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Saturday, August 08, 2009

What is a 'True Woman'?


Have you heard about the "True Woman" Movement?

This will sound strange: I wish I hadn't, but I'm glad I have.

As a friend of mine in South Carolina would say, this stuff makes me about as jumpy as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

The "True Woman Conference" teaches "biblical womanhood" and "hierarchical complementarianism." It also teaches "Evangelical Anti-Feminism" and is also known as "The Christian Patriarchy Movement."

I am not making this up.

In October 2008, the "True Woman Conference" held in Chicago attracted 6,000 women. Out of it came the "True Woman Manifesto" which intends to set off a "counterrevolution to the feminist movement of the 1960's."

You can read the entire Manifesto here, but these are the basics:
1. The calling of women is to affirm 'godly masculinity'.
2. Women must honor the God-ordained authority of their husbands and pastors.
3. By submitting to male leadership, women reflect Jesus' submission to God.
4. Selfish focus on person rights is contrary to Christ's spirit of submission.
5. Bearing 'quiverfulls' of children is God's blessed gift to women.
6. Christian women must teach the next generation how to submit to male leadership in church and home.

Yes, we are at the end of the first decade of the third millennium. No, you have not just suddenly slipped into a time warp.

And no, you just can't make this stuff up.

Oh, but wait! There's more!

The essence of their theology is summed up in this phrase:

"Equal in being, unequal in role."

This comes from their definition of the 'eternal essence of manhood' - the created underlying nature of men - is a sense of leadership or authority.

The 'eternal essence of womanhood' - the created underlying nature of femininity - is a disposition to submit to male leadership.

You know, it's easy enough to dismiss all this as the stuff from the 'right-wing radical fringe'. To each his or her own, right? Live and let live, I always say. As long as it's not hurting anyone, right?

Let's hear a little bit more from the voices of the "Christian Patriarchy":

John Piper (who is featured in one of the videos on the True Woman homepage, delivering a talk - unbelievably - in which he, a man, defines for women what it means to be a 'True Woman'): "A wife who 'comes on strong' with her advice will probably drive a husband into passive silence or into active anger."

Did you hear a low growl under those words? Well, Bruce Ware makes that growl even more of an explicit bark: "Women victims of domestic violence are often to blame for their own abuse because they were failing to submit to their husbands' authority."

Indeed, Rick Warren's Saddleback Church maintains that only if women are 'beaten regularly' by their husbands can they qualify for a temporary separation, but never for a divorce, because the Bible permits divorce only for adultery or abandonment.

Is it any wonder, then, that people like Jimmy Carter have left repressive, oppressive religious institutions like the Southern Baptist Church? You can read about it here in his essay, "Losing my religion for equality".

Theologian Virginia Ramey Mollenkott has written a compelling article about this movement in this month's 'Progressive Christian Magazine'. She asks a very important question:

"When absolute power triumphs, can cruelty be far behind?"

Which leads me to ask another question: What is the difference between "Christian Patriarchy" and The Taliban?

That's a very serious question. I think the similarities are striking.

The brilliance of Mollenkott's essay, however, lies in the way she dismantles the biblical argument of this movement, which can be found in the 2006 edition of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.


She writes:
" . . . at no time do the patriarchalist authors wrestle with the significance of the statements in Genesis 1:26-28 that God gave dominion to them (to both Adam and Eve) and told both of them to "have dominion" over the rest of creation."

"I also notice that male authority is frequently supported by reference to the statement in 1 Timothy 2:14 that Adam was not deceived by the serpent, but Eve was deceived. I have not found any hierarchalist who admits that according to Genesis 3:6, Adam was right there with Eve when she ate the forbidden fruit."

"And to my knowledge no one has dealt with the lack of logic involved in granting authority over the deceived person to the one who watched her transgress and then knowingly, deliberately defiled the will of God. Why would the male's fully conscious defiance be preferable to the female's mistaken belief that what she was doing would be helpful?"

Mollenkott continues to brilliantly pick apart the biblical fundamentalist mindset of the Christian Patriarchy Movement. It always strikes me how easy that is to do, once your brain is fully engaged.

We seem to be living in a time when the uncertainty that results from the 'swift and varied changes and chances of life' has led to a cultural anesthesia of sorts. No one want to think too deep, even about matters of faith. Some of us like answers given to us even before we ask the question.

