Tag Archives: Mary

The Luxury of Liberation part 2: Womanism, salvation & beyond

Continuing from last week’s theme of examining the role of black women in the shaping of African American political theology I again explore further dimension create theology that moves beyond liberation. This week we move to the second half of Delores Williams work explicating a womanist view of Christian theology. One of her major points again is to pose a critique of traditional Black Liberation Theology: that is to say while the traditional male-centered discourse of Black Liberation Theology is centered on masculine understandings of liberation, womanist discourse is focused on survival. As folk wisdom in the black community states brothers “dream dreams” but “ the sisters have the vision.” This can be restated to say that often times male-centered black liberation theology has been concerned more with the ideal world, while women have been more concerned with practical world and how to survive in the here & now. This principle has been pivotal in the role that African American women have played in political theology. If Rosa Parks did not sit first, Martin Luther King Jr’s marching would not have been as effective. If Ida Wells Barnett did not count the black bodies that were lynched throughout the United States, there would not be such a comprehensive record of this. Moving beyond this schism that separates womanist from Black liberation theology are the religious claims that Williams pursue in the second part of Sisters in the Wilderness. The second half of her book expounds upon the notion of womanist God-talk. It follows up on some of the implication of the first half by bringing the concern of African American women into theological discourse and into Christological discourse.

For Williams, a re-conceptualizing the Christian narrative begins with changing the axiom of the traditionally male-centered story of salvation. In both Matthew and Luke the stories begin by proclaiming the patrilineal heritage of Jesus and thus showing the importance of the maleness of Jesus a Savior. However, Williams wants to begin this narrative from the perspective of Jesus’ mother, Mary. Thus Mary can become the starting point for the divine revelation of Jesus Christ. She points to the first chapter of Luke as the starting point of this narrative. In verse 35 the Holy Spirit comes upon her and she is overshadowed by God’s power. Mary is a poor pregnant teenager who suffers from a variety of vulnerabilities. Yet she has one thing going for her, that she is filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary in this context is a figure that marginalized women across the globe can identify with. By virtue of first associating Jesus with his mother first he also becomes more easily identifiable with marginalized groups. This interpretation of Mary is not a recent construction however.


The nineteenth-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth used this story to counter white male-centered narratives that sought to deny women their rights. The preacher claimed that women could not have rights because Jesus was not a woman. Truth famously claims “Where did your God come from. God and Woman, man had nothing to do with it.” This statement seems simple enough yet it has deep and ranging theological implications. It sheds light on the inseparability of the divinity of God and the divinity of womanhood in creating what we know as our savior. Also the notion of the virgin birth seems to suggest God’s ability to make a way out of no way. Imagine the uncertainty the Mary must have felt and her struggle just to survive. Not only does God make a way out of no way, God uses her most desperate situation to begin the salvific work for all of humanity. Williams re-conceptualization of the salvific narrative de-center the maleness of Christology and provides hope for the many women who cannot identify with traditional understandings of the salvific narrative.

Intersectionality and Peacemaking: Gender And Naming Rape Culture #TheNewPacifism

King David, Russian icon from first quarter of...

King David, Russian icon from first quarter of 18th cen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For tonight’s post, I would like to start with a brief reflection on two different statutes in the Hebrew Bible:

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel”- Deuteronomy 17:14-20″

AND

“In you are those who dishonor their father’s bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbor’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter. In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign Lord. “- Ezekiel 22:10-12

TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR RAPE CULTURE AND SEXISM

When we first meet the biblical heroine Bathsheba, she is a law-biding, faithful Israelite woman. According to the Law, in order to be a part of the religious assembly, women had to be ritually clean from that awful PMS (see passages such as Leviticus 12). Being in the presence of YHWH was a really big deal, so Bathsheba did what was required of her, and bathed. One night, a lawless man looked out from his rooftop and gazed upon Bathsheba’s body uncontrollably. He’s a man. He’s a visual creature, he could not help himself but to lust after her. She was being indecent, after all. David uses his position of authority over Bathsheba, they have sexual relations, and she gets preggers, and eventually loses the child as a consequence. David sins, the woman pays the consequence.

