A Vision of Liberation and Confession

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Morning Sermon and Diaglogue

March 30, 1989

VRM

SPEAKER:     The first Bible reading is from the book of Daniel.  “As I looked, thrones were placed.  And one that was ancient of days sat down whose robement was white as snow and whose hair was like pure wool.  Whose throne was fiery flames.  Its wheels were burning fire.  A stream of fire issued and came forth from before the ancient of days who was served by a thousand thousands and before whom stood ten thousand by ten thousand.  The court sat in judgment and the books were opened.  I looked then because the sound of the great words which the horns were speaking. And as I looked the beast was slain and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.  As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.  I saw in the night visions.  And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a human being who came to the ancient of days and was presented before the ancient of days.  And to that one was given dominion and glory and sovereignty.  That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve that one whose dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and whose realm is one which shall not be destroyed.

This is the Word of God.

CROWD: Thanks be to God.

SPEAKER 2:  The Gospel reading is from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John, reading from the 33rd through the 37th verses.  “Pilot entered the praetorium again and called Jesus and said ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’  And Jesus answered, ‘ Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?  And Pilot answers “Am I one of you?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  And what have you done?”  And Jesus said’ my dominion is not of this world, not to be handed over to the religious authorities.  But my dominion is not from the world.’  And then Pilot said to Jesus ‘so You are a King.’  And Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a King.  For this I was born and for this I have come into the world: to be a witness to the truth.  And everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

This is the Word of God.

CROWD: Thanks be to God.

Introduction:

I am privileged this morning to welcome to our pulpit Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.  Dr. Mollenkott is a leading evangelical and feminist writer.  She brings to women in the word her extensive areas as professor of English as William Patterson College in New Jersey, her dedicated faith in biblical feminist.  Dr. Mollenkott is well known for her writings including Women, Men and the Bible, The Divine Feminine, Guarding Human Responsibility in the Bible, Women of Faith in Dialogue, and her article on women’s liberation, homosexuality, and homophobia.  She is president of the advisory board of Evangelicals Concerned and has actively worked for the National Council ofCchurches committee preparing the inclusive lectionary.  We welcome Dr. Mollenkott this morning.

 Sermon:

I am pleased to be here with you as part of the annual women’s preaching event, this year focused on claiming future by preaching wholeness to our daughters and sons.  I planned this morning to preach a sermon on the passages from Daniel and John that have just been read.  And tonight to talk a little bit about the sermon itself, about why I favor preaching the lectionary on a frequent basis, about why despite my faith in the narrative preaching style often used by women I believe that story-telling in personal experience should be- profoundly linked and firmly tied to biblical exposition if we are to convince our daughters and sons to implement a vision of wholeness.  I also hope to discuss tonhandmaidight the vision of wholeness itself.  But for now the Sermon.

In her amazing novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood describes a right-view take over of North America, by Protestants, white men who justify everything they do by Bible phrases torn out of context.  In this Nazified Society, women are classified according to their roles.  Wives  wear blue and may sit down in family gatherings.  Martha’s –who do the housework- wear green and must stand up.  And Handmaids, whose only function is to bear children, wear red and must kneel.  At the family gatherings, the Commander reads from a Bible, which is kept locked in a box.  Offred, a handmaid, who is Margaret Atwood’s narrator in the novel, watches the Commander open the locked box, and thinks to herself “The Bible is kept locked up.  The way people once kept tea locked up.  So the servants wouldn’t steal it.  The Bible is an incendiary device,” she thinks to herself.  “Who knows what we’d make of it, if we got our hands on it!”  As a woman who is both oppressed and oppressor in North American society, as it is currently constituted, I agree with Margaret Atwood that the Bible is an incendiary device.  I am among the oppressed in current society, because as a woman- and a woman-identified woman at that- I’m the target of sometimes subtle but always damaging forms of sexism and heterosexism.  We women are living in a society in which male domination and female submission are still the order of the day.  Overtly, in pornography.  And much more subtly everywhere else.  Only 8% of American women get through life without being sexually assaulted, either physically or verbally.  And I’m not one of them.

The Bible Speaks- Empowerment and Liberation

To the oppressed aspects of my life, and to the oppressed aspects of your life, whether they’re the same as mine, or different.  To the oppressed aspects of our lives, the incendiary Bible speaks empowerment, and liberation.  “Oppression is not what your creator had in mind for you” says the incendiary Bible. So wives take up your bed- and walk.

But, as a white person in a racist society, I’m part of the dominant race.  I’m an oppressor.  And a middle-class North American, I am profiting from the classism that exploits poor workers here in the United States and around the world.  To these oppressing aspects of my life and the oppressing aspects of your life, whether they’re the same as mine- or different.  To the oppressing aspects of our lives, the incendiary Bible speaks repentance.  Transformation.  Conversion.

