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.
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.
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.