Saturday, March 31, 2018

As Men Lift Up the Cross in Holy Week Liturgies Around the World, Some Theological Questions

In a just-published article entitled "In an age of Trump and Stormy Daniels, evangelical leaders face sex scandals of their own," Sarah Pulliam Bailey quotes Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who states,

I also think there's a growing — but not fast enough — realization in church life of the way that power can easily be abused in predatory ways, especially spiritual power.

Russell Moore's statement about the link between abuse and the power religious leaders exercise over others should, I propose, be read side by side with the following passage from Julie Ingersoll's book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles (NY: NYUP, 2003):

In many ways, however, the evangelical subculture fits psychological profiles of dysfunctional and abusive families. This observation was first pointed out to me by Diana Garland, the fired dean of the School of Social Work at Southern Seminary. As I thought about her comparison and how it fit with the material I had gathered in my other interviews, it was disturbing how clear the parallels were. The abuser (the person in power) rules through terror, and everyone around tries not to make waves and to hide the reality of the dysfunction from those outside. Like the family of an alcoholic that works together to hide the problem from outsiders, many of my interview subjects who were embroiled in controversy reported being pressured to keep their problems a matter of private disagreement between them and their institutions. Students who reported sexual improprieties indicated that their institutions tried to keep such reports from being made public and in the process failed to address adequately the concerns of the students. Southern Seminary’s firing of Dean Garland was ultimately a result of her violation of a "gag rule" about the conflict over gender issues. As in an abusive family, this commitment to presenting an unblemished appearance to "the world," regardless of the cost, plays into the hands of those in power (pp. 114-5).

This Holy Week and Easter, I think I am more aware than ever that in many Christian traditions, it is always men lifting up the cross for women to kiss and adore.

What's that about, I wonder?

What does it mean?

What does it say to the world, to believers, to women? To men?

Just asking.

Because we have to ask such questions if Jesus and his cross mean anything at all to us.

And as I think about this during this Holy Week and Easter season, I think about this announcement of a forthcoming dialogue between Father James Martin, Xorje Olivares, Jason Steidl, and David Gibson at Union Seminary, which speaks of the "bold call [Father Martin's Building a Bridge] makes for the Catholic Church to live into God’s all-inclusive love, and fully welcome LGBT people into the life and ministry of the Church."

As Jamie Manson asked a few days ago in a public Facebook posting about this upcoming dialogue (since it's public, I'm assuming Jamie won't mind my sharing information about the posting), how, precisely, is this upcoming dialogue bold? Welcoming? All-inclusive? 

How can anyone possibly make those statements while circulating this advertisement for this event? Is it possible that men in the Catholic tradition including so-called liberal/progressive ones are so conditioned to male power and privilege in the Catholic institution that they imagine they don't even have to think about these contradictions, as they use words or phrases like "all-inclusve," "fully welcome," and "LGBT"? L as in lesbian. Lesbian as in female.

As theologian Ivone Gebara says in her book Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation,  trans. and intro. Ann Patrick Ware (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002) — and this has to be thought about in Holy Week as the cross is lifted up,

Some may object that religion has not often been a place of violence. On the contrary, in view of the patriarchal characteristics of the main religions of the world, religion has been not only an arena for violence but the ultimate justification for violence launched against all kinds of people and both men and women, but especially women (p. 104).

What are we lifting up, when we lift up the cross?

The cross was lifted up and carried by the Crusaders (from Latin, crux for "cross") as they slaughtered Islamic people in the "holy wars" of the Middle Ages.

The Conquistadors lifted high the cross as they subjugated the native peoples of the new world.

Processions in which "witches" and Jews and "heretics" and sodomites were led to the stake to be burned to death: they were headed by priests lifting up the cross.

The Ku Klux Klan burns the cross at its rallies and in front of houses of people it wants to terrorize.

The followers of the moral monstrosity in the White House are lifting up the cross right now as they speak (Steve Bannon chief among them) about new "holy wars" and expelling demonized Muslims from "our" country.

The cross is used as a sign of exclusion, as a weapon to beat back people stigmatized as unholy and unworthy. It is used to justify racism, xenophobia, misogyny.

The cross is an ambiguous symbol. Those wielding it often proclaim the very opposite of what Jesus proclaimed, what led to his capital punishment as the lowliest of criminals by the Roman Empire.

A question we need to ask ourselves this Holy Week and Easter time: have white Christians supporting the moral monostrosity in the White House so tainted the cross now that lifting it up today is lifting up something that proclaims anti-Christ — not Jesus crucified?

It's certainly a question I ask — one I have no choice except to ask as a gay Christian.

The photo of Pope Francis carrying a crucifix on Good Friday is an AP photo by Gregorio Borgia which appeared at many news sites online yesterday.

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