Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I am a fan of local community newspapers for a variety of reasons.  I have a lot of respect for people who work hard to serve their communities in any capacity.  Journalists for small local newspapers certainly aren’t in it for the big bucks.  But their motivation is often the belief that the dissemination of information is critical in a well-functioning democracy.  An informed citizenry makes better decisions when casting a ballot and is more likely to be involved in productive efforts to solve problems.

I recently came across an editorial in a secular community newspaper that I thought was apropos to share as we gear up for Thanksgiving tomorrow.  You can access that editorial below.

In our frenetic consumeristic lives in the United States of the twenty-first century, we are forgetting the reason for holidays we celebrate.  As a Christian, I’m offended and saddened that my Savior’s name is exploited to sell electronics and chocolate at Christmas and Easter, respectively.  Jesus never used an iPad and I doubt he ever ate a chocolate bunny.  But I recognize that not everyone is a Christian and shares my values.  I also understand that out of self-preservation in the marketplace capitalism encourages actors to use whatever hooks they can to hock their wares.  I get that.

But our shallow, materialistic culture is even forgetting why we celebrate secular holidays like Thanksgiving.  That particular holiday has nothing to do with competitive eating, football pools or Black Friday strategizing.  Though a secular holiday, its roots are religious.  Though their lives were difficult and their future unclear, the Pilgrims were giving thanks to their omnipotent God for the blessings of their life and their freedom.  What a great model and reminder for us even now in the present time.

As twenty-first century Americans, we certainly have a host of problems facing us.  A world-wide economic crisis of historic proportions and the repercussions of global warming make many of us fearful for what the future may entail.  But instead of passing distractions like football, gorging or shopping, I would encourage us to take refuge in God.  Taking time to be grateful for all he has done is a wonderful antidote and brings tremendous peace.

Psalm 107:1

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Anita Hill

I was disappointed by Mr. Cain’s reaction to an apparent joke by one of his supporters about Anita Hill’s supposed  interest in his campaign.  In the context of the growing evidence of sexual harassment, Mr. Cain thought the mere mention of Professor Hill’s name was very funny.  He laughed heartily and joked about whether she would be endorsing his campaign.

Anita Hill is a talented lawyer and scholar.  She has impressive credentials and noteworthy professional achievements.  However, the public simply remembers her for one thing: her testimony at the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas’s 1991 nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Despite everything she has achieved in her life, that is all people associate with her.  Her name has become forever linked with tawdry sexual references due to the testimony she gave repeating things she indicated Clarence Thomas had said to her. As evidenced by the interplay between Mr. Cain and his campaign supporter, the name “Anita Hill” has become a joke about women who dare allege sexual misconduct of high profile men.

As if it hadn’t been bad enough to endure grueling hours of testimony before a panel of uncomfortable male senators and a huge televised audience, after Clarence Thomas was confirmed and assumed a seat on the Supreme Court, Anita Hill continued to be vilified in the media and in the square of public opinion.  A high-profile book called The Real Anita Hill attacked her character and motivations.  It became a best-seller, though the author, David Brock, later recanted and apologized to Professor Hill. 

Throughout her testimony and notoriety, I have always thought Professor Hill was remarkably calm and poised.  I read somewhere recently a characterization that she was very “regal” in her comportment.  I agree. I think that is an apt description. 

I’ve always wondered where Professor Hill has gathered the strength to bring forward her insights on Clarence Thomas and to weather so stoically the never-ending ridicule that has cruelly attached to her name.  She has never married.  As far as I know, she has no life partner on whom to lean during tough times. 

I have a hunch.  I might be totally off base, but I suspect that Professor Hill is a Christian and her faith has been the source of her strength through the years of scrutiny and public attack.

