This was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1895. It could generate in me a bias in favor of fierce feminism. None of these words are mine. She wrote them in anger and out of great pain. The truth she expresses makes me feel angry too and not a little sad. Here is what she says. Please read all she says!
“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation the Bible has been used to hold her in the divinely ordained sphere, prescribed in the Old and New Testaments. The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man; an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and statutes, are all based on this idea. The fashions, forms, ceremonies and customs of society, church ordinances and discipline all grow out of this idea. Of the Old English common law, responsible for woman’s civil and political status, Lord Brougham said, ‘It is a disgrace to the civilization and Christianity of the Nineteenth Century.’ Of the canon law, which is responsible for woman’s status in the church, Charles Kingsley said, ‘This will never be a good world for women until the last remnant of the canon law is swept from the face of the earth.’
The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage o, maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection she was to play the role of a dependent on man’s bounty for all her material wants, and for all the information she might desire on the vital questions of the hour, she was commanded to ask her husband at home.
That is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up. Those who have the divine insight to translate, transpose and transfigure this mournful object of pity into an exalted, dignified personage worthy our worship as the mother of the race are to be congratulated as having a share of the occult mystic power of the eastern Mahatmas. The plain English to the ordinary mind admits of no such liberal interpretation. The unvarnished texts speak for themselves. The canon law, church ordinances and Scriptures are homogeneous and all reflect the same spirit and sentiments. These familiar texts are quoted by clergymen in their pulpits, by statesmen in the halls of legislation, by lawyers in the courts and are echoed by the press of all civilized nations and accepted by woman herself as ‘The Word of God.’ So perverted is the religious element in her nature that with faith and works she is the chief support of the church and clergy; the very powers that make her emancipation impossible. When in the early part of the Nineteenth Century women began to protest against their civil and political degradation they were referred to the Bible for an answer. When they protested against their unequal position in the church they were referred to the Bible for an answer.
This led to a general and critical study of the Scriptures. Some, having made a fetish of these books and believing them to be the veritable “Word of God,” with liberal translations, interpretations, allegories and symbols, glossed over the most objectionable features of the various books and clung to them as divinely inspired. Others, seeing the family resemblance between the Mosaic code, the canon law and the Old English common law, came to the conclusion that all alike emanated from the same source; wholly human in their origin and inspired by the natural love of domination in the historians. Others bewildered with their doubts and fears came to no conclusion. While their clergymen told them on the one hand that they owed all the blessings and freedom they enjoyed to the Bible on the other they said it clearly marked out their circumscribed sphere of action that the demands for political and civil rights were irreligious, dangerous to the stability of the home, the state and the church. Clerical appeals were circulated from time to time conjuring members of their churches to take no part in the anti-slavery or woman suffrage movements as they were infidel in their tendencies, undermining the very foundations of society. No wonder the majority of women stood still, and with bowed heads accepted the situation.” ECS
I don’t agree with all ECS said. I think the Holy Scriptures can be read correctly and sincerely in a way that opposes all the abuses and injustices heaped on women down the years. I really do! I don’t pretend to know all there is to know; I don’t profess that my motives in thought and action are altogether pure—have they ever been except in early childhood innocence? But I cannot admit to wishing to rob women of all the freedom that God wants them to enjoy. I accept my fallibility and I pray to God (I do!) to free me from all dogmatism that would make its home in me and to enable me to rejoice in new and life-enriching truth.
But I was reminded again several evenings ago (Fox News) of how our vested interests shape our viewpoints. I heard a politician who is running for even higher office making a case supporting abortion based on economics. If abortions increased the economy would be strengthened, more women would join the work force and that would be of tremendous benefit to the American nation. Isn’t that an interesting view? Many years ago I listened to a prominent man running for a very high office argue against abortion on the grounds that if abortions continued to increase the USA would soon not have enough troops to effectively engage in war. Isn’t that an interesting way to view such a divisive matter?