I suppose we should expect that, as the oppressive systems of Patriarchy begin to be dismantled, there would be this last-gasp, desperate attempt to restore the assumed 'natural order' of social male hierarchy.

We see this in the personal as well as in religious organizations. The Vatican's full frontal attack on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an example of the later.

NY Times and NCR reporter Ken Briggs writes:
The Vatican has thrown down the gauntlet. The choice is stark: acquiesce to a “doctrinal assessment” of leadership conference views -- on women’s ordination, the primacy of Roman Catholicism and homosexuality – or reject the probe as an unwarranted fishing expedition bent on putting the organization out of business.
Patriarchy is not just for Roman Catholics. There is a new version of Promise Keepers - that movement of the early 1990's that was determined to change men's hearts and transform them into 'warriors for Christ'.

"PK 2.0" as its called - but this time, women and Jews are invited.

We have our own 'home schooled' version of the Christian Patriarchy Movement in the Anglican Communion, Anne Kennedy being "Exhibit A" of the genre.

Bless her heart, she has had four children in the past 8 and a half years or so, with #5 on the way. She stands ready, willing and able to allow her 'quiver' to overflow with children, whom I have no doubt that she adores and cares for to the best of her ability. It is sadly ironic, however, that she and other 'Christian patriarchialists' often accuse LGBT people of not having any 'restraint'.

A 'True Woman' apparently believes that what she is doing is being obedient to the call God has given her to fashion her life in this particular way.

Trouble is, they believe everyone - every woman - has the same vocation. If they don't, then women like me are being disobedient and in full rebellion to God's will for us.

Bless their hearts, each and every one.

I would defend Mrs. Kennedy's right to live her life in exactly the way she feels called by God to live out her vocation. What she - or any of those who consider themselves "Christian Patriarchialists" do not have the right is to insist that I follow their understanding of their vocation and apply it to my life and vocation.

See also my question: What is the difference between "Christian Patriarchy" and The Taliban? Last time I checked, we still lived in a democracy, not a theocracy.

Which is why I agree with Mollenkott who writes:
"My major concern is to sound an alert to those Christians who believe in human equality and the good diversity God has created - an alert about the very powerful last gasps of a movemnt that in its dying throes is more dangerous than ever because it has fine-tuned its arguments by opposing feminist insights. For many thousands of people, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are at stake, so progressive Christians need to take the 'new patriarchy" seriously."

Apparently, what got Mrs. Kennedy's patriarchialist panties in a twist was this essay by Katie Sherrod, in which she offers a 'modest proposal' that we make the Anglican Consultative Council’s International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) a fifth instrument of unity.

Better yet, she suggests,
"Before giving up totally on the Anglican Communion, let's have all the men -- Rowan Williams, all the male Primates, all the male bishops, all the male priests, all the male laymen -- take a vow of silence on this issue for a year and let the women of the Anglican Communion work on reconciling us to one another.

Let's let the people -- women -- who really DO make up the largest numbers of Anglicans in the world work on finding a way we can all live together in love despite our differences."
Not a half-bad suggestion, even if Katie's tongue is firmly planted in the side of her cheek.

Women - especially mothers - have been settling family squabbles ever since the dawn of time. We know how to do this.

If we can come home from a long day at work and negotiate a tense situation when the two year old takes the five year old's favorite toy, while making sure the soup is stirred on the stove and the cake in the oven doesn't burn, surely we can work our way through peace in the Anglican Communion without having everyone sign onto an Anglican Covenant and walk lock-step on two 'separate but equal' (wink, wink) tracks.

That's what every 'True Woman' I know can do.

For what it's worth, here's my working definitions of a 'True Woman' and a 'True Man'.

A woman who is true to her understanding of her particular vocation in the community of God, and makes the sacrifices necessary to live up to that truth is a 'True Woman'.

Similarly, a man who is true to his understanding of his particular vocation in the community of God and makes the sacrifices necessary to live up to that truth is a 'True Man'.

Equal in being, equal in role. You know, the way God intended in Paradise.

29 comments:

marla said...

