After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV)
As a father of two girls, husband to a very well-educated and gifted United Methodist pastor, and son who was raised by a multitude of women, I am deeply appreciative of the women in my life. Women in my family and in all aspects of my life have contributed (and continue to contribute) to my identity and engagement in the world. More to the point, I learned how to be a better man and father by valuing and seeking to understand the women in my life. Indeed the value of over half of our society is immeasurable as women are, in many cases, the central backbones of our families and national framework.
In light of this simple but inescapable truth, I am confused by the new caricature of politics as being a “war on women”. The comments of political pundits and social critics are nearly always caricatured in someone to vilify the ‘other side’. That contextual point notwithstanding, the events of the last year or so in legislative and political politics have been framed as an attempt to set the country back to the 1940’s and 50’s cultural attitude toward women. Legislation around reproductive rights (or the restriction thereof), social and family policies and comments deriding stay-at-home mothers are all cast by the media as being part of the salvos in the battle for the woman vote and the role of women in our electorate.
This ‘war’ (for some reason this country is insatiable when it comes to fighting wars [war on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, etc.]), is a media contrived and conceived war. This ‘war’ is an election year farce that seeks to juxtaposition the political parties for votes of the majority sex. Latching on to gender roles as an election issue is cheap and lazy politics. It also affirms the reality of many of our patriarchal societies. But it’s not new. Male dominated societies have never credibly appreciated women as co-laborers in life. (I can say this based on the simple fact that very often, women were not even at the table for the discussions that impacted them the most!)Here’s the brutal truth: The role of women in our society has never been recognized or accepted as equal.
The text from above is indicative of what is present in all four canonical gospels. The canonical Gospels report that women are the first to arrive at the tomb. Each of the gospels mentions women as being the central conveyors of the message that Jesus is not dead but alive. More specifically, the Gospels all agree that Mary Magdalene is the one that encounters the risen Christ (if not conveys the message directly to the other disciples). I use this text to point out the idiotic contradiction in the Christian tradition that has been passed down for centuries. Many Christian traditions barred women from service in either ordained ministry or leadership of any kind in the church. Piecing together various scriptures of the New Testament epistles, keepers of this vain orthodoxy argue a biblical rejection of women in leadership. Roman Catholics and some others have theology that puts priests as an exemplar toward Christ and therefore women cannot serve in leadership either.
Only in the past 80 years has the Christian church begun to properly challenge itself and ask the critical questions of dominate influences of patriarchy on religious practice. In those instances where the church wrestles with the truth, the church has expanded its view and reach and added to its credibility. Sadly, the failure of the Christian church to properly deal with its compromised theology in other situations means it has no credibility in standing on the moral authority of its witness. It is hypocritical and arrogant when it attempts to speak about women’s issues (or any other issues) and can’t get ‘its own house in order’.
To me, these sexists’ theological stances are not supported by the witnesses at the tomb and take semantic hoops and loops to justify in scripture. However, this is what happens when patriarchy dominates the discussions of society. Whether it happens in cultural, social, economic, or theological realms, the furtherance of male dominance and control means that we ignore the reality of life as balance in order to further dominate and demean one another. We bar women from leadership even though most churches in the United States are actively comprised of more women than men (to the tune of 2 to 1, in some cases). We champion “women’s rights” while at the same time, devaluing Employees Paid Parental Leave Act and other laws that honor the role of motherhood in our society. We fight over reproductive choices and rights to life, but ignore the plight of millions of working mothers who struggle to care for the children who didn’t ask to be aborted or born. We pay them less for the same job, and ask questions of their motivations, ability and performance that we take for granted when men do much less. We’ve always done it and we are guilty of fighting for a cause that has become insidious.
These fights will continue until we are held accountable to our participation in the system. To that I say, thank you Ashley Judd. Her poignant and scathing critique of patriarchy is the kind of commentary that makes us all better and changes the conversation from a political moment to an ontological question. In other words, her comments make us better human beings if we listen. When commentators, media figures and fans begin to ask questions of her appearance with no basis for inquiry, she exposed ALL of our participation in the ‘war on women’.
Oppressive systems are only sustained when they recede into the background and are hidden in secrecy. What Ms. Judd has done, provides an example for all of us in ending the millennia long wars on women. Truce and peace in this war is the vision of truth for all of us…