Eve Up His Sleeve: The Political Spin on Original Sin

Why women of Christian faith – and all political persuasions – must speak out against politicians who use “’biblical authority” against our full equality.

Despite the separation of church and state, politicians have long consulted their faith in policy making, and at times that’s where some of the best ideas for leading justly have originated. Politicians have also never underestimated what utilizing popular religious jargon can do to sway the outcome of an election. For the most part, this translates to biblical redux…common catch-phrases strategically selected to send a direct wink to “Christian America” and slightly contorted to support some party platform sound-bite.

For instance, both President Obama (at the National Prayer Breakfast) and Marco Rubio (at the Republican Convention) recently used Luke 12:48 to support their drastically different views on fiscal responsibility. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” can at once counter tax breaks for the rich and also promote American free-market exceptionalism in a trickle-down version of “blessing”. The variations on liberal and conservative scriptural interpretation aren’t surprising, yet both omitted preceding verses 46 and 47, core to the parable, stating that a slave abusing the master’s resources will be “cut into pieces” and sent to hell. Bernie Madoff can sigh with relief. But what about the average American woman? What about you and me?

Citing Bible verses out of historical context is just one aspect of biblical politics. More insidious and alarming is the ancient biblical worldview applied to modern women by Republican presidential candidates and comrades, most notably evident in the months between the Republican primaries and the Republican convention. This religious retro-activism should make all women of faith – and all political persuasions – wary and worried. These politicians have put their original spin on original sin, creating policy foundationally based on the biblical literary portrayal of women as the stereotypical Eve persona. Genesis 3 tells the story; in Romans 1-5 and 1 Timothy 2-3 the oft-quoted apostle Paul (a converted death-dealing zealot) of the first-century Roman-occupied Mediterranean Diaspora makes it his personal mission to theologize and doctrinize it.

You know the story: the prototype woman created by God causes the entire “Fall of Man” by offering Adam the forbidden fruit of the “tree of knowledge.” She is mythically and culturally characterized as unwise, untrustworthy, an evil seductress with questionable motives who disobeys, tempts and makes everyone pay. In 1Timothy, Paul – who created the most widely-accepted and practiced theological premises of the early church and modern Christianity – says this:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

Controlling women’s options, decisions, sexuality and progeny-bearing bodies has been the obsession of the patriarchal Christian establishment ever since. It is scary how much the Republican party line echoes this old biblical ethos. But this is the challenge we face when “biblical authority” is misused in modern politics: an ancient, mythical oral tradition of societies vastly different from ours dangerously affects the health and lives of real American women, today.

Whose fruit is it, anyway? Photo by Kazuma Ogaeri.

When Congressman Todd Akin put forth his ignorant belief that a woman’s body has ways to fight off impregnation after “legitimate rape,” it was just one example of how conservative policies put the moral burden on women to atone for violent crimes perpetrated against us by men. The responsibility falls on the victim to somehow right the wrong done to her. How many times have you heard a Republican in the 2012 election cycle talk about what policies and punishments he will implement against men who rape in order to end this heinous crime (and any resulting pregnancies) in the U.S.? Zero. Even though one out of every 6 women in “the land of the free” will be raped (attempted or completed) in her lifetime — a reality that is astounding and absurd. Our “exceptional” country should be ashamed, but instead, conservative politics shame women.

But this seems to be of no concern for Romney or Ryan, who have made clear claims that their Christian faith and biblical values deeply inform their policy proposals. How many times have we heard these men say they will not stop until Roe vs. Wade — which gives the authority of difficult personal decision-making to the affected woman with her family, her doctor and her own faith– is repealed. How many times have we heard them promise to defund and shut down Planned Parenthood, which provides life-saving and preventative medical care of all kinds to lower income (and often middle class) girls and women?

How many times have we heard them advocate letting government decide what women impregnated by rape or incest can or cannot do with their own bodies and lives in response to a devastating trauma? A million times over. Are you seeing a trend for punishing the wrong end? In response to women’s needs, they continually pull Eve out of their sleeves… women are responsible for sin, and a Congress made up of 83% men must control their decisions and destinies. It’s suspicious to me that Republicans famously want government to stay out of their business decisions and money-making options, yet believe (conservative) government should naturally run and regulate the very person – body, mind and spirit – of every American woman.

