I will be voting for Hillary Clinton, with excitement at the possibility of witnessing the first woman in history to become an American president. But I do like what Trump has inadvertently done for women lately. He has made public what is often a private and shame-filled event: the invasion of a woman’s body and person, used as an object of gratification and domination. Conversation is happening that is potentially healing for women and enlightening for men.
My husband courageously wrote today on Facebook about his own journey of realizing that sexual aggression toward women is not about his own moral purity, but about the worth and value of women. He was responding to his colleague’s story of verbal sexual aggression–in church–from a man toward her, just two weeks ago.
My husband writes: “It took me years to realize that such aggression is embedded in the male culture in which I participated daily at school, work and church. I cannot begin here to unravel that culture but I know that we very much need to do it. And I think we can use Trump’s aggression as a point to begin the discussion. We need men to own their culture and the actions it helps to create. We need to call sexism what it is–abhorrent.”
Sexism is multi-faceted, but we can start with the simple integrity of a human being’s body. Human being? Women are human, and the truth and meaning of that fact needs exploration. Having this discussion with men is healthy. Though they may not want to talk about it, men understand masculinity/machismo culture better than women. When they name it and expose it, its power to control men and women, and boys and girls, decreases. And having discussions about sexual assault with Christian men is healthy, too, because sexism is rampant in the church. (See one man’s articulate rant here).
Masculine-only language for God embeds sexism into the pews, and brings into question the worth, and full humanity, of girls and women. On any given Sunday morning around the world, women will walk into a church service where Jesus is Bridegroom, God is Father, and “This is my Father’s World.” Virginia Ramey Mollenkott writes about this language rut: “…because God is husband-like, husbands are godlike. Because God is fatherlike, fathers are godlike. The stage is set for exploitation of girls and women.”
But she continues, “The chances for exploitation are severely curtailed if we go further and recognize the biblical images that say God is womanlike and motherlike, so that women and mothers are in turn godlike.”
Then maybe we will all see the imago dei, the image of God, more clearly in women, and yes, in their very bodies. Women reflect God as much as men do (Gen. 1:27). The first name that God revealed to humans was El Shaddai (Gen. 17:1) which means The God with Breasts. Yes, God identifies with women and with their bodies, seeing them as powerful.
Like Jesus told Saul when he was jailing and murdering early Christians, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Jesus is also asking sexist men, “Why do you continue to assault, abuse, and treat me like an item on a shelf?” “But Jesus wasn’t a woman!” you may be thinking. Saul persecuted women as well as men (Acts 8:3). The risen Spirit of Jesus didn’t differentiate between genders when he stopped Saul on the road to Damascus.
Christian men would do well to emulate Jesus, perhaps the only perfectly secure male in history. He didn’t hesitate to talk about God as a woman who lost a coin (Luke 15:8-10), or to compare himself with a hen longing to gather her chicks under wing (Luke 10:34). He gave the Holy Spirit the role of a birthing woman (John 3:5), and indicated that he saw he and his disciples as experiencing the pains of a woman in labor, as Jesus died on the cross (V. Ramey-Mollenkott; John 16:21, 17:1).
Jesus’ many uplifting interactions with women in a patriarchal culture showed the world throughout history how men should relate to women and think about them: as human beings who look like God as much as men do. So, if Jesus went to church in North America in the 21st century, I think He would freely call God “Mother” as well as “Father,” to show us that God made women in Her image, too–body and soul.