I did a little research on Anita Hill recently and several facts led me to this suspicion.  She was raised in Oklahoma in the Baptist faith.  She was the youngest of 13 children in a very religious family.  She has apparently continued to be very close to her family throughout her life.  After she left an impressive career practicing law in Washington, D.C., she began the teaching phase of her legal career in Oklahoma to be close to her family.  She started teaching at the Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.  She taught there from 1983-1986.  Because of her family, she opted to not leave Oklahoma when Coburn closed and re-opened in Virginia under affiliation with a different school.

It is fascinating to me that Professor Hill taught at Coburn.  ORU is a conservative, interdenominational Christian university.  Its namesake is the former televangelist whose ministry has been plagued by scandal.  Kathy Lee Gifford and Joel Osteen are among those who have attended ORU. 

ORU’s law school opened in 1979, but was mired in financial difficulties.  In 1986, it closed and became part of what is now Regent University (founded by televangelist Pat Roberts).  Representative Michele Bachmann graduated in the last class of the Coburn School of Law.  (I wonder if she studied under Professor Hill!)

When Coburn closed in 1986, only five of the professors moved to Virginia to join the reconstituted school’s faculty.  Anita Hill reportedly wanted to stay in Oklahoma to be near her family and was offered a position at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. 

I do not know for a fact that Anita Hill is a Christian, but it seems a reasonable inference.  She was raised in the faith.  She began her law teaching career at a conservative Christian law school.  As a faculty member of Coburn, Hill took an oath that said in part: "I will not lie, I will not steal, I will not curse, I will not be a talebearer.” See

When I myself was interested in transitioning from practice to teaching, I had occasion to interview with Regent University School of Law, which was Coburn’s successor.  I enjoyed my interview very much.  The professor in charge of hiring that year asked me about my faith journey and we had a terrific conversation.  During the interview, he also explained to me that at Regent it was important for faculty to be committed to scholarship that integrated Christian beliefs. 

I think it would have been fun to teach at Regent.  One aspect of the school that I liked is that each class meeting begins with a few minutes of prayer or Bible study.  The professor is responsible for leading the class in a prayer or reflection on some religious text, ideally one that is relevant to the legal topic of the class at hand.  There are also opportunities for the school community to come together in worship. 

I would have really enjoyed integrating my faith into my professional life at a school like Regent, but God had other plans and I have enjoyed teaching at PSL.  Ultimately, it was not a good fit for me at Regent.  They already had a tax professor and didn’t need anyone else to teach in my area of expertise.  Additionally, my research agenda at that time was grounded in secular tax topics.  Frankly, I didn’t think I could effectively integrate my faith into my scholarship.  My scholarship primarily focuses on secular topics that I learned about during my corporate tax practice.

I have never had direct interaction with Coburn; I was in high school when it closed. And it is hard to find much information on the school now.  But I would imagine they would have had an approach to faculty hiring very similar to Regent’s.  I cannot imagine Coburn would have hired a law professor without a strong profession of Christian belief.  The school was founded to integrate faith and learning.  It would have been contrary to that vision to hire someone who was not a mature Christ follower.

In light of these inferences, I suspect that Professor Hill’s quiet confidence and strength may have come from her faith.  Again, I don’t know that for sure, but it seems a reasonable inference based on known facts.  I find it interesting that I’ve never heard anything about this in the secular or religious media. 

Indeed, I find it a fascinating omission that I had never even heard mention that she taught at Coburn.  Professor Hill has been branded a liberal who had been sent in to derail conservative Thomas’s chances of being confirmed.  I doubt she could have been too much of a communist if ORU hired her and kept her employed for several years until its demise.

Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Herman Cain and His Accusers

I have been saddened by the recent allegations that Herman Cain has sexually harassed women with whom he has worked.  It is always difficult to know if such allegations are true.  But there seems to be growing evidence.  A number of women have come forward.  At least one received no settlement monies and her former boyfriend has confirmed what she said.  This situation does not look good for Mr. Cain.  The more evidence that is brought forth, the harder it is to dismiss the allegations as lies or people with an ax to grind.

But the jury is still out and I for one have not made up my mind definitively.  However, several things about this whole situation have really saddened me.

