This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
Brainstorming women, armed with their Sharpies and poster boards, are going to battle. If you haven’t heard, there is a “war on women.”
Is this hyperbole? Is this “war on women” tagline merely something that can unite the various feminist waves into one tsunami that has real influence? Is this “war on women” a cheap trick by liberal political operatives to highlight how out-of-touch and extreme conservatives have become on social issues? If there’s a war going on, who is attacking women anyways?
The sad truth? Christianity wages war on women. How are we doing it?
Constraint. Right now, on the 21st Century blogosphere, Christians argue whether women should keep silent in churches. That’s right. It’s 2012 and they believe that women are so subordinate that we should not even be allowed to ask questions in a Bible study. First Timothy explains that Eve tasted the fruit first, so two thousand years later, anyone with XX chromosomes should not open their mouths within the walls of a church. If that logic is not a contrived recipe for oppression, I don’t know what is.
In many congregations, women cannot become pastors, elders, or deacons. Leadership is barred from women. Where else in society does that explicitly take place? I can’t think of any place other than a couple of absurd golf clubs in the South.
Contraception. With the stunning, quick rise of Rick Santorum’s candidacy, we learned what many religious leaders think about birth control. We have not only found out that every sperm is sacred, but that women who use birth control contribute to the downfall of society.
Even though most women in the United States use contraception, even though there is nothing in the Scriptures that would explicitly keep a woman from using it (aside from an odd verse about a Jewish patriarch who got in trouble for “spilling his seed on the ground”) Christian leaders have taken this moment to expound upon how shameful it is for a woman who just might not want to have a child every time she has sex, or even if she might want to take the pill for other health reasons.
Collusion. So, maybe you’re a guy. You believe that women should speak in church. You believe that women should be able to use contraception. You don’t think this is an issue. You might even have daughters. But… this whole subject is kind of a fringe thing that you’re not really into… so you’re just going to let TeamUteri take care of it, while you sit on the sidelines. Since we have a Christianity that is, for the most part led by men, when men do not speak out, or stand with women who are, you end up colluding. Silence allows the dominant mode to flourish.
Women can collude as well. Mainline women feel like we’ve “been there, done that.” We roll our eyes at our evangelical sisters who struggle. We have great respect for the nuns who taught us liberation theology, but are now getting the smack down. But we shrug a bit thinking, It sucks to be them. Instead of realizing that we are all women and this is one faith, and we have got to start working together. We do not have the luxury of not caring about the oppression of women in our faith tradition.
How can we reimagine Christianity in the midst of this? We can begin by asking ourselves how we tell our narratives. Do we propagate the narrative of patriarchy? Do we talk about the great, all-powerful God the Father who will protect us and take care of us if we grovel and show the proper fealty? Or do we utter a vision of a beloved community in which God made each of us in God’s image to care and love one another? Do we speak of an angry, warrior God who can only atone for our sin with the payment of blood? Or do we speak of the salvation that comes from becoming born-again by the Spirit?
In our tradition, Christianity has been a force of salvation and liberation for women. It has also been used as a tremendous tool of oppression. As we think about the future, can we stand with those who struggle, speak with those who protest, and nurture the narratives of community and hope? If we can, it will go far in creating a more compassionate faith.
Carol Howard Merritt: Carol is a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. She is the author of Tribal Church and Reframing Hope, and she co-hosts God Complex Radio with Derrick Weston. She blogs at TribalChurch.org, which is hosted by the Christian Century.