The Common Good

Women, Voice, and Pentecost

And a wild wind rushed down and tongues of fire rested on the heads of the small diverse mass of Jesus followers huddled in the upper room. They were hiding from any who might identify them as ones connected to that crucified Christ, but now they moved into the streets.

Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com
Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

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Imagine this rag-tag constellation of people gathered from across the Roman Empire. Imagine the looks of surprise on their faces as they spoke languages they never learned. Imagine the sense of awe as they heard their own languages reflected back to them through foreign faces. And imagine the baffled eyes as they realized that in the midst of this public display, in the midst of this sacred breakthrough, in the midst of those raising their voices and being understood, in the midst of those prophesying to the public, were women.

Ari Hart, rabbi and co-founder of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice confessed in a recent Huffington Post article that as a man, he is supposed to pray the following prayer of blessing every day: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.”— Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12. He explains in the article that the prayer was written nearly 2,000 years ago, which would place the time of the blessing’s authorship around the time of this first Pentecost.

Now, we stand in the shadows of the 19th century women’s suffrage movement, the 1970s women’s liberation movement and current cultural icons like Madonna, the women of Sex and the City, and Lady Gaga — all attempts to raise women’s voices in the public square, attempts by women to tell the truth about women’s God-given power and intrinsic worth. They declared that they were equally as worthy as men to vote, equally worthy as men are to work, equally as worthy as men are to be paid what their work was worth, and equally worthy as a men to experience the ecstasy God intended in sex. Some attempts were flawed, but flawed or not they pushed against injustice both in the public square and in the bedroom.

The politics of women’s liberation in the past focused, for the most part, on women’s public lives — our abilities to vote, to break beyond glass ceilings in the workplace, and to “bring home the bacon.” Meanwhile, many of our most explosive cultural explorations of women of late have focused on the bedroom, a la Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones. But I sense something new breaking through – finally! Women’s sexuality and the injustice many of us suffer around the world are breaking into the public square— even into our politics.

Consider in the past year alone, America has wrestled over the injustice of forced vaginal probe ultrasounds. We have had our own deep cultural apathy revealed as the media tipped their sympathies toward the jocks that ripped a 16 year-old girl’s life and body through gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio – even as our nation gasped in horror at multiple reports of gang rapes of women in India. And over the past few weeks we have witnessed the unmasking of several U.S. military leaders, who were charged with duties to protect the women in their ranks, as they were revealed to be the very perpetrators themselves.

In Jim Wallis’ latest column, he writes, “It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged” and adds, “And it's time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.”

Will we do it? Will we take the step? Will we allow this holy wind that has blown the cover off of evil deeds done in the dark to rush through? Will we allow the cleansing waters of God to wash our society clean of practices — both private and public — that twist, maim and crush the image of God in more than half its population? Will we exercise the same courage that it took for those women at the first Pentecost to allow the spirit to move them into the public square and speak — testify, tell the truth, and prophesy? Will we repent from our silence?

Repentance begins in the heart. So, I must ask: “Will I repent of my silence — my safe silence?” Yes.

And so I testify: tracing back to the days of slavery, every single woman on my mother’s direct line of the family has suffered sexual violence at the hands of a family member, a friend or a boyfriend — including me. One great aunt died in the woods after being raped by her uncle. Most of us suffered in silence and some suffered again when they raised their voices to name their perpetrator. Fathers, cousins, even sisters and pastors minimized the pain and chastised the crushed ones for disturbing the “peace.”

But in scripture, God chastises the ones who cry “peace, peace” where there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14)

I believe the Holy Spirit is moving again over the face of our world’s cesspool of sexual subjugation. The move is as powerful as that first wild wind that caused women to stand in the public square and reclaim their personhood. The question is will we listen to the Spirit?

Lisa Sharon Harper is Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners and a member of Emerging Voices

Image: Women's Rights National Historic Park statues, Zack Frank / Shutterstock.com

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