So I had an interesting experience on Saturday morning. I almost walked out of a church meeting. I should have done it, it would have made the story more exciting to tell. The keynote speakers at this gathering were a couple and they took turns speaking during the presentation, which took us on a brief journey through the Bible, starting with Adam, then on to Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua…you get the picture. About a third of the way into their presentation they made it to David becoming king and meaning so much to the people, even though he was flawed. And then they moved onto Solomon, who loved God and wanted to show that love by building a temple to God. But you see, Solomon had a problem. Most of us know what this problem was. But I wasn’t prepared for the way the problem was about to be presented. The wife said something to the effect of, “Solomon had a lot of wives. And I’ll beat you to it,” (I assume she was addressing her husband with this comment) “I’ll go ahead and say it. The women led Solomon astray. Now women, we all know how we can do that sometimes.” The husband then picked up the “joke” and said, “Come on men, we’ve had this happen before. Can I hear an ‘Amen’?”
I sat there in shock. I turned to my co-worker and asked him, “Did they really just say that?” He looked as shocked as me when he nodded. I was stunned and then thought a second later that I should just get up and walk out. But I’ve never done something like that before, and I had to lead a workshop later, so I didn’t want to cause a stir (I was sitting in the middle of the room). Instead I sat there, stony faced, disbelieving of what I just heard.
So the women led Solomon astray, did they? It was THEIR fault that Solomon couldn’t keep his pants on, huh? Did Solomon have any responsibility in this? Or was he just along for the ride? Why, oh why, do we continue to blame women for the sins of men? Will it ever stop? I have a friend who had to take his youth to a True Love Waits conference in which the girls and boys were separated for the lessons. Fair enough, but there’s a problem with what happened in these separate groups. The girls’ lessons consisted of in depth talk about appropriate dress, being responsible in dating, remaining strong because “the boys just weren’t going to be strong about stuff like this.” They were taught that the ball was in their court and they alone were responsible for remaining “pure.” You know what the boys lessons consisted of? They put on velcro suits so they could run and jump up against a velcro wall to see how high and in what position they stuck. Are you kidding me? There was no discussion for the boys, just fun and games. The boys were not entrusted with any responsibility to remain “pure” or to help the girls remain “pure.” It simply wasn’t something the boys needed to worry about at all! And we wonder why our girls feel they are to blame when a boy rapes them. The girls wonder what they did wrong, if they maybe should have worn a longer skirt or a higher cut blouse. They don’t stop to think that maybe they didn’t do anything at all. And it sounds to me like maybe we’re teaching our boys to justify such abuse by saying, “But she looked so cute! You know she wanted it, dressed like that. How was I supposed to resist?” How indeed. Clearly our keynoters at this event didn’t think that Solomon had any strength to resist those women who were leading him astray, so why should any other man be expected to do so?
I wonder, what did the young girls in the room think when they heard that on Saturday? What did the other women in the room think? What was reinforced for the men? What was taught to our young boys? When our keynoter said the words, “The women led Solomon astray”, I was enraged, but more than that, I was heartbroken. I thought I was part of a mainline denomination. I thought this was the year 2009. I thought we were making progress on this issue. We do ordain women, after all, and we have been for many years. But when statements like the one our keynoter made are uttered, even if they are meant as a joke. It is all too easy to make the leap from women leading men astray through their sexuality to “We better be careful in hiring a woman to be pastor. She could lead us astray.” There is a fundamental distrust of women at work here. And the fact that a woman felt the need to beat a man to the punch makes it worse.
We wonder why it’s so hard for women to get through ordination councils. We wonder why it’s so hard for women to be called to lead big churches. We wonder why women are paid less than men. Well, not much need to wonder after Saturday. That morning also reminded me of why women in abusive relationships don’t just leave their husbands. It’s because the church is teaching them it’s THEIR fault. Your husband hit you for not taking out the trash? Well, you should have taken out the trash! Your husband’s cheating on you? Well, maybe you’re not a good enough wife.
It is so hard to work within an institution that has done so much to contribute to the denigration of women over the centuries. I thought we were moving past it. This past weekend showed me how wrong I was.
Oh, and one other thing. To those keynoters, a word to the wise…it’s not a joke if it makes us cry.