Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Women in America 2008 (Dialogue Column 6.17.08)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

It’s the week after Father’s Day, but I find myself thinking about the role of women in our society. This line of thought began yesterday when I received an e-mail from a friend in New York. She forwarded me an article from a conservative publication that lauded the attributes of Cindy McCain while simultaneously trashing Michelle Obama. I wrote my friend back and asked her not to send me stuff like this anymore. I have no desire to spend the next five months wading through e-mails trashing either of the presidential candidates’ wives. Such mudslinging shows me what I already knew—that when it comes to acquiring power (political or otherwise) sexism is not off-limits.

Both Mrs. McCain and Mrs. Obama are educated and successful women, but both are being carefully packaged so as not to challenge or threaten traditional gender roles. A story on NPR this morning explained how both women have forecast their roles as First Lady as being related to advocacy for women and children. This is a not so subtle way of saying they will stay out of the way of the men.

Of course, many supporters of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president claim that her loss was largely due to their candidate daring to challenge such traditional gender roles. I believe Clinton’s loss is due to many factors and sexism is only one of them, but I do emphatically agree that Clinton faced a significant barrage of sexist comments, questions and opposition while on the campaign trail. From the spectator that yelled “Iron my shirt!” to comments by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about her qualifications to obscene Hillary Clinton novelty toys, the overt sexism displayed during her campaign reveals an ugly and disturbing side of our culture.

Despite the advances made in our society by and for women, the effects of past and present sexism still have startling results. The statistics generally show steady improvement for women over the last 20 years or so, but the current status of women in America is still not good enough. On average, women still make only ¾ of what men make for their annual income. Women are overwhelmingly the caregivers for children, and an increasing number of them are doing so as single parents while juggling the demands of work and childcare. One in four women in America will be the victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, sexist attitudes play a part in all of these statistics.

I would think that the reason I bring up sexism in a church newsletter would be obvious, but I’m sure it will not be for some. The mere fact that I refuse to listen to criticisms of one or the other presidential candidate’s wife will be taken by some as a partisan stance, just because I refuse to attack someone who stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum from them. The church cannot, however, refuse to take a stand against sexism, racism, and prejudice against sexual minorities or any other kind of prejudice just because some people can only filter such comments in terms of the politics of the right or left.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves and continually rejected forms of religion that demonized others. Paul taught that all are equal in Jesus Christ, even if all are not equal in society. The church has an obligation to be at the forefront of speaking out against politics, policies and attitudes that reduce a child of God to a second-class person, but as is often the case, the church usually allows itself to be a tool of people who wish to reinforce prejudice.

In the case of women, the church has played a huge part in helping legitimize the oppression of women, even though most churches now and in the past would close their doors were it not for the contributions of women. Theologies that preach the submission of women to men based upon a first century household code or a creation story about Adam’s rib, all speak out of the prejudices of their age rather than from the gracious God of the universe. Just because the problem is bigger than our church, does not excuse our church from working to change the circumstances of women here in our own context. Let us declare the good news God created each woman with an intrinsic worth equal to that of a man, even if she is a presidential candidate, a presidential candidate’s wife, a corporate executive or a single mother cashing in food stamps at her local grocery store.

Grace and Peace,


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