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Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

Happy 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment! This week, we are talking about how Christian theology has been used to justify the oppression and abuse of women and how it might help fight the oppression of women.

Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.

ICEBREAKER

What has the #MeToo movement meant to you?

HISTORY: THE HAMMER OF WITCHES

Religiously inspired violence against women has a long history in Western tradition. The witch craze of the 16th and 17th centuries was a prominent example. During this time, women across the Western world were rounded up, accused of witchcraft and often hung. The sexual dimenions of this abuse are not noted as much, but there is an undeniable sexual subtext that corresponded to medieval, and perhaps contemporary, conceptions of women. The Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, was written by a catholic clergymen namec Heinrich Kramer in 1486. The book offers guidance on how to identify and catch witches. It also provides insight into how women were perceived by men in the early modern period.

As for the first question, why a greater number of witches is found in the fragile feminine sec than among men… the first reason is, that they are more credulous, and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he rather attacks them… the second reason is, that women are naturally more impressionable, and … the third reason is that they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things which by evil arts they know.. But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as it is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives … And this is indicated by the etymology of the word; for ‘Femina’ comes from ‘Fe’ and ‘Minus,’ since she is ever weaker to hold and preserve the faith.. To conclude. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.

THE MAIN QUESTIONS

Historical/Theological Questions

  • How does the text describe women? What are some of the traits listed? How do women compare to men?
  • How are women sexualized in this text? How is that sexuality connected to witchcraft and faith?
  • How is this statement an expression of patriarchy (i.e. a social system in which power is held by men)?
  • How do you think this conception of women affected their treatment? How might sexual assault of a woman be conceptualized in this framework?
  • What of these views do you see at work in today’s society, if any?
  • Do any of the conceptions of women described above find justification in the Bible? Why or why not? 
  • Do you think there are alternate ways to construct a conception of women/femininity using the Bible? If yes, how so? If not, why?

Contemporary Questions

  • Read the section below titled, “Theological Concept: Texts of Terror.” How have stories of sexual abuse in the Bible impacted you?
  • Does the Bible’s and historical Christianity’s context of patriarchy disqualify them as tools for combating the oppression and abuse of women (i.e. can either of these things help us)?
  • What theological ideas or Biblical passages can help us as we seek to address sexual violence against women?
  • In your view, what perceptions about women and femininity need to be addressed to halt the abuse and oppression of women in our society?

THEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS: TEXTS OF TERROR

Phyllis Trible is a biblical scholar who studies the Hebrew Scriptures from a feminst perspective. She highlighted four texts about the abuse of women in the Bible which she called the “texts of terror.” These texts are challenging in that they feature violence against women, but do not explicilty condemn it. Indeed, they seem to treat violence against women as normative. The texts she highlights are:

  • Genesis 16:1-16: Hagar, a female slave, is used, abused, and then rejected by God’s chosen family.
  • Judges 19:1-30: An unnamed concubine is raped by a mob, murdered and then dismembered by her male companion
  • 2 Samuel 13:1-22: The princess Tamar is raped by her half-brother and then discarded and left desolate
  • Judges 11:1-40: Jepthah kills his only daughter due to a foolhardy vow made to God.

 IMPORTANT SCRIPTURE

  • As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. // 1 Cor. 14:33-35
  • There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. // Galatians 3:28
  • But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.// 1 Corinthians 11:3
  • Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. // Titus 2:3-5
  • Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. // Philippians 3:14 

THOUGHTS FROM OTHERS 

  • Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature. // Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The muting of the #MeToos of the Bible is a direct reflection of the culture of silence at work in our congregations. An assumption is woven into our sacred texts: that the experiences of women don’t matter. If religious communities fail to tell stories that reflect the experience of the women of our past, we will inevitably fail to address the sense of entitlement, the assumption of superiority and lust for punishment carried through those stories and inherited by men of the present. // Emily M.D. Scott
  • No wonder male religious leaders so often say that humans were born in sin—because we were born to female creatures. Only by obeying the rules of the patriarchy can we be reborn through men. No wonder priests and ministers in skirts sprinkle imitation birth fluid over our heads, give us new names, and promise rebirth into everlasting life. // Gloria Steinem

RESOURCES

 

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