The picture came unbidden. In my mind’s eye, I saw the Christ striding down into the crowded, sweltering, dusty alleyways of the bazaar, his sand-colored robes flowing out around his sandaled feet. He went where polluted air hung thick, where sewage flowed in open drains down the edges of the narrow dirt roads, where families struggled to feed their children. I was a Christian in those days and was seeking wisdom and guidance: Should my husband and I leave our comfortable home in the U.S. and move to Peshawar, Pakistan, along with our two sons, to help our Afghan friends rebuild their country? I called myself a “follower of Christ,” and with that image, I knew where Christ was heading. He was on the move. I knew also that I could follow or not—there was no compunction, no pressure. He didn’t cajole or demand. I did feel like I had to scramble to keep up with him. This Christ I could—and did—follow to those dusty bazaars of Peshawar (1).
I SERVED A GOD THAT DIDN’T EXIST
In contrast to this Christ of compassion, my U.S. church required worship of an oppressive god that man had created in his own image—literally. The leaders of my church referred to this god as male, using male pronouns and titles: him, he, and his; father, king, and lord. This god kept 50 percent of the world’s population (women) as children, denying them full maturity. Men were told women needed controlled because they were unstable and emotional. Often this control justified physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Women weren’t allowed to think for themselves; they had to submit their desires and wants first to husbands and male church leaders for approval and permission.
Some of you may recognize this nonexistent god from your own experiences.
I knew this dogma was wrong as other scriptures promoted equality. Since the leaders seemed to genuinely be seeking God, I thought they’d abandon these false concepts. They did not (2, 3).
Stop for a minute and think about how ludicrous this is. That the human male, guided and controlled by his own lusts for power and control, has the right to dictate to women forever and in all situations what his god wants women to do and how to be. This includes the right to criticize and negate a woman’s own inner convictions.
Here’s the rub: That god does not exist. It’s a figment of men’s imagination. Praying to this god is no different than praying to a rock. No, not true: A rock has greater consciousness. No wonder sincere seekers feel abandoned by this god—it doesn’t exist. And nowadays we struggle against this same nonexistent god to defend the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as our natural world.
TAKE THE BIBLE SERIOUSLY BUT NOT LITERALLY
Footings, columns, and beams support the weight of our modern skyscrapers, transferring those loads down into the earth. What we see hanging on the outside—the windows in aluminum frames for example—is called a curtain wall or a skin. While that skin keeps the rain out, it doesn’t hold up the building. A wind storm can blow out those windows, but that won’t impact the structure’s integrity.
Christ gave two commands: to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; and to love your neighbor as yourself. When asked by a bystander, “And who is my neighbor?” Christ told the parable of a Samaritan who found his enemy, a Jew, left half-dead on the side of the road. The man had been robbed, stripped of his clothes, and beaten. Two Jewish religious leaders had already walked by and left this man to die. The Samaritan picked up his enemy, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and gave the innkeeper enough money to care for the injured man. Through this parable, Christ said that your neighbor is your enemy and that following this commandment will cost you (Luke 10:25-37).
These two commandments are the structural underpinnings of the Christian faith: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest is superfluous, the skin. Humans took western cultural traditions and turned them into cosmic and divine decrees, as well as god’s morals, and created a god that doesn’t exist.
To take the Bible seriously but not literally means that the way Scripture is read, heard, understood, and applied changes over time. Christian fundamentalists and many evangelicals say they take the Bible literally—but they don’t—cherry-picking, it’s called. Men decide “truth” and which scriptures to take literally. “If you have two coats, give one away” (Luke 3:11). Metaphorical. But women submitting to men? (3) ALWAYS and forever true. When Jesus told the rich young man to give away his wealth and come follow him? (Mark 10:17-31) Time and time again from the pulpit preachers have said, “Jesus didn’t really MEAN to give up everything, only that you’d be READY to.”
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). While proclaiming the first two comparisons as truth, patriarchal leaders, to retain their power and control over women, jump through hoops to explain how “neither … male nor female” means equality, but that women are unable to live fully without male leadership guiding and controlling them.
The holidays are upon us. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be grateful. Be joyful. And practice mindfulness to stay focused on what’s important. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (4).
- People House is nonsectarian and does not advocate for any particular religion. While this blog focuses on Christianity, this message could be relevant to other religions as well.
Notes & Sources:
- Along with my family, we lived and worked in Pakistan for almost eight years. Some of those years were spent working with Afghan refugees living in Peshawar, as well as with refugee repatriation to Afghanistan.
- I found out 20 years later, after we’d returned to the States, that back in the day, the church had asked its scholarly pastor to research women in church leadership. He presented his extensive findings, saying that scripture supported both. The 12 elders and six pastors, all male, decided it was easier to continue with the status quo and buried the findings. To protect their own interests and power, they continued keeping women in boxes, in the name of God.
- For more discussion, see: Dinkler, Michael Beth. “The Bible and Women? We Need to Talk. Reflections.” Yale Divinity School. Fall, 2019. https://reflections.yale.edu/article/resistance-and-blessing-women-ministry-and-yds/bible-and-women-we-need-talk
- For more information, refer to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s many published works.
- Edwards, Mary Coday. “Dark Nights of the Soul: Spiritual Transformation or Clinical Depression? Part 2.” People House Blog. Sept. 16, 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dark-nights-soul-spiritual-transformation-clincial-part-edwards-le?trk=portfolio_article-card_title
About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.