Though the mistreatment of American women is hardly comparable to their sisters born into repressive religious and tribal cultures found elsewhere on the globe, their road to social equality has nonetheless been a long and difficult one. Issues like suffrage (1920), contraception (1965), and abortion (1973) were hard fought and considered settled, such that remaining battles, like the fight for economic equality, could command a greater concentration of effort.
However, as documented here, here, here, and here, the last 18 months or so has seen a determined war against women’s reproductive rights. Waged mostly below the national radar at the state legislative level, it has been the result of a well organized campaign run by ALEC and financed by the Koch Brothers. In 2011 alone, over 1100 anti-abortion laws were introduced in various states, 135 of which have been signed into law.
The issue was forced to the surface after the Obama Administration, pursuant to changes ushered in by The Affordable Care Act, mandated health insurance providers cover women’s reproductive services. The wingers went ballistic. Never missing an opportunity to play the victim card, they decried the mandate as a “war on religion”, a conceptual frame enhanced by opposition from The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
So great was the outcry that the GOP presidential primary candidates were forced to detour from economic and foreign policy matters to the rocky road of “values issues.” At first, Rick Santorum was only too happy to engage. This was a slow hanging curve ball, thrown right into his ideological wheelhouse. But after negative reactions to his comment that JFK‘s position on the separation of church and state made him want “to throw up” he scrambled back to his previous talking points. Mitt Romney has remained mainly mute consistent with his strategy to avoid religious talk that could put his Mormon faith in the spotlight. And serial adulterer and thrice married Newt Gingrich is hardly in a position to lead by moral example.
Last week, the WAPO’s Lisa Miller took a look at how women are faring inside America’s church communities. In a piece titled Feminism’s final frontier? Religion, she writes:
The battle of the sexes, waged this election season with fulsome fury in the public space, is being fought in a much more painful, private sphere as well. In churches (and synagogues and mosques) across the land, women are still treated as second-class citizens. And because women of faith are increasingly breadwinners, single moms and heads of households, that diminished status is beginning to rankle.
There are churches in America in which women aren’t allowed to speak out loud unless they get permission from a man first.
There are churches (many of them) in which women aren’t permitted to preach from the pulpit.
There are churches in America where a 13-year-old boy has more authority than his mother.
“At church I had to hide my thoughts, questions and life choices,” says Susan, a woman who works as a therapist in Seattle and, after a lifetime of following Jesus, left Christianity. “I didn’t think I could do anything by myself, because as a Christian woman I’d learned that I needed a man to get places.”
It is not only Rush Limbaugh who demeans all women by calling one a “slut” and a “prostitute.” It’s Rick Santorum — that man of faith — who has stopped just short of calling working mothers selfish and who lumps all single moms together as his opposition, as he did in an interview with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council last year.
“They look to the government for help and therefore they’re going to vote,” Santorum said. “So if you want to reduce the Democratic advantage, what you want to do is build two-parent families.” It is every single policy that puts so-called “small government” ahead of the health, welfare and education of children.
Recall what failed presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann said in 2006: “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Can anyone even imagine her fabulous husband Marcus as an éminence grise, running the country out of a closet in the Oval Office?
For most of the post-Christ era, religious women have been marginalized at best, burned at the stake as witches at worst. Much of that negative attitude can be attributed to Paul of Tsarsus, the intellectual author of what became Christianity– the teachings about Christ, in contradistinction to the teachings of Christ. Paul was an adherent of the “continence” or abstinence cult, described by The Urantia Book as follows [bolds mine]:
89:3.6 It was only natural that the cult of renunciation and humiliation should have paid attention to sexual gratification. The continence cult originated as a ritual among soldiers prior to engaging in battle; in later days it became the practice of “saints.” This cult tolerated marriage only as an evil lesser than fornication.
Many of the world’s great religions have been adversely influenced by this ancient cult, but none more markedly than Christianity. The Apostle Paul was a devotee of this cult, and his personal views are reflected in the teachings which he fastened onto Christian theology: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” “I would that all men were even as I myself.” “I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them to abide even as I.”
Paul well knew that such teachings were not a part of Jesus’ gospel, and his acknowledgment of this is illustrated by his statement, “I speak this by permission and not by commandment.” But this cult led Paul to look down upon women. And the pity of it all is that his personal opinions have long influenced the teachings of a great world religion…
In the alternate religious history novel cum movie The Da Vinci Code, the co-protagonist is a young woman named Sophie Neveu, a Paris police cryptologist. (Sophie means Wisdom of God.) As the fable has it, Sophie is the last direct descendant of Merovingian kings, the bloodline that carried the genetic inheritance of an alleged sexual liaison between Mary Magdalene and Jesus.