First, Herman Cain is a (loudly) professed Christian.  He is very open about his faith.  He is a life-long Baptist.  He has served in church leadership.  He has performed and recorded gospel music.  If the allegations are true—and I’m not sure whether they are—that does not represent men of faith in the best light.  The secular world can view this as another example of Christian hypocrisy and another reason for atheistic cynicism.  Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and John Edwards—among others—have professed to be Christians as well. 

Second, Herman Cain is a married man.  I feel bad for his wife.  This experience must be humiliating and painful.  And if the allegations are true, how even more agonizing.  Whether they are famous or not, the infidelity of a spouse destroys trust and intimacy in the relationship.  I have had close friends whose marriages have been devastated by a spouse wandering.  I believe marriage is supposed to be forever--not just until one person gets bored.  For Christ followers this is a biggie.  Our Lord taught on this topic on several occasions.  But even if you are not a person of faith, infidelity causes such pain to the other spouse, as well as to children, to other relatives and even family friends.  I don't understand why anyone would embark on that path, though it is apparently not uncommon.
Third, whenever a woman comes forward with allegations of sexual impropriety against a famous man, the woman is attacked in the media and by average citizens.  Her credibility, her motives and her character are all attacked.  Perhaps even worse, her physical appearance is scrutinized and ridiculed.  Male comedians take cheap shots, which the public think are funny and often repeat.  Think Paula Jones.  Think Gennifer Flowers.  Think Anita Hill. 

I find it ridiculous and hypocritical that the person with the courage to come forward would be attacked.  Who in their right mind would sign up for such public abuse?  In my opinion, based on what I know about gender bias and the difficulty of prosecuting sexual assault, it is a very rare person who would bring to light such allegations unless they thought they were trying to do a public service and trying to achieve justice.  Indeed, there is empirical and anecdotal evidence suggesting that sexual harassment is vastly underreported because of how allegations are received and the negative repercussions to those reporting.

When Sharon Bialek went public and declared she wanted to bring a face to the allegations against Mr. Cain, my first thought was that phrasing would be exploited by comedians and average citizens to make fun of her appearance.  I felt badly for her.  I could just imagine what was coming.

Years ago, I read a book by Ann Coulter and there was a portion of the book where she defended Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who called the election for George W. Bush.  Ms. Coulter described how Ms. Harris’s appearance was then ridiculed in the media.  She was essentially characterized as ugly and in need of a makeover.  There is much that I dislike about Ann Coulter.  I probably don’t agree with her very often.  But I very much agreed with her assessment of the attack on Ms. Harris.  Ms. Coulter described that one of the cruelest things you can do to a woman is to attack her appearance, and the public ridicule of Ms. Harris’s appearance was an uncalled for low blow. 

That is true.  Much more so than men, women are judged by their physical beauty or perceived lack thereof.  It is shallow, it is unfair, it is destructive, but it is reality.  And such attacks can really undermine a woman’s confidence.  Think of all the money Paula Jones spent on plastic surgery. 

I grieve for my sisters who go through that kind of humiliation.  I am sad to live in a culture that is so shallow.

1 Thessalonians 2:2

On the contrary, we had the courage through God to speak God’s good news in spite of a lot of opposition, although we had already suffered and were publicly insulted, as you know.

Proverbs 31:30 (Amplified Bible)

Charm and grace are deceptive, and beauty is vain [because it is not lasting], but a woman who reverently and worshipfully fears the Lord, she shall be praised!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bachmann & Cain: Migraines & Stage IV Cancer

