Blog Template Theology of the Body: Queen Susan's Bow

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Queen Susan's Bow

This was another favorite from 2005.

In the spirit of the past week's gleeful engagement with Inclusive Worship at Yale, I am going to Broach an Issue.

I have heard various feminists cooing over one particular moment in the recently released The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (which I love): Susan Pevensie fires a well-aimed shot from her bow and mortally wounds the wicked little dwarf who is about to kill her brother in the Great Battle. This moment is notably absent from The Book, wherein C.S. Lewis points out that he would rather not have his women fighting in battles, for the mere fact that they are women.

Look, I am a joyful gender essentialist. I think that there are intrinsic gifts, responsibilities, and vocations inherently connected with being male or female, and I love being the latter, because it means being a mother and a sister and a daughter to the rest of the world, in a variety of ways. I think that a good solid patriarchy can be wonderfully advantageous to ambitious young women. I trust my father and almost always defer to his wishes; I intend to obey my husband someday, with God's help. I think that men are naturally inclined to lead and protect women, and I think that women should let them do so. But I am not one to shrink from battles.

Queen Susan, the Gentle and Accurate, takes up her weapon and defeats a demon, and with that she joins the generals Deborah and St. Joan of Arc as women who I, purportedly submissive and non-feminist gender essentialist, long to imitate. Why? Because we all know that Susan has fired her shot in a spiritual battle between the enslaving, death-dealing, demonic power of the White Witch (= "Satan" in the story), and it is on this sort of battlefield, truly we are all one, neither male nor female, in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3). Having delivered another traditonal household code in Ephesians 5, wherein women obey while men sacrifice, Paul turns immediately in Ephesians 6 to the weapons which all take up in order to deal out death blows to the Enemy of souls. This warfare is the prerogative of every Christian Person. And the offensive is not optional. It is on the battlefield where the Church is attacked by a ruthless enemy that gender is truly relativized in light of Christ's Kingdom, such that women as well as men must take up arms to deal death blows to demons.

Now, I worry. The camps wherein I find much sympathy for my traditionalist leanings as a woman have introduced so much of civic virtue into the Church that they have transferred Pauline household codes to the structures for lay ministry within their communities. And I worry when education programs for Christian children, like one located recently, categorize the virtues of "vision, adventure and evangelism" for young men, and provide training in such for young men exclusively, while young women are reserved for "contentment, home and friendship."

Was there ever a besieged army that cut its ranks in two at the height of a conflict? Why would the Church do such a thing? Why would the Church not promote her daughters in the gender-neutral Christian mandates to evangelize, to chatechize, to do systematic theology... in short, to do warfare?

Granted, Pauline household codes make a lot of sense when they serve the purposes for which they were delivered: to accomodate conventional morality, because in contributing to the Pax Romana Christians will be good witnesses for Christ...and honestly, market economies do really well when every working man has a wife making a home, preparing food, and producing well-mannered children. This kind of structure makes a lot of sense for a civic community, and Paul knew it and urged Christians to accomodate it. But the Church is no civic community. The Church is, in many ways, an army that needs every baptized person to bear arms in the context of its critical, eschataological Battle.

No, I do not think that the Church has the option of counting women in that apostolic succession which adminsters the sacraments and formulates doctrine. As Kalistos Ware has put it, "to no woman has Jesus said, 'he who hears you hears no woman did He make the promise to ratify in heaven what she has bound or loosed on earth." And, as Thomas Hopko concurs in On the Male Character of Christian Priesthood, that to speak of women being "excluded" from the Christian episcopacy is absurd and nonsensical, because "exclusion" supposes a possible and proper prior "inclusion," which does not in fact exist in the Christian tradition.

But neither do I think that the Church has the option of preventing women from passing on the Faith once delivered to the (male) apostles through preaching (at appropriate times and places), or engaging in pastoral ministry, or prophecying, or leading and initiating in the church, in as much as the church may require. If we are an army under attack, then we need all hands on deck.

...And I'll say it again: if a woman finds herself submitting in love to a tradition which requires her to remain silent or to speak very softly in the church, then by all means let her do so wholeheartedly; but let her carry a very big stick.

... "Women will be the most fruitful element in the Apostolate..."
Pope John Paul II

Onward, Christian Soldier-Persons.