Monday, July 31, 2006

The war on women

Writing at The Nation, Martha Nussbaum opens her review of feminist and lawyer Catharine A. MacKinnon's book, Are Women Human?, with a reality punch in the gut:

Inequality on the basis of sex is a pervasive reality of women's lives all over the world. So is sex-related violence. Rape by strangers and acquaintances, rape within marriage, domestic violence, trafficking into sex work, the abuse of women and girls in the pornography industry: In all these ways, argues Catharine MacKinnon, women suffer aggression and exploitation, "because we are women, systemically and systematically." Although violence against women is certain to be underreported and undercounted, data still show a tremendous amount of it everywhere. (Cross-cultural studies cited by MacKinnon show that rates of violent domestic abuse are similar in the United States, Japan and India.) As a 1989 United Nations report summarizes, "The risk of violence and violation within the household is one thing women, irrespective of their social position, creed, colour or culture, share in common." So, too, is vulnerability to rape in wartime--the well-documented mass rapes of Bosnian women being just one recent example of an appalling reality that has characterized most armed conflicts.

Despite the prevalence of these crimes, they have not been well addressed under international human rights law--if, indeed, they have been addressed at all. Typically, there has been what MacKinnon calls a "double-edged denial": The abuse is considered either too extraordinary to be believed or too ordinary to constitute a major human rights violation. Or, as MacKinnon says, "If it's happening, it's not so bad, and if it's really bad, it isn't happening." Until recently, abuses like rape and sexual torture lacked good human rights standards because human rights norms were typically devised by men thinking about men's lives. In other words, "If men don't need it, women don't get it." What this lack of recognition has meant is that women have not yet become fully human in the legal and political sense, bearers of equal, enforceable human rights.

Wow! We have a long way to go. The situation has improved through international agreements such as the 1979 Convention of the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that has addressed domestic violence and sexual harassment, and through the efforts of women's organizations, networks, and NGOs that have...

...pressured states and the international community to act on issues like trafficking and rape in war. Indeed, as MacKinnon notes, "Women's resistance to their status and treatment" is now "the cutting edge of change in international human rights."

MacKinnon through her "shrewd" and "creative use" of the Alien Tort Claims Act "brought suit against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on behalf of a specific group of female clients, seeking damages for injuries consisting in 'genocidal sexual atrocities perpetrated as a result of [his] policy of ethnic cleansing.' " The reward: a permanent injunction to stop the genocide and a $475 million judgment delivered in the State of New York.

The main theme of MacKinnon's book...

...repeatedly and convincingly mined, is the hypocrisy of the international system when it faces up to some crimes against humanity but fails to confront similar harms when they happen to women, often on a daily basis. There is a category of torture, and we think we know how to define it. We think we know what it does: It uses violence to control and intimidate. And yet when violence is used to control and intimidate women "in homes in Nebraska...rather than prison cells in Chile," we don't call it torture, and we somehow think it is not the same thing. Torture in Chile is not explained away as the work of isolated sick individuals. We know it is political, and we can see how systemic it often is. When violence happens to women in Nebraska, we say, Oh well, that was only some sicko, and men really aren't like that. Well, given the numbers, shouldn't we ask more questions about that?

Again, we have a concept of war, and we think we know what war is: People get maimed and killed fighting over land and power. And yet when women get raped and beaten up by men who want to control them, we pay little heed. "It is hard to avoid the impression that what is called war is what men make against each other, and what they do to women is called everyday life."

As in her prior work, MacKinnon is caustic about the damage done by the traditional liberal distinction between a "public sphere" and a "private sphere," a distinction that insulates marital rape and domestic violence from public view and makes people think it isn't political. "Why isn't this political?... The fact that you may know your assailant does not mean that your membership in a group chosen for violation is irrelevant to your abuse. It is still systematic and group-based. It...is defined by the distribution of power in society."

Steinem long ago coined the slogan, "the personal is political " and her words seem to refrain in the subjects MacKinnon undertakes of the "private sphere." Indeed, why isn't this political?

In the two most deeply troubling articles in the collection, "Genocide's Sexuality" and "Women's September 11th," MacKinnon examines the internationally accepted definitions of genocide and terrorism, and argues that many acts of men against women meet one or both of these definitions. As defined under the UN convention on genocide, genocide is either killing or inflicting serious bodily or mental harm on members of a group, with intent to destroy that group either entirely or in part. The groups mentioned are "national, ethnical, racial, or religious" groups: So in that sense violence against women clearly doesn't qualify. On other grounds, however, one could argue that a great part of violence against women does involve a similar infliction of "serious harm" on women because they are women, and its aim can be said to be to destroy "in part"--for "destroy," if mental harm is sufficient for genocide, must mean not "kill" but "remove from the ranks of the fully human"--something that happens to women all the time.

We hear of post traumatic stress disorder and its usual association with soldiers of war but the most common PTSDs are those not of men in war, but of women in civilian life. Judith Herman, M.D., in her book, Trauma and Recovery, described the "domestic captivity" of women and children, "those subjected to totalitarian systems in sexual and domestic life, including survivors of domestic battering, childhood physical or sexual abuse, and organized sexual exploitation." A quick glance of domestic violence statistics so pervasive in American society--worldwide, one in three women "has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime"--will confirm that the casualties of the private sphere rival those in the public sphere. I repeat MacKinnon's question, so why isn't this political?

An insightful and enlightening book and one I encourage readers to buy, you can read the complete review on MacKinnon's Are Women Human? at The Nation.

Celebrating women priests

I salute the spiritual courage and acknowledge the symbolism of these 12 women. From the SFO Chronicle:

In an act of faith and insurrection, a dozen women on a chartered boat in Pittsburgh, Penn., will be ordained Monday as clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, the first service of its kind in the United States. To the church, which prohibits the ordination of women, the service is invalid and illicit.
But to the women, including four from California -- two live in the Bay Area -- the ordinations are genuine, though they recognize they are a violation of canon law. They say they are willing to risk excommunication in the hope of sparking a revolution of equality within an institution resistant to change.
"I've spent my whole life trying to get into this club,'' says Kathleen Kunster, 61, an Emeryville resident and grandmother of four who holds a master's degree in divinity and has worked for more than 20 years in lay ministry.
"The purpose of this ordination is to follow the call that we have,'' she says. "We all love the church very much. I am a Roman Catholic, I will die a Roman Catholic. I'm not budging.''
While mainline Protestant faiths now permit women to be ordained, they are barred from the Catholic Church's highest echelons. A decade after a papal affirmation of the prohibition, American Catholics nonetheless increasingly favor women's ordination, part of a growing worldwide movement to recognize women as leaders in one of Christianity's most conservative faiths.
"I feel called to be a priest -- to say Mass, to baptize people, to anoint people when they are dying,'' says Kunster. "I've had long conversations with God: 'Why did you give me this desire when there's nothing I can do about it?' I've never changed; I never could stop wanting to be a priest.''
Kunster is one of eight women who will don priestly garments aboard the Majestic, an excursion riverboat that will sail the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio rivers. The other four women, including Juanita Cordero of Los Gatos, will be ordained as deacons.
"I'm not rushing into the priesthood -- next summer I will be ordained a priest,'' she says. Cordero's husband, three daughters, a son and her 84-year-old mother will be on board to support her.
As previously noted, I completely agree that there is no scriptural basis to exclude women from the priesthood:
Far from removing themselves from the flock, the women say they hope Monday's service will culminate lifetime avocations to be at the heart of church life. Stressing the role played by females of the early church, the women believe there are no scriptural or divine obstructions to the priesthood.
"We are breaking an unjust law,'' says Dana Reynolds, 58, co-founder of Mosaics, a women's spirituality center in Monterey. "It's no different than when apartheid was broken. Or when the suffragettes said it's time to vote. Or when Rosa Parks said 'I'm not going to sit at the back of the bus.' It's time for this.''
What makes this news so liberating is that these 12 women did not wait for the Roman Catholic Church or some outside authority to validate or approve of their priesthood. These women took the initiative to actualize their inner calling after having been rejected for decades. They have overcome.
"I'm so in awe of these women's courage and bravery,'' says Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, which has been advocating for female priests for 31 years. According to Taylor, there are more than 150 women in the priesthood pipeline.
What great role models. I say more power to them. God bless you one and all.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Appeasing Maliki

I've been working on several different posts and Blogger housekeeping, but I ran across a Friday WaPo column by Peter Beinart that caused me to pause. Sheer stupidity dripping with arrogance can do that. Without disappointing on that score, Beinart weaves a fictional yarn (or did I mean yawn?) beginning with his first sentence:

After years of struggling to define their own approach to post-Sept. 11 foreign policy, Democrats seem finally to have hit on one. It's called pandering.
Ha! If only Bush had a successful foreign policy! To keep this short, I'll put aside Bush and his neocon foreign f-i-a-s-c-o-s, which are too numerous to itemize for now. But Peter's ill-conceived opening statement completely omits the 2004 solutions that were offered by Democrat John Kerry on homeland security that included port, chemical plant, and border security--national security issues that the Bush Administration has continually ignored and failed to address--and Kerry's four-point plan on Iraq. Doesn't WaPo factcheck its columnists? Or is promoting anti-Democratic and anti-liberal propaganda its raison d'etre?

