Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Bible on gays & women

Bible says NO,  August 8, 2012
I am revisiting a story from about a year ago when the St. Cloud Times ran my opinion piece during the debate on the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota that would have banned gays from marrying. The Times titled my writing, “Bible tells us to vote "no'.” As it is no longer available online, I quote long portions:
Promoters of the Marriage Amendment argue that it protects and strengthens marriage, that same-sex attraction must not be enjoyed as opposite sex attraction is, and that the Bible says so. True—the Old Testament condemns homosexuality, but it also tells women to marry their rapists and slaves to obey their masters.

Taking the Bible as a how-to manual on morals, we come up against teachings crude, comic, and cruel. . . . Judges 11:29 to 40 tells the story of Jephthah, a Hebrew chieftain who vowed that if “the Lord” delivered the enemy to him, he would offer up as holocaust whoever met him first when he returned in triumph. It was his daughter, and he kept his vow. 

Obviously, the lord of the Bible is as small or great as the writer of each scripture could imagine. Some Bible passages convey a divine presence uplifting and comforting—see Exodus 3:14, Psalm 71 and Matthew 6:25-30. 

But the lord-god of less sublime imagination commands systematic genocide in Bible books that Christians call the Old Testament—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. Perusing these books, readers will find the petty lord telling Moses’ people to displace the people of Palestine, to enslave some and exterminate others, to leave not a single soul alive. This lord cannot inform our moral conscience because many of his commands horrify more than edify. His words, deeds, and rules tell us how they lived, not how we should live.
In Numbers 31, the Israelite army wages war against the Medianites, as the Lord commands Moses, and they kill every male. The women and children they take captive as booty along with goods and animals. Moses angrily asks the returning army, “Have you allowed all the women to live? . . . Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.” 
I surmise that Bible passages like this form the basis for Muslim extremists’ weird premium on ravishing virgins and meeting virgins in heaven.

I also told the beginning of the Sodom-and-Gomorrah story that ends with Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. Men in Lot’s town come to his door demanding that he give his male guests to them for sexual play. He begs them, “not to do this wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please.” Apparently “The Lord” approves of sexual assault of females because he saves Lot’s family.

Judges 19:22 to 30 tells a similar tale. A man offers the shelter of his home to a traveler, but perverted men pound on the door and demand that he release the traveler to them for their sexual use. Horrified, he offers them instead his virgin daughter and his own concubine, saying, “Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”

These passages give a clear teaching—the Bible condemns homosexuality, but condones abuse of women and girls. It is fair to say this is part of the Bible’s moral standard on sexuality in the first Testament. The Times headline was correct, in an ironic way.

I am grateful to have the forum of the paper. An emailer wrote:
I would guess there are a few folks running to their bibles today. Wonder how those who may present questions to the clergy will be answered!

A Creed to believe in, August 28, 2013
Jesus of Nazareth said the Reign of God is like seed sown on good ground and bad. The spiritual Realm, he said, is like a dragnet bringing up worthless and worthwhile. The Reign of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a shrub large enough for birds to nest in. It is like yeast that spreads through a mass of dough to make it rise. Like buried treasure found and like treasure guarded from thief and moth. Like a pearl for which a merchant gives up all he has. These images of the spiritual Realm given by Jesus are found in Matthew 13 and Luke 12 and 13. They continue to pulse with vitality, open to a variety of interpretations but definitely not open to meaning an exclusive place ruled by a king or lord.

S. Sandra Schneiders points out that the Bible has a wealth of God-images that Christian churches never use: mother, mid-wife, homemaker, she-bear, mother eagle, sun, rock, fire, and breath. Phyllis Trible exposes the Divine Mother saturating the Hebrew Scriptures with Her womb—rehem. In Deuteronomy 32:18, God complains,
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
You forgot the God who writhed in labor pains with you.
In Isaiah 42: 14 God exclaims,
I cry out like a woman in labor,
I gasp and pant.
Dr. Margo Houts offers more examples online.

To be true to the Bible and to Jesus’ imagery, Father must stand alongside Mother and flock must include the pope. I feel confident that Pope Francis would endorse this statement. But a calcified tradition imprisons him as well as the whole Church in language that surely would offend Jesus.

