see happening today in parts of conservative Christianity is that it has become a very disembodied religion. It has become belief in beliefs. (Insert a long boring historical explanation about the impact of the enlightenment, rationalism and singular trust in cognitive ways of knowing here.) It’s like when Jesus was faced with the Pharisees as he healed a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees knew the law. They had their beliefs. I imagine they could also see the disconnect – the cruelty that existed in refusing healing to this man, yet they insisted on the following the letter of the Law, certain that to do so would please God. Over and over, Jesus challenged religious beliefs for the sake of love. He healed on the Sabbath, touched women- even bleeding ones, and touched the dead among other things that were forbidden for a Jewish man. The Pharisees had beliefs; Jesus lived an incarnational faith.

Like the Pharisees, those who are acting in ways that diminish the voice of women and the needs of women are trapped in their beliefs. There is admittedly a lot at stake for them here. One (conservative) seminary professor has said, “I contend that if we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose a proper interpretation of God’s word,… We lose inerrancy. We lose the authority of the Bible, and that is detrimental to the gospel.” There’s little wonder that it feels so threatening to them to even consider that their interpretation may have problems. If your belief is in beliefs and one belief is found to be faulty, the whole house of cards will come down. Such a precarious situation means that they must defend their beliefs fiercely. When that is the case, they must not only enforce their beliefs over others but also absolve themselves from the inherent disconnect: responsibility for the suffering they might impose. They remain safely removed from the messiness of lives and stay unmovable in their beliefs, certain that this pleases God.

The problem is of course, that this is far more than a problem with interpretation. This has real life impact on half of the human race. Other examples include the refusal of the Catholic Church to allow condom use which has been shown to contribute to the proliferation of HIV in Africa. The book Angela’s Ashes follows the story of an Irish Catholic man and the chronically hungry children of his community that was pressured by beliefs that to forbid reliable birth control was pleasing to God. In addition, many women who take birth control do not do it for family planning reasons but for medical reasons, such as to prevent ovarian cysts or to correct hormonal problems. A woman who uses birth control is no more a slut than a man who uses Viagra is a dog. But these woman and their children are the flesh and blood realities impacted by the rigid adherence to beliefs over faith.

Most importantly, Jesus came to unseat our enslavement to beliefs, literally the letter of the Law, and to center us on himself, God revealing Godself in Christ. Jesus said nothing about doctrine or positions during his years on earth. But he did teach and demonstrate an embodied love – cool water for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, food for the hungry, help for a wounded stranger by the side of the road, and human dignity for all, even or perhaps especially, for women. To reduce following Jesus down to a set of beliefs to be enforced has turned his emphasis upside down.

I admit that beliefs are easier than faith. And lest anyone make assumptions, I do hold to Christian creeds about God and our faith. I have many conservative Christian friends whom I respect and admire. They are still my homies and I would consider many of them the very best people on earth. But there must be room for healthy self-criticism and self-reflection for the parts that seem to have shifted their gaze. When beliefs become the most important thing, it changes the very nature of our faith because Jesus in flesh and blood is no longer the center. This is how we tell the difference: Beliefs cause us to hide and preserve and rule over, faith draws us across borders into the reality of others’ lives and needs in humble love. Then people, not beliefs, become the point.

Jesus expanded the gist of the “moral law” a thousand fold. And some of Jesus’ best friends were (are) sluts. Just saying.

Enjoy the other Synchrobloggers:

Marta Layton The War on Terror and the War on Women

Kathy Escobar replacing the “f” word with the “d” word (no, not one of those ones!)

Tammy Carter Pat Summitt: Changing the Game & Changing the World

Wendy McCaig Letting Junia Fly: Releasing the Called

Words Half Heard Lenten Submission: Rethinking Hupotassō

Jeremy Myers Women Must Lead the Church

KW Leslie Churches and Women

 Michelle Morr Krabill – Why I Love Being a Woman

Jeanette Altes – On Being Female

Melody Hanson – Call Me Crazy, But I Talk To Jesus Too

Glenn Hager – Walked Into A Bar

Steve Hayes – St. Christina of Persi

Leah Sophia – March Syncroblog-All About Eve

Liz Dyer – The Problem Is Not That I See Sexism Everywhere…

Sonja Andrews – International Women’s Day

Sonnie Swenston-Forbes – The Women

Christine Sine – It All Begins With Love

K.W. Leslie – Undoing the Subordination of Women

Carie Good – The Math of Mr. Cardinal

Dan Brennan – Ten Women I Want To Honor 

19 comments
  1. Terra Williams said:

    Dear Ellen ~

    A bow of gratitude to you for the wide embrace your Christianity leads you to ~ and for your eloquence in expressing it through your blog. Distinguishing living faith from “belief” and “belief in belief” as you do here, is crucial for thus volatile, many-humaned time on Earth.

    My embodied practice is a many-splendored thing, sourced from the core teachings of Buddha, the Christ, Meister Eckhart, Ramana Maharshi, Jalaludin Rumi and other masters, all of whom I regard not as “men” but as androgynous beings. So, while I don’t identify with any “ism” or “ian” I have deepest love, respect and gratitude for the true essence of the living “ways” and for those, like you, who live genuinely inspired by them.

    Palms together ~
    Terra Williams
    Sebastopol, CA

  2. Ellen, this was beautiful. So much in it reminded me of what I am studying in medieval philosophy: that God cannot be broken down into parts, cannot be understood that way, and must be accepted on faith and then explored with all our abilities including the rational parts of our soul – but even that cannot get us to God truly, it can only get us to a humanly-graspable approximation. I for one would be fascinated about your “long boring history” of rationalism (which I am sure is neither boring nor merely historical…), and I do think older traditions have a lot to teach of us precisely because of enlightenment’s “atomization” of truth and the good.

    Anyway, enough philosophy for one night. This was really thought-provoking stuff.

  3. LeeAnn said:

    thank you, Ellen, for speaking truth in a time a debate and verbal conflict. your words bring comfort and remind us all of the true message that Jesus gives. love one another.
    LeeAnn
    TX

  4. Yes, Ellen, I’m glad I dropped by :) I was looking to find here a peaceful place of balance and wisdom in this disturbing, distorted maelstrom… My heart is aching, my soul-stomach upside down, that in our beloved faith there continues to be such harm and misuse of one another, especially in the name of Christ. Thank you for bringing us back to the only foundation that we are called to, and the only ‘measure of faith’ that ultimately matters: Love. I should go re-read I Cor.13.

    Love, Carie

    • It’s always good to “see” you. :-) And yes, I think 1 Cor. 13 would be a good read for all of us!

  5. Great point about Jesus being focused on love, rather than on doctrines and creeds. Yet the exact opposite happens so often in our churches, especially with these gender debates. Thanks! Great post.

  6. Liz said:

    I LOVED your post! Wow Ellen! It’s like you were reading my mind and my heart but more eloquently! There is so much that I loved about what you said – well, actually I loved it all but I can already tell that these two things are going to say with me:

    “Over and over, Jesus challenged religious beliefs for the sake of love.”

    “And some of Jesus’ best friends were (are) sluts. Just saying.”

  7. Liz said:

    Oh – and I almost forgot … I wanted to tell you that I also love the image you used!

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