These events would not concern me so much if the people attending these events were respectful of others and permitted them to live as G-d has called them to do so. I see these movements as very Anti-American. Free speech is not permitted and repression of others is encouraged. How sad.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

On a very basic human level, it's easy to ascribe this to immaturity which arises from insecurity. If everyone thinks and acts as I do, then I must be right - I must be the "True" Woman or Man - and dismiss it.

I don't think this Movement carries with it any more 'near and present danger' than the Promise Keepers or any other movement like it. Movements based on the need to remove or inhibit the freedom of others carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.

I do think it needs to be watched carefully.

whiteycat4104 said...

Brilliant post, Elizabeth. This just made my day.

St Edwards Blog said...

I love this post - it is exhaustive and comprehensive and extremely important to write about.

As you say - there is not immediate danger, but something to be aware of as the movement spreads.

And I love Molenkott; I became familiar with her about a year or so ago.

Oh! I just realized I am here in my other identity! You know who I am.. Fran

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Fran, my dear, it's hardly exhaustive. Maybe 'exhausting' but not as thorough as some other pieces I've read.

Re: Mollenkott - It is not hyperbole to say that her book, written with Letha Scanzoni in the late 1970s, "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?" saved my life. Her book, "Omnigender" is doing the same for trans people.

And, thanks for the compliment, Whiteycat, but Mollenkott is the brilliant one. I am pleased to stand in her shadow.

Barbi Click said...

Just before I read this post, I read an article about Sarah Palin dissing the health care ideas. Sadly, she is scaring a lot of people because they believe her.
The ideas in this post are dangerous when someone like Sarah Palin begins to promote them.
As soon as the health care issue is decided, one way or another, they will turn again to women and LGBT folk.

gerry said...

Yet another sign of the passing away of the patriarchate, rejoice and be glad.

We were never promised that their end would be quick,easy or calm. We are at but one stage in the long continuum.

I used to believe that it would happen during my four score and ten on this our island home.

Now in my sixty second year, I am hopeful that my 16 y. o. daughter will witness as much progress as we have seen. Be vigilant, but never despair.

The Kingdom is coming!!!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

What the others have said!

Annie said...

I might find this harder to believe if I hadn't lived in Texas for the last 35 years and in Dio Ft.Worth for the last 24. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is rampant around here, and appears to be spreading. I agree it's probably not something to be too worried about over the long haul, but I have to admit to finding it exhausting that we STILL have to fight this battle! Thanks for the post.

it's margaret said...

I HOPE it is the last gasp of patriarchy.... I hope and pray that is so.

In anthropological terms, roles based upon gender is also a signifier of tribalism which is a whole other kettle of fish.

Joie said...

Check out this blog for a Jewish take on "biblical womanhood." ccostello.blogspot.com

It's all creepy. Have you read Phyllis Tickle's *The Great Emergence*? I do believe these such movements are last gasps and knee-jerk reactions.

Here is another blog. These otherwise seemingly normal suburban parents just married off their 16-year-old girl.
unlessthelord.blogspot.com


I think many women of my generation (I am 32) are too complacent re: what women of your generation and those before went through to make it "no big deal" that I might want to be a priest or anything else. I think that since my father is 89 and my mother almost 70 Set 'em straight, Elizabeth!

How do I know about these? I like to keep tabs on such things.

Jim said...

If these people did not have daughters I might agree that there is no clear and present danger. But they do and they teach this crud (boy I cleaned that up!) to them. It is arguably child abuse for them to have daughters. And the damage they do to men is almost as ugly.

FWIW
jimB

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Annie - if you check the True Woman webpage, you'll notice that there'll be a big True Woman gathering in Ft. Worth sometime in 2010. It's one of three Big Gatherings. Perhaps you'll go and report to us? If someone would help with airfare and lodging, I'd love to attend and report back to you all. This stuff absolutely fascinates me.

marla said...

Elizabeth- I do hope you are right that there is nothing to worry about. I grew up in Ok, very conservative place. At some of the colleges women are still not permitted to wear pants or shorts. When I left two stepping was illegal in some rural towns. (It brought to mind impure thoughts. The work of the Devil.) Catholics were the liberals.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, I didn't say there was nothing to worry about. I think they need to be watched. Carefully. Very carefully. Hence, this essay. I hope you share it with your friends. Or, at least, alert them to the "True Woman" website.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

It's a religious version of the Stepford Wives. Eeewg.

