Job 19 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 1: International Women’s Day

28 “If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
    since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
29 you should fear the sword yourselves;
    for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
    and then you will know that there is judgment.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here)

Sitting with the term “Reconciliation is Dead”

A few weeks ago, I came across the phrase “Reconciliation is Dead,” a term being used by those in the Wet’suwet’en protest and blockade efforts.  It’s been echoing around my head a lot as I read Job, a book about suffering through undeserved injustices.  Perhaps for the first time in the story (or maybe in his last speech, depending whether you think it is spoken in sarcasm or not), Job is angry almost to the point of seeking vengeance.  He looks for his “Reedemer,” the one who will bring judgement upon those who judge him.  Job has been pushed to his breaking point, and now lashes out verbally, warning his friends that their time will come.

Truly, how much abuse can a person suffer before striking back?  How much abuse can a people suffer before revolting?  Treaty after treaty has been signed between the Canadian government and indigenous nations, and they are always ignored.  Reconciliation efforts are started when convenient, and just as easily put aside.  And we can not nod sympathetically from down here, as all of this is true in the States as well.  Job has had enough of his friends’ empty words, and First Nations have had enough of ours.

International Women’s Day and Missing Indigenous Women

Today happens to be International Women’s Day, which I fortuitously remembered while preparing this post over the weekend.  I was not planning to write about it (quite honestly because I forgot when it was), but I’m still wrestling with exactly what needs to be said, from a white woman’s perspective, on the idea that reconciliation is dead. It happening to be International Women’s Day, I believe, is a divine coincidence that allows me to break up that thought process into parts.  It seems only fitting to start my focus upon the ongoing plague of missing indigenous women, and what it means for the broader community of women.

First, some sobering statistics:  Due to a number of factors (including poor reporting and mis-identifying ethnicities, among others) the number of missing indigenous women and girls is hard to pin down, but across the US and Canada it is in the thousands.  The most consistent number I’ve seen is around 4,000, but others estimate upwards of 6,000.  Even more sobering, one in three Native women are predicted to be the victims of sexual assault.  Couple this with the disturbingly high number of disappearances and you can see the compounding effects of police brutality, sex trafficking, domestic abuse and addiction issues that has been wrought upon native communities for decades – centuries, if we’re honest with ourselves.

Clearly, the prevailing laws are failing these women.  As human beings, I believe we should care about this just because it’s the right thing to do, but as women we should care about it because if a law is failing one of us, it is failing all of us.  God forbid you are ever abducted, but if you were, what would you rather rely upon: a slow media day and the hope that you are attractive enough (and have an interested party, such as a case worker or husband, savvy enough) to make you headline news? Or a strong, well-funded, well-staffed system of effective investigative work that makes every missing persons a top priority?

And while technically “better” than the one-in-three statistic for native women and sexual assault, the national statistic for female victims of sexual assault is still one-in-six.  Let me repeat that: one in six women, across the United States, will be the victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.  Neither of those statistics are acceptable.  The prevailing laws are failing all of us.  The platitudes, reminders of “how far we’ve come,” and empty symbolism of one day of remembrance mask will no longer distract us from the imperialist and chauvinistic agendas that still dominate this country.

Broad Strokes for Moving Forward

The statistics above make me angry enough to want to strike back, to seek my redeemer and warn my enemies, as Job does.  So what is to be done?  I’m still figuring that out, and there are going to be a lot of right answers, but for now, I want to share three important thoughts with you:

  1. We need to form alliances and demand change.  A rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak, and we need everyone possible to be a part of that movement. That includes reaching out beyond gender lines, not only to sympathetic men, but to non-binary peoples as well, for they face similar discrimination and abuse issues that women do. I commend the MMIW, Sovereign Bodies Institute, and others for already including two-spirited peoples in their efforts, we would do well to follow their examples.
  2. A multi-faceted approach is needed. We’re not all going to agree on all topics, but let’s try to find common ground wherever possible, and make some unexpected coalitions that will force people to pay attention.  We need to tackle reducing the stigmas attached to addiction and mental health, increase the availability of women’s health and mental health services, raise awareness about domestic abuse, child abuse, and sex trafficking, and cut through red tape and biases in police departments, to name a few areas that need work.  The expertise of social workers, community support networks, healthcare workers, lawyers, and investigative journalists are all going to be needed in this fight, so let’s start (or keep) reaching out to them.
  3. White women need to be more engaged.  We have the white privilege that allows for social power and mobility second only to white men.  Liberal, well-educated white women also usually have the economic stability, social support networks, and ability to change jobs or even locales that make speaking out less dangerous than it would be for, say, a Latina mother of three on an expired green card, or a Lakota teen who has run away from an abusive home situation. These women can and should be heard, but at the time and place of that person’s choosing, when it is safe to do so.  White women, with very little to lose, need to do more to share the load. Now, before anyone goes accusing me of white savior syndrome, let me just say, the first part of becoming more engaged is listening to the experiences and needs of non-white women. Listen to (and believe) the experiences that are shared with you, and ask what you can do to help.  Then do it.  If we can reduce the rate of violence against native women, we are on the right path to reducing violence against all women.