Next, Beinart writes something that made me chuckle loudly. I found his blatant shilling for the Bush WH amusing (with emphasis):
In those rare cases when George W. Bush shows genuine sensitivity to America's allies and propounds a broader, more enlightened view of the national interest, Democrats will make him pay. It's jingoism with a liberal face.
Bwah-ha-ha-ha! OMG! Rare cases? Name one. Genuine sensitivity? Broader and more enlightened? The bullshit meter broke registering the hyperbole that Beinart employed to dramatize his specious little argument. In his five years in office, the preznit has demonstrated one thing definitively: Bush cares about Bush. That's his agenda. You're either for him or against him. Seems to me, Beinart has co-opted Bush's motto like a loyal attack poodle.

Basically, Peter wrote that Democrats were pandering to Jewish voters when they demanded to know why Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn't renounce Hezbollah and acknowledge that Israel has a right to defend itself. If Bush foreign policymakers truly believe that Iraq is an ally in the GWOT, where's the quarrel? Isn't the Democratic questioning of Maliki's position reasonable especially given his recent comments about Israel? Don't tell me that America has invested gabillions of dollars and precious lives in a nation that sympathizes with Arab terrorist organizations and anti-Semitic Iran? Banish the thought. Yet... Maliki's official press release states:
"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denounces the Israeli raids on Lebanon and warns of the consequences of escalation in the region.
"The prime minister calls on Arab foreign ministers to meet to take a clear stand that condemns the criminal acts in Lebanon and Gaza and affirms this assault will make Lebanon's people more united and cohesive in the face of the Israeli challenge."
Why didn't Maliki condemn Hezbollah's terrorist attacks? Because...
Some of Maliki's fellow Shi'ite Islamists in the coalition government, notably followers of radical young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have voiced support for Hizbollah, the militant Shi'ite group that is the main target of Israeli attacks in Lebanon.
The democratic rise of Islamist leaders from the Shi'ite majority oppressed under Saddam Hussein, has created delicate diplomatic problems for the United States, particularly in view of those leaders' links to Shi'ite Iran, Washington's most powerful enemy in the region and a supporter of Hizbollah.
As elsewhere in the Middle East, criticism of Israel, the United States' closest ally, is also widespread in Iraq.
The speaker of parliament, a Sunni, accused "Jewish Israeli Zionists" this week of fomenting sectarian unrest in Iraq to thwart efforts by Sunnis and Shi'ites to build an Islamic state.
Peter would have had a point that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can't look as if he's a Washington puppet, but as long as we occupy Iraq, Beinart's weak argument fails to grasp reality on the ground. No Iraqi prime minister will inspire his people's solidarity and an end to the insurgency with a USA presence in Iraq acting as his military force, his treasury, his prop. Iraqis want U.S. occupiers out, Maliki hasn't asked us to leave, and so we're still there, an albatross hanging around his neck, validating the perception that he's an American puppet. A harmonious and well-received visit to Washington can't erase the daily debacles that Iraqis face, their resentments, or their divisions. Ergo, the Democrats did not humiliate the prime minister by calling him to account for his remarks. His own poorly-worded release required an explanation. Doesn't Peter think Americans deserve to know for what kind of Iraq are we spilling our blood and paying taxes?

The Democrat's statement to the prime minister...
"Your failure to condemn Hezbollah's aggression and recognize Israel's right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East."
...expresses a question in a lot of Jewish and non-Jewish American minds: What have we gotten for our blood and treasure? A lot of us think the Bush Administration has fallen out of touch with reality--if they ever had a grip on the consequences of their decisions--and that America has heavily invested in a country that sympathizes more with Iran than with us.

Beinert accused Democrats of pandering. I call what the Democrats did a step toward the politics of accountability. They demonstrated courage in asking the hard questions no one seems to want to ask the WH: What has Bush and the neocons accomplished in Iraq? Have we created an Iranian ally? Is Iraq an anti-Semitic state? Until Beinart fairly examines these vital questions, he's pandering to the Administration and the Beltway pundit class--not the majority of Americans who want to withdraw from Iraq.

In not investigating what the Democrats so boldly asked, is Beinart appeasing a terrorist sympathizer? Does he afford Democrats the same courtesy that he wanted bestowed upon Maliki? He wrote that, "...in a democracy, leaders usually reflect public opinion." If that's true, then the Democratic leaders are representing their constituents well by holding Bush and the Iraqi leader accountable to Americans who have made Iraqi democracy a possibility. Later in his column, he criticizes Democrats for using the Dubai port deal for political advantage, a "cheap shot." Once again, Beinart ignores port security legislation introduced by Democrats well before the UAE controversy kicked up--initiatives that were stonewalled by a Republican-controlled Congress. But in this case, Democratic leaders ought not to "reflect public opinion," which was overwhelmingly opposed to DPW?! Beinart offers an interesting double standard in principles that flip-flop depending on whose ax he's grinding.

Beinart ties his column up with pretty phrases but overall, his arguments ring hollow. If, as he wrote...
Americans think Democrats stand for nothing, that they have no principles beyond political expedience. And given the party's behavior over the past several months, it is not hard to understand why.
...then why do American registered voters favor electing Democrats over Republicans by a 10-point margin? (Poll: July 21-25, 2006, PDF) Why is GOP control of the House so tenuous? And why do Democrats lead Republicans 51% to 37% on "values" issues? Is it because Americans stand for nothing?

I also wonder if Beinart has looked at Bush's approval ratings over the past few years or the the past several months. Someone needs a reality check. And a factchecker.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Biblical sexism and vagina resentment

Mary Magalene as Melancholy
by Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1621-22, oil on canvas

In the coming weeks, I hope to post a series that will include powerful words, ideas, and criticism from Rev. Irene Monroe, Bishop John Shelby Spong, and others on feminism and lesbian feminism. I'm hopeful that Genet will join me by adding her insights as a voice for the illustrous Lesbianati. This entry, the first of the series, addresses the Bible--the authoritative source of Christianity--as a fountainhead for sexism in America, a previously expressed blog topic I wanted to undertake.

Excerpts from Bart Ehrman's bestseller, Misquoting Jesus illustrate:

  1. How errant Biblical literalism is

  2. The lack of understanding among laypersons that scribes revised manuscripts to reflect their bias, which were then translated into today's modern Bibles

  3. The resultant sexism in the New Testament and

  4. How textual alterations by scribes covered up the prominent roles women held in the early church that were equal to men. One woman, Junia, Paul described as "foremost among the apostles."

Women were integral to Christ's mission and later to the apostle Paul, [pages 178-181, Misquoting Jesus]:

Modern scholars have come to recognize that disputes over the role of women in the early church occurred because women had a role––often a significant and publicly high profile role. Moreover, this was the case from the very beginning, starting with the ministry of Jesus himself. It is true that Jesus's closest followers––the twelve disciples––were all men, as would be expected of a Jewish teacher in first-century Palestine. But our earliest Gospels indicate that Jesus was also accompanied by women on his travels, and that some of these women provided for him and his disciples financially, serving as patrons for his itinerant preaching ministry (see Mark 15:40–51; Luke 8:1–3). Jesus is said to have engaged in public dialogue with women and to have ministered to them in public (Mark 7:24–30; John 4:1–42). In particular, we are told that women accompanied Jesus during his final trip to Jerusalem, where they were present at his crucifixion and where they alone remained faithful to him to the end, when the male disciples had fled (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40–41). Most significant of all, each of our Gospels indicates that it was women––Mary Magdalene alone, or with several companions––who discovered his empty tomb and so were the first to know about and testify to Jesus's resurrection from the dead (Matt. 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 23:55–24:10; John 20:1–2).

Why were women so connected to Jesus's ministry when the Jewish tradition at that time treated women as underlings to men?

It is intriguing to ask what it was about Jesus's message that particularly attracted women. Most scholars remained convinced that Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God, in which there would be no more injustice, suffering, or evil, in which all people, rich and poor, slave and free, men and women, would be on equal footing. This obviously proved particularly attractive as a message of hope to those who in the present age were underprivileged––the poor, the sick, the outcast. And the women.

