Nothing compassionate about conservatism – it’s about certainty

04 Aug
Women’s ability to vote in society, and thus be recognised as more competent than children, is a relatively new phenomena (table below), but still incomplete.  The dates are inaccurate when it comes to indigenous peoples of some of these countries.

  • 1893 New Zealand
  • 1902 Australia
  • 1906 Finland
  • 1913 Norway
  • 1915 Denmark
  • 1917 Canada
  • 1918 Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia
  • 1919 Netherlands
  • 1920 United States
  • 1921 Sweden
  • 1928 Britain, Ireland
  • 1931 Spain
  • 1944 France
  • 1945 Italy
  • 1947 Argentina, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan
  • 1949 China
  • 1950 India
  • 1954 Colombia
  • 1957 Malaysia, Zimbabwe
  • 1962 Algeria
  • 1963 Iran, Morocco
  • 1964 Libya
  • 1967 Ecuador
  • 1971 Switzerland
  • 1972 Bangladesh
  • 1974 Jordan
  • 1976 Portugal
  • 1989 Namibia
  • 1990 Western Samoa
  • 1993 Kazakhstan, Moldova
  • 1994 South Africa
  • 2005 Kuwait
  • 2006 United Arab Emirates
  • 2011 Saudi Arabia
We live in heady days! The recognition of women has made great progress over the last century.  We might be excused for thinking that full recognition of women will soon be realised, but another perspective is that the lingering abuse of women, the ownership of women, their lack of legal status and their enforced submissiveness has persevered for far too long.
Conservatives resist changes to the status quo. They call it tradition and endow it with reverence. They defend tradition, despite the inequities that it delivers. They resist every new position of leadership for women, including women’s ordination, but then you’ll hear the term ‘compassionate conservatism’ – a misleading framing.  Rather than indicating that conservatives are compassionate, it indicates a strategic surrender to irreversible advancements that once were strenuously resisted.  Conveniently they forget about each of the lost battles.  It’s been a long time since a conservative reminisced about the glory days of slavery, or the halcyon days when women couldn’t vote in the LCA.  In that way they aim to bolster their credibility for resisting the next step towards equality.  Their current cause is to resist women’s ordination, but they have resisted:
  • women voting at congregational meetings (1966)
  •  women being delegates at Synod (1981)
  • women being a member of church boards and committees (1984)
  • women being included in the guidelines for reading lessons in worship (1984)
  • women assisting in the distributing of Holy Communion (1989)
  • women being lay assistant as an alternative to elder (1990)
  • being chairperson of a congregation (1990)
  • women being synodical chairperson (1998)
  • women lay-reading (2003)
Conservatives are forced to give ground again and again, their causes being transient and ethereal, vapourising as society realises that for 10 000 years of civilisation women have been denied fair treatment.  There is nothing compassionate about conservatism.   Its focus is resistance – resistance to mutuality, to questioning, to open two-way conversations.  It’s about absolute certainty while retreating to the next fortress to be defended.  It’s about fear and sometimes even hatred.  You cannot embrace women in one context and fear and hate them in another.  Consider the women-hating theology of Jack Schaap in his fundamentalist Baptist church in Indiana.  Not surprisingly he has been dismissed from his parish because of his affair with an underage girl who came to him for abuse counseling.
If we are simply products of our past, it might be understandable that so many men (and women) relegate women to subservience. There’s so much that supports a theology of domination. Consider the Danvers Statement (1987) which forms the basis of the fundamentalist renewal of misogyny in U.S. Christian churches. Consider the long history of violence towards women, justified and maintained by our legal systems. Consider the hatred shown towards women in the witch trials throughout Europe and the USA around the 15th century. Consider the theologians that formed the foundation of our theology (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther):

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 CE). He wrote to a friend:
“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman……I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

Martin Luther (1483 to 1546) (this link leads to other misogynist quotes):
“If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274 CE):
“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

We are not, however, simply products of our past.  We have the God-given intellect to analyse cultural traditions and decide what is helpful or destructive.  We have a wealth of scriptural scholarship that allows us to go beyond a fundamentalist proof-texting.  We have the ability to listen and to learn from the stories of women denied access to ordained ministry. We can jointly envision and mould a future where women are empowered to share in the leadership and create the welcoming, embracing church that we want it to be.