Around the time Representative Bachmann’s presidential campaign began to run out of steam, there was media attention about her health.  It was reported that she suffers from migraines.  Consequently, questions were raised about her fitness for the White House. 
I too have struggled with migraines in my adulthood, so I know something about this condition.  I can attest to the fact that migraines are hell.  They are just torturous. 
Fortunately, I have been able to figure out my triggers and work hard to avoid them.  Not everyone is able to do that as successfully.  But medical science has come a long way.  For those with decent access to medical treatment, there are medications and other treatments that help.  Being prone to migraines does not mean a person will live a life significantly different from others.  It does not mean one necessarily has restrictions on one’s ability to assume positions of high responsibility.  I know plenty of people who suffer from migraines.  They soldier on to lead full, productive lives.  Indeed, I have a lot of respect for folks who deal with such challenges and still find ways to meet their responsibilities.  In my book, that shows tenacity, resolve and resourcefulness.
As a result of this personal insight on the experiences of migraine sufferers, I was surprised that otherwise respectable news outlets took this issue of Michele Bachmann’s migraines so seriously and seemed to think it worthy of significant attention.  I was puzzled.  Plenty of Americans get migraines.  It is not that uncommon.  I wondered why this had never been an issue before.  Then I had an epiphany.
Personally I have known both men and women who get migraines, but I vaguely recalled reading somewhere that statistically women are much more likely to get migraines than men.  I did a little internet research and quickly found that 75% of adult migraine sufferers are women; only 25% are men.  What a huge discrepancy.  I also read that prior to puberty, there is no such gender imbalance among migraine sufferers.  But hormones seem to affect migraines.  Puberty and pregnancy can be triggers for many women. 
In the United States, 17.6% of females and 6% of males suffer from severe migraines.  Representative Bachmann is one of a small handful of women to ever run for a major party presidential nomination.  Statistically, therefore, it makes sense that this may have been the first time the issue of migraines has been an issue in assessing a candidate’s qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief.
Moreover, the whole attention to Representative Bachmann’s migraines seemed very sexist to me.  We’ve had major party candidates who have had much more serious health conditions, but I don’t recall as much attention being paid to their physical competency.  We’ve had candidates who’ve battled cancer with relatively little attention paid to their health.  And arguably we’ve had candidates with untreated sexual addictions, which in retrospect seemed a lot more impactful on the ability to lead our nation effectively.  We have also had a vice president who had had multiple heart attacks and heart surgeries when he was elected to be second in command.  Headaches, even brutal ones, rather pale in comparison.
Around the time that Representative Bachmann’s migraines were getting media attention, I was intrigued by a then little-known candidate, Herman Cain.  I did some internet research on him, and was stunned to find out that just a few years ago he nearly died from cancer.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in 2006.  It had metastasized to his liver.  At the time, he was given just a 30% chance of survival. 
Stage IV colon cancer only about five years ago.  To me, that seems a lot more relevant to potential presidential fitness than bad headaches.  But since I discovered this information about Mr. Cain’s health history, I have heard very little about it in the news coverage of his candidacy.  To me, that seems a blatant double standard. 
To be clear, I applaud and admire Mr. Cain’s strength and perseverance in overcoming such a severe health challenge.  That is an inspiring example for us all.  I am second to none in my respect for his successful battle against cancer.  But if we are going to scrutinize a candidate’s health in assessing fitness for the presidency, I cannot fathom why migraines would get more attention than Stage IV cancer.

James 3:17

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Contrast with Perry and Cain

In the prior post, I noted that in the last year the media seem to be concerned with the intelligence of Governor Palin and Representative Bachmann.  There also seems to be concern with whether they are well-informed.  It is interesting to note that similar concerns don’t seem to get raised with other GOP presidential candidates.