[...]

But we do not need to wait until the late second century to see that women played a major role in the early Christian churches. We already get a clear sense of this from the earliest Christian writer whose works have survived, the apostle Paul. The Pauline letters of the New Testament provide ample evidence that women held a prominent place in the emerging Christian communities from the earliest of times. We might consider, for example, Paul's letter to the Romans, at the end of which he send greetings to various members of the Roman congregation (chapter 16). Although Paul names more men than women here, it is clear that women were seen as in no way inferior to their male counterparts in the church. Paul mentions Phoebe, for example, who is a deacon (or minister) in the church of Cenchreae, and Paul's own patron, whom he entrusts with the task of carrying his letter to Rome (vv. 1–2). And there is Prisca, who along with her husband, Aquila, is responsible for missionary work among the Gentiles and who supports a Christian congregation in her home (vv. 3–4: notice that she is mentioned first, ahead of her husband). Then there is Mary, a colleague of Paul's who works among the Romans (v. 6); there are also Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, women whom Paul calls his "co-workers" in the gospel (vv. 6, 12). And there are Julia and the mother of Rufus and the sister of Nereus, all of whom appear to have a high profile in the community (vv 13, 15). Most impressive of all, there is Junia, a woman whom Paul calls "foremost among the apostles" (v. 7). The apostolic band was evidently larger than the list of twelve men with whom most people are familiar.

Women, in short, appear to have played a significant role in the churches of Paul's day. To some extent, this high profile was unusual in the Greco-Roman world. And it may have been rooted, as I have argued, in Jesus's proclamation that in the coming Kingdom there would be equality of men and women. This appears to have been Paul's message as well, as can be seen, for example, in his famous declaration in Galatians:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free; there is not male and female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ. (Gal. 3:27–28)

The equality in Christ may have manifested itself in the actual worship services of the Pauline communities. Rather than being silent "hearers of the word," women appear to have been actively involved in the weekly fellowship meetings, participating, for example, by praying and prophesying, much as the men did (I Corinthians 11).

Being unusual in the Greco-Roman world, women playing a significant role created debate and disputes among church leaders (prejudice dies hard) that ultimately impacted Biblical interpreters. Ehrman goes on to write [pages 181, Misquoting Jesus]:

At the same time, to modern interpreters it may appear that Paul did not take his view of the relationship of men and women in Christ to what could be thought of as its logical conclusion. He did require, for example, that when women prayed and prophesied in church they do so with their heads covered, to show that they were "under authority" (I Cor. 11:3–16, esp. v. 10). In other words, Paul did not urge a social revolution in the relationship of men and women––just as he did not urge the abolition of slavery, even though he maintained that in Christ there "is neither slave nor free." Instead he insisted that since "the time is short" (until the coming of the Kingdom), everyone should be content with the roles they had been given, and that no one should seek to change their status––whether slave, free, married, single, male, or female (I Cor. 7:17–24).

My, my, have times changed but not without resistant Biblical literalists using key Scriptures to sustain their bigotry. The world no longer condones slavery although some Christian congregations attempted to justify the slavocracy of the ante-bellum South. Politically and culturally, through the misuse of an errant religious tradition, a Jim Crow hegemony affirmed that people of color were inferior to whites and should be segregated, which excused discrimination against them.

Not until the civil rights movement of the 1960s did legal and cultural racist constructs recede although sadly we can still witness the legacy of America's racism. Yet, under the emergence of the Religious Right, women face formidable challenges in overcoming obstacles to reproductive health, financial parity, autonomy, and in avoiding the epidemic of rape and domestic violence. For an insightful look into the war on women at The Nation, read Martha Nussbaum's review of Catherine A. MacKinnon's book, Are Women Human? Add another book to my wishlist.

The patriarchy still remains King of the Hill, and in my opinion, anti-feminist bias rooted in a persistence of an errant Christian tradition insidiously underpins an unspoken prejudice--in some cases, an explicit calling--that women submit to men.

Ehrman elaborated about the divergent role of women in ancient Christianity that ultimately resolved in a subversion of the sacred feminine [pages 181-182, MJ] with my emphasis added:

At best, then, this can be seen as an ambivalent attitude toward the role of women: they were equal in Christ and were allowed to participate in the life of the community, but as women, not as men (they were, for example, not to remove their veils and so appear as men, without an "authority" on their head). This ambivalence on Paul's part had an interesting effect on the role of women in the churches after his day. In some churches it was the equality in Christ that was emphasized; in others it was the need for women to remain subservient to men. And so in some churches women played very important, leadership roles; in others, their roles were diminished and their voices quieted. Reading later documents associated with Paul's churches, after his death, we can see that disputes arose about the roles women should play; eventually there came an effort to suppress the role of women in churches altogether.

This becomes evident in a letter that was written in Paul's name. Scholars today are by and large convinced that I Timothy was not written by Paul but by one of his later, second-generation followers.3 Here, in one of the (in)famous passages dealing with women in the New Testament, we are told that women must not be allowed to teach men because they were created inferior, as indicated by God himself in the Law; God created Eve second, for the sake of the man; and a woman (related to Eve) must not therefore lord it over a man (related to Adam) through her teaching. Furthermore, according to this author, everyone knows what happens when a women does assume the role of teacher: she is easily duped (by the devil) and leads the man astray. So, women are to stay at home and maintain the virtues appropriate to women, bearing children for their husbands and preserving their modesty. As the passage itself reads:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (I Tim. 2:11–15).

This seems a long way from Paul's view that "in Christ there is . . . not male and female." As we move into the second century, the battle lines appear clearly drawn. There are some Christian communities that stress the importance of women and allow them to play significant roles in the church, and there are others that believe women must be silent and subservient to the men of the community.

The scribes who were copying the texts that later became scripture were obviously involved in these debates. And on occasion the debates made an impact on the text being copied, as passages were changed to reflect the views of the scribes who were reproducing them. In almost every instance in which a change of this sort occurs, the text is changed in order to limit the role of women and to minimize their importance in the Christian movement.

Now to examine the anti-feminist scriptural alterations that scribes made to diminish women (with my emphasis added) from Bart Ehrman [pages 183-184, MJ]:

One of the most important passages in the contemporary discussion of the role of women in the church is found in I Corinthians 14. As represented in most of our modern English translations, the passages reads as follows.

33 For God is not a God of confusion but one of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 let the women keep silent. For it is not permitted for them to speak, but to be in subjection, just as the law says. 35 But if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 What! Did the word go forth only from you, or has it reached you alone?

The passage appears to be a clear and straightforward injunction for women not to speak (let alone teach!) in the church, very much like the passage from I Timothy 2. As we have seen, however, most scholars are convinced that Paul did not write the I Timothy passage, because it occurs in a letter that appears to have been written instead by a second-generation follower of Paul in his name. No one doubts, however, that Paul wrote I Corinthians. But there are doubts about this passage. For as it turns out, the verses in question (vv. 34–35) are shuffled around in some of our important textual witnesses. In three Greek manuscripts and a couple of Latin witnesses, they are found not here, after verse 33, but later, after verse 40. That has led some scholars to surmise that the verses were not written by Paul but originated as a kind of marginal note added by a scribe, possibly under the influence of I Timothy 2. The note was then inserted in different places of the text by various scribes––some placing the note after verse 33 and others inserting it after verse 40. There are good reasons for thinking that Paul did not originally write these verses. For one thing, they do not fit well into their immediate context. In this part of I Corinthians 14, Paul is addressing the issue of prophecy in the church, and is giving instructions to Christian prophets concerning how they are to behave during the Christian services of worship. This is the theme of verses 26–33, and it is the theme again of verses 36–40. If one removes verses 34–35 from their context, the passage seems to flow seamlessly as a discussion of the role of Christian prophets. The discussion of women appears, then, as intrusive in its immediate context, breaking into the instructions that Paul is giving about a different matter.

Not only do the verses seem intrusive in the context of chapter 14, they also appear anomalous with what Paul explicitly says elsewhere in I Corinthians. For earlier in the book, as we have already noticed, Paul gives instructions to women speaking in the church: according to chapter 11, when they pray and prophesy––activities that were always done aloud in the Christian services of worship––they are to be sure to wear veils on their heads (11:2–16). In this passage, which no one doubts Paul wrote, it is clear that Paul understands that women both can and do speak in church. In the disputed passage of chapter 14, however, it is equally clear that "Paul" forbids women from speaking at all. It is difficult to reconcile these two views––either Paul allowed women to speak (with covered heads, chapter 11) or not (chapter 14). As it seems unreasonable to think that Paul would flat out contradict himself within the short space of three chapters, it appears that the verses in question do not derive from Paul.

