VIEW VIDEO I remember, this was 30 some years ago when I was pastoring up in the city, we were approaching Mother’s Day and a woman approached me and said, “I hope on Mother’s Day, you don’t talk about how wonderful mothers are, because mine wasn’t. My mother was cruel and self-absorbed, so I don’t want to hear a bunch of nonsense about the virtues of mothers.”
This woman was rather gruff and intimidating, so when I wrote my sermon, it sounded like a contract, with all kinds of exceptions and footnotes acknowledging that some mothers weren’t all that good. I hedged my bets the whole way through, which I’m certain confused everyone who heard it, trying to figure out whether I even liked mothers.
But I’m done with that. If your mother was toxic, I’m truly sorry. Most folks parent the way they were parented, teach the way they were taught, raise their children the way they were raised. But eventually most of us realize we are not bound by the past, but can transcend it, and so our families evolve and grow. But others of us don’t, we lack self-awareness, and remain trapped in poisonous patterns, to the detriment of those around us. If that’s happened to you, if your parents never rose above the dysfunction and pain of their childhoods, I’m truly sorry. If it cripples and saddens you still, please get help so you can experience the happiness you deserve.
That’s what I should have told that lady up in the city, but I didn’t. I didn’t have it figured out myself, plus I was a little afraid of her. So I preached like a lawyer instead and have every Mother Day’s since. But today I’m going to throw caution to the wind and declare my fondness for mothers, consequences be damned. And not just mothers, but women. Indeed, I like women so much, that when it was time to be born, I arranged for a woman to deliver me, and over time we became very close, and when she died 55 years later, I officiated at her funeral. That’s how close we were.
My mother had many admirable qualities. She was loving and intelligent, accomplished, and witty, and like many women, possessed these virtues in spite of the men in her life, not because of them. She was a faithful Catholic but was ill-served by the Church. She was a devoted citizen of this nation but was treated unjustly by its leaders, most of them men. She was a dutiful and committed wife, but married to a man who expected her to endure his faults and failings without complaint. She had five children who were content to let her wait on them hand and foot, though the demands on her life were far greater than the demands on ours.
My mother wasn’t grouchy, though she had every right to be. Neither was she bitter, though she had every right to be. My mother didn’t dislike men, though any neutral observer would say she had a right to. She was like most women I know, far better and nobler than circumstances warranted.
We’ve been reflecting on the basic tenets of the Christian faith in order to counter the rise of Christian Nationalism in our nation. A persistent characteristic of Christian Nationalism is its hyper-masculinity, marked by contempt for, and fear of, women. In its study of the January 6th insurrection, researchers at the University of Chicago, report that 86% of the participants were men, most of whom self-identified as hyper-masculine, desiring to silence the voices of women demanding equality. Goaded on by Steve Bannon, an advisor to President Trump, who accused women of wanting to “undo ten thousand years of recorded history” by advocating for gender equality. Which explains why Steve Bannon has been divorced twice and his longest marriage only lasted three years.
Despite claiming to honor and value women, Christian Nationalists, many of whom hold great political power, will not be happy until the voices of women are stilled. That they have been aided and abetted by so many in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic Church is despicable. Today, those persons who have declared war on “wokeness,” are more accurately legislating their centuries-old contempt for women and people of color into law. Robbing women of their medical freedom, nullifying the votes of Black Americans through gerrymandering, they have cloaked their actions in the flag and Bible, though their conduct is as un-American and un-Christian as can be. They have been with us for centuries, but now have a microphone and advocates in the highest halls of power.
This disparity continues to affect and diminish us. Across our nation, and especially in this state, Christian Nationalists are waging a war against public education, public school teachers and administrators, funneling tax dollars away from public schools to low-performing privately-owned religious charter schools. It is no coincidence that 74% of the nation’s public-school teachers are women, making far less than career firefighters, only 5% of whom are women. A firefighter in Indiana earns, on average, 3.5 times what my public-school librarian wife earns. I am delighted firefighters earn a living wage, but I smell a rat, and do not doubt for a moment that if men comprised the majority of public-school teachers, they’d be as well-paid as firefighters. To be clear, an attack on public education is, at its base, an attack on women.
This Mother’s Day, and every day, let us do what so many of our leaders refuse to do, affirm our support for the equal rights of women, and not just for the equal rights of women, but for the dignity and worth of women, for the freedom of women to determine the arc of their own lives without the permission or consent of men. The English author, Rebecca West, when asked to define the word feminism, said, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” Our work as Quakers isn’t finished until every person, no matter their rank, race, gender, and sexual orientation, is accorded the same respect and opportunities as everyone else. We believe no one was born to be a doormat.
We believe that when someone has been pinned to the ground, with a knee to their neck, that it is our job as Quakers to remove the knee, to challenge the structures and values that keep others down.
Remember when we were kids, singing the song “Over the River and Through the Wood,” at school, the week before Thanksgiving break? That song was based on a poem by the same name, written by a woman named Lydia Marie Child. What you may not know is that Lydia Marie Child devoted her life fighting for the rights of women, African Americans, and Native Americans, all of which made her quite unpopular in her social circle, but evermore determined. In addition to that poem, she also wrote these words, “We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are down.”
Every day, but on this day especially, as we celebrate women, let us make doubly sure we hold fast to the virtue of equality that so many in our nation today seem eager to jettison. To keep another down is never a right, but a gross and vile sin. This day, and every day, may we be numbered in that army of righteousness, which seeks the joy and betterment of all.