The Christian Century spent much of last week eagerly reminding us that its very name is a relic of the past. Like the Religion News Service, it spent the week playing ring around the collar — rallying to support the Catholic bishops in defense of the proposition that clergy unable to command arbitrary obedience from their flocks should be able to conscript civil law to compel such obedience.
The Century and RNS produced a series of hand-wringing articles by men. Old men. Lots of old men. All assuming that the bishops are the rightful and exclusive arbiters of “what Catholics think” and all assuming that women’s health, if worth anything at all, is worth far, far less than the bishops’ authority and sensitive sensibilities.
The Century begins to redeem itself today by turning to the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, who is neither old nor male. Merritt offers a different perspective than the old male pundits. This is partly because she is a woman and thus, for her, the subject of women’s health is urgently concrete and not just an occasionally intriguing abstraction for political musings about the balance between different forms of male power.
But it’s mainly because, unlike the Catholic bishops and the various old men reflexively siding with them, Merritt bases her argument on a story about Jesus from the Bible:
This week reminded me of the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She maneuvered through the crowd that swarmed Jesus, reached for the hem of his garment, and was healed. She wasn’t supposed to touch him. According to the law, she was unclean. Yet, she did and the bleeding stopped.… This week has been dominated by religious voices speaking out against contraception. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise since Christianity has been controlled by men for over 2,000 years, and there has been a strong belief in both Catholic and Protestant traditions that women were created solely for childbirth. But there are way too many voices, speaking in the name of God, who target health services for women, and especially poor women.
As people of faith, we need to make our voices on behalf of women clear.
I believe in religious freedom. I believe that Muslim women should be allowed to wear a burka if that is her choice. I believe that a Catholic woman should not use contraception if that is her choice. But I resent the loud and constant religious voice that threatens the rights of women.
There is another voice. We aren’t hearing it much in this national dialogue, but there are women and men of faith who believe that women are created for more than bearing children. We support contraception and women’s healthcare.
God is concerned with the health of women. God cares about teenagers who end up in a lifetime of poverty. Jesus healed the bleeding woman two thousand years ago, and I think if he walked the streets today, he just might hand her a packet of pink pills.
On the one side of this dispute are the religious authorities who cite religious law to proclaim the woman unclean. On the other side of this dispute are those who say and show that her health is more important than any such religious rule or authority.
Jesus made it very clear which side he was on. Jesus made it very clear whose side he was on.