And so on the basis of a combination of evidence––several manuscripts that shuffle the verses around, the immediate literary context, and the context within I Corinthians as a whole––it appears that Paul did not write I Cor. 14:34–35. One would have to assume, then, that these verses are a scribal alteration of the text, originally made, perhaps, as a marginal note and then eventually, at an early stage of the copying of I Corinthians, placed it in the text itself. The alteration was no doubt made by a scribe who was concerned to emphasize that women should have no public role in the church, that they should be silent and subservient to their husbands. This view then came to be incorporated into the text itself, by means of a textual alteration.4

On page 185, Ehrman describes the woman Junia who was "foremost among the apostles" but she was magically transformed into a man (with emphasis):

We might consider briefly several other textual changes of a similar sort. One occurs in a passage I have already mentioned, Romans 16, in which Paul speaks of a woman, Junia, and a man who was presumably her husband, Andronicus, both of whom he calls "foremost among the apostles" (v. 7). This is a significant verse, because it is the only place in the New Testament in which a woman is referred to as an apostle. Interpreters have been so impressed by the passage that a large number of them have insisted that it cannot mean what it says, and so they have translated the verse as referring not to a woman named Junia but a man names Junias, who along with his companion Andronicus is praised as an apostle. The problem with this translation is that whereas Junia was a common name for a woman, there is no evidence in the ancient world for "Junias" as a man's name. Paul is referring to a woman named Junia, even though in some modern English Bibles (you may want to check your own!) translators continue to refer to this female apostle as if she were a man named Junias. 5

Some scribes also had difficulty with ascribing apostleship to this otherwise unknown woman, and so made a very slight change in the text to circumvent the problem. In some of our manuscripts, rather than saying, "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and fellow prisoners, who are foremost among the apostles," the text is now changed so as to be more readily translated: "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives; and also greet my fellow prisoners who are foremost among the apostles." With this textual change, no longer does one need to worry about a woman being cited among the apostolic band of men!

Ha! A quick Bible Gateway search of Romans 16:7 in the New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the Worldwide English (New Testament) (WE), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and other versions name Junia the woman as Junias or Junia the man.

In the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and other Bible editions, we can read a derivative of the latter alteration that changes the text to eliminate any reference to Junia as among the apostolic band of men.

Again on page 185, Ehrman points out another textual change to reduce women's stature (with emphasis):

A similar change was made by some scribes who copied the book of Acts. In chapter 17 we learn that Paul and his missionary companion Silas spent time in Thessalonica preaching the gospel of Christ to the Jews of the local synagogue. We are told in verse 4 that the pair made some important converts: "And some of them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the pious Greeks, along with a large number of prominent women."

The idea of women being prominent––let alone prominent converts––was too much for some scribes, and so the text came to be changed in some manuscripts so that we are told: "And some of them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the pious Greeks, along with a large number of wives of prominent men." Now it is the men who are prominent, not the wives who converted.

Among Paul's companions in the book of Acts were a husband and wife named Aquila and Priscilla; sometimes when they are mentioned, the author gives the wife's name first, as if she had some kind of of special prominence either in the relationship or in the Christian mission (as happens in Rom. 16:3, where she is called Prisca). Not surprisingly, scribes occasionally took umbrage at this sequencing and reversed it, so that the man was given his due by having his name mentioned first: Aquila and Priscilla rather than Priscilla and Aquila. 6

In short, there were debates in the early centuries of the church over the role of women, and on occasion these debates spilled over into the textual transmission of the New Testament itself, as scribes sometimes changed their texts in order to make them coincide more closely with the scribes' own sense of the (limited) role of women in the church.

To this day, we witness the subversion of women in religion. The Vatican continues to ban women from the priesthood. In June 2006, U.S. Episcopalians elected Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female bishop of the national churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion. What took them so long!? And what mindset and attitude questions why the "choice" of a female bishop complicates the already difficult relations between the American denomination and its fellow Anglicans? Has male resentment over an alpha vagina leeched its poison into our marrow with the diseased thought that women are trouble and less desirable leaders than men? Where's the missing positive, the balance to the bias of a subservient women's role in church and beyond? How have women come to accept second best as if they lived in an Updike world as "house slaves of the A&P?"

I remember clashing with a southern gay gent over the admittance of Shannon Faulkner into the Citadel and I was surprised at anti-feminine bias spouted by an effeminate male. I could have had a more enlightening conversation with a brick wall sans the graffiti smear, "Bi-yotch." How inconvenient for men when women rock the boat with their audacity--demanding that an institution supported by their tax dollars ought to include them! Such a quibble. The whining hurts my ears went the dismissive male harumph.

I'm sure if I dug around I could google up statistics about the state of women's affairs--the assault on contraception, women's health, wage discrepancies, sexual harassment, violent and sex crimes, leisure time, wealth distribution, and positions of power--I could prove that it's still a man's world overlaid with quotes from misogynist prose you can hear on TV and the radio out of the mouths of the Limbaugh punditocracy and religious wacky doodles. I don't accept factoids and artificial rhetoric disguised as a string of pearly wisdom as permanent feminine reality. Yes, we can change the systems that underpin sexism, racism, and all the other hang-ups. The path of adversity, of resistance, the bigger challenge cuts through a landscape of single-issues to the source--the heart and mind that assigns value to men more than women. To transform beliefs, a revolution would entail both one-on-one interactions and collectively as an interlaced unified force. Isn't it time we seriously got to work on healing vagina resentment and the false aggrandizement of penis? Doesn't the error emphasize the flesh over the spirit?

I entitled this post within the context of Biblical sexism but the better frame--now that I have processed my thoughts on this subject and I'm sure more will evolve--is how sexism as male superiority and domination has invaded even our sacred texts in the annihilation of the sacred feminine and women's voices. With a religious authority such as the Bible deposited into the collective mind receptacle, the traditional church has taught the American layperson what the Scriptures were edited to dogmatize. We can understand the powerful influence that these beliefs have had on men's and women's attitudes and the consequential probable reality. Relegated to a secondary place in God's world, trickling down from a Godhead across the land to the tiniest shopping mall berg, women have been defined in society, industries, professions, and politics as less than, not good enough, not as valuable as men. How can we change it? By heightening the awareness of who and what is responsible for the gender gap in a no holds bar riffing of the truth is the first step. Secondly, overhaul the legacy that promotes woman as Adam's Rib, that says Eves derive their source from Adams, that Eves aren't a primary first-born gender but a sex created from Man in not being deemed worthy to spring directly from God. Surely, no one would suggest that God isn't omnipotent enough to fashion two unique primogenital sexes endowed with divine power at the same time?

In political circles, executive boardrooms, and polite gatherings, no one dares to assert that women aren't men's equal and gals were made for guys unless one is rude, arrogant, or spoiling for a lawsuit. The need to appear civilized, therefore, has shifted sexists to adopt an underground of code words--radical feminism, feminazis, androgynous society, social experimentation, political correctness, academic intolerance, to name a few terms that target stereotypical female behavior.

I hope brave women and men of all ilks--religious and secular--will compassionately and fairly examine the facts to no longer accept a false perception and a greediness of one's gender turf to continue to forge divergent realities for the sexes. Ha! Perhaps in our examination of the institutional face of religion and the stories of our culture, we ought to reverse the paradigm to expose the supposition behind the lie: Why are men inferior to women?

It's time, as Rev. Irene wrote, for a different hermeneutic than [the] classically held one, a faith in which God created the human genders simultaneously and both in divinity. It's time for new stories. Scriptures contain a male bias constructed in the past that's been perpetrated generation to generation for centuries. Why not listen anew to the Living Presence? For there's no better Source for the believer of today than the kingdom of God at hand, alive within us.

FOR THE RECORD: I'm a strong advocate of the separation of church and state. My religion nor should any other religion be imposed upon anyone. Funny how we hear about free will, and then those who espouse it, work tirelessly to end it. God save us from your people.

Wanker of the week

Remarking on why lesbians might earn more than child-bearing hetero women, Dr. Reza Arabsheibani, co-author of a salary report from the London School of Economics (with emphasis):

"[Lesbians] might want to prove themselves as good as men, by working hard and being enthusiastic."
I doubt the validity of a study in which one of its male authors expresses such a patriarchal attitude. No surprise, the report offers nothing conclusively on the reason for the lesbian pay gap.