Because the oppressive systems known as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and so forth are so Pervasive in our society, all oppressors have to do in order to profit from those systems is absolutely nothing.  People in the dominant white race don’t need to do anything to profit from being white.  To repent of racism, therefore means actively to struggle to change inequities that are based on race.  People of the dominant male gender don’t need to do anything to oppress wives, girlfriends, or women in general.  Pay scales, and social attitudes, and policies will take care of that.  So to repent of sexism means actively working to change the inequities based on sex.  Heterosexual people don’t need to do anything to oppress peopleof other sexual orientations.  Church and civil policies will do that for them.  So to repent of heterosexism means actively to work for policies that are honest and equitable toward gay women and men.  Bisexual women and men.  And other sexual minorities as well.  And to refuse to distance ourselves from the dispised others.  For instance, Alice Walker refers to herself as homospiritual.  That’s the kind of solidarity with the oppressed that I’m talking about.

To repent of racism, therefore means actively to struggle to change inequities that are based on race.   

People in the money classes don’t need to do anything to oppress the poor, younger class.  Business as usual takes care of that.  So to repent of classism, means to work actively to bring about a more just distribution of wealth, and assuring the good things of life, that none of us more fortunate people would Really want to do without.

“What can we make of this vision for ourselves as both the oppressed and the oppressor in the United States of America?”

So I propose to look for the incendiary qualities of the two Bible passages that were read here this morning.  What do these passages have to say to us about liberation from oppression and about transforming those areas in which we ourselves are profiting from the exploitation of other people?  Interestingly enough, the passage we heard from Daniel is the first in a series of visions.  Probably one by one. From time to time. The way Thomas Payne’s crisis paintings were issued periodically during the American Revolution to keep up the spirits of the people to whom they were addressed.  If you’re like Joseph, and under the heel of a foreign conqueror, imagine the influx of hope that Daniel’s vision would have brought to you.  A vision of judgment against the oppressors and the certainty of liberation of the people of God.  But as I’ve already indicated, my interest in the Bible is not primarily historical.  My primary interest is this: “What can we make of this vision for ourselves as both the oppressed and the oppressor in the United States of America?”

Daniel tells other details.  That the ancient of days who sits on the fiery throne, has hair like pure Wool.  This detail has been so overlooked in centuries of Christian tradition that only recently have I ever seen a painting or sculpture depicting God with wool hair.  These were indeed in our white racist society.  The people I know with wooly hair are black people.  And when I read about folks with wooly hair, it’s in books by black novelists like Toni Morrison, Gloria Naelor or Alice Walker.  The art I recently saw depicting a wooly-haired God was by an artist from the Third-world.  It doesn’t please the white oppressor aspect of my nature, to hear Daniel’s vision and to imagine that when the heavenly court sits in judgment, and the books are opened, the ancient of days might really have wooly hair and dark skin to go with it.  Just in case that detail might be accurate, perhaps we’d better get busy—Combating racism within ourselves and our society.  Self interest will dictate, huh?

There’s a lot in the vision of Daniel about dominion.  And I must admit that the whole concept of dominion makes me nervous because of its close association with dominance.  As a Christian feminist, I believe that healthful human relating should be modeled on mutuality, not on the domination of any one Person or group over another Person or group.  I really don’t care which way you slice it.  I don’t care on what the domination is based.  Racial superiority. Or cultural or national or military.

Or financial superiority or sexual superiority.  The whole idea of some humans beings lording over other human beings seems to me antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, to the teachings of the great Hebrew prophets, and to the most profound teachings of all other major religions.  All of which have of course, been ignored, in our profoundly patriarchal world.  I think it’s important for people of faith to face the fact that the patriarchal concept of a father God who dominates the earth, has functioned to legitimate all kinds of hierarchies that preference certain people by demeaning other people.  But there’s no logical reason why monotheism must of necessity, function to legitimate hierarchies, such as the patriarchal pecking orders in our businesses, universities, and churches. When you think of it, the biblical concept that there is only One God, who has created a Tremendous variety of species, Actually provides a very strong interest to appealism does it?  If one God has created so much variety, may we not assume that God prefers variety? (laughter)  And if God prefers variety, why should human beings, be so busy trying to force each other into conformity?  Why should any person or group assume itself to be the only acceptable norm, so that those who are different are turned into an inferior other?  When we look at Daniel chapter 7 to discover the identity of the one to whom the ancient of days Gave everlasting dominion, over all the people of the world, we discover that the recipient of all that power was simply identified as one like a human being. Or as the RSV more traditionally puts it, “One like a Son of Man.”  The RSV translation sounds as if the everlasting lord must of necessity be the male offspring of another male. Nice work if you can do it. (Lots of laughter)  In my inclusive and accurate formal equivalent of the phrase “Son of Man,” was adopted by the National Council of Churches inclusive language lectionary.  It’s the human one when the context indicates a title or simply a mortal or a human being when the context indicates reference to an ordinary person.  Now what can it mean that God gave everlasting dominion over all earth, to someone like a human being? 

 I think it’s important for people of faith to face the fact that the patriarchal concept of a father God who dominates the earth, has functioned to legitimate all kinds of hierarchies that preference certain people by demeaning other people.