The author, Dan Brown, gives us little information about Mary herself. The Urantia Book, however, provides a good amount of detail, presenting the former prostitute as the courageous leader of the women’s evangelistic corps created by Jesus in the latter half of his public ministry. Perhaps the idea for the corps originated with Jesus when he was still a boy:
135:0.3 In company with his parents Jesus passed through the temple precincts on his way to join that group of new sons of the law who were about to be consecrated as citizens of Israel. He was a little disappointed by the general demeanor of the temple throngs, but the first great shock of the day came when his mother took leave of them on her way to the women’s gallery. It had never occurred to Jesus that his mother was not to accompany him to the consecration ceremonies, and he was thoroughly indignant that she was made to suffer from such unjust discrimination. While he strongly resented this, aside from a few remarks of protest to his father, he said nothing. But he thought, and thought deeply, as his questions to the scribes and teachers a week later disclosed.
(Per Miller’s description above, notice how little has changed over the millenia re the treatment of woman in some houses of worship.)
The Urantia Book continues to follow Jesus’ development year by year as he traveled across much of the Roman Empire, drinking in the human experience as it was lived during those times of relative peace and prosperity. In January AD 27, he felt himself ready to embark on his public career as a religious teacher. For assistants, he chose six Galileans who in turn chose six others that would be his companions and fellow teachers and ministers. After two years and two preaching tours, Jesus established the women’s evangelistic corps in January AD 29 to accompany him, the apostles, and a growing number of disciples for his third and last preaching tour that culminated in his crucifixion some 15 months later.
Jesus and Mary Magdalene in Franco Zeffirelli’s TV movie, Jesus of Nazareth
Some selected excerpts.
The Women’s Evangelistic Corps
150:1.1 Of all the daring things which Jesus did in connection with his earth career, the most amazing was his sudden announcement on the evening of January 16: “On the morrow we will set apart ten women for the ministering work of the kingdom.” …Jesus requested David to summon his parents back to their home and to dispatch messengers calling to Bethsaida ten devout women who had served in the administration of the former encampment and the tented infirmary. These women had all listened to the instruction given the young evangelists, but it had never occurred to either themselves or their teachers that Jesus would dare to commission women to teach the gospel of the kingdom and minister to the sick. These ten women selected and commissioned by Jesus were: …
150:1.2 Jesus authorized these women to effect their own organization and directed Judas [the apostolic treasurer] to provide funds for their equipment and for pack animals. The ten elected Susanna as their chief and Joanna as their treasurer. From this time on they furnished their own funds; never again did they draw upon Judas for support.
150:1.3 It was most astounding in that day, when women were not even allowed on the main floor of the synagogue (being confined to the women’s gallery), to behold them being recognized as authorized teachers of the new gospel of the kingdom. The charge which Jesus gave these ten women as he set them apart for gospel teaching and ministry was the emancipation proclamation which set free all women and for all time; no more was man to look upon woman as his spiritual inferior. This was a decided shock to even the twelve apostles. Notwithstanding they had many times heard the Master say that “in the kingdom of heaven there is neither rich nor poor, free nor bond, male nor female, all are equally the sons and daughters of God,” they were literally stunned when he proposed formally to commission these ten women as religious teachers and even to permit their traveling about with them.
The whole country was stirred up by this proceeding, the enemies of Jesus making great capital out of this move, but everywhere the women believers in the good news stood stanchly behind their chosen sisters and voiced no uncertain approval of this tardy acknowledgment of woman’s place in religious work. And this liberation of women, giving them due recognition, was practiced by the apostles immediately after the Master’s departure, albeit they fell back to the olden customs in subsequent generations. Throughout the early days of the Christian church women teachers and ministers were called deaconesses and were accorded general recognition. But Paul, despite the fact that he conceded all this in theory, never really incorporated it into his own attitude and personally found it difficult to carry out in practice.
163:7.3 The women’s corps also prepared to go out, two and two, with the seventy to labor in the larger cities of Perea. This original group of twelve women had recently trained a larger corps of fifty women in the work of home visitation and in the art of ministering to the sick and the afflicted. Perpetua, Simon Peter’s wife, became a member of this new division of the women’s corps and was intrusted with the leadership of the enlarged women’s work under Abner. After Pentecost she remained with her illustrious husband, accompanying him on all of his missionary tours; and on the day Peter was crucified in Rome, she was fed to the wild beasts in the arena…
190:0.5 In viewing the prominent part which Mary Magdalene took in proclaiming the Master’s resurrection, it should be recorded that Mary was the chief spokesman for the women’s corps, as was Peter for the apostles. Mary was not chief of the women workers, but she was their chief teacher and public spokesman…
150:2.3 Mary Magdalene became the most effective teacher of the gospel among this group of twelve women evangelists. She was set apart for such service, together with Rebecca, at Jotapata about four weeks subsequent to her conversion. Mary and Rebecca, with the others of this group, went on through the remainder of Jesus’ life on earth, laboring faithfully and effectively for the enlightenment and uplifting of their downtrodden sisters; and when the last and tragic episode in the drama of Jesus’ life was being enacted, notwithstanding the apostles all fled but one, these women were all present, and not one either denied or betrayed him.