I fear that today’s post is a little rambling, even after many restarts and heavy editing.  Like I said, I am trying to figure out exactly what my role as a Christian and a white woman are, particularly when those two identifiers have a history of being so detrimental to the very group I want to lift up.  Whatever structure today’s post does have comes from this particularly powerful article that was directed to other native readers, but has much to offer non-indigenous readers as well, particularly those of us who consider ourselves “allies.”  It’s a strongly-worded call to even stronger action, and may put some people off with its anarchist overtones, but nevertheless I recommend it.  My calls to form alliances and take a multi-faceted approach come directly from the author’s call to action.  I’ll be referencing it again when I revisit the “reconciliation is dead” theme in a few days’ time.

“Though I cry, “I have been wronged!” I get no response. Though I call for help, there is no justice,” Job laments at the beginning of chapter 19.  On this International Women’s Day, let’s recommit to each other, and especially to our missing native sisters, to do better, to make this world a safer place for ourselves and our daughters. No one’s cry for justice and help should go unanswered.  We have the power to be agent’s of God’s change, truly be the the Redeemer such as Job looks for and so many of us need.  I urge you one last time, do not turn a blind eye to this crisis.  If for no other reason, in helping them we also help ourselves.

Sovereign Bodies Institute is staffed and directed predominantly by native women dedicated to understanding and promoting healing from sexual violence in Native Communities.  They now run the MMIWG2 (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirited) database, an effort to fill the void of a central database that can be used by community members, advocates, activists, and researchers in their work towards justice.. They are one of many organizations that deserve our fiscal support, so please donate if you are able. Also, if you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog for more.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  God Vs. The Patriarchy is also on Instagram and Twitter, too.

Matthew 5:27-32 – Adultery and Divorce

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

I love Jesus’ passages on anything marital because it throws people through a loop.  It sounds like he’s saying one thing, but in reality, he’s saying another.  He’s so freaking subversive, in a lot of things, but especially talking about marital relations.  Remember, he’s up against an establishment.  Actually, several establishments, but particularly the Pharisees.  Here, Jesus is not speaking directly to the Pharisees (he will speak to them directly in chapter 19 on the subject of marriage), but you can bet that every idea conveyed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount made it back to them.  The very fact that many of Jesus’ teachings can be taken two ways must have been maddening to the Pharisees.  They were smart guys, if misled, and they wouldn’t have missed this.

But let’s back up a little bit, before we get into subliminal messages, let’s talk about hyperbole again really quick.  A few posts ago I mentioned that Jesus loved to use hyperbole to make his point.  This is a classic, perhaps the classic example of that.  Jesus is NOT advocating self-mutilation, but using the cutting off of body parts as a visceral metaphor for removing yourself from sin and temptation.  (As an aside, I’ve written about what I think “sin” is. You can read more about it in that post, but in a nutshell: the greatest commandment is to love one another. The greatest sin is to act out of not-love.) There are whole programs that help people overcome their shortcomings, like Alcoholics Anonymous, that center around this idea of avoidance.  Even if you aren’t actually plucking out your eye, it can feel like you’re losing part of yourself: the friends you had when using might disappear if you don’t sever ties yourself; your personality might change-hopefully for the better, but it can still be disconcerting to realize you’re not the person you thought you were; even your daily routines may change to avoid temptation.  No one thinks that cutting off the hands of an unrepentant alcoholic is going to keep them from drinking.  Believe me, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  But if you are dedicated to sobriety, you will learn how to avoid your triggers for using.  The same is true for sin, for which “lust” is a stand-in here – if you’re dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, you’ll search for ways to avoid sinning.  And I very much doubt it means plucking out your eye, but rather changing your behavior to better reflect your values.