Contrasting Two Kinds of Dominion- John

Perhaps, with that question, we look to our other reading.  John 18: 33-37.  The dialogue between Pilot and Jesus concerning the authority of Jesus.  When Pilot tried to ascertain whether the Jewish reform movement led by Jesus, constituted threat to worldly authority, Jesus responded “My dominion is not of this world. If my dominion were of this world, my servants would have fled and I might not be handed over to the religious authorites.  But my domain is not from this world.”  Here Jesus contrasts two kinds of dominion: The patriarchal power structures of this world which maintain control by coercion, by financial and military force, and a spiritual power source that needs no coercive methods because it stems not from this world, but from the ancient of days on a burning throne in a timeless dimension that is both everywhere and nowhere and therefore there’s a power source available to everyone, everywhere.  I would like to emphasize that I am not claiming that Jesus and Jesus alone, is the one like a human being to whom everlasting dominion will be giving over all people, nations, and languages.  The Christian scriptures are very clear about the fact that those who follow Jesus, are made into “Christed-ones.”  Members of the body of the Christ.  Sharing the Christ’s power, and intended to do even greater works than even Jesus had done.  In my view, Christianity has made a double error by focusing worship on Jesus as a separate, one time only phenomenon, as if human beings were intended to worship Jesus passively, instead of embodying Christiveness Actively.  There is very good evidence, that anyone who has learned to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, embodies what Christians would call “the Christ nature.”  In that nature, there is a strong family resemblance to what Buddhists would call the “Buddha nature.”  What Jews would call the “Righteous Servant of God.”  Or what leaders of feminists spirituality might refer to as the “goddess within.”  The idea is not to squabble over our terminology, but rather to practice in our everyday lives,  the globally caring commitment to justice that characterizes new creatures in a new humanity. 

This kind of dominion we need not fear because it’s based upon non-coercive respect for the otherness of the other.

Returning to Daniel 7, and viewing through the lenses of Jesus’ reference to a dominion that derives its authority from a non-coercive, freely available, spiritual dimension, we’re able to perceive that Daniel’s vision is of an eternal commonwealth, little, but corporate body of a new humanity.  Judging from the current themes in the Bible, this new humanity will consist of those human beings who have learned to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God by expecting God’s image in themselves and everyone else.  Everyone else.  In fact, the vision of Daniel 7, concludes with a corporate emphasis that explicitly expands the phrase “one like a human being,” into a whole body of righteous human beings.  Verse 27 says, “ And the Kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high.  Their kingdom, shall be an everlasting kingdom.  And all dominions shall serve and obey them.”  So we glimpse the possibility that Daniel’s vision is of a corporate dominion of those who submit themselves to one another out of reverence for the one God who created, sustained, and lives within us all.  This kind of dominion we need not fear because it’s based upon non-coercive respect for the otherness of the other.  I realize that many religious leaders and TV evangelists might resist the interpretations I have just proposed. (Laughter)  It’s worth noting that in John 18, when Jesus sets up his contrast  between two forms of dominion, he places religious authorities on the side of coerciveness, rather than on the side of spiritual empowerment.  Empowerment that’s available to any ordinary person who seeks it.  In a similar vein, I’m not talking about religious orthodoxy, which often turns out to be devisive, judgmental and coercive.  It’s not our doctrines, not our denominations, but our doings that will identify us as members of a new humanity and give a share in God’s kingdom coming up.  In both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Royal law is this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Daniel depicts an eternal commonwealth ruled by those human beings who embody that Royal law.  To the oppressed aspects of ourselves, Daniel’s vision of ourselves, Daniel’s vision says

“Respect yourself!

Stand tall with integrity!

Fearlessly combat injustice against yourself and your people!”

And to the oppressing aspects of ourselves, Daniel’s vision cries out:

“Repent!  Work! Actively!

To transform the inequitable systems that bring profit to you at the expense of other people!

And be creative about finding opportunities.

Value the other as you value yourself.”

The authority of Jesus came not from this world, but from an eternal and trans-personal spiritual dimension that he embodied everywhere he went.  My authority comes form the same source.  So does yours, if you are open to the power of the Spirit.  Let us remember that when God’s dominion is established upon the earth, it will be established only because the non-coercive, justice-oriented lives of people like you and me have actually learned to love their neighbors as themselves.  Which of course tailors back to love oneself.  It will be an everlasting commonwealth ruled by a new humanity.

What we pray for, let us also work for. 

May God’s dominion come. 

May God’s will be done in us, as it is in heaven. 

Amen.

CROWD: Amen

Just imagine what the church has been missing all these years.  (Laughter)  For me this has been a marvelous experience.  I’ve heard three magnificent sermons by three wonderfully doled women.  I’ve seen gorgeous liturgical dancing.  I’ve seen women leading inclusive language liturgies with grace and warmth.  I’ve recognized the tremendous organizational skills that lie behind making a conference like this work.  I know that those were all carried out by women as well.  And I’ve also experienced having the deprived of my own life experience including my sexual orientation graciously informed. That’s a very wonderful thing for somebody whose served most of her life, always having to keep that in shadows and never having that confronted.  But above all, I feel privileged to have been involved in some serious conversation.  I really get tired of all the social twitter that one has to engage in (laughing), and I’ve had an opportunity during these couple of days to get engaged in some really serious conversation with the women and men who are participating in this event.  And I’ve learned some things about working toward wholeness in the human race.  Either I’ve learned that the new, for the first time, or have had a tremendous amount of reinforcement for some things that I had perhaps been having a glimmering about.  I would just like to tick off some of the things that I picked up, you know, in these discussions.