It has been my experience that when ever I am taught the story of King David in the variety of Christian contexts, his story is told rather uncritically. Bathsheba’s obedience to the law (her very agency) is ignored because our current USian hermeneutic would prefer to talk all about the Kings, and especially King David, so we can Jesus-juke our way out of the “Old” Testament. It is a male-centered and exclusive narrative being passed down, one that is not the whole story. Fortunately, we have the early Church Fathers those like Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, who recognized that we could not discuss the humanity of Jesus without talking about women, that there is no way we could get to the idea in Romans of Jesus as the Davidic King without the Ruth and Bathsheba parts of our story.

In this story of David and Bathsheba, we DO NOT have a scenario as we are often told of a seductress tempting “the man after God’s own heart.” Nopers, what we have is the king’s abuse of power over a woman who was just trying to meet social expectations as well as be in the presence of her Creator (the assembly). What we have in the way that Christians learn the story of David is that of Rape Mythology. We learn that men are “WIRED” as visual creatures, and that it is the BURDEN of women to dress modestly. Purity rings are for women, cuz, well, men are born with impure thoughts, #amirite????

Rape myths saturate our culture so much that even “progressive” theology professors resort to blaming the victim for their plight. Rape mythology is harmful to both women and men. When certain men of a darker skin tone tell their experience of rape,their stories are not believed because of white supremacist mythology+rape mythology that says that only men are visual creatures, aka/hint hint, ONLY MEN HAVE THE CAPACITY TO BE PREDATORS. Sexual violence, in other words, unless all men take Jesus’ words literally and make themselves physically incapable of seeing, is part of natural masculinity. Men bear no responsibility on their actions, that’s why it’s the womenfolk who get the blame for being victims of rape as was the case with cases like in Steubenville.

As a pacifist, and as part of The New Pacifist, any political movement that does not address Rape Culture fails to be non-violent. A number of pacifists in churches and in the academy like to talk about the ideal government being “Christarchy” or a Christianized brand of Anarchy where the Church governs society.

"CHRISTARCHY YA'LL! IT'S LIKE MANARCHY ONLY WITH JESUS!"- image from the manarchy ryan gosling tumblr

“CHRISTARCHY YA’LL! IT’S LIKE MANARCHY ONLY WITH JESUS!”- image from the manarchy ryan gosling tumblr

When I was in 7th grade, I wrote a poem about silver clouds, and how someday, I may even decide to become an anarchist. It was my mother who asked, what’s an anarchist, and when I told her, she rebuked me, and now today, I see why. Anarchy, Anarcho-capitalism, Christarcho-Capitalism, whatever you call it, is nothing but a return to a dystopian feudalism. Who will be the ones to rid our society of all the contracts currently in place? And what about the police and military? Who would protect the poor and oppressed with a safety net? Oh….yeah you’d probably need violence for that, huh??? So it’s no wonder that when one of the heroes of contemporary “Christ-archists, Ron Paul (cuz, liberty, YALL!), opposes sexual harassment laws in the workplace it’s in the name of being “non-violent” to good businessmen in power. Power like King David had.

Indeed, New Pacifists must be willing to question how USian Christian culture receives the story about this shepherd boy turned monarch as well as the heroine Bathsheba. This starts with taking Bathsheba’s and David’s Jewishness seriously, and their commitment and non-commitment (in David’s instance) to the Torah. New Pacifists must reject Rape Mythology completely, and that make men accountable and that they should take responsibility for stopping rape and rape culture. It is never God’s will for anyone to be raped or to experience domestic violence, and it is never is God’s plan to make people suffer through these experiences. I offer those readers who have experienced sexual violence these words:

rape is not god’s will. sexual assault and violence is not god’s intention for your life. sexual abuse is not a part of “god’s plan.” In fact, these are violations of God’s will. God does not enjoy sin. God does not endorse domestic violence. God is good. God is hope. God is life. God is love. If you or someone you know are in these situations, please seek help, it doesn’t have to be a religious institution; but a third party is mostly always a good choice.