This stance is also deeply tied to a biblical worldview, which might surprise some, since they don’t talk about the rape scriptures in Vacation Bible School. There are instances of rape in the Bible allowed by God as reward to genocidal warriors, and in the few cases where rape is called out as a crime there are rules around its punishment that only further hurt the victim. In Deuteronomy 22, for instance, a man who rapes a female he is not married to must pay a pound of silver to her father (so, the father makes money because someone sullied his property, thus voiding it of any value) and the rapist must marry her (the punishment being that he has to take economic responsibility for her livelihood, since now no one else will marry her and she has been rendered a burden on society). The fact that that means the victim is forced to marry her rapist is lost on many, yet it is ethically and emotionally equal to what Paul Ryan and the Protect Life Act or the Personhood Amendmentto the Constitution would do to women today. The GOP would legally prevent a woman from making her own informed decisions, even after rape or incest, whether that is access to emergency contraceptives, an abortion, or other types of care based on the best decision for her and her family. Women’s bodies would be probed and our personal decisions would be regulated by the government the same way the FDA inspects and regulates what we do with raw meat.

You should make your own dinner, anyway.

Do I really think this could happen in America at this point in history? I don’t know, but clearly some very influential people are trying their best to ensure it does. What really offends me is that powerful men– men who rose to the top of their party and are campaigning to lead our country–still think that women are not trustworthy and wise enough to make competent, responsible decisions for and about ourselves and our loved ones, and that male-dominated government should make such decisions for us. Can you imagine if the gender roles were reversed? Furthermore, they use and abuse an ancient biblical worldview contained in scriptural sound-bites to keep religious people from feeling like they can contest the ideas — because they are deemed “biblical”.

Femmevangelicals, tell them it is not enough to trot out Mrs. Romney at the convention to say she loves women. Not all women are fortunate enough to meet a wealthy high school sweetheart who commits young and turns into a dependable, loving husband… that is not reality for the majority of modern women. It is not enough to point to a handful of women in semi-leadership in the Republican party who also discount the struggle of the average woman. Policies and platforms are not just for the 1%, they are supposed to consider and help all Americans. No, female mouthpieces are not enough — the proof is in the policy. And their policies are constructed to constrain the unwieldy, unpredictable yet mythical Eve.

How do women of faith test abuse of biblical authority by irresponsible politicians? When we sense a dangerous disconnect between “believing” and being. As a Christian minister, living out my faith in every aspect of life – the heart, the church, the public square – has taught me that be-ing is believing. Being present and honest in my authentic, modern female experience is where God meets me, and where I experience God. Can there really be any other way? God does not confine me to ancient biblical texts as the parameter of my faith, beyond which I am restricted. When biblical politics threaten the full agency, dignity and human be-ing of women, something is wrong.

Femmevangelicalism looks to the Gospel promise: that Jesus was anointed by God to bring good news to the poor, to “bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to prisoners.” When Jesus commenced his ministry with these words from Isaiah 61, he turned the scriptures upside down, used them in a way that was previously unthinkable. He also commenced the greatest social protest of all time, ironically against religious leaders and politicians who claimed to speak for God in order to suppress others and hold on to unmitigated power. Based on today’s news and data, women are broken-hearted captives to a system that second-guesses and oppresses us in so many ways, and a biblcial worldview used as a political device only debilitates the radical promise of freedom that lived beyond death and was supposed to change everything if we let it. Women have always had the most difficult choices to make, many of those forced upon us by a society that exploits us from all sides. Only a society that treats women as equal human beings made in the same image of God will ever rise to solve its most profound problems. Let’s start there.

 

 

About Jennifer D. Crumpton

Jennifer Danielle Crumpton spent 13 years as a corporate advertising executive for major global brands before graduating with a Master of Divinity in 2011 from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. There she immersed into inter-faith dialogue and faith-based social justice, feminist theology, and Christian social and structural ethics. An author and public speaker, Jennifer has also previously worked as a playwright, and a theater, commercial and indie film actress. She is a contributing author to the recent book A New Evangelical Manifesto and hosts a monthly Femmevangelical radio segment on Fairness Radio, the first Tuesdays of each month at 2:30 ET.
Jennifer resides in New York City and is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. ICRD utlizes religious reconcilation in international diplomatic efforts to prevent and resolve identity-based conflict. Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Jennifer is a Pastoral Associate of Park Avenue Christian Church in Manhattan.