Reversing the Roles

One on the importance of dramatizing what we’re talking about- that is getting people to reverse their age-old roles, trying to set up situations in which people can actually feel what it’s like to be the other person.  One woman talked about casting a play in which the boys would play the girls’ roles and the girls would play the boys’ roles.  And what everybody discovered was it was impossible for the boys to play the girls’ roles.  They dissolved in giggles and could not do it.  Whereas the girls could easily play the boys’ roles.  So that the discussion that followed revealed existentially to them, you see, because they had experienced it, the difference between girl-dom and boy-dom in a patriarchal society.  So the conversation that followed that experience was much more meaningful to those children.  That was important I think.  I think I’m certain we’re creative enough to craft experiences like that for people.

Urgency in Justice Work

The importance of acknowledging and honoring that fact that when we become really urgent in our justice work, it’s because our own lives are at risk, where that there’s something… this came out of the sermon on the Syro-Phoenecian woman, who had the persistence to confront Jesus because her daughter was invested-it was her daughter!  And she enlarged Jesus’ understanding of his mission, almost as a side-effect of the urgency of her need.  And what it did was really strengthen my own resolve, and the resolve, I think, of the other women who were there to listen to that discussion.

  That is that we need- to be persistent and insistent about our needs.

Because in the course of working in the areas where we ourselves are at risk, we are working one step before the others.  We have no idea what the outflow will be, you know?  She enlarged Jesus’ mission.  She enlarged his understanding of what he came here for because she was insistent about her own need.  I think that’s an important thing for women because we’re all socialized that it should be other people’s needs, not in our case.  You never know who you’ll be helping by being there in those places where your own life is at risk.

Confessing Brokenness

Also, I learned about the importance of brokenness—confessing, brokenness as a one of the prerequisites of wholeness.  This rose out of a confession sermon I heard yesterday, about divorce-about the experience of being divorced from somebody you love.  It was a very powerful experience, because we’re all in process and we all have places we want to be and if we cover that over, we kind of preach a gospel of success, but it’s very indulgent, very debilitating to all people who are wise enough to admit their brokenness.  For all we know, our ironies are just as important as our ecstasies.  In fact, where I look back over my life my ironies have been extremely important in my development, and yet at the time, frequently, I was trying to hide them, trying to deny them, or, to myself even.

Naming the Demons

Another thing that came about through these discussions was the importance of claiming the power to name the demons.  Not letting somebody else name the demons, because frequently the Church has misnamed what the demons are.  For instance telling battered women that they apparently haven’t been submissive enough, or they wouldn’t be getting battered was certainly to misname the demon.  Or telling people with self-respecting pride is evil.  Or telling people that their sacred love relationships are abominable.  This is misnaming the demons, and we need to rename the demons as too much submission to creatures, rather than loyalty to God within the depths of our own spirits.

Re-visioning Atonement

And discuss from this last session, our discussion rising out of Elaine’s wonderful sermon this morning, we got to talking about the whole importance of re-visioning the doctrine of atonement.  That to teach that God sacrificed his son on the cross to redeem the world’s sin, to redeem our people’s sin, is essentially to teach divine child abuse. And now we need to begin to talk about the crucifixion from other more holistic perspectives, such as that the crucifixion was God’s participation in human suffering, such as incurable goodness.  The suffering that cannot be changed.  That we could try everything but we cannot change-there you have the crucifixion as our sense that God is alongside us-that the holy is alongside us.  Or, looking at it as the world’s rejection of Jesus’ profound mission and vision of oneness with the divine source.   Then with the resurrection as the indication of the oneness with the source.  Or, looking at the crucifixion the freely chosen rejection of personal comfort in order to give life and death service to others, but with the emphasis on freely chosen-see, chosen from a position of strength, not forced upon somebody because they’re already oppressed people.  Not telling poor people they should embrace their poverty.  But rather, empowering people, and then teaching them that there is something even more important than being their own person and that is being God’s person.  Or, another woman brought up the exalting for various people in the group.  The importance of looking upon the crucifixion as the moment of ultimate incarnation, not the nativity scene as being the moment of ultimate incarnation, but the crucifixion, because there, Jesus went through that human experience of death, that we all face.  So that was the incarnation.  And when this woman said it, I immediately thought the fact that at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the suffering that was about to take place as birth-pains, as trevail.  So it’s not the birth of Jesus that’s so much the figure of incarnation, as the birthing process women go through (laughing).  The trevail and anguish.  He also used that, the whole creation groaning in trevail to bring forth the adoption and redemption of the body.  So these I think are much more positive ways- no doubt we will think of others- but much more positive ways of envisioning the doctrine of atonement.

