A certain little girl, when asked her name, would reply, "I'm Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter." Her mother told her this was wrong, she must say, "I'm Jane Sugarbrown." The Vicar spoke to her in Sunday School, and said, "Aren't you Mr. Sugarbrown's daughter?" She replied, "I thought I was, but mother says I'm not."
I laughed out loud when a friend shared this joke with me online. For as funny as it is, however, there’s also a message buried in it that I would like to explore a little, and yes, this does suck all the fun out of a funny joke. Sorry. The mother is trying to help her daughter define herself, but the church thinks of her as identified by the male in her life.
It is hard for me to understand how Jesus’ relationship with women led to Christianity’s relationship with women. I think it has a lot to do with “religion” as institution, but I’ll talk about that in a bit. Somehow the radical equality of Jesus and the earliest church got turned around and Christianity joined the religion-parade that hallowed the idea of women’s inequality. One of the reasons that I am so happy to belong to the UCC is that this is a church that has stood up for Jesus’ radical equality even before it was mainstream.
The central offices of the Massachusetts Conference are located at Edwards House in Framingham. My wife Sharon and I attended recently a clergy tax conference there. Sharon is the practical minded one in our relationship. She’s the one who stayed through all of the session. I wandered. There are various meeting rooms in Edwards House and they’re named after religious pioneers. Please check out the link to read about the various rooms: https://www.edwardshouseframingham.org/meetingrooms I hope you noticed that the Brown Room is named after the first woman Ordained in the United States. It took place in 1853 in a Congregational Church! Rosie the Riveter wouldn’t appear for another nine decades. The Women’s Rights movement would be three more decades after that, and the #MeToo movement is our current history. 1853! That’s something to be proud of. As opposed to …
This Spring the Southern Baptist Church had to slowly (begrudgingly?) fire their President, Paige Patterson, as the leader of the denomination. As the head of a seminary, he had advised a young woman who came to him with an accusation of rape against another seminary student. In words not unlike that of the Roman Catholic bishops during the clergy sex abuse scandal, he told her to not press charges for the sake of the good name of the church and that she should forgive her attacker. In a similar episode in 2015, he arranged to meet alone with another woman who was making accusations of rape. He did so in order to “break her down.” Patterson made front-page news recently after taped comments were aired in which he advises from the pulpit that an abused wife should pray to be “submissive in every way that you can” because divorce would be the true sin. This religious leader also preached a sermon that included a comment “on a teenage girl’s body and told his female seminary students to pay more attention to their physical appearances.” (Washington Post, 6/2/18)
With this sort of religious thinking about women still coursing through religious institutions today, and with limits placed on how women may serve Christ in so many denominations because they are women and not men, it only makes that 1853 Ordination that much more amazing. And as you can see from the other named rooms at Edwards House that tradition of being trend-setters continues in the UCC.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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