I remember when Russ Arnold, a bright and thoughtful Jewish man who taught the Bible and religion over at DePauw, used to worship with us. His wife, Ginger, was Christian, so they attended Quaker meeting because we didn’t try to turn him into a Christian. Every now and then, he’d teach a Sunday school class, and during one class he told us the story of Abraham binding his son Isaac to an altar in order to sacrifice him, apparently under the command of God. I grew up hearing all these wonderful things about Abraham, but any man who’d do that to a child is flat out insane, I don’t care what voice he thought he heard. Apparently, his wife Sarah was infuriated, because afterwards they stopped living together. She lived in Hebron in the land of Canaan, and he lived in Beersheba. They died apart and estranged.
The name Isaac means “he laughs,” because Sarah, who’d been childless, was old when Isaac was born, and said people would die laughing when they heard she was pregnant. So she gave birth to laughter and loved her son with all her heart, which explains her separation from Abraham, when she heard what he’d almost done to their son. Can’t you just imagine Abraham telling Isaac on the way home, “There’s no need to tell your mother about this. We’ll keep it between us.” But you know how kids are. Isaac must have told, because Sarah packed her bags and got an apartment in Hebron, 26 miles away.
One more instance in the long and tragic history of men behaving as if women had no say. Sarah would not stand for it. I like Sarah and think of her often. I think of Sarah every time men start wars, and send the children of women to die. I think of Sarah whenever men pass unjust laws, and send the children of women to prison. I think of Sarah whenever men are cruel, and separate children from their mothers for the crime of seeking a better life elsewhere. I like Sarah. I like that she would no longer live with a man who had been willing to kill her beloved son. I like that she could not pretend everything was okay, when it was clearly not okay. I like that in her old age, with few resources at her disposal, she was able to say, “I would rather live alone than with a man who would place our child on an altar and slice him open.”
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are known as Abrahamic faiths. That is, they are monotheistic faiths who worship the god of Abraham. I grew up hearing church leaders extoll in solemn voices “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” as if it were an incantation. Well, let me be clear. I am done with Abraham and his god. I am standing with the god of Sarah. I want nothing to do with a god who would command a father to kill his son in order to test the father’s faithfulness. I am done with that god. And I am done with Abraham, who lacked the courage to say to his god what clearly needed to be said, “What you ask of me is evil, and I will not do it.” So I am done with Abraham, and I am done with Abraham’s god. I am standing with the god of Sarah.
Now if Abraham was following the leading of God, then can we also assume Sarah, who the Bible describes as a woman of faith and piety, was also following a divine leading when she packed her bags and left.
If so, I am standing with the god who whispered in Sarah’s ear. “There is a better life for you in Hebron. Pack your bags. It’s time to go.”
I have seen this god in other moments, in other persons.
So I am standing with the god of Mary Magdalene, falsely condemned by the historic church as a prostitute, who stood with courage by the dying Jesus long after Peter, James, and John had fled.
I am standing with the god of Theodora, the sixth-century Empress of Byzantium, one of the first rulers to recognize the rights of women, who worked tirelessly to prohibit the sex trafficking of young girls.
I am standing with the god of Elizabeth Fry, the great Quaker reformer, whose work improved the lives of the imprisoned, the sick, and the mentally ill.
I am standing with the god who whispered in Rosa Parks’s ear, “Keep your seat. You’ve earned your rest.”
And today I am standing with the god who is standing with the Central and South American mothers, those whose homelands have been torn asunder by our nation’s insatiable hunger for drugs, mothers who would rather be separated from their children than see them killed.
I am done with the god of Abraham, who cared not a whit for the feelings of a mother. I am standing with the god of Sarah, who pointed her to a better life elsewhere. Isaac also stood with the god of his mother. After his near sacrifice, there is no record of he and his father ever speaking again.
The vestiges of Abraham’s god are still with us. That god is worshiped by those who would compel a woman to bear a child she had no say in creating, then do nothing to assist her. The Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittester, so rightly and boldly said, “I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed…”
I think Joan Chittister is a follower of the god of Sarah.
The vestiges of Abraham’s god are still with us when fathers make war that cost mothers their children.
The vestiges of Abraham’s god are still with us when single mothers toil in two or three jobs and still cannot support their families.
The vestiges of Abraham’s god are still with us when universal health care is dismissed as socialism, when birth control is limited, when tax dollars are extracted from the poor to enrich the elite.
The vestiges of Abraham’s god are still with us when the rights of women are struck down, when the perspective of women isn’t sought, when men do what they wish while women suffer what they must.
That is why I am standing with the god of Sarah, who long ago whispered in her ear, “There is a better life in Hebron. Let us go there together.”