What Can’t our Daughters Do?

I’m re-posting something I wrote a year ago.  It was my most popular article ever written with more than a thousand viewers.  So I thought it was worth posting again.  

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Quickly — I want to thank all my visitors from the homepage of wordpress.com. Welcome!  Wow!  A lotta love happens when you get featured on the homepage.  Until yesterday, this was a little ol’ blog visited by some of my friends and a few Facebook contacts. I was essentially writing to myself and my lurkers (I do have quite a few of those.)

It would kill me to have you think I’m some ranting feminist and that’s what this blog is about.  Because that is not true, about the blog, I mean. I am a feminist.  And I can rant (at times.)  Okay quite often.  But I rant — ahem write about many topics.  I post my poetry, and talk about all sorts of things from politics, faith & (dis)belief, family & parenting, depression & mental health.  It’s varied.

I’m a Haus Frau, free-lance photographer and generally vexed person who writes.  If it were not for my faith I’d be mean and ugly things would come out of my mouth.  But if you find anything golden here it is because of grace of God in my life.   Melody


I started writing these thoughts about two months ago.  But Nicholas Kristof’s article in today’s NY Times entitled, Religion and Women, got me thinking, again.   I am a regular reader of his Op-Eds.

Do you believe this little girl does has the right to the same opportunities as these boys?  (Even if she felt called to be a Pastor?)

Kristof mentions Jimmy Carter’s speech to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia, which I read when it was first posted online.

(I think I’m “in love” with Jimmy Carter because he lives his life with principles.  And standing up for women is sexy!  But that’s irrelevant here.)  I don’t have complete or even very coherent thoughts on the topic yet, I just want to ask some questions:

  • Is feminism as simple as giving women equality in work, home, church life?
  • Do women deserve access to anything that men have access to?  Why do some men have such a problem with this?
  • Do you believe your daughter has a right to every opportunity that your son has?  Why would a loving God say she doesn’t?  What can’t our daughters do?

Personally, I think oppressing  a woman, from war lords raping women in the Congo, to Afghani men who throw acid on girls faces, to men who psychologically abuse women, or the British woman who was arrested for being raped in Dubai, all of this should make us sick to our stomachs and even more culturally accepted things like putting women down, objectifying women.  And yes even keeping them from leadership opportunities they are obviously qualified, all of these things give men the chance to believe that women are inferior human beings.  And when you do that, bad things happen in our homes, institutions and relationships.

Sexism is any mistreatment of women, ranging from violence against women, to treating women as inferior, to objectifying a women. Any time women are treated in any way other than a respected human being with every opportunity in the world!

“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted.  “The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”

Jimmy Carter sees religion as one of the basic “causes of the violation of women’s rights.”

As a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, he is speaking out.  The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”

Why do I have a problem with women not being elders at my church? Because in its simplest form it is saying:

  • That women are not trusted by God with the complete story, or
  • that women somehow don’t have what it takes to lead the church, or
  • that women don’t have full access to God, or
  • that women  don’t have the wisdom and life experience,
  • We do not have whatever it takes.

Oh, believe you me I know (some) churches will allow you to do anything else! Serve, give, teach, be missionaries.  Just not be the spiritual guide.  It just doesn’t feel right.  In my gut.

Eugene Cho, is a pastor and leader and all around amazing, wise and prophetic person who has written and thought about this subject saying:

“Shouldn’t we work together to build a culture (even amongst our own churches) of respect and dignity? How do we do that beyond the debates of the ordination of women?  How do we do that in our lives, families and churches (or must it be connected to the issue of ordination?)  What’s clear to me is that it’s really difficult to pursue these things when we don’t hear directly from women. Or allow ourselves to listen to women… aka – that we take a posture of humility and submit, believing that God can actually speak through women as well. Why?”

I’ll tell you why.  Because they do not fundamentally believe they should be listening to women.  You can’t convince me otherwise.

Surprisingly, in a progressive place like Madison we settle for less on this subject.  It is rare in Madison that are women subjected to overt forms of sexism.  Most of the men I know are loving and open-hearted.  And so, in the church especially, women let a lot go.  We ignore the whole Elder and women being ordained issue, just glad we’re all getting along.  And in fact my church is ahead of many other Evangelical churches in the area.

What I don’t like is that we aren’t willing to talk about these things.  We need to talk about these things.  The fact that we don’t talk about it is painful to me. I believe if we want grow, to heal, and to have everyone truly empowered and working out of their gifts and abilities, it is crucial that we be willing to talk.

It takes an immense amount of energy to challenge someone on their sexism. It is much easier to sit here and write about it.  Even a situation that is simple and straightforward, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, sent me into a tailspin for about 12 hours.  I knew it was sexist.  I couldn’t believe how bad I felt and wondered how my sister, an ordained minister in her own church felt being spoken to in such a demeaning manner.  I suppose in some ways I forgot, being out of the workplace and not heavily involved at church, that this is still common, and widespread.