  • jerry lynch

    The “T”ea Party: America’s own Taliban. Deregulate Wall Street and Re-regulate women.

  • Darren

    “Being present and honest in my authentic, modern female experience is where God meets me, and where I experience God.” Where is the honesty in being dishonest? What is your “modern female experience?” Is this not different for each woman? So, their “experiences”, whether for good or evil, is where they experience God? How can you claim to be Christian? There is a simple commandment “Thou shall not kill”. Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being. Call it what it is. Abortion, such a pretty word. Killing a human being, such a voice for the truth. You truly do not understand what Planned Parenthood is really about, do you? Have you read, “Demonic Abortion?”, do you know about Abby Johnson’s “Unplanned”. Planned parenthood is a diguise of liberty in the choosing of whether another human lives or dies. Planned parenthood has killed several woman due to botched abortions lately, one being in Chicago. They have delayed in calling the hospital to have these women treated. Have you read any Papal encyclicals on abortion? The Church, that being the Catholic Church, has always taught that abortion is an inherent evil. Period. Once one makes good evil and evil good, they have lost touch of was being a Christian really is. It is your opinion that woman have the hard choices, have you ever been a man? Both men and women have hard choices in life. They may be different but they are still hard. What might be hard for a man might be easy for a woman and what might be hard for a woman might be easy for a man. When men and women realize each other’s weeknesses and aims to lift each other up in being better than they are. That is equality. The equal sharing of wanting the other person to make it to heaven.

    • Tracy Hughes

      “thou shall not kill” was undoubtedly meant to refer to those with a human consciousness, so it is not quite so simple as you make out. The confusion is painful as it leads otherwise good people to do real harm. What we mean when we say something is human, is clearly something that includes a consciousness. A single cell or small group of cells without the required nervous system, of any variety (the still living cells in the recently deceased, living cells we lose in injuries, living cells related to the beginnings of a twin who did not develop which some people carry around inside them, or even an earlier term fetus), these do not have a human consciousness, nor should they be treated as such. There’s an oft fostered confusion that anything that is alive and has unique human DNA is a human, but it takes more to make a human than this. Trying to ascribe the value of “human”, as we usually mean it, to something that has never carried a consciousness, cheapens the value of real human lives.

      By the way, since the majority of Christians do not accept the pope as authoritative, there’ s not much point in arguing from authority about papal encyclicals. In my experience as an ex Catholic, large portions of the western Catholic church don’t even view the pope as completely authoritative, regardless of how any particular member or the church hierarchy may argue that they should. History shows us how fallible the organization (in fact any human organization) is, even in matters of faith.

      As to replacing good with evil, many people make category errors here, but good and evil, they are real things, they have real effects that we can really measure, grey and fuzzy though the borders may be. If something has evil consequences, if it harms people, it bears thinking about whether you are making a category error. Progressive Christians in my experience are freer to recognize category errors of this nature, but I don’t deny Catholics also do this (its not like all Catholics are in lockstep with official interpretations).

      To the author, thanks for the interesting article!

      • Ted Seeber

        Who cares about Christianity? From an atheist standpoint, the consciousness does not exist- it’s only an illusion of quantum mechanics and chemical reaction- and so even taking consciousness into account in law is religious in nature.

        The only reasonable definition of a human being is “an organism with the DNA of species Homo Sapiens” of which a fetus clearly qualifies (but a sperm or an egg does not). No biblical reference required.

    • pagansister

      Darren, since it is impossible for you to experience being raped and then having that horrible event cause a pregnancy (since Akin’s theory of a women’s body preventing a pregnancy due to that act is so NOT true) I find your statement saying that men also have hard decisions in life a bit condescending to women. To me, as a woman, the decision to continue a pregnancy or not has to be (or IMO should be) the hardest of all. Yes, men have hard decisions, but since you will never be pregnant, whether on purpose or not, you won’t ever have that decision to make. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but not to push that into a law preventing women from doing what might be necessary for a variety of reasons.

      • Ted Seeber

        Don’t make the decision if you find it hard. Just go with the flow instead.

    • Det. John Kimble

      Darren get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich before I give you something to cry about!