Please Ask Questions

Oh, one other thing.  I will beseech you in this period, if I have said something that offends you, please ask about it.  I was asked by one woman this morning who was sure she heard me say last night that we ought to go to exclusively female imagery of God in our liturgies.  And I’m so thankful that she asked me because I certainly do not believe that that would be helpful (laughing).  I was talking about the importance of introducing some female images in order to break the power of the idolatry of the masculine, which exclusively masculine imagery has instilled in us.  It would not be helpful now (laughing) to start an exclusively female imaging of God, that would create a different idol.  I would like to see us, instead of swaying from end to the other, to try to go for balance right away in our liturgical language, and use multiplicity of images of God, as Scripture uses a multiplicity of images for God.  And reflect that in our pronouns.  But to provide lots of images, so that people who are abused by their fathers have something they can relate to, people who are abused by their mothers will be able to relate to something.  The people who want more horizontal imagery like friend, sister, brother, will have those images provided for them.  Lover images.  God as lover.  These all have precedence in Scripture.

And I think if we just use God as various aspects of the divine milieu, if we would use them, we would learn to see holiness in what’s around us. 

That’s what I was driving at.  I couldn’t personally engage in a service in which all the imagery of God was female, by ten minutes, I would be so antsy about my sons being– it doesn’t matter whether he’s here or not, right?- I don’t think you talk down Jews just because there’s not Jew present,  it’s not, it doesn’t matter.  Just the thought that all the men I care about in the world are being excluded from this, I couldn’t stand it!  But on the other hand, I’m not going to continue to sit through services in which people do it to me!  And to you-to my sisters.  That was my point about introducing some female and some nature images into liturgies.  Not that we should shift them to an exclusively female set of images.  I’m sorry if anybody else feels offended but please seek clarification.  And be sure it was a thanksgiving, you know, rather than a misunderstanding (laughing.)

MODERATOR:  Thank you for that.  This is really an open dialogue, so feel free to begin anybody who has something they’d like to say.  And if you could the microphone so everybody could hear you, that would be fine.

Since nobody’s rising, let me just say something that’s on my heart.  Um, I thank you for the words of organizational support.  There has been a lot to do.  But one of the pieces of wholeness that is sort of still there with us to be named, at least for me, you will see in the closing worship that one of the lines is “Open my Eyes.”  Valerie S. who is here this morning is blind, and some of you may not have known that.  We had changed that piece of text, and unfortunately, the typist at all the lengths that we did, that didn’t get corrected.  And I’ve thought of how many times we’ve used “Oh, I see.” Or, language for Jesus only as the eyes as recognition, of somehow that being the way that we receive God in.  I just feel that as, Valerie as my sister and our sister, though even though she isn’t present, that needs to be lifted up and reminded, I see, you were helping last night, and you just have to stop when it happens and name it.  Not as blaming ourselves, because it’s so pervasive, that we don’t always understand what’s happening in our midst.  So I would encourage you that when we get to that point in our service, which is very early, to choose words of your own choice- that doesn’t mean you all have to say the same thing- but at that point, if you say “open my eyes,” fine, but others may want to say otherwise.

GENE HAMILTON: Um, how are you?  Um, okay.  My name is Gene Hamilton, we’re supposed to say who we are.   I don’t really know why I came to this event, and I didn’t know what to expect, except that the four women in my study group said “oh we’re going.”  They didn’t come, but I did. (laughter).  And I’m glad we had this small group discussion because I have my things to say.  But I do hope that after having heard Dr. Mollenkott speak in terms of the work we have to do and we women have work to do, and there are men out there who are doing this work too.  And you could come to my church service and you would… –there would be slips- but you would know that the pastor was concerned and was sensitized and was trying to overcome a lot of these issues.  In addition I just want to express appreciation for these two days and the overall sense of it is worthwhile going through what I’m going through back home on behalf of the issues that this organization represents-what women in the word represents  And it makes it not only worthwhile, but at the same time has reinforced my personal commitment to the whole issue of inclusiveness in everything we do and I thank you very much.

FRAN: I met someone yesterday, who’s a student at the theological school here, and she is in a wheel chair, and she’s a senior here- Susan is her name.  She was telling me that after much effort and agony, they finally made one chapel service be in the basement of the theological school.  One service a week.  And then I got to thinking “Susan could not participate in our two services that we had here in Marsh Chapel.”  She couldn’t hear Yolanda preach and she couldn’t hear Dr. Mollenkott either.  So you know, I feel badly about that for her.  And that’s too bad.  It shouldn’t be I don’t think.

MODERATOR:  I just want to respond to that because I wanted in the end, to ensure that it’s not something we haven’t struggled with.  And the size of the group that met yesterday, it is not the Shaw Center’s fault alone that Marsh Chapel is as it is.  But we did make an attempt to have this service, and granted, it’s only one service and there needs to be more done.  I think that is the important part of solidarity, a lot of people are hurting.  And a lot of us have wounds that we can see and are trying to… and a lot of us have wounds that we cannot immediately know about.  And it’s right to raise the issues. And it’s right that we empower one another.  But I hope that we also don’t…we cannot do it all.  And I appreciate you raising that Fran.  It gets overwhelming.  It gets overwhelming how much there is to do.  And we’ve been empowered today, but we’re reminded that we need each other.  And we need each other to sensitively say “Are you aware that you didn’t do this, and such?”  To know that next time we’ll try harder.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER:  I think this is where we need to empower you.  Most of us, or many of us are United Methodist, that means we can all write our Bishop, who is the trustee of this University, to put pressure on this University to correct this situation.