Both  Palin and Bachmann have been portrayed as dumb and ignorant, while there seems to be a presumption of competency among male candidates.  Nowhere is this more glaring than with Governor Rick Perry.   For weeks, Perry has been embarrassing himself in the debates with the inability to remember basic points or coherently finish sentences.  Interestingly, I don’t see media speculation over his intellect.  There has been a lot of reporting of his gaffes, but I see little analysis or commentary about them.  What I have seen seems to steer clear of questioning his smarts.  There have been repeated references to him appearing sleepy.  The insinuation seems to be that if Governor Perry could just get a good nap or if we could hold the darned debates earlier in the day, he would be fine.  There also seems to be suggestion that he just doesn’t have the skills to debate, i.e., it is not a question of ability.  The insinuation seems to be that if Governor Perry could just join a debate club and get some practice, or maybe if he joined Toastmasters, he’d acquire the skills necessary and be ready to go in the debates.  No one acts like Governor Perry is a moron.  I don’t hear people questioning his ability. It is a question of not being rested or not acquiring the right skills.  But can you imagine the media reaction if Governor Palin and/or Representative Bachmann made similar public gaffes?  I sincerely doubt they would get the same benefit of the doubt about their intellectual abilities.

Another interesting contrast involves Herman Cain.  His 9-9-9 tax plan was initially received as an exciting and bold proposal, but it did not withstand scrutiny.  Once tax experts and the media began to study it, it was widely panned as potentially disastrous for low and middle income Americans.  Mr. Cain had to back-peddle and tweak his plan to mitigate the oppressiveness at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.  His plan has not been as popular since it has been publicly dissected, yet I haven’t seen media suggestions that he is dumb or poorly informed.  Indeed, Mr. Cain has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in computer science from respected private colleges.  Clearly, he is well-credentialed in terms of his educational pedigree.  But multiple fancy degrees have not insulated Representative Bachmann from media insinuations that she is intellectually deficient.

Interestingly, on a separate, but related point, in the 2008 presidential campaign, there was concern that Sarah Palin did not have the experience needed to be president.  It was noted that she had only served on city council and as mayor of a small town, and when Senator McCain chose her as his running mate she had not yet completed a full-term as the governor of Alaska.  It is interesting that that experience was questioned as inadequate in 2008 because it is significantly more experience in public office than Herman Cain has ever had. 

Mr. Cain has never been elected to any public office.  It seems interesting to propose starting one’s governmental career at the very top.  I’m not sure the White House is the place for on-the-job training in the workings of government.  But I don’t see much questioning of the sufficiency of his professional credentials.  Apparently, many believe being a former pizza exec is a sufficient proxy for Commander-in-Chief.   Having worked in the private sector most of my career, I personally doubt that.  A CEO has a lot more control and decision-making leeway than the executive branch of government.  A corporate board of directors tends to be a lot more compliant than the House of Representatives and the Senate.  If elected, I would think that more restricted role would be a huge shock to Mr. Cain and he would find it difficult to lead with such narrow powers.

Romans 11:29

God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bachmann & Palin: Media Attention about Intellect

In keeping with the Bachmann/Palin them in recent posts, I wanted to write a little about the media’s attention with respect to these two women.  Several aspects of it are very troubling to me.  Strains have been sexist, in my opinion.  And I don’t see much acknowledgement of that bias.

First, for the past year as pundits speculated about whether one or both of these women would run for president, there was a consistent focus on exposing them as being dumb and/or ignorant.  It is conceded that the same sort of attacks were lodged against Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in their day.  But beyond those two particular men, such a focus on the intellect or knowledge of a candidate is rather unusual.  I’ve been following politics for years and what I have observed is that generally there is an assumption the candidates are intelligent and reasonably well-informed.  In most elections, there does not seem to be a consistent attempt to prove a candidate is a moron or uneducated.

All politicians (and other mere mortals) will make mistakes.  They will say things that are incorrect at times.  Or they will phrase something inartfully.  However, when folks like John McCain and Mitt Romney have appeared on the campaign trail, I don’t remember the same “gotcha” mentality where the news and entertainment media seem to be constantly focusing on the candidates’ errors.  McCain (the war hero and long-time member of Congress) and Romney (the accomplished businessman and former governor of a large state) seem to get a certain level of respect just by showing up.  They command a certain level of seriousness as a candidate per the media.  To perhaps a lesser extent, other candidates get the same inherent respect and the same benefit of the doubt.  But the media seem to go out of their way to find errors and laugh at Palin and Bachmann. 

