Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Deuteronomy 22) transports me eleven years back to the tragic attacks of 9-11, and the ensuing search for answers as to why this happened, why there, and why then. A consensus answer points to the oft-repeated notion that the minority radical/fundamentalist wing of Islam is, like other forms of religious fundamentalism, anti-modernity, especially the modernity of the “west”, and the twin towers were obvious symbols of this modernity. Barbara Ehrenreich and others have pointed out a basic flaw in this argument, namely, that contemporary fundamentalist radicals do not reject the modernity of airplanes, modern weaponry, modern technology, or modern money. She writes persuasively that the real bugaboo for the terrorists is the modernity of women. At its root, misogyny is behind the attacks. A cursory look at the kinds of societies fostered by these fundamentalists when they come into power confirms her theory. Women do not fare well. According to Ehrenreich, global economic changes that bring women into traditional male workplaces where they assume traditional male roles of breadwinner is threatening. Beyond that, for women to become sexually liberated is more than the radicals can handle. The terrorists are themselves terrified, horrified by the change, the loss of identity, and they strike back, in an effort to put women back in their place, where they can be both veiled and violated to satisfy the needs of the fragile male psyche.
The 9-11 attacks on modernity, i.e., on women, is nothing new. While misogyny has always been an underlying prejudice throughout history, there have been periods where its more intense forms have risen up like a beast from the sea, whenever the culture at large has been undergoing change. Historians have documented particular periods of intense attacks on women whenever huge cultural sea-changes were taking place. The witch-trials and burnings happened during such times. Looking farther back, we can see how the Deuteronomic history matches up with this dynamic. As the covenant community experienced intense social changes during the 8th and 7th century monarchies, and the accompanying displacement and exile, traditional gender roles were thrown into chaos. An intense cultural and religious argument emerged. While the prophetic voices envisioned communities of equality, with women’s voices rising, Josiaic reforms included an intense push-back against women. To be part of God’s vineyard meant fidelity to gender roles, divisions of labor, and power dynamics between men and women. Mandates to not sow two kinds of seed in the vineyard had a larger interpretation, not to allow the cultural seeds of change to take root in the community. We read some of that here in today’s passage, as men and women were mandated not to confuse their gender-specific dress codes. A harsher example comes with the penal codes around rape. If a woman was raped within earshot of the city, both she and the rapist were put to death, because she didn’t shout. If an unbetrothed woman was raped out of earshot, she was forced to marry the rapist, in order to preserve honor.
We don’t have to look around the world at radical fundamentalist Islamic regimes to document the rise of misogyny in our world today. The clash between liberation and oppression presents itself in every religious tradition and culture. Branches of radical fundamentalism are present in every religious tradition, stubbornly clinging to a vine of domination and control. Such branches are present here in our own country, visible in the statements about rape emerging from some of our political leaders. From the idea that women can prevent pregnancy in a “legitimate” rape, to the idea that birth defects in children are God’s punishment on women who have had abortions, we can recognize the same threatened spirit of male dominance, the same terror that creates terrorists. For those who have been grafted onto a different vine of faith, a vine that produces fruits of love instead of fear, compassion instead of control, deliverance instead of domination, the task is to continue celebrating the Way that welcomes liberation and equality. Today, on the anniversary of terror, we can resist fear-laden worldviews by celebrating heroic women of 9-11, women who indeed “wore men’s clothing”, the uniforms of police and firefighters and EMT workers. We celebrate Brenda Berkman, a NYC Fire Department Captain who saved many lives that day. We celebrate Terri Tobin, NYPD Deputy Inspector who sustained serious injury after being buried beneath the rubble, but nonetheless helped evacuate 100 people once she extricated herself from concrete debris up to her waist. We celebrate the heroism of those who lost their lives in the rescue effort: NYPD officer Moira Smith, last seen evacuating people out of Tower Two; Captain Kathy Mazza, first female commander of the Port Authority of New York, who used her sidearm to shoot out glass walls, enabling many to escape, and Yamel Merino, one of the first ambulance drivers to arrive, who chose to rush into the building instead of manning the ambulance, last seen caring for a survivor just before the first tower collapsed. May their spirit continue to animate our efforts to live the Way of Jesus, the Way of freedom, the Way of love that conquers all fear.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.