(Applause)

(Laughter)

UNKNOWN SPEAKER:  I guess one of the things that I’m thinking about in terms of speakers and preachers, often times, you know, we have the opportunity to speak moving toward wholeness in groups that you look around and you say “everybody here already has that sense of risking,” and we wish that it was a different kind of group.  That would be less likely, the persons that are not at Women in the Word.  I guess I would either ask the preachers, whether or not your sermon was different because of the group that we knew perhaps would be listening, and also, the speakers, you know sometimes, Virginia, at what point do we invite ourselves into the group?  Are you most often invited into groups who already know your message, and how can we move into groups that don’t want to hear the message?  Is that moving toward wholeness too?  And how do we do that?

DR. MOLLENKOTT:  Well that’s one reason why I refuse to drop the word Evangelical.  In many ways I am Evangelical.  I won’t, and I’m very embarrassed (laughing) by many of the things that that word is taken to mean.  But I won’t.  Sometimes I do get a chance because of that.  For instance I was invited to speak at the Evangelical Round Table, which was a scholarly symposium on the sanctity of life.  And I was of course the only pro-choice speaker.  They expected to hear a round of “women’s bodies vs. fetal rights.”  Women’s rights vs. fetal rights.  Which is the only way they can make out, in their mind, sense of anything.  This vs. this.  Instead they heard a biblical argument on the importance of choosing, based on God stepping back, instead of making Mary an Exobus(?), and giving us responsibility for creation.  And many expressed supreme surprise.  I think that one thing we have to do is attempt to use language which cuts as close to people’s experience as possible.  Using that language to turn their minds toward new ways.  For instance, somebody challenged me last night concerning using the word God.  Is God masculine?  Right off the bat, God.  As opposed to Goddess.  And uh, I said “well, do you need God’s job description? “ (Laughter)  (talking under the laughter) I said that’s why I cannot use the word God in any discourse without speaking of her.  Or speaking, or using a female image in order to break the idea that I’m speaking of a masculine God.  You know, a unisex, unisexual God.  To speak of God in at least two images.  That’s my responsibility, otherwise the word God will function as a masculine image.  But, I do not think it advisable for me to speak of Goddess because, even if you do what Reuther does with God and the slash and –ess, you can’t hear slashes when they talk, when people are talking.   If by your language, you frighten people so badly that they can’t hear another word you say, I don’t know that you’ve accomplished very much.  So my approach is to utilize as much Scripture as possible, and speak as with the familiar terminology, as much as possible, and yet be pushing toward that revision.  And I think that’s one of the things that we can do.  You want to push more on that Vicki?

YOLANDA:  I would like to answer.  I think that to bring the message so the message can be heard, I think that’s the most difficult part.  And I think we need each other to do that.  You know the message, you know what you want people to hear, you open the doors.  You force the issue, you bring the people that you want to hear the message.  The other thing is that we need to empower our ladies.  With it, I think we don’t do the job that we need to with the ladies of the Church. We need to have the ladies read the Bible from the perspective of the women and the other people who are not women- men or women- who are oppressed in different ways.  And we need to help our church people to reflect theologically and to be able to bring the message of the Bible from years to years and think “what is the meaning of that in the complete situations of life?”  My sermon would have been different if I had been in another group that was not as anywhere as sophisticated as you are. But I want my problem for the basis for hope and wholeness that sometimes it’s very comfortable for us to talk about that because we have the luxury to talk about that because we have the basic needs of life covered.  How can we bring this message of hope and wholeness to people who have not the basic needs of life covered?  By that I mean people who have no home, have no papers to live here, no medical attention, they are homeless, and how can we start talking to them about hope and wholeness?  And I have been amazed that those people have talked to me of hope and wholeness, not in words, but in the spirit of the struggle and attaining their dignity.  And claiming their wholeness in the midst of most diverse situations.  So when I, I think we need to be careful when we talk about the food in the fridge and send them, and bring them, I think we have to join them in the work.  I mean, we do have the good news, I mean we have Christ.  And that we need to join them in the struggle to get the basic needs of life, and then we also is the climax, it’s Christ That Makes all of that whole.  But we need to join in their struggle and listen to their message.  And listen to their wholeness, so that we can really define that too.  I think that’s important for us, and for pastors, and theologians, and ladies.  We need them to, message. And work with the people who are in the midst of despair.