Tell me good doctor, scanning over the millennia of history and with gracious few exceptions, women don't start bloody wars, don't terrorize civilians, don't rape, murder, and pillage, and don't destroy our environment as men do. So might men want to prove themselves as good as women?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Boycott Waffle House

I've had my last breakfast at Waffle House for its cozy relationship with corrupt anti-gay Ralph Reed:

Georgia state Sen. Dan Balfour (R-Snellville), is also a vice president of Waffle House Inc., and in that capacity he sent a July 7 internal company memo to nearly 400 Waffle House locations in the state instructing restaurant employees to display a Ralph Reed campaign sign. The memo bars campaign displays from any other candidate in any other political race.
....Now the Political Campaign Action Fund, a non-partisan, nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., is arguing the deal between the Reed campaign and Waffle House restaurants smells of dirty politics.
“I think it’s an illegal campaign contribution. It certainly undermines the laws that are on the books,” said David Donnelly, national campaign director for PCAF. Those laws, according to Donnelly, say that companies are only allowed total contributions to candidates of up to $5,000 per election.
The PCAF, which paid for political ads targeting Reed during the primary, alerted the Georgia Ethics Commission, which has not yet taken any official action.
Waffle House Communications Director Pat Warner said Balfour’s instructions were “not an endorsement.”
“It only allowed yard signs,” he said.
Not an endorsement?! Balfour's memo bans displays of candidates other than Ralph Reed. Ha! That's a de facto endorsement, bubbas. As the legendary Cooter Brown would say about Waffle House's spiel, "Shove your scattered and smothered where your sunny-side eggs don't shine."

(Hat tip to Katie Schlieper at Public Campaign Action Fund.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gertrude Stein's Legacy

Guest Columnist: Genet

Gertrude Stein by Picasso, 1906, oil on canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

You may not know this, but Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas helped usher in a 90-year art movement now known as Modernism. Lesbians in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Lesbians in Paris, just the phrase makes me smile.

Lesbians supporting the arts, lesbians creating salons, and lesbians leading the way.

When I was in college, some people thought I actually looked like Gertrude Stein, especially the likeness of her in the famous portrait by Picasso. That portrait was probably the very first piece of fine art I ever saw with a lesbian as the subject. Lesbian memory is powerful, because I only realized this a moment ago, when I put these words on paper. I look upon this blog column as access to the lesbian muses, as a style of writing passionately personal and political. It has no purpose other than to write a truth that I don't see anywhere else in the lesbian world at the moment.

Back in those prehistoric times, when there was hardly anything lesbian at all in the media (sound effects of the bellowing of the woolly mammoth and the roar of a T-Rex), I found the inspiration I needed from the women of the left bank of Paris. Without knowing it, I was connecting to genius, and this connection gave rise to what I call the lesbian imagination.

We have to be creative to thrive, because seemingly, our tribe is small, our resources smaller. In Japan, the Japanese would lament, "We are a small island nation with no natural resources." They were uttering these words to me in the early 1980s, when Japan was an economic powerhouse.

As lesbians, we might think we are the small island of Lesbos with no natural resources, but historically speaking, we created Picasso, and we helped James Joyce bring forth Ulysses, among other things. Modernism was the street lesbians lived on and built at the turn of the last century.

The poet Renee Vivien and bon vivant Natalie Clifford Barney imagined reviving the golden age of Sappho. When was the last time you went to a lesbian event, and heard some woman declare to one and all, "We need to revive the golden age of Sappho!" Lesbians look at me strangely if I even suggest such a thing. They are busy falling victim to media images of women, a sex obsessed materialism, and a lack of knowledge of the power of unity. We have forgotten how to unite with the power of ethics, shared destiny and imagination.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the enemies of lesbians, who are seemingly everywhere these days. I am well aware of who the enemies are, and we need not mention them now. I may have an attack column in the future. After all, I was born to blog, but what I believe is powerful, is focusing on greatness and genius as a lesbian past time.

Lesbians these days are caught up in minutiae. Even our writing has sunk down to the level of mainstream consciousness. But what will uplift us as unique beings? I believe in the lesbian spirit of the age, and I think we were born on earth for a special purpose. We are not supposed to be like every other woman out there. No. We have a unique biological purpose on earth, and a part of this purpose is artistic and intellectual development. I'm speaking from a purist point of view, from an idealistic point of view.

There is power in honoring the greatness of lesbian past, and uniting with greatness in lesbian present. Collectively, we have access to millions of dollars, and if we valued cooperation, we could be the engine of this prosperity. But we have to guard the wealth, and not waste it. The cautionary tale is of course Gertrude and Alice.

They had one of the finest collections of modern and cubist art in the world, but when Gertrude died, she'd left no will, no provision to guard her paintings. A four million dollar legacy at that time, was seized by Gertrude's relatives. Alice was left destitute, and only survived because the women of Paris supported her.

The path to lesbian creativity and liberation is the light of art, poetry and spiritual visioning. It's also the good sense to look to the next generation. It's in all of us to support and inspire our artists.

We can't do this if we don't set aside time to contemplate and learn. We can't do this if we waste our time in dyke drama. We can't do this if we fall victim to male centered artificial insemination, or a false desire to be as boring and idiotic as all the straight women around us.

From that powerful painting of Gertrude Stein to the oil painting that awaits all of us, let us contemplate those heroines of the past. I keep a book of portraits of those women of the left bank on my desk, right next to the international connoisseur's guide to cigars (written by a woman by the way and probably a lesbian).

I started seriously collecting art in 2000, and began an artistic awakening with the help of a gay male art historian in October of 1999. The first painting I bought in 2000, represented an image of the 21st century. The 20th century began with cubism, and the 21st century began with realism and figurative art. My art historian friend and mentor told me I could be the next Gertrude Stein, and in that I felt I had returned home. I had come full circle. I had reached a new phase of spiritual and moral development.

I'm inviting all the devoted readers of Becki Jayne's blog to look at the paintings of lesbian genius as a gateway to power. Start thinking creatively, and spend time away from the blare of contemporary life so that you too can be a woman of the 21st century; a lesbian of infinite value and intellectual virtuosity. You too can be Gertrude Stein!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wacky doodle Democrats who voted for FMA

The Federal Marriage Amendment that would have codified discrimination into the U.S. Constitution failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass the House of Representatives. Twenty-seven Republicans crossed over to vote, nay. The bad news for progressives is that 34 wacky doodle Democrats voted for the constitutional marriage abomination. Compiled from Roll Call 378 and the Office of the Clerk, they are:

    John Barrow (GA-12th)
    Marion Berry (AR-1st)
    Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-2nd)
    Dan Boren (OK-2nd)
    Rick Boucher (VA-9th)
    Allen Boyd (FL-2nd)
    Ben Chandler (KY-6th)
    Jim Cooper (TN-5th)
    Jerry F. Costello (IL-12th)
    Robert E. (Bud) Cramer, Jr. (AL-5th)
    Henry Cuellar (TX-28th)
    Artur Davis (AL-7th)
    Lincoln Davis (TN-4th)
    Chet Edwards (TX-17th)
    Bob Etheridge (NC-2nd)
    Harold E. Ford, Jr. (TN-9th)
    Bart Gordon (TN-6th)
    Stephanie Herseth (SD-At Large)
    Tim Holden (PA-17th)
    William J. Jefferson (LA-2nd)
    Mike McIntyre (NC-7th)
    Jim Marshall (GA-3rd)
    Jim Matheson (UT-2nd)
    Charlie Melancon (LA-3rd)
    Solomon P. Ortiz (TX-27th)
    Collin C. Peterson (MN-7th)
    Nick J. Rahall, II (WV-3rd)
    Mike Ross (AR-4th)
    David Scott (GA-13th)
    Ike Skelton (MO-4th)
    John M. Spratt, Jr. (SC-5th)
    John S. Tanner (TN-8th)
    Gene Taylor (MS-4th)
    Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2nd)

With some non-southern exceptions, this troupe of wingnut wannabes seem to be a-carryin' on the tradition of the ol' Dixiecrats, the clowns who took their romp with bigotry so seriously that they defected from the Democratic Party to join the GOP. Have these wacky doodle Democrats ever hear of the politics of discrimination or civil rights? Coretta Scott King understood civil rights included everyone. So does the NAACP. Ah, but understanding. That would entail thinking compassionately, honestly, without bigotry, and with integrity. What about constitutionality? States' rights? The role of the third branch of government in striking down bad laws? Ha! Did you think this was America, land of the free, home of the brave?

Listen to this... Same-sex marriage... Boo! Did you hear those squeals of irrational panic and gasps over the decay of hetero marriage as if magic fairy dust can dissolve an institution already under assault from chiseling the working class? Don't expect congressional enlightenment from a bunch of shame-based bozos gobsmacked by malignant absurdity.

