When did violence, even the passive institutional violence of keeping women from being ordained, become a tool for proclaiming holiness?
Perhaps you have read it in the news. The BBC recently reported that Malala Yousafzai has been released from the hospital. She is the courageous young woman who insists on being educated. In response, the Taliban in her native Pakistan shot her in the head for, as the BBC reported, “encouraging secularism.”
I keep thinking about men and violence, and I find myself asking the question, “Did men do this?” Is there something in how men are raised, taught, lauded, upheld, or in how men respond to an absence of power that insists on a violent response? I don’t know. It’s tempting to say “yes,” but I think that would be a mistake. Certainly, a man did this. He did it as a particularly male action, but did men do this? Is this us? I’ve been following the story of this incredible young woman for quite some time. I find her situation heartbreaking. I find her courage inspiring. She also has me questioning about the rationale (a generous term) of the violence that some men commit in order to maintain dominance … especially dominance disguised as religious holiness.
In the United States you can find more subtle forms of religious violence against women in theologies about sexual ethics, conception, and even the ordination practices of many traditions including my own Baptist tradition. We’re finding ways to keep women “in their place” all the time proclaiming “holiness” or some such virtue. When did violence, even the passive institutional violence of keeping women from being ordained, become a tool for proclaiming holiness? Did men do this?
This is a working question for me … a way to wrestle with what I have inherited as a middle-aged, white, male, Southern, and Baptist religious leader. Did men do this? Did I have some hand in this?
Of course violence does not belong to one gender more than another. Of course not. But as I sit here in awareness of the privilege I enjoy historically and contemporaneously in regards to my gender, I cannot help but wonder if I did this … if I still do this without even recognizing it.
Today I celebrate Malala’s courage, and I give thanks for her recovery, the skill of the doctors and nurses. I will pray for her safety and for the men who did this, that their hearts might be relieved of this terrible burden of violence. And I will ask God to relieve me of the same burden … to relieve me of the fear that causes me to confuse holiness with oppression and violence.