You know the other hidden thing it teaches women to do? Manipulate.

I think about growing up around all those more "traditional" households when I was a kid, where Dad goes to work and mom stays home. Those women got frustrated. So they learned to manipulate. Manipulate their husbands with "no money, no nookie" games. Manipulate their children into behaving certain ways for appearances' sake. And when things seemed really boring, a lot of them drank too much and took a lot of pills.

The good old days weren't always so good.

Suzer said...

Here's the thing - I support the rights of these women to make that choice. It is certainly not a choice I would make, but isn't part of what the feminist movement brought us is the ability to choose the lifestyle (and I use that word purposefully) we want to lead? The difference, I think, is that women choosing to submit to the whole patriarchal scheme that Anne+ and others apparently support don't thank the feminist movement for allowing them that choice! After all, if not for the push toward women's equality in the workplace and elsewhere, it wouldn't be a choice -- we would all have to do as they are doing.

What is troubling, of course, is that their choice often carries with it the insistence that ALL women should be doing as they do. There are communities of people who hold themselves apart from the world -- the Amish come to mind -- but I don't see the same insistence coming from them that they are right, gosh darnit!, and we must all submit ourselves to their clearly superior authority.

I do feel for the children raised in these situations, as they are given little contact with the larger world, and will have a very small frame of reference with which to understand society when they are thrust into it at age 18 or 21. The insistence on home schooling (so as not to corrupt their minds with unGodly things) is even more frightening when you read the homeschooling moms' website and see that they can't spell. And I'm not just talking about typos, which were are all prone to. I often see a clear lack of education in those who choose to "educate" their own children.

I don't fear them, though, as some seem to. It is a legitimate way to live one's life. My only request to these women is that they be clear that this is simply their choice and that they do not force it on anyone else. They live in a country where it is their right to choose patriarchy, and it is my right not to. And while I don't think that trying to recreate the past or revive/continue the more troubling aspects of patriarchy is helpful, as long as they are happy, I wish them well. I won't, however, be joining them. (And no doubt, they wouldn't want me!)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - you are absolutely right. Manipulation. I think it was called "the feminine art". YUCK!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Suzer - You've hit on an important point: Choice. There is a very deep irony in the fact that those who are free to choose this 'lifestyle' of patriarchy are free to do so because of the freedom hard fought and well won by feminists.

And, the children. . . well, I feel someone comforted by the fact that all children rebel at some point - usually adolescence - against their parents. It will be interesting to watch these kids grow up.

Suzer said...

And I see that I included some of my very own typos in my comment! Not so bad, though, considering I've been flirting with a migraine all day. :)

Joanna Depue said...

Elizabeth - Thanks for bringing this issue and movement up to a greater number of people.

joie said...

Hmm, don't know if it is connected but yesterday unlessthelord.blogspot.com was just fine and today it is only open to invited readers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Why am I not surprised?

MadPriest said...

I read a book all about this sort of thing years ago. If my memory serves me right it was called "The Story of O."

We even have clubs in Newcastle where men and women who are into this sort of thing can dress up and hang out together.

I don't think there's anything wrong with it as long as there is mutual consent.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"The Story of O?"

Oh, dear oh dear, oh my!

Tee hee. Good recall, MP. I had almost completely forgotten about that book. You may well be closer to the truth than any of us could imagine.

jerseyjo said...

And another good,important book is Kathryn Joyce's recent (2009), Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

Hope that you're having a good vacation..
-- Joan

PS. And I had fogotten The Story of O. Thanks, MP, for yet another reminder...

orderofsantaignora said...

Hm. According to their definition, I'm a man.

Cool.

Theodora May said...

Did these women forgot that Jesus treated women as equals in the Gospels? And women stayed with him at the cross while the guys fled? And did they witness the Ressurection first hand? I am wondering.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I don't profess to understand the logic that underlies this movement of their 'chosen lifestyle' any more then they would profess to understand my 'chosen lifestyle'.

It simply boggles my mind. Sort of reminds me of the Mormon Cult. As long as their choice doesn't compromise mine, I say, "God Bless the 'Christian Patriarchy Movement" - and keep them far away from me.