Fear, greed, lust for power, pursuit of self-satisfaction, anguish, burning resentment, atheistic or religious convictions and on and on affect how we interpret what confronts us. ECS like millions before and after her spoke out of deep anguish as well as a hunger for what is right. Injustice in any form should be taken seriously but there are some forms of injustice that generate agony of body and mind in the abused even as they create an even more corrupt culture and social system.
There are some things I feel sure about and they take their rise out of my certainty about Jesus—the Jesus I’ve come to know from the Holy Scriptures. (Yes, I’m acquainted with literary theories and the debate about the possibility of historical “knowledge”. I just don’t have the time or interest to bother with such debates.)
I’m sure about Jesus! I’m sure about His reading and understanding the Old Covenant Scriptures and I’m sure of His calling on them—all of them—Moses, the Prophets & the Psalms (Writings) and then pointing to Himself and saying, “They all come together to speak of Me.” He didn’t see the Old Covenant Scriptures as Elizabeth did. He thought if they were read correctly and with a caring heart that they opposed injustice and cruelty in all its forms. He didn’t think we needed Mahatma Mysticism to interpret them as a blessing to the human family. I recall Him saying that if we loved the God He knew intimately and loved others and wanted for them all that we would honorably want for ourselves that that would be to respond fully to the OT because “all the Law & the Prophets hang on those two commandments.” For me it’s a choice between Elizabeth, Fiorenza, Rueter and others and the Lord Jesus.
The Jesus who was well acquainted with Genesis taught Paul the foundational truths of the gospel of/about Himself and His Bride/Wife, the Church. What if we saw clearly Paul’s teaching about the female/male relationship in God’s purpose in the Lord Jesus and discovered that there was a glory and splendor in the mystery of it, even now, that defies the spirit of the world and its god? The abuse in the world was not ordained by God! That’s our creation though God allows us to carry it out.
What if the suffering of women down the ages exposes the awful need of human salvation from Sin? What if their suffering (like Christ’s) has been speaking to us only we weren’t hearing? What if even now across the world, in their millions, the women that suffer the torment of injustice and physical agony are showing us what we are not seeing? What if the torment of little boys and men side by side with little girls and women is telling us of a cosmic catastrophe that He who was born of a woman came to confirm that God takes note of what was going on and to assure us that there’s a new world coming?
If we deny there is glory in the sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 6:14) because we rightly see it as appalling, maybe we do the same with the suffering of innocent and defenseless women. The humiliation and the agony that Schüssler Fiorenza, Stanton and other feminists rage against should be raged against; but maybe if all we do is rage we rob the innocent, voiceless sufferers of a glory they need to hear about. Point to the young man crucified there and say, “There can be no glory in that brutality and injustice!” But in His sharing the world’s pain the young man Jesus was saying, “Now ‘the world’ and its prince are exposed for what he and it are!” (John 12:31). What if it is the case that the injustice and oppression of countless vulnerable, voiceless women speaks the same message and exposes a world spirit that is really the grip of satanic power? That won’t obliterate the suffering but will it not brand it as satanic? While we work in God to denounce and share and work to eliminate agony as Jesus of Nazareth did, can we not tell these ceaselessly abused the gospel of Christ and tell them that Jesus and they have a lot in common?
Maybe we’re putting the blame on the Bible when the Bible is not to blame. What is it that makes fierce feminists fierce feminists if it isn’t the suffering of the voiceless and the abused? We should oppose all injustice without apology and without rest but should we turn the innocent victims into nothing but victims?
There’s something very wrong about calling innocent suffering “meaningless”!
(O, Holy Father…sigh. Open our eyes to what we are not seeing and energize us to do something in your name to expose and eliminate what we can of the great wrongs of the world. And since we can’t change the circumstances of all the sufferers we’re speaking about, would you help us to change their view of you and know that in the light of Jesus a new world is coming so that vibrant and assured hope in Him will change the world for them, even before He comes and in their name rights all wrongs!)