Apathy over sexist God-talk

When I was growing up, we drove to Sauk Centre for the Stearns County fair where we exhibited as 4-H members. As I grew a little older, I learned that on the other side of town was a reformatory for girl juvenile delinquents. I had no idea.

A book review in the StarTribune on Sunday was written by someone whose grandmother was born in the Minnesota Home School for Girls in Sauk Centre. Girls were committed there until age 21 because they were pregnant or ran away from home or were “incorrigible.” Girls as young as 8 were in the Home to be “reformed.”

School officials bragged that the girls were happy to be learning domestic arts. The high number of escapes put the lie to this boast. One resident’s poem began, “I live in a house called torture and pain, it’s made of material called sorrow and shame.”

Lisa Pasko, a criminology professor at the University of Denver, said about two-thirds of girls sent to juvenile facilities had experienced sexual violence. From other studies I suspect the figure is higher. In starkest terms, girls and women are punished for being raped. Carol Jacobsen, in “When Justice Is Battered,” writes:
Most, if not all, women in prison come from abusive backgrounds, including incest, domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse. 
What does this have to do with my abiding theme of denouncing what I call sexist God-talk? The Lord Father and Son reigning supreme over the universe with no feminine divinity? Gender imbalance in the God-image creates gender-imbalance in human relationships. Male domination in church leads to male domination outside of church. Female submission follows naturally when divinity—the highest value imaginable—is imaged solely male.

In biblical times, men who raped women committed the crime of theft against the husband or father who owned the female. If a man raped a girl and was discovered, “he shall pay the girl’s father fifty silver shekels and take her as his wife” (Deuteronomy 22:29). It was the law. The Lord God commanded females to marry their rapists, and women submitted.

In the New Testament we find this verse:
Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). 
Today Ephesians 5:25 is more often quoted:
Husbands, love your wives, 
As if this justified the power imbalance of the previous verse.

Fathers who raped their little daughters, putting them in the Sauk Centre Home School, were formed by the patriarchal mindset—female bodies exist for sexual use.

The constant drumbeat of Lord/He/Him/His—never She or Her—carves a deep mark on our minds without our awareness. The effect is unconscious, and that makes it powerful. Our minds are structured to view males always on top.
I am distressed by apathy over sexist God-talk, particularly the male pronouns—He/Him/His—in reference to the Creator/Source of all that is or could be. If we're aware that these pronouns favor one gender in God-talk, we may be resigned—that’s just the way it is. It’s tradition.

But sexist God-talk is not harmless.

Out of sexist God-talk flows gender violence of all kinds, including female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, and clergy sex abuse. But also legal bias against people with less power—men or women—and bias against sexual diversity. Male-on-top power even contributes to racism, wars, pollution, and climate change, but these more distant consequences are harder to see and may be the subject of subsequent posts.

The exposure of sexual misconduct by men like Harvey Weinstein is starting to throw light on violence against women, but for exposure of daily, casual, widespread violence in thousands of less celebrated relationships, we need the light of the #MeToo movement. Some argue that the movement for redress of sexual violence has gone too far. Certainly not. We are still far from sexual equality.

Most distressing to me is lack of awareness that the Christian Father/Son divinity supports structures of power imbalance. I am committed to the effort of raising such awareness. Without it, Christians inadvertently help to perpetuate sexism. Theologian Mary Daly had it right:
If God is male, male is God. 

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