NOTE: Blogger has been acting screwy today so this post would have published earlier. But alas, the database gods were busy elsewhere.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

21st Century Lesbian Warrior

Guest Columnist: Genet

This is my first column for Becki Jayne's blog. I'm one of those lesbians who reads everything, and I've noticed that since we switched from lesbian feminist liberation to the "gay" rights agenda, something has fallen between the cracks. Lesbians I meet today are longing for lesbian space, and I think we forgot just how new our movement really was. It was fragile, and easily overwhelmed by the hugely corrupt gay male sexual establishment to the detriment of lesbian feminist ideals.

To me there is poetic power in the lesbian separatist ideal -- not a literal separation, but a separation based on agenda. Ever go to a lesbian party where the energy was intellectually great, the food marvelous, and the conversation feminist? Yes, men were at these events, but the agenda was lesbian. That's what I mean by separatist. Don't be afraid to create powerful lesbian space, and then invite allies to join us within our own created moral lesbian majority. Hey, I like the ring of that!

I support lesbian revolution in any way you care to define it. That's right LESBIAN. NOT GAY, NOT WOMEN, but lesbian. I hope this column speaks to lesbians who are interested in nothing less than the romantic utopian ideals that so energized our movement from the earliest times.

Long ago, I envisioned lesbian images as the creations of genius, and I have been searching ever since for lesbian community - a community of friends, a community of political activists and a community of passionate creative women worldwide.

"Equal rights" is the wimpy term -- you know, the bust your butt attempts to change laws, meanwhile patriarchy just changes the rules again and again. What we forgot about was lesbian sisterhood itself.

As I told a friend recently, LGBT = No Lesbians. Ever notice this about the gay rights establishment? My philosophy is very simple: lesbians were born on earth to be agents of creative change and revolution. We were not born to have children, no! We are not the same as gay men, heavens no! And we have a passionate desire to create new worlds.

Am I biased? Yes. You'll read about my loves and hates. I not a go along type of person, but I do love passionate uncensored ideas. Blogs can do this.

How can you tell you're in the presence of true lesbian sisterhood? It's easy. Do you feel empowered and excited? Do you feel everyone gets it? Are you unafraid of the power of the labrys? Is connection and collaboration effortless? Are you miles away from that community deadening phenomenon known as social services?

When Becki Jayne first revealed her 1993 work of fine art, Madonna, Lover and Son, I knew I was seeing lesbian creative genius at work. We were making lesbian love sacred, we were seeing lesbians elevated to sainthood, and we were breaking out of patriarchal molds.

Patriarchy longs to waste women's time. Think of all the time and energy women have spent on single issues. Think of all the good we could do if we encouraged and collectively helped each other. But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution. We got sidetracked. We lost our focus. We lost our lesbian feminist passion to corporate sponsorship, or addiction programs or yet another mindnumbingly boring charity event.

Do we have the power to create a romantic utopia of ideas? Do we want to build on the lesbian visionaries of the past, present and future? The past speaks to us, and the future is calling us.

At the first CLOUT (Christian Lesbians Out Together) conference in the early 1990s, an open letter from Sally Gearhart was read to the group. In the letter, she said that the lesbians of the future actually talked to her when she met her first girlfriend in the dark pre-lesbian feminist era. Mary Daly writes about Matilda Joselyn Gage, the 19th century feminist visionary, as Matilda visits her apartment outside Boston. Sonja Johnson, the radical lesbian ex-Mormon, had a connection or a vision of all her Mormon women ancestors, as they filled the room she was working in.

These are lesbian visions of the past, and our feeling for a future.

I want this column to incite ideas. Yes, I intend to offend lesbian officialdom. Yes, I am intellectual and historical and poetic. Yes, I believe lesbians are a chosen people. We are chosen when we choose to bond in sisterhood with each other, and to radically reject patriarchy. Yes, we are proud to be radical, and unafraid of any name or any group. We are the ax carrying women of Ancient Crete, we are the horsewomen of Tibet, we carry the Naginata as samurai women, and we love freedom. We even sit at the last supper with a lesbian Jesus and lesbian apostles.

I support visionary lesbian art, and I detest and am bored by stupid depictions of lesbian self. Think L-Word. Think pornography and objectification, and I hate pornography. I believe lesbians should support each other first, that our dollars should go to lesbian causes, and that we should strive to be as well read and well educated about our own past as we can be. We are not a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich -- LGBT. We are lesbians. Not gay women! No. I believe we are the greatest and most passionately free women the world has ever seen. So let's start acting like it.

Let's build our shining lesbian city upon a hill, let's remember what it was like to ride a horse through the steppes wielding our sword of power. Let's remember a time when we were not slaves, and failing to remember, then let's invent! For those of you out there, you'll see my literary allusions. For those new to the lesbian world, you need to get a library card and read! Read and prepare yourselves for the coming conflicts.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pro-choice movement angers the Goddess


I don't recognize the women's movement anymore when Planned Parenthood and NARAL endorse a wacky doodle dandy such as Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamont:

From now on, even if 74% of Catholics in your state think that publicly funded hospitals should be required to provide emergency contraception to women who have just been brutally raped, we just want you to know that it’s okay to suck up to Catholic League nutjobs like Bill Donohue and Kate O’Beirne. We are open for business and will rubber stamp your pro-choice bona fides anyway, and promise to make absolutely no mention of any of this when we endorse you. You’ll be openly bragging about what a great friend you are to women in no time.

Has everyone sold principles for money? I guess if America under the conservative regime can whore itself to the highest bidder, so can anyone.

Jane Hamsher asks (with emphasis):

Am I the only one who is horrified by the sad state of the pro-choice movement in this country? The one bright spot is NOW, who seems to actually care about the cause they ostensibly support with their bizarre insistence that candidates they endorse actually be pro-choice. NARAL and Planned Parenthood just keep giving Democrats license to abandon their issues and still retain the pro-choice stamp of approval, and people who care and donate are being deluded into thinking that people like Lincoln Chafee, Maria Cantwell and Joe Lieberman — who all voted for cloture on Alito — are doing anything positive that isn’t completely symbolic while actively participating in taking a wrecking ball to women’s rights.

The Goddess blesses NOW as She readies Herself to spew forth the lukewarm vomitus from her Mouth into the cauldron of Pyrography.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Passion of Christ for today

The Crucifixion of Christ, oil on canvas, 1993

When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ first released, I was asked if I was going to see the film to which I retorted, "No, it's heresy. Masters do not suffer," a reaction of anger at the glorification of the suffering of Christ. If one believes in the New Testament stories--Jesus who raised the dead, Jesus who walked on water, Jesus who worked all manner of miracles--how can one logically deduce that Jesus suffered greatly on the cross? What kind of Father God would demand such agony? And why embrace the crucifixion as a tribute to Jesus when his life (not his death) offers so much more appropriately attuned narratives for believers to eulogize and edify?

For now, I'll set aside textual disputes and contradictions between the Gospels only to briefly cite Bart Ehrman from Misquoting Jesus, page 142:

. . .while Luke's source, the Gospel of Mark, portrays Jesus in anguish as he prays in the garden, Luke has completely remodeled the scene to show Jesus at peace in the face of death. The only exception is the account of Jesus's "bloody sweat," an account absent from our earliest and best witnesses. Why would Luke have gone to such lengths to eliminate Mark's portrayal of an anguished Jesus if in fact Jesus's anguish were the point of the story?

It is clear that Luke does not share Mark's understanding that Jesus was in anguish, bordering on despair....

. . .Nowhere is this more evident than in their subsequent accounts of Jesus's crucifixion... [Mark's account] stands in sharp contrast to what we find in Luke. In Luke's account, Jesus is far from silent, and when he speaks, he shows that he is still in control, trustful of God his Father, confident of his fate, concerned for the fate of others.

So the question remains. Why glorify the death and suffering of Jesus? Rev. Irene Monroe at The Witness provides awe-inspiring answers and they supply us with insights into today's false hegemony of guilt, shame, sacrifice, and a valorization of suffering and abuse:

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has no compassion for those of us relegated to the margins. I am not too certain that the film has any love for Christ, either.

It would be an egregious omission to gloss over the unrelenting violence that took place during Jesus' time, especially in light of the ongoing violence in today's society toward people of color, women, Jews, Muslims, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. However, the deification of violence as depicted in the film as redemptive suffering has deleterious implications that are not-so-benignly played out today from the playground to the courtroom.

Also, the film desensitizes killing, giving rise not only to a cavalier attitude to kill those who pose a physical threat to our lives, but also to a self-righteous attitude to kill those who are believed to pose social and political threats to the status quo.

So much of the opposition to same-sex unions is intrinsically tied to a religious belief held by many Christian evangelical heterosexuals. They will by any means possible -- and violence is not excluded -- oppose any bill sanctioning such a union, because their fight is not only just, but it is also redemptive. And many of these Christian evangelical heterosexuals believe that if Christ can suffer as he did up the hill to Golgotha at Calvary, so too can they, as they make their way up to Beacon Hill in Boston to save the sanctity of marriage.