The Quest For the Historical Mary: Akin, Rape Culture, and Christianity

There Is Something About Mariology

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist”-From Pussy Riot, via Bridget from Women in Theology “Virgin Mary Mother Of God, Become A Feminist”

“The Virgin Mary brings the maternal back into the theological picture, one might say, especially in so-called Alexandrian traditions that emphasize the union of human and divine natures in Christ in such a way that Mary may be seen not only as the mother of the human but also the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos.” “-Virginia Burris in an interview with Religion Dispatches, “Let It Be Unto Me”: Akin, Rape, and the Early Church

I have been thinking about Mariologies recently, and what they may mean for cultures. If Christologies can be used to interpret modes of human action (ethics) and the types of moral agents communities desire to see, I would argue that Mariologies equally play a role in this as well. Postcolonial theorists have criticized the use of the image of women as nation-states (God bless America, and her people, for example) because of the history of war and the war crime of rape. Along with Scripture, particularly 1st Samuel and the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Chandra Talpade Mohanty‘s Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity as well as science fiction media featuring strong female protagonists have gotten me thinking about Mariologies in a different light. I am coming to the conclusion that there are secular Mariologies that very much parallel and mimic the New Testament witness to the Theoktos (Mother Of God).

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (M...

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (Miryam/Miriam). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the USA, the country serves as both Uncle (Uncle Sam) and Mother, delivering us into life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The citizens are weened on false myths such as American Exceptionalism derived from exclusive notions of prosperity rather than justice. Nationalism is a false idol and Mariology, parodying Christianity, giving birth to the nationalist war hero (the messiahs). Of course, the thing about these secular Mariologies is that they all start with the premise of Gentile superiority, completely severing the ties between the theological Mary, the Historical Mary, and the nation-state’s pseudo-Mary. The Mariology of this MTV world’s generation is the woman-as-consumer, enjoying her “freedom” while being objectified simultaneously. In a sense, the Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons, and Basketball Wives engender the social performance of late capitalism’s “virgin” (re: innocent) birth. The system, it now works for women! It is beyond critique!

One of the frustrating parts about being Protestant is knowing where to start with the personhood of Mary, Mother of God’s Only Begotten Son. Should we start with Karl Barth, as Dustin Resch of Briercrest does? The Patristics? The New Testament? Tradition? The Creeds?

Separating theology from history, many so-called Christian thinkers ignore Mary’s history and Jewishness. Supersessionist theologians tend to inevitably turn a blind-eye to both Jesus’ & Mary’s Jewish roots, while also showing willful spite towards the marginalized and the less fortunate. An example of this is Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, he of “Legitimate Rape” fame. Akin, a member of the Presbyterian Churches of America, whose leadership has worked to silence scholars mentioning anything positive about Second Temple Judaism: please see the Federal Vision Report: linked here, link to PDF. In sum, the New Perspective on Paul should be rejected because it is not in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which is THE standard for the PCA in interpreting Scripture.

Akin, like Augustine before him, and now with Jared Wilson and The Gospel Coalition, believes that the blame of rape falls solely on the victims. Rape victims are cast as liars, in conservative Reformed traditions, and so theologically, rape victims are violators of two of the Ten Commandments at the least: adultery and bearing false witness against her neighbor.

I start with a none-of-the-above approach. Rather, I choose to begin Mariology, as a self-imposed rule, with the story of Hannah, and her cry for justice, which resonates with Mary’s Magnificat. Both reflect a faith in a God of Justice, who takes a primary concern for victims first “YHWH raises the poor from dust”; “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” (1st Samuel 2; Luke 2:46-56). There is no Mariology without Mary’s Second Temple Jewish context, and quite literally, as Christians, we cannot reflect upon the story of King David, the monarchy, and the prophets without appropriately thinking about Mary, Jesus’ Mother.

“And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary”

– United Methodist Hymnal, traditional Apostles’ Creed

“For by Isaiah He says,: ‘Hear me, and yes shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” adding. ‘the sure mercies of David,’ in order that he might show that that covenant was to run its course in Christ. That he was the family of David, according to the genealogy of Mary [.]”-

Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 1

“And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord”

-Clement of Alexandria, who makes the connection between Israel’s story and the story of Mary, from Abraham to David, from David to exile, in Chapter 21 “The Jewish Institutions and Laws of Far Higher Antiquity the the Philosophy of the Greeks” of Book 1 of Miscellanies (my translation of the title is “Carpets”).

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