It is not recorded of Deborah
That she settled down with Barak,
Raised a tribe of Children,
And left off judging Israel.
-Janet Ruth Heller
I always love it when someone finally reads this poem that is hanging on my office wall. It's a large picture, so they miss it only because people tend to walk by these sorts of things. The look after reading it is always enjoyable, whatever it is.
Even for a Bible nerd like me, the first time I read the poem, it jarred me a little. I'd never considered the fuller story of Deborah, or what did or didn't happen. Her husband is mentioned once in her story, and never again. There's no record of children. Four short lines remind us that Deborah was a badass. Undoubtedly, today, someone would call her a bitch because she'd be too competent, too direct, too powerful for our world to respect her.
Her story gets two chapters in Judges. She was one of the judges of Israel, the rulers before there were kings. She summoned the general of the army to her office (the tree where she judged) and told him he was to go into battle. The Lord had proclaimed it. He'd only go if she went with him. So she did, telling him that this meant the general whose army would be defeated would be killed by a woman. Israel's general, Barak, is totally good with that plan. So he and Deborah go up to fight, along with the army, and are victorious. The other general flees, finding his way into the tent of a woman named Jael who hammers a tent spike into his skull, killing him. Meanwhile, Deborah and Barak lead the people in a celebration of their victory.
The number of unnamed women in the Bible is jarring if you read it closely at all. The number who are celebrated because of their role as wife and mother is staggering. The names most people know readily are known because of the sons the gave birth to: Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah. If you're protestant, the honor of the women is diminished even more. For all the accusations of Mariolatry in the Roman Catholic Church that I've heard, there's also great reverence for her.
I struggle to even name women who were not honored for their children or for being an important man's wife. Most of the women I can think of get only a mention, no long narrative. The two chapters that Deborah receives are astronomical in comparison. I remember Huldah, Miriam, Anna, and Junia readily. I started to type a few more, then remembered the men they were attached to. I can't help but point out that many scholars will fight to the death that Junia was actually a man named Junias, and some translations follow suit. The world would surely crash down if the Bible named a woman as an apostle.
I could keep going and going, talking about the elimination of women's names and stories from the history of the early church--and the later church and the current church for that matter. I'm sure there have been many books written about it at this point. My own story of sexism in the church is deeply intertwined with my call to ministry. Lest you think being in a tradition that ordains women fixes a lot of those problems (and if you do, then we should probably talk face to face for a few hours), here are just a few of the things that have happened because I'm a woman: I have been hit on by male parishioners; I have been yelled at on a weekly basis by someone in the community who didn't qualify for help; my weight has been brought up in performance reviews; no one assumes I'm the pastor.
For all the institutional sexism of the church, of our Scriptures, of the things we do every day, never doubt that it is only a mirror of our larger culture. In fact, it is a mirror of a larger culture formed by Christianity, and all of our problems are only magnified there. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton became the Democratic presidential nominee, the first woman nominated by a major party. The response is as revolting as much of the rhetoric over the past months during her campaign.
Here's the things: you can dislike her. You can dislike her husband. You can complain about the people funding her campaign. You can use hard facts all you want. You should also consider if you have a problem with her just because she's a woman, or if the media telling you things about her has a problem with her being a strong woman. If a news story has an intentionally unflattering photo of her, that's not facts; that's sexism. If there's any mention of her dress, actually, that's a problem. If you dislike her demeanor, think she's not polite enough, wonder why she said it like that, yeah, it's sexism. If you call her a bitch, you've completely fallen prey to a world that says women should be anything but strong leaders.
Never forget, though, that if you're Christian, your Scripture devotes more than a few verses to one woman. One. You'd do well to consider how that alone has shaped your world and ours.