One example is the patriarchal creed, which I cannot with integrity recite. I cringe at the thought of a million women saying, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven. . . and became man.” A more effective evisceration of feminine value cannot be imagined. My place of worship deletes the offensive “men” but how many do this? Our congregation does recite, “became man,” which actually mistranslates the original text. To be consistent with the slavishly literal translation, it should be rendered “became flesh.” This insult to women seems deliberate and pathological.
I know many who busily translate during Mass, internally clawing some meaning from the archaic texts. But more people whose minds have not fallen asleep simply leave Christian churches.     
I say internally,
I believe in God, the Mother Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
Without my constant translating during Mass I could not endure the texts that set up idols.
To resonate with Jesus’ teaching about the invisible Domain, we could say,
I believe in the spiritual Realm, a never-failing treasure that thief cannot steal nor moth destroy (Lk 12:33).
I believe in the spiritual Reign proclaimed by Jesus, seeding ground good and worthless, spreading like weeds, leavening like yeast through dough (Mt 13).

In our womanpriest Masses we recite a creed adapted from one by S. Joan Chittister:
We believe in one God who made us all and infuses all of life with the sacred.
We believe in the multiple revelations of God, alive in every human heart.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who leads us to the fullness of humanity, to what we are meant to become.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the breath of God on earth, who gives life to hearts of stone.
Spirit speaks and gives meaning to the Word through time.
We believe in one holy and universal church, joined together with the wholeness of creation.
We acknowledge our need for forgiveness in the face of our frailties. We look for life eternal in ways we cannot dream, and trust that creation goes on creating in this world and in us forever. Amen.
The male images forced on Christians create an idol opposed to the images of Jesus and other prophets.

EMBARRASSED, September 18, 2013

I wonder how many clergymen were embarrassed by the first reading last Sunday—Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14.  Here “The Lord” shows himself to be a wrathful, petty overlord, obviously not the Great Ineffable Presence, mysterious and incomprehensible, that is our more-evolved concept of God today. This lord conversing with Moses goes into a fit of such rage that Moses worries, “What will the neighbors think?” This is in Verse 12, not included in the Sunday reading. I wonder why it was deleted. Because it hits too close to the negative impression on us all?

Obviously, “The Lord” is a human image, an idol, a god created by humans, more specifically, a god created in man’s image. He is no better than the golden calf that incited his jealous wrath, the one made by Aaron for worship by the Israelites. Moses manages to calm him down enough to relent and not carry out his threats.

It helps to know the origin of this image that our tradition asks us to pray to. “Yahweh” comes from YHWY, the tetragrammaton standing for the four consonants of God’s name in ancient Hebrew. This language was written without vowels and, because the Israelites had a religious fear of pronouncing God’s name, the true pronunciation is lost. (Some contemporary Jewish authors continue the reverential practice by writing “G_d” instead of spelling it out.) In place of God’s name was read Adonai, meaning “lord.” In Hebrew, every noun’s gender is reinforced by the adjectives and verbs referring to that noun. Because “lord” was masculine,
every Hebrew-speaking individual from early childhood was imbued with the idea that God was a masculine deity, . . .”
Raphael Patai,  The Hebrew Goddess.
Exactly how it is for Christians today—from early childhood every individual is trained to think God is male. And Exodus 32 shows what can happen when a certain image takes the place of the Ineffable Source of All that we call God. 

But an exclusively male God-image does not fully reflect our Judaeo-Christian heritage. Archaeologists, historians, and mythologists reveal that the Goddess was popular with our earliest religious ancestors. Our own scriptures as well as a host of female figurines found in Palestine attest to it. According to Raphael Patai, “historical scrutiny” shows that for centuries following the coming of the law of Moses, sole worship of Yahweh by the Israelites “remained a demand rather than a fact” because the people chosen by Yahweh also worshipped Canaanite deities, including Goddesses. This is no surprise in light of the vitriol directed against female God-images—there must be a reason they do “protest too much.” What dumbfounds is the scope, the popularity, and the legitimacy of Goddess worship.
With scriptural evidence meticulously presented, Patai concludes:
It appears that of the 370 years during which the Solomonic temple stood in Jerusalem, for no less than 236 years (or almost two-thirds of the time) the statue of Asherah was present in the temple and her worship was a part of the legitimate religion approved and led by the king, the court and the priesthood, and opposed only by a few prophetic voices crying out against it at relatively long intervals.
Patai’s conclusion, so agitating to our familiar mindset, is confirmed by other scholars, and it is supported by Jeremiah 44:16-19:
We will not listen to what you say in the name of the Lord. Rather will we continue doing what we had proposed; we will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and pour out libations to Her, as we and our fathers, our kings and princes have done in the cities of Judah and streets of Jerusalem.
Then we had enough food to eat and we were well off; we suffered no misfortune. But since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out libations to Her, we are in need of everything and are being destroyed by the sword and by hunger.
The Bible has forty references to Asherah (Queen of Heaven) and also mentions the Goddess names of Astarte and Anath.
So far in this post I haven’t even mentioned Shaddai, a most intriguing name for God in the Bible. More, some other time.
At St. John’s SOT my lone voice protesting, “God is not 3 guys in the sky,” met little response from the seminarians, who made up the bulk of the student population. But after one class—I think it was Christology—a man with whom I’d had no interaction handed me a little tract about Shaddai. Wow! I don’t even know his name, nor did I have any more contact with him. I’ve always assumed he was a seminarian and wonder if he’s still a clergyman.