The notion, therefore, of equating violence to redemptive suffering is not only bad theology, but is also a bad paradigm to demonstrate how God, who so loved the world that he offered up his only begotten son to save all of humanity, sacrificed in the form of a sado-masochistic flogging.

Rev. Irene says so much in these few paragraphs that I am astounded that a vast contingency of Christian evangelicals dismiss the ultimate truth, the message--do not crucify, do not judge or condemn, do not harm another of God's children but instead love, help each other, and treat each other as "you would have them do unto you." No amount of distortion and obfuscation can justify the condemnation of any minority based on the teachings of Jesus. Ever. To correct the error, Rev. Monroe explains that we have not grasped the forces underpinning Christ's crucifixion:

However, without the contextualization and accountability of the violence enacted upon Jesus, the cycle of violence continues. As a figure that has dominated Western culture and Christianity for over 2,000 years, too little attention is paid to Jesus' death. If more focus was spent on the reasons for his death and the systems of oppression that brought about his demise, violence against marginalized people would cease to exist.

By focusing on the death of Jesus and how justice might be adjudicated from it, we are forced to remember history. In the year 33 A.D., Jesus was unquestionably a religious threat to conservative Jews because of his iconoclastic views and practice of Jewish Law, and viewed as a political threat to the Roman government simply because he was a Jew.

So, too, today, political and religious factions who wail about being persecuted themselves oppress in continuing a legacy of marginalizing minorities. I daresay some Christians have sown their seeds upon stony ground, among thorns, and on the way-side of fear, violence, ignorance, and complacency.

Artistically, I agree with Rev. Irene that we have not fully incorporated the reasons behind Jesus' crucifixion, which I attempted to articulate in my faggot crucifxion:

Look at the word FAGGOT on the cross. You could substitute the word NIGGER, JEW BOY, HONKIE, REDNECK or BITCH—it all means the same. Anytime anyone rises up in condemnation, hatred or violence against another, Christ is [once again] crucified.

I chose the word FAGGOT because today, gays are socially-acceptable and religiously-justifiable targets for hate. And, just like gays, Jesus was made a hate target in his time because he dared to be different, to tell his understanding of the truth even though his words and his position defied the religious establishment.

Who thinks the placard that bore the phrase, King of the Jews, upon the cross at Calvary was anything but a mockery? Who now dares to mock another child of God as a faggot? What justice permits the vilification and segregation of gays as less than equal citizens so deplorably perpetrated in the name of God? Is such an action an act of love or a reaction to fear? A rising chorus within the psychiatric, psychological, and sociological communities plus some religious denominations have concluded that irrational fear belies such behavior.

In 1993, I completed the crucifixion painting as the Clinton Administration capitulated to congressional homophobes in declaring "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" apartheid of gays in the military. I did not realize the artwork prophesied bloodier scenarios. Rev. Monroe describes a year of "haterati" at its ugliest in 1998. An African-American boy named Emmett Till was lynched, James Byrd Jr. was heinously murdered in East Texas, and gay Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a wooden fence, a "cross" of sorts where he was left to die--all hate crimes due to what I would describe as a pervasive culture of violence and bigotry aimed at the Other, the minority. Other examples abound from the 1990s to present, from here in the U.S. to the prisons of Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca, and elsewhere in Iraq. Also...

During the summer months of 1998, the country was hit with the explosion of "ex-gay" ministry ads that appeared in major newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today. The ads were sponsored by a coalition of 15 right-wing Christian organizations calling all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to convert to heterosexuality.

Let me offer right now use of my faggot crucifixion to any organization who would like to reproduce it on a billboard or in an ad to challenge and protest the misuse of Jesus' teaching. Let the message reflect, they know not what they do but we will no longer tolerate bigotry masquerading as God's justice!

Not once did Christ condemn his gay brothers and sisters and perhaps he had a secret in living the down low. The Pauline text so often quoted to justify the alleged sin of man-on-man sex is hotly debated, yet are we to believe that lesbianism is OK? Ha! Few laypeople understand that scribes occasionally altered Scriptures to fit a prevalent religious bias as was done to limit women's roles in the church. Furthermore, we do not have the original manuscripts. Yes, that's right. Biblical textual scholars tell us we do not have one original manuscript of the Gospels. Instead, we have thousands of derivatives and each differ one from another. So much for the inerrant Word of God. What folly it is to take the Bible literally. And yet, Jesus' ministry and his teachings we can fully understand with a few words--love, forgiveness, compassion, and treating each other respectfully--which uplifts and redeems while a bloodshed theology, as Rev. Irene describes it, denigrates:

For those of us on the margins, a Christology mounted on the belief that "Jesus died on the cross for our sins" instead of "Jesus died on the cross because of our sins" not only deifies Jesus as the suffering servant, but it also ritualizes suffering as redemptive. While suffering points to the need for redemption, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive, and it does not always correlate to one's sinfulness. For example, the belief that undeserved suffering is endured by faith, and that it has a morally educative component to it makes the powerful insensitive to the suffering of others and it forces the less powerful to be complacent to their suffering - therefore, maintaining the status quo.

Jesus' suffering on the cross should never be seen as redemptive any more than the suffering of African-American men dangling from trees in the South during Jim Crow America. The lynchings of African-American men were never as restitution for the sins of the Ku Klux Klan, but were, instead, because of their sins that went, for decades, unaccounted for (until the 1951 Federal Anti-Lynching Act was passed). In other words, Jesus' death on the cross and the lynching of African-American are synonymous experiences.

As a deeply controversial icon in Christian liberation theologies for many feminists, womanists, African Americans, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the cross is the locus of redemption insofar as it serves as a lens to critically examine and make the connections between the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brought about the suffering Jesus endured during his time to the abuses of power and institutions of domination that brings about the suffering which women, people of color and sexual minorities are enduring in our present day.

When suffering is understood as an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for, we can then begin to see its manifestation in systems of racism, sexism, classism and heterosexism in our everyday lives. With a new understanding about suffering and how it victimizes the innocent and its aborts the Christian mission of inclusiveness, Jesus' death at Calvary invites a different hermeneutic than its classically held one.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people suffer because of well-intended heterosexual Christians' unexamined and unaccounted for acts of homophobia. When these Christians say they love us as sinners, but hate our supposed sin, they are maintaining an unexamined and unaccounted for cycle of spiritual abuse.

Many Christians do not realize that with the classical view of the cross held by many conservatives in their denominations as the exaltation of Jesus as male, Jesus as white, and Jesus as heterosexual, this view not only disinvites the many faces of God that should appear on the cross with Jesus, but it also disinvites solidarity among diverse groups of people who do suffer.

Yes, a different hermeneutic is exactly the need of the hour. To mature spiritually and morally, to progress as a fruitful nation and a beacon for democracy, we must no longer excuse the Dobsons, the Falwells, and the erroneous proposition, to paraphrase Monroe, that Jesus died for our sins when he was crucified because of sin. Therein lies redemption in not only accounting for racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and any -ism or phobia that excludes one member from the family of humanity, but calling those to account for repeating the sin and promoting it as if it were the truth.

UPDATE: Matt Comer really gets what the painting of The Crucifixion of Christ is about:

Because this message is so strong, it transcends lines of faith and lines of belief. Whatever you do to “the least” of our world’s family, you do to God… and you do to Jesus. If you aren’t the religious type, the message is similar: Whatever you do to “the least” of our world’s family, you do to someone else… for each person is inextricably bound to another; we are all interconnected and interdependent upon each other. When one is hurt, all are hurt. As Wilbur depended on Charlotte and her web, we all depend on each other for life, for joy, for happiness & survival… a huge web of humanity.

