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:
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:
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.
" . . . 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.Not a half-bad suggestion, even if Katie's tongue is firmly planted in the side of her cheek.
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."
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.