Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).
One would hope that U.S. politicians currently seeking to mandate unwarranted vaginal probes without a woman’s consent don’t actually imagine probing Jesus. Neither do I suppose that they imagine deporting Jesus when they strike a hard line on “illegal” immigration that separates mothers from their children. I’m sure many of them don’t see Jesus when they look at single mothers of color, or the women who speak only Spanish who just happen to be cleaning their congressional offices.
But the Gospel actually demands that those politicians do see Jesus in each of those moments. It demands the same thing from all of us.
I believe at least one faithful rendering of the Gospel is this: Jesus practiced radical solidarity. I believe this also means that God continually practices deep and sustaining solidarity with God’s whole creation. The Lenten journey of following Jesus toward the cross and an empty tomb invites us to adopt that very same discipline of divine solidarity.
Traditionally, the first Sunday of Lent (this weekend) features the gospel story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I’ve heard many sermons and read many commentaries on that story, but I’ve never encountered one that interprets that story through the lens of male privilege. We’re long overdue.
(If you don’t know that story, pause and read Luke 4:1-13; the one assigned for this weekend is Mark 1:9-15).
Tempted in three crafty and subtle ways to exercise the power that comes with male privilege, Jesus chose instead to follow the path of divine solidarity:
- Famished and tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus chose instead to stand with the poor, who have no power to make bread suddenly appear on the table for their families (Luke 4:3-4).
- Tempted to seize the kingdoms of the world for good, Jesus chose instead to stand with all the socially marginalized who have no voice in the corridors of imperial government (Luke 4:5-8).
- Realizing his physical vulnerabilities, Jesus was tempted to test his divine safety net. But he chose instead to stand with all those who have no recourse to guarantees, who can’t afford to test anyone or anything because the risk is too great (Luke 4:9-12).
The gospel writers don’t make it explicit, but the first hearers of this story would readily have known this: the least powerful in each of those cases in the first century were women. The same is true today, especially women of color.
It’s women who struggle most to provide bread for their children (see the WIC site on this); it’s women who can’t ever seem to earn equal pay for equal work (think this is old fashioned? thinks again and read here); it’s women the world over who have virtually no access to the corridors of power that would save them from the state’s killing machine (the global situation is dire, just read here) – or even from coerced vaginal probes.
But I refuse despair. Peculiar as this may sound, I refuse despair because of my Christian faith and because of the Gospel. After Jesus resisted the power that comes with male privilege, the rest of the story bears ample witness to the remarkable result: women as agents (John 4:1-29); women as confidants (Luke 10:38; John 11:5); women as teachers (Matthew 15:21-28); women as die-hard comrades when it mattered most (John 19:25); women as the first witnesses to God’s victory over death (Mark 16:1-6).
Following Jesus through Lent must mean at least this much: listening closely to women’s voices and attending carefully to the dignity of women’s bodies. For men (especially white men), it must mean more: using our (white) male privilege to practice divine solidarity and, with it, to create a new world – a world of thriving and flourishing for all.
Now that’s a Lenten discipline all of us could, quite literally, live with.
4 thoughts on “Divine Solidarity: Lent & Liberation, Part 2”
Yeah, it’s so heartless for us privileged white males to force a woman to actually *see* what she’s carrying around in utero before she can casually kill it! We’re so dispicable!
Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. It appears that we disagree about some of these important issues and questions. And that’s fine. But I would urge you to reconsider characterizing every decision to have an abortion as “casual.” In my experience and from what I’ve heard from many others, the decision is often very difficult. I also want to note that I don’t consider men to be “despicable” just because we are men. Nor would I use that word to describe men who promote social policy decisions with which I profoundly disagree. As I noted in my first Lenten post (on Ash Wednesday), my own male privilege doesn’t make me bad or evil (certainly not despicable); but it does come with obligations and should make me responsible.
The decision may be difficult, but it is still profoundly immoral to take the life of an unborn child. One would hope that such a decision would not come easily. Oh, I’m aware that there are cases where the woman’s life may be in danger or where a rape results in pregnancy, but these are widely regarded as being the extreme exception to the rule. The vast majority of abortions are not performed under these circumstances. If you had left out the comparison of women who undergo “unwarranted vaginal probes” to Jesus, I would’ve had virtually no problem with your article. But when passing this mandate, there are two people that the politicians must consider – the woman, and the unborn child she carries within her. Which of those two is the more physically vulnerable? Which is more socially marginalized and denied their basic rights?
I think it’s helpful to distinguish between, on the one hand, the moral debate over abortion (with all its scientific, religious, social, and political complexities) and, on the other hand, the broader and centuries-old issue of men monitoring, policing, and controlling women’s bodies. These clearly overlap, but I think it’s too easy and far too common for men to engage the former without giving any consideration to the latter. And men can do that because of their privileged position. The specter of men literally inserting themselves between a woman and her physician is a particularly egregious but by no means isolated example; I stick by my gospel reference.
About the abortion debate in particular: I share the views on abortion adopted by the Episcopal Church, eloquently explained by Susan Russell