September 23, 2013

On September 22 Jack Richter emailed this COMMENT:
Excellent blog today by Jeanette Blonigen Clancy. Impeccable research had obviously been done by Ms.Clancy as she demonstrates that it was the FEMALE "Goddess" that was originally worshiped in the ancient pre-Judean cultures of Babalonia, Sumer and Egypt as well as Greece. Male dominance and the concept of a "male deity" came later. It has been used to wrongly suppress women ever since.

I say Brava to Ms. Clancy for using her vast knowledge of biblical TRUTH, to share with others so we can continue to build a non-fundamentalist world based on equality and justice for ALL.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Women ordained in St. Cloud

Below are women in our ordination liturgy on June 23 in St. Cloud, MN. Most are ordained priests. Bishop Regina Nicolosi is third from the left in back.

Women ordained clean up sexist God-talk, July 3, 2013

In response to my St. Cloud Times article saying that the male-only God image—God as “He”—contributes to systemic and casual acceptance of women as subordinate and submissive, a reader wrote, “He is a father, not a mother.” This is clear evidence of the harm done by sexist God-talk.

If the confused letter-writer would inquire of Church officials, she would learn that God is no more male than female. After insisting that God is male, not female, she continued, “If men would study the strong, gentle character of God’s masculinity, it would help in their love and respect for women.” She completely missed the point of my writing but inadvertently demonstrated it—sexist God-talk makes it impossible for people to imagine the Divine Feminine. God-He without the leavening of God-She does devastating damage to the human psyche.
After millennia of male-god conditioning, people find it impossible to imagine woman power as valid as man power. It contributes to the huge numbers of husbands abusing their wives, men and boys sexually assaulting women and girls without feeling guilty, and pimps profiting from the sale of females.

The World Health Organization reports that more than a third of all women worldwide endure physical or sexual violence from their partners, posing a global health crisis of epidemic proportions. Of women murder victims, 38 percent were murdered by intimate partners. The two biggest religions of the world—Christianity and Islam with their Old Testament he-god—do a thorough job of perpetuating the subordination and abuse of women.

Jimmy Carter compares the Catholic Church to Islam on women’s rights. He likens the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to African Muslims mutilating the genitals of young girls. Ultimately, all the abuse is generated by the male God-image, which is tenaciously, aggressively, fiercely held in place by church authorities.

Pope Francis assumes a refreshing, non-imperial manner. He does not sit on his throne to admit people into his presence like an emperor but sits on a level equal with his visitors, and he calls himself “Bishop of Rome,” also connoting a less imperial role.
But his words indicate a blind spot on the subject of gender relations. I am sorry to say that he doesn’t have a clue about the damage done by exclusively male God-talk.  The same is true of other well-meaning people working in the Church. Catholic Relief Services, for instance, is working in Malawi to overturn the common perception there that women are the property of their husbands. At the same time, the Catholic workers pray to a male-only god. Am I the only one who sees the irony?