Alright, with that rather lengthy note about hyperbole aside, let’s talk about Jesus’ sly little speech here.  Surface reading:  Get married so you can look at your wife without sinning, squirrel your wife away so she doesn’t unintentionally cause a man to sin by looking at her, and divorce is bad but here’s this broad loophole for “sexual immorality,” which history has interpreted as anything from a full-out affair to wearing the wrong dress, so don’t worry too much about it, you can interpret that at your will.  It’s advice for a “godly man” trying to build a “virtuous” world that best suits him.  And that is how, for the majority of Western history, it has been interpreted: by the patriarchy subjecting women to their rule.

But Jesus was way more egalitarian than that.  I just finished reading an article about how radical it was that Jesus ate with women at the same table.  Apparently, the only women at a co-ed table were the ones there as sexual objects.  So the fact that he elevated women to an equal status at the table, eating and exchanging ideas with men, was like, super crazy radical.  There’s no way this same guy would be saying “here’s a way to dominate women through marriage and policing how and when they appear in society.”

Let’s revisit that lust and adultery thing of vv. 27-30.  Jesus is saying if a woman is causing lustful thoughts in a man’s mind, it is the MAN’S responsibility to remove himself from that situation, NOT the woman’s responsibility to modify her clothing or behavior.  “Pluck out your eye,” (aka stop looking at her) Jesus says.  Police your own actions, not the woman’s.  I. Cannot. Make. That. Clear. Enough.  It is the responsibility of the person who lusts (or sins in any other way) to remove themselves from the sinful situation.  No one else’s.  Through this verse, Jesus is fully recognizing a woman’s right to move through society unmolested, and reminding men that their actions are their own responsibility.

This bit about divorce and adultery that follows all this talk about lust is mostly about protecting women’s rights as well.  The part of Deuteronomy that Jesus quotes, “anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce,” is a law that was trying to codify a modicum of protection for women, who were, at the time, not much more than their husband’s property.  The full verse reads “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him, because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,” (Deut. 24:1) Subsequent verses then goes on to describe who that woman can and can’t marry.  To make that very clear, a man could divorce a woman simply because she is displeasing to him.  Yes, it has that vague bit about being indecent, but we have seen through history how that has been manipulated to mean any sort of thing:  an infertile woman was often thought to be “cursed” because of some immoral transgression, and therefore expendable; a woman who suffered an illness and therefore displeased her husband could be seen as similarly “cursed;” a woman who boldly spoke her mind was displeasing to her husband as he found her indecent in her speech.

A divorced woman had little agency in society.  Her financial support had been taken away, and there were not a lot of jobs for single mothers out there.  She had limited options for remarriage and the financial support that came with it.  Oftentimes her family wouldn’t or couldn’t take her back in.  Remember, even with this “certificate of divorce” she has been declared “indecent,” and what upstanding citizen would want to be associated with that?  So, the divorced woman, often through no fault of her own, faced social ostracization and poverty.  So when Jesus basically negates divorce (except for true charges of infidelity), he gave blanket coverage to any and all wives of the men who chose to follow him.  As for those who do marry divorced women, in Jesus’ society, that made them complicit to the system.  By including those second marriages in his condemnation, I think Jesus was underscoring just how important a societal change of attitude towards women’s rights was.

All that said, I do believe that Jesus really means that divorce is bad, in any circumstance.  Before you get all huffy and stop reading on me, let me just say, as much as Jesus speaks out against divorce, I don’t think he condemns anyone for it.  In an ideal world, everyone would have the time, money, emotional capacity, and levelheadedness to sit down with their intended and make sure that yes, this is a good decision.  And once married, again, everyone would have the time, money, emotional capacity and levelheadedness to do the hard work of keeping a good marriage strong.  But the truth is, that’s just not the case.  So, if you made a mistake in your first marriage (hell, even in your second or third), I do hope you learned from it, but rest assured that God knows you are human, and that mistakes are pretty much what we do.  The glorious thing about God is that there is no sin too great to be forgiven, if we come to Xyr with a repentant heart. For one more silver lining: I do think we are headed in the right direction (even if it is slowly) when it comes to marriage and divorce.  The most in-depth study I could find was from the UK, but I bet it’s similar in the US: Couples are waiting until their early 30’s to get married, are dating almost 5 years before marriage, and the divorce rate is the lowest it’s been (and still falling) since 1971.

The main takeaway, folks, is that Jesus recognized how women in his society were underserved.  He couched it in language that wouldn’t immediately get him thrown into prison: on the surface it looks like a support of the patriarchy, but those that have the ears to hear would hear his true message:  one of recognition, of equality, of love.  Let’s help spread that message of love and equality to all women, to all people, everywhere.