The New Feminism: Redefining a Woman's Place (Mark 7:24-37)

Bible study series
Bible study series

We asked people about gender equality in today's society.

Recently two African American women took to the stage during a Bernie Sanders' campaign event to protest for #BlackLivesMatter, a movement confronting issues related to racism and police violence in America. They were cheered by some and jeered by others. Their presence made the movement visible in ways that other events -- disturbingly -- had not. The national press covered the incident and many posts were made on a variety of social media platforms regarding the events of that day.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that, "These women thought they could interrupt Bernie and not have repercussions. They need to learn their place." (Emphasis is mine but feels appropriate after talking to the original poster about the intent behind the post)

What? Are you kidding me? I was ticked.

Amazingly, though, my friend's Facebook feed began to blow up mostly with affirmations regarding his post. A few people did try to question his statement but were shouted down as soon as their posts went up. Many jumped in to affirm that these women -- and I assume, specifically, black women -- should not be taking the stage being rude to a politician. I asked, "What if they were men? Would that be better?"

Again, I was surprised that some people actually dared to state that men might have been seen differently. And that it was just "not classy for women to do what they did."

Isn't it 2015? Why would anyone assume that women needed to stay in their "place?" And why did they believe that speaking one's mind was not classy?

It is clear that there are many people in the USA, and also around the globe, who see women as inferior persons. They view women's voices as "less than" men's and they work to diminish the ability of women to speak both privately and publicly.

Throughout history -- both in the Bible and in other places -- women have been silenced or put "in their place." That is what this passage feels like. It feels like a woman is told to get back in her place.

This passage from Mark 7 always makes me say, "WOW! That Syrophoenician woman just called out Jesus when he tried to shut her down." I love that when Jesus appears to squash her voice and tries to silence her, she calls him out. She refuses to assume her "place" under the table eating scraps. And that is so bold and confident.

In the first century world, women had few rights and few opportunities to voice their opinions. In Jesus' world, she was the "other" -- a woman, a Syrophoenician, and someone likely not invited to the house where Jesus encountered her. She was a Greek-speaking foreigner in this scenario. She was challenging the social norms. Jesus' initial mission was to his own people, the Jews. And he lets her know that she is not a part of his intended audience.

Is she challenging him to expand his mission? Or is she simply trying to get her daughter healed?

It is after the resurrection that Jesus' mission to the Gentile community begins in earnest, but here in this passage Jesus is challenged on this assumption of being sent to the Jews first and foremost. And after he is challenged, he answers in a positive manner. He affirms the Syrophoenician woman and heals her daughter. Her faith got her what she wanted.

But it would not have happened had she not interrupted him in his attempt to find a quiet moment. It would not have occurred without her persistence. She probably knew "her place" since she was a first century woman in a culture where women had little to no voice or power. But she did not stay there. She acknowledged "her place" but she asked for mercy and had the faith that her request could/would be granted.

And her faith paid off. Her daughter was healed.

So what about these women who took to the stage for #BlackLivesMatter?

When the women took to the stage, they got into a heated verbal confrontation with one of Bernie Sanders' campaign staff persons for several minutes before Marissa Johnson was allowed to take the microphone to speak. But she was booed both before, during, and after her short speech.

Whether you agree with her tactics or not, she got her point across and people were challenged to confront their own perceptions of the movement and where they stood on the issue of race relations in America. Some heard the challenge and others simply saw a woman with no class who was rude. Many just saw what they wanted to see or were prone to see due to the privilege they experience in their lives.

#BlackLivesMatter is one of the biggest grassroots movements in recent history to address race and racism. It has caught fire on social media and is moving into the realm of public political discourse. And that's where it should be.

But people wanted to put her in her "place." People wanted to shut her up. Whether it was because she was "interrupting" someone or that she was a woman or the fact that she was African American is an important question but it is unclear how we might ever know the truth in people's minds about the event. It's probably different for different people.

For my friend on Facebook, it felt to me like it was both gender and race that led him to make that post. In a private message it was made evident to me that the poster has an opinion about the "place" of women that I have serious disagreements with.

As a woman in ministry and as a woman in academia, my voice has been challenged and people have attempted to silence me, but I have tried to not be defined by their definition of "my place."

If you are a man, be an ally for the women in your life -- in your family, at your work place, in public and private, and in all the ways that you can.

If you are a woman, be bold and persistent. A famous quote that has been attributed to many different people, says this -- Well-behaved women seldom make history.

Be bold and be persistent. Be who you were made to be. Don't stay in your "place" defined by others. Find your own place and go make some history.

Bible Study Questions

1. If you are a woman, when have you been silenced? How did that feel? How did you respond? If you are a man, how have you silenced women in public or private places? How can you work to change that behavior?

2. When you hear someone attempt to diminish the voice of another how do you react? Do you respond differently if it is a man or a woman?

3. Women's voices need to be heard, not ignored or marginalized. How might you be an ally for women of all races and gender expressions in public and private spaces?

For Further Reading

The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook: A Guide to Gender by Sam Killermann

The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family

by Madeleine Kunin

"The Unspoken Rules That Silence Women In Leadership" by Kelly Azevedo for Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2013/07/16/the-unspoken-rules-that-silence-women-in-leadership/

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