The most effective remedy against this religious malady so far is the women’s ordination movement. For our liturgies we work hard to clean up the language so that congregants can unlearn the harmful conditioning of their past and graduate to a deeper awareness of the Transcendent Power in their lives.
The first time I heard God mentioned as "She" I immediately knew a God much more vast than any God I had known up to that time, and also a God far more intimate than any God known up to that time. The bible is quite direct in stating how wrong it is to keep anyone from knowing God, yet the church works toward keeping members from truly knowing God.
Maxine Moe

Catholic women ordained priests,  June 26, 2013

Ahhh, you should have been there!  Indeed...the Earth moved!  "Where?" you ask.  At the Church of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle in Saint Cloud on Sunday June 23rd.  As witnessed by a packed church, Martha Sherman, Corene Besetzny and Bernadyne Sykora were ordained as priests in the Roman Catholic Church.  Maria Regina Nicolosi was the presiding Bishop.  What a powerful experience to see that the spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ are alive and well.  Indeed, women too are worthy to serve as priests to minister to all people.
The faith taught us by the Christ did not exclude women from serving as ministers of that faith.  That was the action by the male hierarchy.  The male hierarchy retorts, "But these ordinations don't count." Oh really?  Tell that to the throngs of people at the Church of Mary Magdalene First Apostle.
The male hierarchy no longer has its exclusive franchise over holy orders. Indeed...the Earth moved...and heaven smiled.  You should have been there.
~Robert Wedl, Edina, MN
Bishop Regina Nicolosi's homily was based on the gospel reading chosen by the ordinands—John 20:1-18. She states the message of our womanpriest movement in a way that is hard to resist. Here are excerpts:

In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene’s eyes and heart are opened when she hears Jesus call her by her name. It seems only natural that Mary not only cries out, “Rabboni—teacher” to signify that she has recognized him, but that she also wants to embrace him. Jesus explains to her that this is not the right moment, but he gives her a task. “Go tell the brothers and sisters about your experience of me, the risen one.” And Mary does what Jesus told her to do. . . .
Would Christianity have developed differently if Mary Magdalene would have remained in the prominent position into which Jesus obviously placed her?
Feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether believes that Mary Magdalene would have led the church into a different direction. In her book Sexism and God Talk she tells stories to help us understand what may have been different in a church led by a woman. Unfortunately, women’s stories in history were not written down and passed on like the stories men wrote. That is why we have to re-imagine, reconstruct a history where women have equality. 
Here is Rosemary Ruether’s story:
Mary Magdalene experiences the risen Christ, but as he disappears, she sees another figure, a majestic woman who says to her, “You, Mary, are now the continuing presence of Christ. Do not look backward for him, but forward. He has gone ahead into a new future. It is for you to continue the redemption of the world.”
Suddenly all her confusion disappeared and Mary felt a clear, calm center within herself. “So this is why he had to die,” she thought.
He tried to teach us to give up our fantasies of power and revenge. But we could not hear him. As long as he was here among us, we wanted him to take power, to replace the kingship of the gentiles with the kingship of Israel. But our ideas of God’s rules were still based on domination and subjugation.

Only by bringing these hopes to an end and with his death could we be forced to give up these dreams and find a different answer within ourselves—the answer that he had been trying to teach us all along. We must renew ourselves and our relationships with each other. Only when we are no longer slaves, but also no longer desire to be masters and to turn our former masters into slaves, can we lay the foundation for the world to come.
Excitedly Mary runs to tell her insights to the brothers, only to be scoffed at. Peter, especially, did not get it. He believes Jesus only postponed his glorious victory. Peter believes, God snatched Jesus to heaven and he will come back with all the hosts of heaven to defeat the Romans and their lackeys, the High Priests. And then, Peter believes, Jesus will give the power to his faithful followers.
There is no clear answer to the question I asked before, if a church led by Mary Magdalene would have been a better one than the one we know, led by Peter. That is water over the dam, That is the past. But the future is still open. We strive and we pray for a church led by Mary Magdalene and by Peter, together, in harmony.

Thank you, Bishop Regina, for these insights.

Catholic women ordained priests, June 18, 2013

The Sartell Newsleader and the St. Cloud Times (which USA Today picked up to make it a national story) reported on our Bernie Sykora and two more women—Martha Sherman of Salem, SD, and Corene Besetzny of Red Wing, MN—being ordained in St. Cloud, MN. The ordination is hosted by our womanpriest congregation Mary Magdalene, First Apostle.

