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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Cautionary Tale of Violence in the Household of God

The New York Times this morning carries the headline "A Minister's Public Lesson on Domestic Violence."

It is the story of Juanita Bynum which reveals with stunning clarity the ancient, complex, and often byzantine intersection of and interactions between the simplicity of "that old time religion" and the complexity of violence - especially toward women.
For me, this story reveals in disturbing ways the theological perspective that I and many other Christian feminists have long held: that, if "original sin" is to be found in The Garden it is this: sexism.

Sexism is the foundation on which all of the other social diseases are constructed. It is not just about domestic violence in the Black Community. Although I am not qualified to comment on this, I take it on the authority of my Sisters of Color that there are aspects of this case which are particular to the Black Church.

That being said, there is much to be learned from this situation that has broad application for the Household of God in all of its manifestations - Christian, Jew and Muslim.

This is the social, political and religious microcosm of the macrocosm - the way we treat 'the other' in our midst, be s/he different in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, physical or intellectual ability or class status.

For Christians, this is about the hard way of Jesus, who 'welcomed sinners and ate with them' and disturbed the religious of his day.

It is about The Way of The One who called "ALL" - absolutely everyone - to come unto him. It is about the difficulty of reconciling what we profess with our lips with the way we live our lives, and the 'radical grace' that transforms us all when we live our lives of faith with integrity.

I commend the article to you for your consideration and reflection. For me, there is no coincidence that it appears on the opening day of the gathering of the House of Bishops in New Orleans today.

Let those who have ears hear.

The article begins with these opening paragraphs:

ATLANTA, Sept. 19 — The attack in a hotel parking lot here last month was remarkable not only because the victim, Juanita Bynum, is the most prominent black female television evangelist in the country, who is pals with Oprah, admired by Aretha, and who recently signed on to campaign for Obama.

It was shocking, especially to legions of women who had latched onto her message that only chastity and self-respect would bring true love, because the attacker who choked, stomped and kicked her, Ms. Bynum said, was her husband.

The episode has led to debate about domestic violence and how churches, particularly black churches, respond to it.

But it has also raised questions about the trajectory of Ms. Bynum’s career as a woman who called herself a prophetess, and while condemning promiscuity spoke openly about her lust and longing, in what has been called one of the most significant contemporary American sermons. Her struggle struck a chord in many black communities, where marriage rates are notoriously low, and it seemed to culminate in the form of an earthly reward: a televised, million-dollar 2003 wedding to a fellow Pentecostal preacher, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, followed by what seemed to be a model marriage.

Since the attack, Ms. Bynum, 48, has tried to reinvent herself once more, announcing that she is “the new face of domestic violence.” But Tom Joyner, the syndicated radio talk show host, did not let her off the hook so easily: “If you’re a prophet,” Mr. Joyner asked, “didn’t you see this coming?”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Bynum said the public had overly romanticized the union. “What happened to me was reality,” she said. “I made a right decision that went bad. If you choose a Cadillac, if two years later someone runs into you and tears it up, it wasn’t a bad decision to buy the car.”

The link to that article again is:


Bill said...

Theft. I think the original sin was theft. Whether we are talking about the theft of a life or the theft of a body or the theft of wealth or time or space; it’s still theft. For whatever reason, we want something that someone else has, and if we can’t steal it, we’ll make sure that you can’t have it. Abel’s gift was accepted by God and Cain’s was not. Cain steals Abel’s life. If he can’t have God’s approval, no one can.

I tend to think that sexism is more about power than anything else and again, power is something that can be stolen. I can steal you’re right to exist, to get ahead, to be someone of value, of worth. I can steal the water you drink, the food you eat, the very air you breath. I can steal the products of your labor, the thoughts of your mind. I can steal the pleasure of your body, I can steal your reputation. I can steal anything and everything that is tangible. The very primitive concept of “I want” is only one step away from “I take”. I really think that everything we ascribe to injustice, be it social, religious, political, or sexual comes back to that very, very primitive “I want”.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bill.

I prefer to think that it was not original sin, but an original blessing.

Theft? Okay. Still looks like sexism to me.