  • Ted Seeber

    So, the solution to rape is women should poison themselves to remove their fertility and be MORE available to men for casual sex?

    Color me a bit skeptical.

    • olivia

      An abortion removes fertility? Rape is the same as casual sex? How can you equate rape with casual sex?!???That’s not only scary, it’s creepy and crazy.

      • Ted Seeber

        Contraception removes fertility. It is what contraception is designed to do.

        Casual sex is using another person’s body for your own sexual pleasure, which if we were more honest about it, is the same as rape. It means you see the other person as pornography, not as a person. NO feminist should be for that- yet modern feminism is designed to enable pornography as much as possible.

        Why else remove a woman’s fertility, if not to make her more available sexually, more into a plaything for men?

  • pagansister

    Thank you for an excellent well written article! MEN do not have the right to tell any woman what she can and cannot do with her body at any time. And to top it off, it is totally absurd to me how any one should tell a woman who has been raped that she has to carry to term should a pregnancy happen due to the horrendous act. She should have every resource to prevent the possibility with emergency contraception, and if that doesn’t happen, a safe, legal abortion should be available if she chooses not carry to term.

    • Ted Seeber

      Should the child conceived in Rape thus be given the Death Penalty for her parent’s crime?

      Isn’t that the ultimate “Man telling a woman what she should do with her body”, that we should kill baby girls for the crimes done by men?

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    I’m not going to get into the politics or the specific issues, (which do concern me), but rather with your characterization of the some of the biblical material which, just to be straight with you, reads like a Dawkinsian attempt to make the scriptures look stupid by taking worst possible reading of them. It feels like an exercise in “Well, my opponents use these texts to support positions I disagree with me. I’m going to invalidate those texts and take their legs out from under them.” Realize, there’s actually that other option of saying, “Well, that’s just not what the texts are about.” Or, “You’re neglecting the sweep of redemptive history which makes those texts inapplicable, though not invalid.” Or, “In fact, those texts actually support the opposite of what you’re saying.”

    Let’s take Paul for instance. You talk about the Genesis story of Adam and Eve and the way Paul, a notoriously converted ex-murderering zealot (read “extremist personality”), theologizes and doctrinalizes the slanted description of it you give, imputing your mischaracterization of classical Christian doctrine to him. Interestingly enough, you mention Romans 1-5, and 1 Timothy, but then don’t deal with Romans where the sin is placed on Adam’s representative head with no mention of the “deceptive seductress” (your words, not Paul’s or the Scriptures) Eve. You also fail to mention mention the fact that elsewhere in that death-dealing zealot Paul’s letters we find the basis for today’s egalitarian consciousness, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28), or that in various of his letters he commends women like Chloe, Phoebe, Junia, and others as his co-laborers and even apostles who are allowed to prophesy (preach?) in the church of God.(1 Cor 1, Rom 16) Nor is there any mention of contextual readings of the passage you do quote in full that argue that Paul’s instructions there were limited responses to particular situations in the churches he was dealing with at the time. For instance, N.T. Wright argues that the letter was probably written to Timothy while he was in Ephesus, known for its devotion to the worship of Artemis, a female-only cult that was simply a mirror-image of the patriarchalism of the ancient world. Paul is combating a pendulum-swing mentality among the church that moves from the equality of women, to the dominance of women, most of whom, owing to the context, had probably not been properly educated in the scriptures or the Gospel in which case it would be dangerous for them to exercise authority.
    Wright is worth quoting in full when he says:
    “Now if you were writing a letter to someone in a small, new religious movement with a base in Ephesus, and wanted to say that because of the gospel of Jesus the old ways of organizing male and female roles had to be rethought from top to bottom, with one feature of that being that the women were to be encouraged to study and learn and take a leadership role, you might well want to avoid giving the wrong impression. Was the apostle saying that women should be trained up so that Christianity would gradually become a cult like that of Artemis, where women did the leading and kept the men in line? That, it seems to me, is what verse 12 is denying. The word I’ve translated ‘try to dictate to them’ is unusual, but seems to have the overtones of ‘being bossy’ or ‘seizing control’. Paul is saying, like Jesus in Luke 10, that women must have the space and leisure to study and learn in their own way, not in order that they may muscle in and take over the leadership as in the Artemis-cult, but so that men and women alike can develop whatever gifts of learning, teaching and leadership God is giving them…Why then does Paul finish off with the explanation about Adam and Eve? Remember that his basic point is to insist that women, too, must be allowed to learn and study as Christians, and not be kept in unlettered, uneducated boredom and drudgery. Well, the story of Adam and Eve makes the point: look what happened when Eve was deceived. Women need to learn just as much as men do. Adam, after all, sinned quite deliberately; he knew what he was doing, he knew that it was wrong, and he deliberately went ahead. The Old Testament is very stern about that kind of action.” Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (25–26).

