Yesterday, I wrote about how strange (but not strange in the least, as we think about it) it is that religious communities so wildly unlike as the LDS church, the Catholic church, and right-wing evangelicals are finding common ground around their shared determination to get women (and gay folks) under control. On the face of it, this collusion makes very little sense, when one considers the profound differences between the theological systems of these three religious groups — differences starkly evident in their various theologies of marriage, which would seem to be irreconcilable, when the Mormon theology of marriage was born in the practice of polygamy, Catholics maintain that marriage is a sacrament involving one man and one woman for life, and evangelicals historically reject all talk of sacraments beyond baptism and the Lord's supper.
And yet, there it is, the shared determination of these three religious groups at this point in history to tame errant women and keep gay people closeted and humiliated in the name of Christ — a key and overriding determination, it seems, of the leaders of these religious groups at this point in history, if not of many lay members of the groups. As I wrote yesterday,
[T]hese are churches in very deep reaction to developments in the surrounding culture and within these churches themselves, which threaten to overturn hard-and-fast regulations about the roles to be played by both women and gay folks in these churches. These are churches whose leaders are determined to do almost anything, it seems, to stop the forward movement of human rights advocacy for women and gay folks within their particular church communities — anything, including violating central moral norms about honesty, decency, fair play.
Which is another way of saying, too, isn't it, that these churches must not have strong, compelling moral cases to make regarding their teachings denying ordination to women and relegating gay people to second-class status, if they have to resort to draconian, repressive techniques to stop the forward movement of human rights causes that increasingly compel the support of many members of these churches?
And that's another way of saying that they have substituted for what they claim is the good news they want to preach to the world heterosexual male power and authority and its absolutization, as if that is the good news they're preaching to the world.
Dare one say it?: religious politics make for strange bedfellows. It's hard to imagine anything stranger than the bed-hopping and bed-sharing taking place right now between Catholic hierarchs, Mormon apostles, and evangelical gurus, all of whose theological universes are light years apart from each other, but who appear to be pigging together quite happily (if I may borrow a useful phrase from William Byrd's journals about the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina) today in the same bed, as long as the subject is women. And gays.
And keeping women and gays under their respective ecclesial thumbs.
Under their all-male, women-excluding thumbs, that is to say . . . .
I'm hardly the only one noticing the interesting news that patriarchy makes for strange bedfellows in the world of religion today. Here's Randall Maurice Jenks, professor of American and African-American studies at the University of Kansas, writing for CNN's religion blog about how the misogyny of many religious groups is showing today as the LDS church excommunicates Kate Kelly and as Meriam Ibrahim is sentenced to death for "apostasy" in Sudan:
Patriarchy comes in all forms, but religious patriarchy seems particularly pernicious because it assumes that male rule is constituent of God or the gods.
In other words, God or the gods behave like men — wrathful, scornful, jealous, and imperious.
And here's Mormon feminist Erin Seaward-Hiatt at the Feminism and Religion blog on the links between Kate Kelly, Catholic nun (and brilliant writer) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and Puritan religious leader and excommunicate Anne Hutchinson, both from the 17th century:
For faithful women like Sor Juana and Kate Kelly, the threat of excommunication comes with a pang of grief and an insult handed down not from God but from males acting in his name. These are intelligent women who ask sincere questions that affirm their deep dedication to their faith. Yet instead of the patriarchy seeing these women as worthy sparring partners in all things doctrinal, they see them as victims of ignorance and objects of pity in God’s eyes. The LDS Church’s calculating reaction is to couch its disciplinary language in terms of love and concern, reducing Kelly to a wayward woman rather than confronting her as the intelligent and autonomous person that she is.
As I say above — and, to my mind, this point bears repeating and then repeating again — the problem that the behavior of the big-dog men running many of our religious shows today is creating for the "ordinary" adherents of the religious shows they run is this: when all is said and done, religion, real religion, authentic spirituality, is not about purity codes and controls. It's about love, mercy, and justice.
When religious life devolves, as it appears to be doing in the behavior of many of the big-dog men running things in the world of religion today, to a matter of drawing insider-outsider lines, hardening the purity codes to place more and more people outside (while highlighting the divine supremacy of the heterosexual men on the inside, who happen to have created said purity codes), it begins to repulse and not attract more and more people whose spiritual quest is about finding love, mercy, and justice. Not hard and fast insider-outsider lines and hyped-up purity codes that target particular sectors of the human community . . . .
For those who are rooted in the Jewish tradition, as Christians are, the testimony of the prophets is very clear about these issues: love, justice, and mercy trump purity codes every time, since God cares about the former and not the latter. No matter what the big-dog men running various religious shows want to tell us.
And for those of us rooted in the Christian tradition, it's exceedingly clear where Jesus stood on these issues. He stood squarely within the prophetic tradition of his own Jewish religion.
(My thanks to Ruth Krall for sending me the link to Randall Maurice Jenks's CNN essay.)
The graphic: I find it used repeatedly at various blog sites, but never with any attribution of its original source. If any reader has that information, I'll gladly post it.