Certain questions arise in my email conversations about our group:
"Are you Catholic?"  Yes. But the hierarchy says womenpriests are not Catholic. RomanCatholic Womenpriests say they are
at the forefront of a model of service that offers Catholics a renewed priestly ministry in vibrant grassroots communities where all are equal and all are welcome. The voice of the Catholic people—the sensus fidelium—has spoken. We women are no longer asking for permission to be priests. Instead, we have taken back our rightful God-given place ministering to Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests. . . .
RCWP is an international movement within the Roman Catholic Church.
"Are you under Rome?" We follow Catholic traditions in liturgy, spiritual practices and spiritual inclinations, but we oppose unjust directives from the Vatican. Martin Luther King wrote that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Our Father? Why not Our Mother?  June 12
My opinion piece about sexist God-talk appeared yesterday in the St. Cloud Times.
The male-only God image contributes to systemic and casual acceptance of women as subordinate and submissive. It is impossible to deny the connection between worship of this male God image and worldwide abuse of females. . . .
I also would like secular language to be cleaned up. . . . Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon for humans or humankind, not only for man or mankind.
Catholic women ordained,  May 24
Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, is hosting the Ordination of three women in our region of Roman Catholic Womenpriests on Sunday, June 23 —Bernie Sykora from St. Cloud, MN, Martha Sherman from Salem, SD, and Corene Besetzny from Red Wing, MN.

Being active in the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement motivates me to stay in the Church by giving me a way to actively oppose its oppressive power structure from within. I see women as the greatest hope for the Church’s future as we move out of the submissive, subordinate role assigned us by male-dominant religious language.

Sexist God-talk indirectly, but effectively, endorses violence against women and other vulnerable people. In its scope and long-term damage, I consider it to be the most serious sin against society perpetrated by the institutional Church, even more dangerous than clerical sex abuse, because the latter developed as a consequence of the dominant male god invoked in churches.

I am as delighted as everyone else by Pope Francis’ humble and compassionate and innovative approach to the papacy. But I am afraid he has not transcended the mindset formed in him by 70 plus years of praying to “The Lord.” In his talks about women he still repeats the old saw that women have “a special role,” code for no role in leadership or decision making. I am afraid he still assumes it proper for women to be secondary helpers, not the ones in charge. As he deals with women religious, he seems unable to imagine women leading with dignity. He seems unable to imagine the Church acceding to decisions made by women.

I have been looking for a definitive event to topple the curial regime in Rome but that's not going to happen. Instead, its support is being nibbled away in tiny increments, Pope Francis’ election a larger increment. The repressive structure maintained by ultra-conservatives is weakening and crumbling, but gradually. Hans Küng writes that reform may have to come from the bottom up. 

This is happening right now, led by women of the womenpriest movement. The danger of our movement to the present structure of power can be measured by the extreme reactions it incites in Catholic officials. I confess that the excommunications and condemnations and ludicrous arguments for male-only ordination amuse me because they speak so loudly about our effectiveness.
Catholic women priests
  • claim the right to stand in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, as equal to men.
  • inform Catholics of women’s leadership roles in the early Church.
  • reform church structure from within by reimaging and reshaping.
  • work with a new model of church: no hierarchy, no clericalism, no patriarchy, no authoritarian structure. Our bishops have no administrative power.
  • work without clerical trappings: no forced celibacy, no salaries, no titles. Vestments are simple.
  • celebrate Eucharist in a circle when possible, with everyone saying the words of consecration.
  • use inclusive language. We do not pray to “The Lord.”
The last is often the first thing noticed by new congregants, and to me, the most effective tool of reform.

May 23, 2014
May 22 marked the 20th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter  Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Women’s Ordination Conference calls it
“the papal no”—also known as Pope John Paul II's attempt to categorically exclude women from priesthood and ban discussion about it. . . .
Women's Ordination Worldwide encourages Pope Francis to stop making Jesus the Vatican's partner in gender discrimination. . . .
We are asking Pope Francis to open the doors of dialogue to talk with us about women's ordination.
We at Mary Magdalene, First Apostle do more than talk about it. We are pastored by Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) who model a reformed priesthood. Read about us HERE to find out how we counter sexism and clericalism using a new kind of power.

Read about a BBC documentary showing evidence of women priests in early centuries, 
about authority modeled by womenpriests that contrasts with patriarchal governance,
about the history of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, and its pastors.

Enjoy learning about us and take heart from this evidence of reform within the Roman Catholic Church.

Maxine Moe Rasmusson said... When man created god in his own image it opened the way for men to declare power over women, and the rest of creation. We first must change our image of God. This is difficult for men who have been taught that God came for only a segment of the population at the expense of all the rest of creation. Certainly, when they believe that they can believe anything! No matter how much harm they cause.