    I don’t imagine this will convince anybody, but it does show at the very least that there are good reasons for doubting your (mis)characterization of Paul, and thereby also casts some doubts on your subsequent readings of the “rape texts”, etc. as not quite taking into full account the historical context, or dealing with alternative, more understandable readings of the texts.

    None of this immediately invalidates your points about politicians misusing God, the Scriptures, or theology in service of political positions and platforms, nor does it answer fully the issues involved with abortion rights. My point is more that you don’t have tear the Bible apart in order to say that people’s use of it is inappropriate. The Bible has it’s own inner-logic for this sort of thing, like the fact that we live in the New Covenant age, the tension of the church and the state, etc.

    Well, there’s more to say, but I’m not going to write a book.

    Blessings!!

    • Meredith

      I found your rebuttle extremely effective and if you were to write a book, I think I would probably read it. :) Well done.

    • Drew

      Derek,
      I like your reading of Timothy in regards to women, it’s an interesting way of interpreting a text that (on its face, at least) seems to demand the oppression of women. It obviously isn’t the strongest interpretation of the passage, in that it goes against the grain of the text. The jump from “I do not permit a woman to teach” to “women should be given the opportunity to study” is vast indeed and needs more than the presence of an Artemis cult to make it reasonable. And your quotes from other letters make a better argument for non-Pauline authorship of Timothy than for Paul being an egalitarian (if under Christ there is no male nor female, why would he care so much about the gender balance in Ephesus?). In short, I suspect that I like your interpretation because on the surface its more palatable than the other option, not because its the strongest interpretation of the text.

      None of it, however, really invalidates her reading of the “rape scriptures,” and it seems unfair to argue that because you think she mischaracterizes Paul her interpretations on Deuteronomy are thus flawed. These passages are real, and they are in our Bible, and we have to wrestle with them. They must be dealt with on their own terms. These passages do have a tendency to deny women agency and punish them for the actions of others against them. They are reflective of a world in which women were property, and their value was in sexual purity. Rev. Crumpton makes a good analogy between those passages and the present behavior and attitudes of certain politicians, who support policies that similarly punish women for being victims of violence.

      I can see why you want to defend Paul. Rev. Crumpton’s argument seeks to discredit him by referring to his past, and her words seem chosen to bias the reader against him. But I don’t think that invalidates her points or her interpretations.

      TL;DR
      Author of Timothy as egalitarian is a stretch, and it doesn’t mean we get to disregard everything OP says.

  • Pingback: Femmevangelical Readings of Paul « Reformedish

  • Penny Hammack

    I completely agree with Rev. Compton. Rape is rape and women are the victims. Each women should make the decision to abort or not abort based on her particular situation. If she knows or suspects in enough time then the day after pill should be readily available (No dissenting pharmacists allowed). If she finds out later when abortion is the only answer then so be it. And Darren, while you are damning all abortions, please give a thought to victims of incest. They are innocent, they are probably way to young to carry a child and they may have to live in close proximity to their rapist. And, don’t tell me that a child that is pubescent comes on to her rapist.
    Darren, please have a vasectomy before you get some woman or young girl in trouble.

  • Melanie

    An excellent article; thank you so much for exploring some of the very complex verses in the Bible. In a recent blog post, Letha Dawson Scanzoni–a woman I would consider the foremother of biblical feminism–wrote compelling about how evangelicals themselves have not always been so hard-and-fast about reproductive rights, and that up into the 1970s, they allowed for a more nuanced understanding of abortion and personhood. You can read her piece on the Christian Feminism Today website: http://www.eewc.com/FemFaith/evangelicals-open-differing-views-abortion/(As a matter of disclosure: I wrote the response to Letha’s argument.)


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