Ending the War on Women: Lent and Liberation

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

We are currently in the midst of a cultural and political war on women and women’s bodies. Perhaps you’ve noticed. If you had any doubts, the recent and truly creepy image of an all-male panel testifying before Congress about contraceptives should convince you. (Just imagine an all-female panel testifying about the virtues of vasectomies.)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. If Lent can be retrieved as a practice for liberating humanity from the chains of oppression, then ending this war on women must take priority. This will involve attending carefully to the propaganda machine (both secular and religious), mobilizing people to vote when appropriate, repenting where necessary, and recommitting ourselves to the hard work of creating a different world, a world where all can thrive and flourish (if that’s not a suitable goal for a Lenten discipline, I don’t know what is).

I’ll begin with three observations:

First, the current war on women is not new; it is of course many, many centuries old. (I was reminded of this recently by reading a great analysis of the ancient Greek three-cycle play, The Oresteia, and it’s recurrent theme of the fear of powerful women.)

While none of this stuff is new, the current iteration of this power struggle is particularly virulent and insidious in the United States. By “current,” I mean the cultural trajectory that began taking shape more explicitly in the 1970s after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision – a decision that acknowledged what should have been the case long ago, that women have rights over their own bodies. (Yes, abortion is complicated, but my friend and colleague, Susan Russell, recently wrote eloquently on this very topic.)

Second, I believe the current virulence in the war on women is fueled by having an African-American man in the White House. African-American men in American history have quite frequently been the subject of emasculating rhetoric if not also castrating violence; they still are today. Make no mistake about this: white men in power keep their power by subjugating women and treating non-white men like women. If we fail to link sexism and racism we do so at our own, very grave peril.

And third, I am a white man. That means a lot of different things, not least that I enjoy a remarkable amount of privilege in western society. That doesn’t make me bad or evil. It does make me accountable and it should make me responsible. I have, alas, too frequently failed to live up to the responsibility of that privilege for the sake of women’s thriving.

In a recent professional gathering, I was witness to a blatant form of sexism – in both rhetoric and posture – yet I said and did nothing. I hereby repent, and I resolve to do better. As just part of that commitment and for my Lenten discipline this year, I’ll devote regular blog posts to analyzing theologically and culturally the pernicious peril our world faces from the twin threats of sexism and racism.

Notice that I didn’t mention homophobia. I believe the disdain and opposition toward LGBT people is but a symptom of a much deeper and more intractable poison in western culture: the confluence of misogyny and white supremacy. Upon that “wedding” rests most if not all of the truly hideous moments in western society. (Pictured here is Sojourner Truth, from the 19th century. A perfect icon for the incarnation of race and gender.)

One further observation needs to be made here: Religion (including Christianity) has contributed significantly to the subjugation of women and women’s bodies, both historically and today. In that regard, my obligation and responsibility deepen as I am not only a white man, but also a Christian and a priest in the Episcopal Church.

I believe the peculiar character of Christianity, for all its severe faults and foibles, can still help us achieve a better world where all can thrive and flourish. I have some ideas about how to do that but I need help. As I post my own suggestions this Lent, I hope you will add your own. Let’s create a great toolbox for planetary thriving!

At the very least, let us commit ourselves to ensuring that no one ever again has to see a panel of all men making decisions about women’s bodies. That would be a small but nonetheless significant step on the Lenten road toward new life.

Author: The Rev. Dr. Jay

I'm an Episcopal priest, parish pastor, and Christian theologian as well as a writer, teacher, and occasionally, a poet. I'm committed to the transforming energy of the Christian gospel and its potential to change the world -- even today. Now that's peculiar, thank God!

16 thoughts on “Ending the War on Women: Lent and Liberation”

  1. Thank you, Jay, for your perceptive observations and for connecting your work to end the war on women to Lent. I appreciate your putting the current war on women in historical context and your connecting sexism to racism and to homophobia.

    For many years I have researched, preached, taught, and written books to demonstrate ways that the church can liberate “humanity from the chains of oppression.” I have especially worked on expanding images of God, because of the power of sacred symbolism to shape social reality and to provide a foundation for justice and freedom for all people. My most recent book is “Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers.” Also, I have a blog on the topic of “Changing Church.” (www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/blog) My book features twelve diverse and innovative ministers, from seven denominations, who are changing our culture as they take prophetic stands on gender, sexual orientation, race, interfaith cooperation, ecology, economic opportunity, and other social justice issues. Two of the ministers in this book are Episcopal priests.

    Because of my strong belief that our God-images shape our values, I have also published books of inclusive worship resources, including two hymnbooks. These hymns and other worship resources include female and male divine images to support the foundational biblical truth that all people are created equally in the divine image (Genesis 1:27). The image of “Mother” and other biblical feminine divine images support the sacred value of females and thus help to end the war on women.

    Thank you for all you’re doing to end the war on women and to bring peace and justice to our world.

    All Blessings,

  2. Hi Jay,
    Thanks for putting your power and privilege to good work. I’m a senior at CDSP and haven’t had the chance to spend much time with you, but I’d enjoy jumping into this conversation with you. I think the hot question of contraceptives (and that absurd panel) is certainly worth mulling over, but just as important and much less discussed is the abysmal state of obstetric health care in the US. I gave birth to a wonderful and healthy daughter this past fall, right at home under the care of some fantastic midwives. Sadly, this kind of experience represents less than 1% of births in the US and is illegal in many states. Yet because of knife-happy obstetricians and insanely high c-section rates, we have a much higher maternal mortality rate than comparably developed countries. It’s a real mess, and is both a result of and, I would argue, a continuing source of, systemic sexism. Since we in the church are in the business of incarnation, I think it matters even more, yet it is rarely talked about… perhaps another indication that women’s bodies are still somehow viewed as dirty and to be hidden away. We have a lot of work to do!

    1. Thanks, Liz! And I think that analysis is right on target. It wasn’t all that long ago that churches still practiced the “churching of women” 40 days after childbirth. Again, keeping women out of sight. We mostly certainly do have lots of work to do!

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