By Kitty Trudeau | Contributor
In an otherwise encouraging and inclusive Spiritual Renewal Week, last Monday night left some of us behind.
Most of Pastor John Ramsey's messages were appropriate for the reflective and refreshing time Spiritual Renewal week is supposed to be, but on Monday night, his treatment of the scripture he used was troubling and harmful to many of the women on campus. Though there are several examples, the most salient example is how he spoke on the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar.
What I found troubling was the way the personal agency of the women was depicted. While we need to recognize that this story is a story of three complex, flawed and three-dimensional individuals, Pastor Ramsey reduced the two women to opposite choices for Abraham to make - the young, attractive one (Hagar), and the old, frigid, unattractive one (Sarah).
However, Genesis chapters 16 and 21 tell a different story. Sarah made deliberate choices in this situation, and she had complex thoughts and emotions that led her to them. Hagar, on the other hand, had very few choices. She, a literal slave who was told to produce an heir for the man who owned her, was depicted by Pastor Ramsey as a hot, young lady who had "her own condo on the other side of Jerusalem." Then she was turned out of the household and sent to die in the desert.
This story is not cute, it is not funny and it should not be treated as such. This is, among other things, a story about grave injustice committed by God's chosen people against an enslaved woman and her child. Last Monday night, it became a funny anecdote about making the right decisions in marriage. This glossed over the injustice against women, the complexity of these women's identities and even Abraham's culpability and responsibility within the narrative.
When we do this to women in the Bible, it leaves other women behind. We, too, are complex, flawed individuals who have agency within our own lives. Neither I nor any other woman can be reduced down to a choice that a man made. The other women discussed that night - Bathsheba, Delilah - were people before they were introduced in the Bible and they were people long after their stories stopped being recorded.
This is not the first time a biblical woman has been unfairly depicted as flat, two-dimensional and as only important in how she relates to a man's story, thoughts and choices. In a blog post to her website called "Esther and Vashti: The Real Story," Rachel Held Evans writes, "only in the midst of the true contours and colors of the text do the characters of the Bible find their depth."
Digging into biblical stories of women and their lives can help us enrich our view of womanhood. This doesn't mean that this is how Pastor Ramsey views all women. Instead, I think it can be an opportunity to rethink the way we talk about biblical women, paying special attention to the fact that the discussion surrounding women in the Bible has a deep impact on the women who hear and participate in the discussion.
Last Monday night's message left me feeling discouraged, disenfranchised and undervalued - maybe we as a Taylor community can work towards being a community whose language about women empowers us, lifts us up and makes us feel included in the Kingdom of God. I believe faithful consideration is an important first step towards this crucial goal - we are a better Body when all members are given an equal value and voice.