There are serpents among us
I received A Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd for Christmas. I started reading it the other night - I'll try not to give any spoilers. The book is a fictional account of Jesus' wife, Ana, and it opens with some non-graphic accounts of how powerless women were at the time of Jesus.
In light of everything that happened and continues to happen since the January 6 insurrection, this has triggered some things in me. I don't really even know where to start.
I am furious.
I've been wondering where misogyny and it's ugly cousin racism come from. Where did they start? Who thought they were good ideas? These thoughts led me to Eve and "original sin."
The story goes that because Eve was the one to tempt Adam with the apple the fall and expulsion from the garden was her fault, so women need to be continually punished with pain during childbirth and PMS and etc, etc, etc. Never mind that Adam, as a person with his own mind and agency, and who was with her during this conversation, could have said no. Coward.
And the other two characters in that story are God and the serpent. I will refer to the "serpent" because I don't want snakes to get any more bad press. I admit they startle me and I don't like that, and I hate seeing the big black snake in the barn rafters dining on barn swallow eggs, and they do look a little sinister with those eyes. But we would be overrun with rodents if not for snakes, and they are also created by God.
So in this blog post, snakes are good. Serpents are bad.
Also worth noting that I don't believe that Adam and Eve were real people who actually walked the earth. I think they represent the beginning of the Hebrew people in a legend, or myth - definitely a creation story. Otherwise, where did all the other people come from? Where did Cain and Abel and their sons find their wives? Where did the Canaanites come from? I think this is a story told through the generations to separate the Hebrew people from others and to create their own "national" identity as the chosen people of God. Since misogyny already existed - who knows why - It makes sense to me that in the story it was Eve who encountered the serpent, and Eve who committed the original sin.
I think of Eve talking with the serpent and I wonder: was she being polite, nice, and lady-like to the serpent? Did she believe that she couldn't say no, because she perceived the serpent to be masculine and powerful? I think the current term is "Christian-nice," although Eve wasn't Christian as Jesus wouldn't even be born for thousands of years. I see her standing meekly with downcast eyes because she didn't want to be rude, and saying, "Yes, my lord," when the serpent hissed at her that he, and now she, knew better - they knew what God really meant, and that God was only yanking their chains when God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge.
Here's the thing: women are smart enough to know when it is in their best interest to succumb. At least the women I know are. I don't believe that Eve was just so awe-struck by the crafty serpent, the beauty of the tree and the mouth-watering fruit on the tree that she disobeyed God. And since I don't believe that Eve was a real woman, what is this story telling us about how women were perceived at the time the men wrote this story down?
The serpents who originally told this story knew exactly what they were doing in making Eve the dupe. They gave the scriptures reason to blame women for everything. But Adam was there - he could have said, at the very least, "I will not," even if he wasn't willing to remind Eve that she should not, either. Unless he was also seduced by the serpent.
And now, we are overrun with serpents.
I saw a video on Twitter a day or two after the insurrection. A man at the airport had just been denied his seat on his flight home because he had been labelled a terrorist and put on the no-fly list. Well - what did he expect? He was tearfully shouting that his life is ruined. Yes, probably. But I did feel a little compassion for him. He has met the serpent and, like Eve, believed what the serpent said. "I know better. You know better. We know what God really meant."
The podcast Quick to Listen, episode 247, addresses Christian nationalism. Hosts Morgan Lee and Ted Olsen, of Christianity Today interviewed Paul D. Miller, a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The link to the podcast and highlights are below in the citation list.
Anyway, Mr. Miller describes ambassadors and accomodators within the Christian Nationalism movement. Ambassadors within the Christian nationalistic movement are the idealogues, the ones who lend their energy and advocate for Christian nationalism. Serpents. Accomodators are those who won't stand in the way. They sort of agree with it - at the very least they don't object. 78% of evangelical Christians fall into one of these two groups. The ambassadors are the leaders. The accomodators are the followers. Serpents.
Lets differentiate Christianity from Christian nationalism. Christianity is belief in God, the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and belief in the resurrection. Christians study the Bible to discern the directions for their lives and what God is asking of them. They study the Bible to meet God. Christian nationalists, on the other hand, believe that the United States is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, and that the government must continue to be and subscribe to those Christian principles as defined by a narrow group of believers.
Christians pray for the country and the government. Christians can certainly be patriots. Christian nationalists take Christian ideals and weave them into a political ideology. This ideology says that the United States was founded by and for white men. They will deny that, of course, but look at what is happening. They believe that God "inspired" the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and so they are on a par with the God-inspired Bible, and are equally sacred. That, my friends, is idolatry.
If we believe that God ordained our country and our founding principles, then it makes it hard to challenge any of it. However, if we as Christians (again, I identify as Christian, but certainly these ideas can apply to people of other faiths) believe that God is love and we are called to preach and advocate for justice, then we need to be praying, reflecting, studying and evolving (the E word!) to become the people God intends for us to be.
The Christian church needs to root out this Christian nationalism, and it won't be easy. The Christian church in the United States has become a smaller percentage of our population and has less influence in our communities, so conservative Christians feel threatened. When one feels threatened, one tends to dig into one's position. Many of us no longer believe that the United States is a "Christian nation." We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Hindu nation - and a nation of so many other faiths. But Christian nationalism is so insidious, so serpent-like, that we may not even recognize it when we see it. I'm thinking of Scout Sunday, for example. At my church the scouts process in with the American and Boy Scout flags. We pledge allegiance to the flag. What does any of this have to do with God? I have nothing against the scouts, but I am very uncomfortable pledging allegiance to the flag in church. Not the time or the place. This is Christian nationalism.