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4 responses to “Nothing compassionate about conservatism – it’s about certainty

  1. martin beach

    August 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Thanks Katie; a useful response to my last response to a previous posting. I was disappointed to read of more of Luther’s misogynist comments, and since I’m one of Martin’s namesakes, I feel inclined to spring to his defense. I had previously only been aware of one of those quotes. All I can say is we need to attune ourselves to the spirit of Luther’s thinking, which was revolutionary at the time, and the Sitz im Leben (Thanks Jackie Renner). At worst Luther reflected the spirit of his times, but if we consider his attitude to his Kitty, particularly after the adventurous (for want of a better adj) raid of a nearby nunnery for wives for his students & celebate peers, we see a man with a bit of a twinkle in his eye, and even close to the edge of breakdown at various times in his life.

    He actually tried to marry all off to others, since he more or less had a target painted on his back. Accordingly he didn’t really expect to survive long at all, & therefore not suited to be a “good” husband, since any woman he married would in all likelihood end up a widow in the forseeable future. So he was kidnapped & spirited off to the Wartburg, a place of waiting. He had to wait for the heat from the ban declared by Charles V after the diet of Worms, whereby Luther could be murdered with impunity, to dissipate, & for the elector of saxony to consolidate his independence from the Holy Roman Empire.

    Later in Luther’s life he recognized Katie’s role in enhancing his ministry. I suspect most of his misogynist comments were made at the lunch table with his students, the vast majority of whom, if not all, were male. Even though Luther spoke with conviction in ways that put him on a collision course with the powers that be, he was not perfectly byond the odd bit of
    “brownnosing”, or making tongue in cheek comments. I think our human nature is so desparate for “heroes” that we often ascribe divine attributes to fellow mortals. May God save us from such foolishness.

    So our God is the master/mistress of timing. It’s amazing how (s)he has used events in history which seemed very black & 100% evil to bring about God’s purposes. God used the sale of Joseph by his brothers into slavery to create a system of grain storage that allowed many to survive a particularly severe drought. Hindsight enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers for their treachery, though it must’ve been terrible for them to listen to all his skiting & bragging & rubbing their faces in Jacob’s favoritistic treatment of Joseph the son of Rachel.

    I am thankful that in spite of the adverse situation facing LCA women in the C21st, that God has raised up leaders such as Tanya Wittwer, and if God says we have to wait again, (s)he will surely use the ostensibly bad situation to bring about a silver lining to go along with the dark cloud. Let’s trust our God who can’t be limited by our functional notions of gender to bring it on in the ‘fullness’ of time. We focus on the message & let the gerontocracy focus on how they exercise their power; we know that God’s strength is stronger in human weakness.

    • Katie and Martin

      August 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Thanks Martin for your contribution. We concur that Luther needs to be considered for the big themes in his life rather than the apparent un-thinking comments that might have come from Grumpy Old Men. His words remain on record, however, giving us an insight into how we might interpret his other texts.
      Yes, women’s ordination will eventually be approved in the LCA in the ‘fullness of time’, however, that phrase suggests that there is little that can be done to bring it forward. You may have guessed that this blog does not work in a ‘fullness of time’ paradigm. As stated elsewhere in this blog, theology is no longer the issue for women’s ordination in the LCA as it has twice been approved by the Committee on Theological and Inter-Church Relationships (CTICR). For some time the President’s actions of delay and distraction, rather than wise, pastoral steps towards the institution of women’s ordination and the reconciliation of groups, has made obvious that the process at the moment is largely political. While there is nothing wrong with the process of politics, its use creates the imperative for supporters of women’s ordination to do what is needed politically to bring it about.

  2. Michelle

    August 6, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I had read this post even before your link to it on Baptist Women for Equality, and I like it.

    But of course I would. I am a bit liberation theology leaning, in the sense that I see the message of Christianity to be more and more freedom for people in Christ. How many times has God ignored the rule of the first-born male as the inheritor and selected another, instead, for example? I do mean to read the Bible and catalogue all of those instances. My reading is much different from my husband’s, as I have a justice orientation and I was not raised told how to understand what I was reading.

    So of course I oppose the status-quo and the holding on to power: I don’t think it is at all what God intended for us.

    You are right about the veneration of tradition: even while a denomination brags that scripture is its only guide, it adheres to the traditional interpretation of scriptures that it then uses to limit women.

    Thank you for your response on the other blog and for bringing me here, as well. You are helping me to think through something that…I don’t know for sure, but I think it will be good. It’s just taking time. Everything you are saying is marinating and it will be shaped into something, I trust. Thank you. 🙂

  3. Katie and Martin

    August 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Hey Michelle, it sounds like you’re on a journey. Many blessings as God challenges and inspires.
    We don’t think that conservatives often consider deconstructing the use of power and hidden curriculums. In addition they are unwilling to use the available historical ethnological and archeological tools to understand texts.


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