Because of similar media attitudes towards Reagan and the younger Bush, one might characterize this as an anti-evangelical attitude on the part of the media and less of an example of sexism.  However, Bachmann and Palin have been the only female candidates who received serious attention this year as possible presidential candidates.  When so few women have sought the presidency EVER, and in one year two women were serious contenders for a major party ticket, it is noticeable that they were also the current prime recipients of scrutiny about their smarts. 

The pattern has not sit right with me.  There seems to have been an undercurrent of “those ditzy women” to these attacks.  Indeed, it reminds me of the ridicule endured by Christine O’Donnell when she ran for the Senate in Delaware.  It also reminds me of how former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was publicly ridiculed and eventually abandoned in a cowardly fashion by the Clinton administration when she had the courage to voice bold suggestions to significant public health issues. Though I am repulsed by much of the politics of Bachmann and Palin, I do resent any attack on them prompted by their gender.  I do believe the attacks on Bachmann and Palin are rooted at least in part in the fact that they are female.  I’m puzzled that more people are not concerned about that.  I am not sure why more liberal feminists haven’t at least raised the issue.

It shouldn’t be necessary to defend the credentials of Governor Palin and Representative Bachmann, but here goes.  Bachmann is a lawyer with an advanced degree in tax law.  (It should be noted that tax is a rather elite legal specialty respected within the profession as being conceptually challenging.)  Palin earned a bachelor’s degree—making her educational attainment equivalent with past presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower.  Perhaps Palin doesn’t read newspapers on a regular basis, but this is the twenty-first century and she is not alone on that point.  Both Bachmann and Palin have a clear gift for oratory.  Whether or not you agree with what they say, it must be acknowledged that they are well-skilled at speaking to audiences, igniting enthusiasm and encouraging grass roots political support.  That is a lot more than some politicians ever muster.

The media’s focus on the alleged stupidity or ignorance of Bachmann and Palin seem unwise.  Such a focus seems mean-spirited.  To the extent that segments of the public identify with Bachmann and Palin, it is similar to attacking average Joes (or Josephines).  There is plenty of empirical data that as a whole we Americans are poorly educated and we don’t know our own history.  If the media jumps all over an error by popular candidates, indirectly that is also an attack on all the other Americans who are in a similar boat.  The media ends up looking like media elites badgering the common folk.  That was one of the lessons of the Reagan era.

Besides, the media aren’t necessarily any more knowledgeable.  Not long after Sarah Palin’s maligned comments about Paul Revere, NPR interviewed a history professor who indicated that Ms. Palin’s comments were not really historically inaccurate.  The link below contains the interview in question. 

Ephesians 4:2

Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Palin, Bachmann and the “Feminist” Label

As a follow-up on the prior post, I read a fascinating article in the Washington Post last summer.  The link is below.  It was about how conservative women are embracing the “feminist” label and forging a new form of feminism.

A while back on my predecessor blog, I wrote a series of posts on the concept of feminism.  I explored the literal definition of the term, as well as popular connotations of the term today.  I also examined my own views of the term to discern if I felt comfortable embracing it for myself.  Many friends and colleagues were fascinated by those posts, and the strong views against “feminism” by modern conservatives also intrigued me.

In light of those prior reflections on feminism, I’m interested in this new take on feminism.  I don’t know that I’d fit Sarah Palin’s vision of a feminist: “a gun-toting, self-reliant, pro-life Christian woman.” 

My views on both guns and abortion are too complex for a simple sound-byte.  They would need to be explained in separate posts, but suffice it to say that I’m not a fan of either one.  I also don’t know if the term “self-reliant” would apply to me.  I have enough humility to recognize that self-reliance is a myth.  We’re all interconnected.  None of us can truly go it alone.  We need help from others.  (Parenthetically, I’m not sure my husband would label me “self-reliant”; on more than one occasion, he has expressed surprise that such a capable woman requests his help to kill spiders, install ceiling fans and take out the garbage.)