MESSAGE OF PARTICIPATION TO LATE-COMERS.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER:  As Yolanda was speaking, because I’m perhaps more conscious now than I was, wasn’t that a sacramental action going on there as two people wrote on water?  I mean really, that was just beautiful.  I don’t know what was happening earlier getting ready for the service later, I realized that you know, you were being ministered to, you were given the water that cleanses and makes whole.  Thank you.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER 1:  This isn’t really a comment on the substance of the last couple of days, but more on the atmosphere and the ambiance.  I’ve just felt very accepted, by you over the last couple of days, and I’m very free to be myself.  It’s a very special part that I’m gonna take away- that feeling I’ve gotten.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER 2: I’m not sure why no one from the group that I was in is raising this question since it was such a burning issue (laughter).  I want to raise it now.  Several people talked about that as they drove home last night, the word ‘lie,’ was the hottest issue in the world for them.  And somehow now in your presence, it’s not such a hot issue (laughter). Which is, there seems to me to be lots of people who find it hard to accept that a Christian person of wanting ministry might lie in order to get what they wanted from the Church and the institution, and I wanted to allow you to elaborate somewhat on ‘lie.’ And part of what I want to do is say who is it that is really lying (laughter).

Living In Occupied Territory

DR. MOLLENKOTT:  yeah, I would recommend that out any of those exercises, that this might go back to Dietrich Bonheoffer’s book Ethics, and read his section on lying and on, for instance one of the illustrations he uses is, should somebody at school, a teacher at school for instance, attempts to pry, ask a child questions about the relationship between its mother and father, the child’s mother and father, and the child should lie about, say they’re getting along well when they’re not getting along so well.  That would this, not this lie be, though commendable on the child’s part because it rises out of a loyalty to those who are nearest and dearest and so forth.  And as I said last night, I have never heard a cry against Dietrich Bonheoffer for his immorality in pointing out the fact that sometimes lies can be caused to be virtuous. But when Elizabeth Bettenhausen says, at a large conference she and I were doing with the Episcopal and Lutheran campus ministers, she talked about lying, and her illustration was gay people trying to get ordained.  She got it from this white minister, who’s, campus minister, his voice trembling with righteous indignation about, she said “you, pardon me, but I think you’re in a very special position.  You don’t understand what it’s like to be oppressed, to be by virtue of your nature to have a ministry to which you feel called.”  He of course would not, would not claim that privilege at all.  But it did strike me as, as so interesting.  Of course Martin Luther King during his career also caught it.  Shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be confronting the powers-that-be the way he was.  Because even though his work was not violent and direct, still it goes that it could lead others to violence and blah blah blah.  You know, he got it like crazy! And his reputation has warmed with itself considerably, at least…If, that happens sometimes after you’re a martyr.  But there’s more than one way you’re martyred.  Now, Bettenhausen, in my opinion was getting martyred.  So of course, I leapt in (chuckling) . You know.  Few other illustrations where people have to lie.

Sure, my statement that we’re in occupied territory is intended to show that the system itself is based on a lie! A lie that God’s creation is not good.  Making 53% of the human race female is not good. And making 10% of the human race is not good and so forth and so on.  Let me just try to do a little more with the Hebrew midwives to maybe illustrate.  Pharaoh called the Hebrew midwives to say “You must help me in my genocidal plan which I do not want everybody to know about.”  So, under the table kind of you see.  “You go, and then when the woman goes a boy baby, just kill it quietly.  And they’re not gonna know that what we’re doing is genocide here.”  They said “oh, king, a forever yes.”  Apparently (laughter) because they left him with the impression that they were going to do it.  That was a lie, huh?  No one intended to do it.  So they didn’t do it.  After a while of course, the king being totally stupid (laughter) says to them “How come the Hebrews are flourishing, lots of boy babies. (laughter) as well as girl babies.”   And they said, “Well, can’t help it.  We rushed to get there, but these Hebrew women are so active that they give birth before we arrive. I don’t know why.”  (laughter)  And of course Pharaoh was stymied.

Now what if they had said “Pharaoh, that idea stinks.  You are a wretch and we will not take part in that.”  What would they have accomplished?  Nobody likes a goodie.  And he would have kept trying until he found somebody who would do that dirty work for him.  As a matter of fact, these women forced him into openness.  He had to send the military in to kill the boy babies.  You see.  And then everybody knew who was to blame, whereas if those women had cooperated, it would have been a secret thing and the states, you know they power of the state would have been upheld.  The violence of the structure would have been upheld on the shoulders of these women who would be complicit.  No!  They were refused to cooperate with the evil, but they did it in a smart way so that they wouldn’t just get executed and right down the line until somebody gave in and did it.  I for one am very grateful that they had the sense, not to confront- there are sometimes when confrontation is suicide, and not only suicide, but you’re leaving the way open for people who are only too happy to be corrupt.  So in order to get any kind of power, you have to be connected.  In this society, highly organized society, you don’t have any power if you’re not connected with the organization.  And all organizations are corrupt to one degree or another-including churches.  That’s what I mean in occupied territory.

