Feminism and Church Patriarchy

I was too young during the Civil Rights movement to appreciate the participants’ sacrifices and accomplishments firsthand. We’re in the midst of another, admittedly more subtle, radical social transformation.

The U.S. is tilting left, in large part because younger voters are more liberal on a host of social issues including gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, gun control, and legalizing marijuana.  As one especially illuminating example of this transformation, read not-so-young Republican Senator Rob Portman’s explanation of why he now supports gay marriage.

The key word in the previous paragraph was “tilting” as in 55%. There’s still a Grand Canyon-like partisan divide on social issues. Case in point, Portman is getting ripped by the Right for abandoning conservative biblical principles and by the Left for a too little too late conversion.

This is what I was thinking about in church Sunday when Melinda, our twenty-something year-old intern, started her sermon, a history of St. Patrick, and what his life might mean for our church today. It was excellent. I drifted as always, but more purposefully. I was fast forwarding, thinking about how bright her pastoral future is. I was picturing her taking future calls and serving a series of churches extremely well. A life spent modeling the gospel; providing spiritual counseling; teaching and preaching; rallying people to serve those in need; thoughtfully baptizing, marrying, and burying the young and old; and the community and larger Church, being better for it.

And then I thought about a religious organization that’s been in the news a lot lately as a result of a change in leadership. And how, despite accelerating social change in the U.S., that religious organization is passing on thousands of Melinda’s the world over every year. How, I wonder, does any institution in the 21st Century take a pass on the leadership potential of half its members?

Also listening to Melinda was our district’s congressman who flies home every weekend to see his wife. Looking at him made me wonder, what if Congress passed on the leadership of half the population? What if schools of medicine did? Or your workplace? What if (fill in the group or institution of your choice) did?

How do my feminist friends, both male and female deal with the church’s patriarchy? That’s only one of my many questions about the Church in the news. My friends would undoubtedly say that’s just one of a long list of unresolved challenges facing the Church. They oppose the Church’s official stands on a litany of issues, but remain committed to it.

How does that work? Does religious tradition trump discordant hearts and minds? How does it hold together?

What the Hell is the Presidency For?

The on-line magazine The Root recently asked, “Should Obama endorse gay marriage?” And then suggested, “Doing so before the election has some risks, but it could re-energize segments of his base.” Notice their question doesn’t have anything to do with whether it’s the right thing to do or not.

I’m so accustomed to “what will get me re-elected” political thinking, I had to read these two paragraphs about Lyndon Baines Johnson from my first book of 2012, Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig several times. Based on the assumption you may also be in need of inspiration, I share them with you as an abbreviated refresher on bold political leadership:

In his first speech to Congress, he (Johnson) placed civil rights at the core of his new administration, and hence at the core of the values of the Democratic Party. The decision was profoundly controversial. In a six-hour meeting before the speech, Johnson was advised strongly against making civil rights so central to his administration. As described by Randall Woods, Johnson was told, “Passage [of the Civil Rights Act]… looked pretty hopeless; the issue was as divisive as any… ; it would be suicide to wage and lose such a battle.” The safe bet was against the fight. Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell is the presidency for?” These were not the words of a triangulator from the U.S. Senate, but of a man who had grown tired of that game, and wanted to try something new.

When he decided to make civil rights central to his party’s platform, Johnson knew that he was forever changing the political dominance of the Democrats. His decision to pass the most important civil rights legislation in history was a guarantee that the Republicans would again become competitive. Yet his loyalty was more to truth, or justice, or his legacy—you pick—than to party politics. To that end, whichever it was, he was willing to sacrifice a Democratic majority of tomorrow in order to use the Democratic majority of today.

Indeed, what the hell is the presidency for?

Stereotyping Occupy Wall Streeters

A conservative Republican friend who I refer to affectionately as a “right wing nutter” is increasingly becoming a conservative Independent. He rails about many of the same things the OWSers (Occupy Wall Streeters) do including the negative influence of lobbyists and the unfair advantage gigantic corporations have over small businesses. Even though his fixes would no doubt differ from theirs, the Nutter and the OWSers diagnosis of our economic problems would overlap a lot.

Add into the mix, a “talking to” he gave his teenage son recently. Synopsis—being a man entails living passionately and standing up for and fighting for things that are important to you.

Connecting those dots, I asked him what he thought of the Wall Street protests.

Knee-jerk derision.

Why? My guess is anti-hippie bias. Can’t get past some of the protesters’ “out there” outward appearance and “in your face” style which he probably associates with liberal symbols from the counter culture movement in the 1960’s. Can’t quite get to the content of their character.

Many jump to negative conclusions about others based upon superficial things like clothing, tatts, piercings, hair coloring, mohawks, purple Converse hightops.

Young 1950’s and 1960’s Civil Rights activists were shrewd to wear their “Sunday best”. Maybe 2011 Occupy Wall Street activists don’t want the support of independents like my friend enough to change their individual, idiosyncratic personal style.

Here’s a 6+ minute film that provides an on-the-ground feel of things. And some stills.

Look pretty Main Street to me

Percussion and face painting, oh my!

Shouldn't there be a law about the mixing of tye-dye, bandanas, and the flag?

Occupy Wall Street protesters wake up and start their day in their encampment in Zucotti Park as people walk to work through the park Tuesday morning.

For the love of God, they're sleeping under tarps.

Genuine Social Progress—The Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

From Margot Adler on National Public Radio:

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is no more. The policy barred openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from serving in the military.

As to what really propelled the change: changes in attitudes in the country as a whole, shifting attitudes among top military brass, gay activism, legal action and the increasing needs of a military waging several wars.

In Adler’s story, Sue Fulton, a West Pointer and former Army Captain, cut to the chase:

When we’re at war what matters is: Do you have my back? Are you supporting me down range? All of this other nonsense about who is waiting for you back home, or what the color of your skin is, or who you worship, those things don’t matter when you’re down range, when you are under fire. It comes down to do you have the character and the ability to have my back. Gays and lesbians have proven throughout this conflict that they do.

In twenty-five to fifty years, we’ll look at the last few decades of anti-gay posturing and policy in the same way we do Jim Crow-based racial segregation today.