Nonetheless, the article above emphasizes the role of mother being central to this new breed of feminist.  The focus is on children and how that priority shapes their politics.  Maybe I don’t fit Sarah Palin’s definition of a feminist, but I can really relate to this mommy-centric view. 

My kids are my world.  Everything I do is influenced by my parenting role.  My career path and my scholarly interests are all guided in various ways by the fact that I am a mom to two amazing kids.  Being a mom absolutely rocks.  I would love to adopt a bunch more kids.  When I read that Michele Bachmann was a foster mom to almost two dozen kids, I am excited and encouraged that our family might do something like that too some day.  That may be one of the only things I admire about Ms. Bachmann, but that is a pretty important area of common ground.

But to clarify, I don’t in any way believe that women are divinely commanded to be moms.  Having a vagina doesn’t ipso factor make a person maternal.  I know plenty of women who don’t enjoy kids and would probably not be good parents as a result.  And obviously not every woman is physically able to bear children.  Adoption is not in the cards for everyone.  Some people are not open to it.  Others are not permitted to adopt for a variety of reasons (e.g., income, age, family status, sexual orientation).

Motherhood is key to my identity and my outlook on the world because I love my kids and I think children in general are amazing.  That is how God made me.  But not everyone is like that.  I fully recognize that.  I’ve known plenty of women (and men) who are just not “kid people.”  They don’t know how to relate to children and being with them is not their cup of tea.  In my opinion, that is how God made them.  They have a different purpose in life.  Being comfortable around kids doesn’t make someone better or somehow more virtuous than someone who is kid averse. 

God loves variety.  I do believe he created each of us intentionally with a distinct plan for our lives.  He has made his human children all so different.  We’re different sizes and colors. We have different talents and affinities and interests.  According to my world view, that is not an accident.  Any theological or cultural philosophy that dictates that everyone of a certain gender must be limited to certain roles in life denies the reality of God’s creative decisions.

Psalm 139:14
"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Palin, Bachmann and the Role of Women

I have to admit I’m rather fascinated by Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, as well as their respective political followings.  There are not a lot of women getting attention in national politics, so it gets my attention when there are several concurrently. 

I respect Hillary Clinton, but I never supported her candidacy for president.  I have a few (female) friends who supported Mrs. Clinton’s run for the White House almost exclusively because of her gender.  That sort of thing is repulsive to me.  I voted for Barack Obama in my former state’s primary and caucus, as well as in the general election.  But he did not get my vote because of his skin color.  Similarly, the absence of a Y chromosome does not make a candidate more attractive to me.  I’m more concerned with policy positions and a candidate’s vision for our country.

So, my interest in Ms. Palin and Ms. Bachmann has nothing to do with simply wanting more women to be elected to political office.  It would be nice to have more gender balance in public office, but that is not my primary interest.  Indeed, I frankly can’t see myself voting for either Ms. Palin or Ms. Bachmann in any election.  Even if they moved to my community and ran for city council, their political philosophies are just so contrary to what I think is good for our country.

Nonetheless, I am just fascinated by their recent political followings.  They each appeal to segments of the electorate that are very conservative on social issues.  Many such voters have historically insisted on “traditional” roles for women.  In other words, such voters often want to emulate the gender roles exhibited in the patriarchal culture that wrote the Old and New Testaments. 

The Gospels do not indicate Jesus taught that women should be subservient and confined to the home.  Jesus radically broke with the cultural customs of his day to teach women outside his family.  We know he was close friends with Mary and Martha.  We also know that in his ministry Jesus traveled in a co-ed group.  Men, as well as women, followed him as he taught about the Kingdom of God.  Some women are thought to have supported Jesus’s ministry financially.  Even after Jesus’s death, women were significant in the early church (e.g., Priscilla, Phoebe), and Paul showed them great respect.  Nonetheless, Bible literalists insist that modern day Americans should emulate the patriarchal oppression of first century Palestine. 