Whatever you do to “the least,” you do also to Christ. This painting is such a perfect portrayal of this teaching.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Grover Norquist unearthed

Digby predicts we will see a lot of handwringin' on the Sunday shows about divided Democrats but let me declare my pride in joining "the crazed, angry purists of the left who are trying to drag the party away from the center of American politics." To avidly celebrate my Wicked blogofascism, I thought I'd assist WaPo in driving a stake into the heart of a vampire whose gilded coffin was built by the House of GOP, and thus, the House of Bush. Jonathan Weisman writes:

Over the past six years, Norquist has been a key cheerleader and strategist for successive White House tax cuts, extracting ironclad oaths from congressional Republicans not to even think about tax increases. And even before President Bush's election, he positioned himself as a gatekeeper for supplicants seeking access to Bush's inner circle.
But in the aftermath of reports that Norquist served as a cash conduit for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the irascible, combative activist is struggling to maintain his stature as some GOP lawmakers distance themselves and as enemies in the conservative movement seek to diminish his position.
"People were willing to cut him a lot of slack because he's done a lot of favors for a lot of people," said J. Michael Waller, a vice president of the right-leaning Center for Security Policy.... "But Grover's not that likable."
Poor unlikable Count Norquisla. Cold-blooded ruthlessness and frequent denials of avarice does zap the energy and leave a distinctive, unappealing pallor. No doubt the Sunday shows will hypnotically overlook the Count's fangs for McCain and the senator's rebuff through his aide, Mark Salter:
"Obviously, Grover is not well. It would be cruel of us to respond in kind."
Not well? A kind remark for the undead. Grover's an ancient blood-sucker who, like his clansmen, have drained the blood and treasure of Community since people began huddling together and stockpiling their resources in caves. Count Norquisla joined the decomposing Jack Abramoff in channeling fresh wampum to their Renfield sidekick, Ralph Reed. A series of emails exposed by McCain's Senate Indian Affairs Committee directly connected Abramoff and the Count through his Americans for Tax Reform pep club. Who knew vampires loved cheerleading so much?

To pound a stake into the bloody coil of a vampire is one incapacitating tactic but more lethal and permanent is to behead and purge by fire. For that, we can rely on terrorism, the hysteria du jour of the land, the grand cause celebre of the Latter Day Faints:
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., the firebrand director of the Center for Security Policy, has developed an anti-Norquist presentation, complete with charts and graphs, that he has shopped around to other conservatives, saying it shows Norquist's ties to terrorist sympathizers....
...At issue is the Islamic Free Market Institute, which Norquist created in 1998 to steer Muslim voters to the GOP. To run the institute, Norquist tapped Khaled Saffuri, whose dealings with the American Muslim Council linked him to Abdurahman M. Alamoudi, a founder of the council, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from top Libyan officials and admitted participating in a Libyan plot to assassinate then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Norquist dismisses Gaffney's charges as anti-Muslim bigotry and part of a long-standing vendetta against him. And he says he has never violated his small-government principles to raise a buck.
Well, damn-a-nation! I didn't know terrorist sympathizers were funding big guvmit projects as well as the usual assassinations and mayhem.
But [Norquist] conceded that there are Republican lawmakers who want to see him weakened. He has been brutal at enforcing the no-new-taxes pledge he extracts from the candidates he endorses, so much so that many in the party are beginning to chafe, he said.
Vendetta? Brutal enforcement? Chafing? Ahem. I don't foresee Big Timmy broadcasting the truth bringing up the subject about dueling vampires on Meet The Press. Not a chance that any of the unctuous undertakers commandeering Faux News would report nuthin' about no GOP disunity. Sunday spiel will air as usual--the Democrats are crackin' up despite the under-rated reality that "George Bush's extremism has forged greater Democratic unity than ever."
But the apparatus [Norquist] has created for conservatives -- with fundraisers, social dinners and weekly meetings not just in Washington but in 43 states and even Europe -- has become too important to destroy.
Ah, but a successor could keep the mortuary hummin'. So who will rise as the fledgling vampire to sustain that sucking sound we've heard since Bush II paraded into Washington? Who knows? As for Count Norquisla, we can only pray that sunlight will parch his bones to dust. There's something wickedly just about a death blow that could be delivered by alleged ties to terrorism. Stay tuned for more Dark Shadows melodrama.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Did Jesus live the down low?

Rev. Irene Monroe at The Witness blew me away with her provocative and insightful July 3, 2006, column, Church's Code Keeps Jesus on the "Down Low":

For many of us who have always cast a suspicious eye on why biblical scholars, theologians and ministers do not have a clue as to who the historical Jesus was, Dan Brown's bestseller and now blockbuster movie, The Da Vinci Code, sheds an illuminating light onto the hysteria that maintains the mystery.

And the mystery is that there has always been an open secret about Jesus' sexuality that not only attacks the pillars of Christianity, but also profoundly plays into the oppression that women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people face today in both church and society.

And that open secret about Jesus' sexuality -- along with the suggestions that he was gay, married, or both, if Jesus was on the "down low" -- point to the issues we are wrestling with today in what conservatives call the "cultural war," namely the institution of marriage, women in the church, and gay clergy. The hysteria surrounding those issues creates the perfect climate for stories about secret texts emerging from centuries-old closets and church authorities trying desperately to keep the lid over the "truth about Jesus."

However, the debate about Jesus' sexuality takes him from his mother's womb to his tomb. The Christian depiction of Jesus as that of a lifelong virgin who had no sexual desire and who never engaged in sexual intercourse raises anyone's suspicion, when Jesus' traveling with unattached (and therefore "loose") women and with at least twelve men -- the law of averages would say that at least one out of the bunch was gay -- made his scandalous band the subject of a great deal of winking and nudging around ancient Palestine. Of course, given the compulsory heterosexuality in ancient Palestine, a gay Jesus would have been forced to be on the "down low."

Yup, I couldn't agree more. The de-sexualizing of Jesus caused me to delve into textual criticism, and obviously through my art, I've speculated about a queer Jesus as have others. Rev. Monroe goes on to articulate more fully something that has bothered me for decades and moved me to undertake the subject in oil paint.

Ever notice how lesbians are kewl (a straight guy's wet dream is to get it on with lesbians, right?) but gay guys cause gnashing of the teeth particularly by straight men? I've thought gay guy bias contained an unspoken patriarchal prejudice against the feminine, and historically in usurping the Goddess with a father god, the sacred feminine. Monroe writes (with emphasis):

While homophobia in today's Christian churches is antithetical to the gospel proclaimed by the early Church, so too is the denigration of the sacred feminine.

It would have been highly unusual and very scandalous, given Jewish marital customs, for Jesus not to be married; normally he would have been betrothed and married long before he became an itinerant preacher and called both male and female disciples. And just as any good Jew in Jesus' culture (aside from a few fringe sects like the one that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls) would have obeyed the command in Genesis to "be fruitful and multiply" by having children, any "real man" in Jewish or Roman circles would have shown his masculinity by penetration. Whatever Jesus did or didn't do sexually, his reported failure to marry and have children would have made him, in the eyes of his culture, Queer, unfruitful and feminized.

But Jesus was unashamed to tap into the forbidden zone -- his feminine side. The sacred feminine is not only the life force tied to women's ability to produce new life, but is also the power of the erotic that African-American lesbian poet Audre Lorde depicted as "a source within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling."

Our sexualities are the expressions of who we are with and in our bodies. They are a language and a means to communicate our spiritual need for intimate communion -- both human and divine. They are our self-understanding through which we experience the world.

However, the hysteria that surrounds Jesus' sexuality forces us all to see the walls of partition erected in our society, in our churches, and in our families that prohibit us from living freely in our bodies and force some of us on the "down low."

And these walls not only contribute to the false socialization of who we are as male and female -- they also contribute to the false spiritualization of who we are as the body of Christ.

What powerful words Monroe writes. Recently, elaborating on the idea of the sacred feminine, I dared to paint a Second Coming oil that embraces the return of a female messiah in the form of a blue pasture rose heralded by a way-showing Christ. Optimistically, I envision a future where the sacred feminine reemerges, and in tandem with the sacred masculine, gives birth to another renaissance, another Age of Enlightenment, and a restoration of balance so sorely needed on our planet. Ironically, Mother Earth and the threat of global warming may spark this necessary correction if we as species intend to flourish. Perhaps I'm foreseeing a vision that's decades or centuries away but I am encouraged to read such inspired words from Rev. Irene Monroe that identify the crux of the issue, the false socialization of who we are as male and female and ultimately a false spiritualization.

If Christians and others such as I accept the belief that we were created in the image of the divine, and that undeniably, we are sexual beings with biologically-induced minority and majority traits, inevitably we must resolve the full spectrum of sexuality and spirituality or continue a compartmentalization that robs us of our wholeness and our holiness. Let the transformative integration accelerate for I intuit that is the evolutionary force presently at work. The emergence of a politically-powerful Religious Right so hell-bent in attempting to subvert feminism, gay equality, and control what all of us do in our bedrooms and the personal decisions we make with our physicians tells me that we have embarked upon the road to recovery and an awakening. Adversity in the form of repression, oppression, and suppression has its purpose in propelling us forward, thank God! In time, these obstacles, too, shall pass.

IMAGES: From top to bottom, Judas Kiss, a cropped close-up of an acrylic study for The Last Supper, and The Raped Virgin.

UPDATE: Seems that I have joined the clan of the Fey Women in subverting necrophilia. Well, I was certainly born to be Wild. Ha!