Taking accountability for the painful moments in our church’s history
A Reflection for Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
To the woman he said:
"I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing;
in pain shall you bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
and he shall be your master." (Gen 3:16)
I was inspired by my colleague Molly Cahill’s reflection on Thursday, which you should read right now if you haven’t already. She wrote about unpacking the Genesis story as a both Catholic and a feminist.
Molly asks, “What are we supposed to take away from Scripture passages about women?” and looking at today’s first reading I’m confronted with the same question. In it, woman bears the guilt for humanity’s fall from grace while God tells her: “Your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.” Though it’s not the only place in the Bible that suggests female subservience, it’s especially troubling as the creation story of the whole human race.
Genesis stories play a huge role in defining our group identities, and that can be devastating when the passage of time invariably brings problems to the surface. Last week, I wrote about Jean Vanier, who founded L’Arche International, and a new report that unearthed his sexually abusive motivations for starting the community. For decades, Vanier and his founding were integral to the identity of L’Arche. How can that identity remain intact while confronting past wrongs?
Only through transparency and accountability can people show that they are in fact learning and growing, that they are not defined by the dated tenets of the past.
Transparency and accountability are the only ways to move forward. L’Arche is not shying away from the crimes of its founder, instead taking responsibility to redress them. Only through transparency and accountability can people show that they are in fact learning and growing, that they are not defined by the dated tenets of the past.
As Sarah Nicholson and Zanne Domoney-Lyttle of Open Theology wrote, passages from Genesis have a “blood-soaked and troubling” history as tools for oppressing women, and, more recently, transgender and nonbinary people as well. Hebrew and early Christian ideas of gender grew out of an imperfect and misguided understanding of the world; it is up to us, today, to move past them. If we try instead to ignore or justify passages like Genesis 3:16, we cannot hope to find any meaningful truth in them.
As Molly wrote, we don’t have to discard the Bible solely because of its prejudice against women—as long as we can recognize and relinquish that prejudice. Reconsideration of old rules has a long history in Christianity, starting with St. Paul himself and the debate over retaining Jewish practices for Gentile converts.
Ultimately, the point is this: Just because the creation story is influenced by ancient misogyny doesn’t mean that we have to be. Australian theologian William Loader wrote that “It is better to take scripture seriously, as we should on what it says about women and circumcision, and recognise that its truth also inspires us to deal with new situations and new knowledge in ways consistent with its core value of social justice.” In other words, remember what it’s really about: love.