There are serpents among us who tell us what they believe to be true, or what will achieve their ends. They tell us that there is a war on Christianity. They tell us that "libtard Dummycrats," including President-elect Biden, want to kill God. They tell us that the liberal, socialist left will do anything it has to do - up to and including cheating in an election and defrauding the voters - to overthrow the conservative - Christian white male - government. The Christian nationalist ambassadors have put a lot of thought and energy into convincing the accomodators that this is so. Unfortunately, too many of us are willing to go along - even if we were horrified at the events of January 6 and are praying for safety and security for the upcoming inauguration. That is why serpents continue to be elected - at the federal, state and local levels. That is why serpents continue to tell us that all lives matter - even though the issue is that some lives (black and brown) historically haven't. That is why women do not have dominion over their own bodies, and are paid less than their male counterparts.
Serpents smile craftily, pretend to know (or actually believe they know) what God meant, what God is thinking, what God wants, and convince the rest of us that now we know, too. But here's the thing: if Jesus were here now, I believe he'd be hosting a picnic for people wearing MAGA and Biden/Harris hats. He would be empowering women. He would be sitting in abortion clinics ministering to but not judging the women who feel for any number of reasons they have no choice. If he were able to talk someone out of her abortion, he would then help her to locate the resources she needs to provide for her child. And then he would be in the prisons ministering to those incarcerated for non-violent and violent crimes. He would sit at deathbeds. He would heal anyone who came to him because he believes that everyone should have access to care. He would be worshipping in white churches, Black churches, Asian churches, conservative churches, evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches and would not be afraid to hold Catholics, Protestants and everyone else accountable for the errors in their theology. He would be inviting the LGBTQ community to sit with him. He would condemn sexual abuse by anyone, no matter how powerful, and would insist that institutions overturn policies that enable such abuse. He would listen to those of other faiths, debating and discussing until they find their common ground. He would see through and condemn hypocrisy, just as he did all those years ago.
Until we take responsibility for our own faith and our own understanding of God by reading, studying, reflecting praying, and listening to understand the experiences of people unlike our selves, we can't recognize the serpents. There are serpents in our neighborhoods, sitting next to us in the pews, and in our pulpits. There are serpents in our elected offices. There are serpents in the White House. There are serpents on the radio, the Internet, and television. There are serpents in the newspapers. They tell us that they know better, and now we know what God really meant.
Jesus' message was about love, acceptance, and justice. His disciples included fishermen and tax collectors. There were wealthy disciples and poor disciples. Some of his disciples were women. Even when Jesus' condemned some of the actions of the people in the stories, he never condemned the people.
So I ask you. Is the message you espouse one of love or hatred? One of acceptance or marginalization? One of justice or judgement? The serpents are telling you to hate the other. To marginalize anyone different from you because they threaten your position. They tell you to judge and condemn because they and now you, know what God really meant - that the United States would be a powerful nation - a beacon of light to the white men.
I recognize that there may be serpents whispering in my ear as I type, but they aren't terribly powerful. If you disagree with me, please say so - I'd welcome a conversation so I can understand YOUR position and point of view. And if you are a white man, I know that you may not see yourselves in what I've written - my husband isn't a serpent (although when he asked me this morning what was in my "pretty little head" I had to glare a little. My head is not little, and at that time of morning probably not very pretty, either). I know that God loves you.
I pray for our safety, for our government, for people whose lives are very different from mine. I pray for President-elect Biden as he takes office, and I pray for President Trump, as he returns to private life and tries to figure out where he goes from here. I pray for those who were led to insurrection by the serpents among us, and, yes, I pray for the serpents, that they will learn to be less serpent-like.
On All Things Considered on NPR on January 15 there was a segment about conspiracy mindsets. If you have family members who are caught up in the cult-like atmosphere of conspiracies, you might give the segment How QAnon-like Conspiracy Theories Tear Families Apart (Jan 15 - link is below). Dr. Dannagal Young of the University of Delaware studies political conspiracy theories. She lists three strategies for restoring relationships within families:
Do not mock or use snark. You will cause the person to stop listening to you
Do not present facts. The person will believe that you are the naive one.
DO share happy memories, activities and other things that will strengthen the bond of unconditional love you have with this person. Save accountablitiy for later.
Be patient - just like dealing with a family member with a drug, alcohol, gambling or other addiction this will take time. I'm praying for you, too.
And if you are a serpent, spare me the "Don't Tread on Me" rhetoric. I won't tread on you if you stop slithering around my feet.
All Things Considered. "How QAnon-like Conspiracy Theories Tear Families Apart." January 15, 2021. How QAnon-Like Conspiracy Theories Tear Families Apart : NPR. Accessed January 16, 2021
Image. https://static.timesofisrael.com/blogs/uploads/2020/10/snakeeden-640x400.jpeg. Accessed January 16, 2021.
Lee, Morgan and Olsen, Ted. "Christian Nationalism is Worse than You Think." Christianity Today. January 13, 2021. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/christian-nationalism-capitol-riots-trump-podcast.html?utm_medium=widgetsocial. Accessed January 16, 2021