I remember when Hillary Clinton was running for president I heard radio interviews with members of a socially conservative (and up-scale) mega-church in Houston, the city where I lived at the time.  The interviews were aimed at getting the perspective of church members on the candidacy of a woman.  I was astounded that in a prosperous, pro-business city like Houston, the interviewees of this influential church were generally very negative on the idea of a woman running for office. 

A few interviewees (they were all men as I recall) indicated that they didn’t have a problem with a female candidate per se, but Mrs. Clinton was too politically liberal. 

Such views were not surprising to me.  But I remember being very depressed by an interview with a young professional woman who indicated that she could never support a female candidate for office because women were supposed to be submissive and men were ordained by God to be in leadership positions in society.  I didn’t support Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy either, but that young woman’s perspective troubled me greatly.  The logical extension is that women should not have professions, and should not be educated beyond basic literacy because their only avenue in life is to be a wife and mother. 

I am a wife and mother.  And to be clear, I absolutely love those roles.  Indeed, I would even say that I consider them to be my top priorities in life—hands down, no hesitation, no doubt.  I’ve written before in my prior blog that my husband has been a stay-at-home dad for several years, but when we decided one of us should stay home with our kids, it was not a foregone conclusion that he would be the one.  I would have been happy to do it, but we determined that was not the best decision for our family for a number of reasons.  The bottom line is being a stay-at-home mom would not be a repulsive or distasteful job to me.  In fact, I think it would be quite fulfilling. 

To me, having a career outside the home is not about fulfilling ambition.  Frankly, I am not really ambitious in my career.  In practice, I never aspired to be a manager or to be a partner in a firm.  I liked practicing law.  In academia, I have no interest whatsoever in being a dean.  I enjoy teaching and writing.  To me, having a career in law is about using the talents that God in his wisdom gave me.  I am not an egotistical or conceited person, I’m pretty humble.  But on many occasions I’ve been given feedback that I’m very good at my profession.  I’m not sure why God gave me these gifts, but I think he must want me to use them.

I’m not alone in this sort of perspective.  Most of my closest friends are Christians who do not believe women are restricted by God to raising children and being a helpmate to their spouses.  Indeed, in my circle, I have a couple girlfriends who are Christians and also the sole breadwinner of their families.  Unlike my family, they did not plan things that way.  But in the Great Recession, their husbands got laid off and despite tremendous efforts, have not been able to find other jobs.  Their families were fortunate to have the wives’ salaries to support them.  The husbands would love to be back at work, but things haven’t worked out that way.  Despite being Christians (and some are very conservative socially and politically) I’ve never heard any of those families opine that women are not supposed to work outside the home.  These women are talented professionals using the gifts God in his infinite wisdom bestowed upon them.

Similarly, if a woman has a gift for leadership and policy making, I personally cannot fathom that the lack of a penis should be an impediment to her putting those gifts to good use.  But even in the twenty-first century, some people (e.g., Bible literalists) don’t see things the same way.  I admit I don’t understand that perspective.  It doesn’t seem to square with Jesus’s teaching in the Parable of the Talents.  Frankly, I think that gendered perspective has more to do with our culture and less to do with divine teaching, but that is another big topic for another post and another day.

Nonetheless, despite the rigid gender roles insisted upon by some Conservative Christian voters, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are apparently quite popular in such segments of the electorate.  I am oddly encouraged by this development because it could have wider implications for the role of women in society.  If it is ok for women to run for president, surely it must be ok for them to be rocket scientists, entrepreneurs and judges.

But I’m still perplexed.  I don’t understand how Bible literalists find it acceptable to back a female candidate.  Even if she eloquently and passionately expresses views, with which you agree, if you don’t believe God wants women to do anything beyond their roles as wife and mother, then I don’t understand how there can be an exception for Ms. Palin and Ms. Bachmann.  Truly, I would appreciate some insight on this point.

Matthew 25:14-28

“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.  Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.  In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.  But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

“Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’