It would seem that sexism would be easy to recognize.  As with any type of discrimination, sexism can be both personal and institutional, obvious and much more subtle.  Do you think you could spot sexism when it occurs?  These are all in the category.

  • Definitely commenting on a woman’s looks when you should or could be talking ideas with her can be a form of sexism.
  • The use of pejorative names like ” ‘girls’ at the home office” and other patronizing terms can be a form of sexism.
  • A teacher or pastor or youth worker offering more attention to one gender can be a form of sexism.
  • Only hiring people of a certain gender for a specific type of job can be a form of sexism.  (Every support role in a church or ministry being filled by one gender, female.)
  • Expecting only people of a certain sex/gender to be interested in specific activities can be a form of sexism.
  • Identifying activities, roles and chores as male or female can be a form of sexism.
  • Steering students towards specific subjects based on their gender can be a form of sexism.

Mutual respect, openness and conversation are what we need.

I have rung the bell too many times within my church on the role of women. I try to be respectful and teachable. But I am tired of being told “Talk to so and so, who is a woman who leads…” so that she can tell me why she’s accepted the fact and is okay that she will never be an elder in the church.  Pass.

I’ve decided it’s the denomination that speaks.  Women are not pastors or ordained in our denomination.  I cannot change the Evangelical Free Church of America denomination (Or can I? my son would say.  But I know I cannot.) so I have to decide if I can live with it.

And it comes down to whether I can counteract the message, subtle as it is from the platform, that says to my 12-year-old daughter sitting in the pew — you will never do that job.  You will never be a pastor.  You don’t need to study scripture as seriously as the boys, because you aren’t accepted at their seminary.  Women do not preach.  You will not see women preach in our church.

I just think that’s sad.  It makes me very sad.

I am ready to disavow being any part of organized religion.

There are some days I am ready to disavow being any part of organized religion.  While I wasn’t paying attention some right-wing Christians are being scary [again.] It’s a benign sounding message, “Pray For Obama: Psalm 109:8″ which is being sold on T-shirts and other merchandise on websites like CafePress and Zazzle.

During the presidential election, I recall listening to an All Things Considered interview where people from the African-American community were expressing their fear of Barack Obama being killed. I was sitting in the parking lot of my local grocery store remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. JFK and Bobby Kennedy and others who had been murdered for their more liberal stance and I felt and understood the fear being described.

The UK telegraph reports that since Obama took office the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent  for Obama compared to George W.  Bush . . . Most of the threats, however, are kept under wraps because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts.

But it is not evangelical Christians like the media is saying, but the Religious Right that is branding Barack Obama as foreign, brown, Muslim, or “not a real American.”

The message on the material is Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8, innocuous right?  Wrong.  I do not think we can dismiss this as distasteful humor.  It is in no way funny.   Especially since the next verse reads, “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.”  The passage goes on in terrible ways.   This Prayer for Obama does more than want him to leave office at the end of one term, it entreats God to destroy our president.

CafePress, says they will listen to public discourse.  If it is being construed as threatening to the President, they will revisit the decision.  If you think these stickers are threatening, and not funny, you can let CafePress know that here.  Since the issue has raised such publicity Zazzle has since removed the merchandise.

Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League says for the message to be considered hate speech, it “would advocate actual violence or cite scripture that was more clear in its message.”

Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter was interviewed by Brian Williams on NBC.  Here’s what he said (emphasis mine):

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American. I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude toward minority groups, at that time particularly African-Americans. That racism, inclination, still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South, but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country.”

And Rachel Maddow interviewed Frank Schaffer this week, to explain whether or not the citation of this Biblical text “means something less threatening to people hearing this in a Biblical context.”

No. Actually, it means something more threatening. I think that the situation that I find genuinely frightening right now is that you have a ramping up of Biblical language, language from the anti-abortion movement for instance, death panels and this sort of thing, and what it’s coalescing into is branding Obama as Hitler, as they have already called him.

His final and emphatic plea was this:

Obama supporters had better start speaking up in support of him and not sniping at him all of the time because he’s not moving towards change as fast as we’d like in every area. This is serious stuff. The chips are down, he has real enemies–some of them are violent–and as far as I’m concerned it’s time to support our president, stand with him and not only wish him the best, but pray for his safety in the face of these religious maniacs….There are not many steps left on this insane pattern.

It’s un-American. It’s unpatriotic. And it goes to show that the religious right, the Republican far right have coalesced into a group who truly want American revolution. If it turns out to be blood in the streets and death, so be it. It’s not funny stuff anymore. They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe. It only takes one.

I urge you to take this seriously.  I urge decent, loving Christians to speak up about the need for supporting our president and for civility in our churches.  This is no laughing matter.

All day, my mind kept returning to St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I believe this is how a Christian is to behave : the exact opposite of what we are seeing my these conservative Right Winger.

St. Francis’ prayer is a brave request for strength to give of ourselves to meet the needs of others.  This is a situation that requires peace, consolation, and hope.