My Sunday Sermon, “Would Jesus Have Said Vagina?”

Photo by joethedork - San Francisco Bay to Breakers, 2005

[Photo By joethedork]

Okay, I am not preaching anywhere this Sunday, but feel free to “liberate” the idea, should you need a sermon starter. That said, I do hope that more than a few preachers out there are going to somehow use the recent Michigan State Legislature vagina kerfuffle as fodder for some good conversations on power, community and discernment.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about but have noticed an increased use of the word “vagina,” you are not imagining things. The increased volume of verbal vagina usage can be attributed to Thursday’s rebuke of Michigan State Representative, Lisa Brown, after her use of the word “vagina” during a debate on abortion the day before. According to the Detroit News, at the close of her argument about an abortion bill she said these words,

“Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,'”

The result was that she was barred from speaking the next day.

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

This was apparently not out of character for this particular legislative body as Rep. Barb Byrum was also barred from speaking because of what she said during her failed amendment to the abortion bill banning men from getting a vasectomy unless the procedure was necessary to save a man’s life.

“If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies,” Byrum told reporters Thursday.

Wow. Just wow.

While there are many directions one could go with this, I think this situation raises some good questions for bodies of people who strive to engage in debate, discernment and decision-making. There have always been people who seem to cross the lines of appropriateness, decorum and social norms, but in this case we are again reminded that part of the discussion always has to be about who gets to determine those rules and to what end.

I am all for appropriateness in large groups and helping people to avoid unnecessarily over-sharing about their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I still remember during one meeting that I was leading when, during a debate on sexuality, a father shared with the body – and webcasted community – about his daughter’s sexual activity. He was trying to make a point, but I am not sure that it was very effective NOR did it get to the heart of his position. Instead, attention was drawn away from the point he was trying to make and the energy of the whole body was deflected away from debate.

Now some might say that Brown’s and Byurms’s comments did the same thing, but I would disagree. I do not think that their use of “shocking” language drew attention away from the debate, instead, their comments got the heart of the actual debate on abortion AND challenged the enforcement of random rules like “decorum” and “civility” that are meant to stifle voices and preserve power. There are few things about which I agree with the Tea Party, but one thing that I have appreciated is that they have used their place of authority to speak into systems that have lost touch and/or have used sets of unspoken rules to control and maintain power. I rarely agree with the content or tone, but they get it. Sometimes, you just have to call horse manure when you perceive it being unnecessarily spread. There may be repercussions for those actions, but speaking truth to power, by it’s very nature, will illicit reaction and rebuke.

So the burning question for me and I hope for preachers the world world over this Sunday is, “Would Jesus have said, ‘Vagina’?”

Jesus healed in the Sabbath and said to those in power… Mark 3:1-6

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Jesus was a tad bit bold, shocking even, and said to those in power… John 6:25-59

48 I am the bread of life.

Jesus sometimes had enough, got pissed and said to those in power… Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

All of this goes to say that there are times when shocking words that defy decorum and civility are needed in order to hold accountable the very people who have the power to define the rules of decorum and civility. These acts help bodies to reflect on whether the rules and expectations of behavior help move a body forward with a sense of integrity or if they are a means to maintain power, silence the minority and lessen the positive influence of the body.

Jesus was not always about speaking shocking words to power, just as I am sure that not all of the representatives involved in this case are always the inappropriate or uptight caricatures that they are made out to be. But at the same time, just as Jesus called us to prayer, compassion, service and love . . . in order to make a point about an issue and to speak truth to power when needed, he did so with a prophetic and often shocking word.

So yes, Jesus would have said, “Vagina.”

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Elizabeth

    I’m just thinking about the time Jesus healed the woman who had the chronic bleeding problem. This is not a guy who was squeamish about vaginas.

  • Martha Brown

    And it would be lovely if I could spell.  Just returned from Session Meeting before I wrote it so that may partially explain….

  • If I were smart enough to know Aramaic, I would  have certainly changed the title 😉

  • Yes. I think there is also a school of thought for preaching these days that encourages naming that which is unnamed. There is of course more nuance and ability to “read the room” that is required, but when a preacher can name what is being thought/felt/experienced by the community, that is some serious work of the Spirit.

  • Pam Byers

    Once in a summer preaching course at PSR I gave a short sermon on the wonderful account in Acts 8 of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  When the eunuch asks, “Here is water; what is to prevent me from being baptized?”  I quoted the unambiguous text (Deut. 23:1) which is the clear “biblical mandate” that would prevent it.  And all the preachers in the class said, Good job, but you really can’t say “testicles” in a sermon.  –  I daresay it was good, practical advice; but I also found it very revealing about so much of our discourse in the church.

  • Thanks. Agreed. Step on the soap box any time!

  • I have a two year old boy and a six year old girl. We have always, and will continue to, use the proper names of genitals, “Vagina” and “Penis”. This is what they are called.  Not “who-hoo” or “pee-pee”. Not the crude, vluger names. Vagina and Penis are the proper terms. The only correct terms. Like Head or Arm or Buttock or Mandible. No one teaches their kid to refer in public company to their toes as “tootsies” or their fingers as “who-doos.” 

    My wife and I do not want our children growing up with shame about their bodies. We want them to have healthy sexual lives and healthy body images.  Acting as if THE name of their “private parts” is crude causes harm. It teaches children that they should be embarrassed about what God gave them. It’s disrespectful and degrading to the bodies God created, and it creates ignorant, offensive, vindictive politicians (okay, maybe not all the time, but at least on one occasion).  Calling our God-given sexual organs by euphemistic terms is crude.  Calling Vaginas, Vaginas and Penises, Penises is good english.  

    Thanks for the soap-box, Bruce. 😉

  • Martha Brown

    Agreed…but in Aramiaic!

  • maryanndimand

    I was expecting you to cite Jesus saying that the faith of the woman with the haemorrhage had healed her, calling her daughter and blessing her– when he could have got all shirty about being made impure by her touch! 😀 (Mark 5: 25-34, Matthew 9: 20-22, Luke 8: 42-48)

  • Of course you are correct on all accounts.

  • Diane Engster, J.D.

    I just don’t understand Bruce.  Why would vagina be a shocking word?  Especially when legislators who don’t have them are talking about involuntarily sticking medical equipment inside of them in order to make a political point.

    No one thinks that erectile dysfunction is shocking especially the former Republican Speaker of the House.

    I really don’t “get” this at all except that men are uncomfortable thinking respectfully about women’s bodies.