So you’ve gotta have enough sense to know when you can confront directly.  That would be the equivalent of saying, “Oh Pharaoh, excuse me, but your idea is hideous.”  And when that wouldn’t do a darn bit of good, and you know it, then you have to know, when to say “Oh, sure I’ll do that.”  And then proceed not to do it.  And when asked about it, lie through your teeth.  Because we’re told in Scripture that God richly blessed them-those women, for that act.  And I’m sure many of the Hebrew mothers and fathers blessed them too.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER:  Can I just say- I really appreciate what you say because it kind of gives permission, permission to do what we need to do to get the job done, at times.  But I think there’s another issue, and one that Yolanda raised this morning that really struck home with me.  Which is, being able to stand and say “This is who I am.”  And in claiming that, we not only claim the present for ourselves, we claim the future for others.  And so, I think what you’re saying and what Yolanda was saying this morning are sort of held in tension and that’s where the difficulty comes.

DR. MOLLENKOTT: See, I have, I am able to stand up and say, “this is who I am.” A lesbian-feminist theologian.  Christian theologian because I’m getting’ my pay check from a state college in New Jersey.  And that all goes back to my original oppressions. See growing up in the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies where I didn’t dream that a woman could go into theology and get paid for it.  So that all worked out to the good.  See?  I did the next best thing, I became a teacher of literature, where I could delve in theology all the time, but you know, I just didn’t know women could be leaders in the church, or I would have gone to seminary.  But if I had, I would be throttled right now. I could not be saying exactly what I want to say because I would out of a job very rapidly, and even theologians must eat. (laughter) But that, what I’m saying now, that luxury, integrity is to some degree a luxury.  I mean you do have to, it isn’t even a matter so much as having a pay check, it’s a matter of somehow being able to have your vocation- your calling.  I was able to find a way that I could do theology, which is just who I am, you know.  A theologian is who I am and always have been.  But I found a way to go around the end in order to get it.  Other people have had different experience and made different choices, and they can’t always have the luxury of just standing up and saying “this is who I am.”  So, yes, you’re right.  It has to be in a constant tension.  The danger is always that having turned a blind eye, you come to think “oh, well I’m beyond the world, I can do whatever I want to,” or by degrees getting desensitized. And you always have got to remember, you need to have a community to which you are accountable.  To whom you never lie.  And to whom you would rather die than lie.  And so I think it’s very important.  Even if it’s nobody but one spiritual co-director.  You know, I have a relationship with a Presbyterian minister.  She and I kind of co-direct each other spiritually and mutually.  And of course Deborah, and the people in the feminist community, and the gay community are the people to whom I am absolutely accountable.  And I think that’s very important to remember.  That anything I cannot say from the depths of my spirit with a certain amount of confidence that this is what I must do, would be wrong.  But I’m very aware, that my ability now to stand and say exactly who I am is a great privilege and luxury based on many things that were here, providence or however you want to say it.                                            I would also like to say that if Yolanda is Yolanda, I am Virginia.  That’s also important.

YOLANDA:  I think that the tension is going to be there one time, anything we do as Christians it’s going to be there.  And I think that when you, your situation, your situation that you stated, it’s a situation, it’s almost a special prize. It’s almost like your death.  And I’m thinking of all situations in life or death.  And life and death can be different things.  I’m thinking of the situation in Central American or South America, where you are trying to save somebody, and they come and take you to the police and ask you “where is this person?”  And you know where the person is.  And you lie.  Because it’s a situation of life and death.  At that moment, you cannot, you are honest to yourself by lying.  That’s another issue.  This a very complex issue, what is it to lie, and what it is to be yourself.  And I think maybe one of the key things is to be able to remember the wholeness in different aspects of your life, as long as you’re able to say, to preserve the wholeness inside you and to know that you are you, you live in that tension.  And that’s the Christian tension of everything we do in life.  I really believe that.  There is tension in everything we do.  How can we be faithful to what we are in our faith, and be faithful to those people that we know from the community?  And sometimes, they seem competitory.  But that’s the tension of the Christian.  I think that’s part of our fullness too.  Also, the other thing is that we are on a journey.  Some people are at one place in the journey and other people are very far from coming to the journey.  And we are at different places in the journey.

DR. MOLLENKOTT:  Yes, thank you for that.  I…See what I’m, what I was doing last night was naming the truth about what we were doing already.  Now, it’s always dangerous you know.  Machiavelli came around and wrote a book called The Prince in which he described what politicians have been doing for centuries already.  But his main goal connected (laughter) with everything dangerous and treacherous.  So, in the Renaissance, you wanted to talk about someone being a goon, you called them a Machiavell.  So it’s darn dangerous to be the person who calls it was it is (laughing).  But, this is what people have been doing for a long time, and not just oppressed people either.  When lying is truly evil, is when it is used from a power position to crunch the people beneath.  I have heard bishops lying about people who have much less power than they.  Now there, you just have to avert your eyes.  Ichabod, your glory has departed.  But, you know, Immanuel Kant’s idea about, you know, never to lie, or categorical imperative never to lie, well I can tell you whose house I wouldn’t hide in!  (laughter)  If they’re coming hunting for me, it wouldn’t be in Immanuel Kant’s house because he values an abstraction more than he values human life.  You gotta talk situations.  Individual situations. With all our complexity and pain.

UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Frametism is the feminist metaphysics.

Tape ends.

 

Books Mentioned in the Course of the Sermon:

The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood

Ethics- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Prince- Machiavelli