By Joe LaGuardia, with Rev. Nicole Farrar
I have seen so much of Sarah Palin in the news over the past several weeks, I feel like I am qualified to be called one of her best friends. Sarah Palin and her book tour have attracted the attention of almost every media outlet. My most recent Newsweek came in the mailbox, and there she was brandishing running attire and the American flag.
One of the things I noticed in reading and hearing all of the coverage was how mean and insensitive some commentators are when talking about her. Many are critical while others point out the weaknesses of her policies; as a whole, Palin’s been treated with disdain, even from pundits within her own party. She is often portrayed as an airhead, opportunist, or sex symbol.
The negative press on Palin is a symptom of a deeper issue of how women are treated in the public sphere. Consider Hillary Clinton who stands on the other side of the political aisle. She too has been portrayed as a villain, a she-devil in a skirt.
The treatment of Palin and Clinton reveal that women are often presented as mere caricatures in the media. I constantly remind myself that I cannot expect much more than generalizations from news organizations that are interested in ratings and the bottom line.
But I can expect Christians to treat all women with respect, dignity, and equity despite whether they agree with a woman’s politics. It was St. Paul who said in Galatians that, “In Christ there is neither slave nor free, man nor female.” Ours is a faith that declares Christ’s salvation for all who call him Lord and baptizes both genders.
Yet, religion sometimes finds itself on the wrong side of history when it comes to gender equality. Christianity, among other religions, has a soiled past in its treatment of women. Women stand in the shadows of Sinning Eve, Laughing Sarah, Murderous Jezebel, and Temptress Bathsheba.
As a result, some denominations influence women to wear clothes from head-to-toe, while others are silenced. Just this past month, the Georgia Baptist Convention broke ties with the First Baptist Church of Decatur because the church, made up of several thousand members, called a woman to be its pastor in 2007.
One traditional belief is that Paul forbade women to speak in churches in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:33b-34). A fuller treatment of Paul’s letter, however, proves that Paul was not so much concerned about gender as he was about power.
The church in Corinth had very strong factions in its midst. Prestigious cliques, at least one made up of women, paraded their honor over the weak within the community. For Paul, social decorum was the great equalizer that prevented a robust lust for power.
My deepest conviction is that women are without equality for much of the same reasons Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Those in power do not like to see those on the margins have a respectable footing in the world; dehumanizing rhetoric insures inequality.
Women speak for themselves with clear, reasoned voices. Sometimes despite the merit of their words and the strengths of their arguments, they are ignored or exploited by many who are content with a status quo of inequality. All of us who are concerned with the biblical call to fashion a more just society must draw attention to the gender disparities that still exist; we must work for the full inclusion of women in life, work, and the church.