Journalist Adele Stan wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine a system more patriarchal than the one on which the U.S. economy was founded…slavery. Plantation owners raped the women they enslaved, then enslaved any children resulting from those assaults…. This is our legacy, the part we don’t talk about. It courses silently through the veins of the body politic.”1 Patriarchy’s logic breeds male dominance and grows in brutality against women marginalized by race, tribe, or ethnicity. Seeking ultimate dominance, patriarchy’s toxic ideas and deadly consequences share a common root—the dehumanizing of women based on their flesh—their gender and race. Sexism and racism form the two-headed monster of dominance and Christ confronted both.
The gospel writers describe Christ’s attentiveness to women demeaned because of their gender and ethnicity, as eyewitnesses to these events. Consider the Samaritan woman. Despised because of her tribe and alienated through multiple husbands, Jesus waits for her by a well at noon. Only the disenfranchised fetch water alone in the heat of the day. As a Jew asking a Samaritan for a drink, Christ exposes her tribe’s marginalization. Asking for her husband, Jesus reveals her exploitation by numerous men. Aware of her suffering, Jesus gives himself to her as Savior—as the “I am.” She becomes the beloved, patriarchy’s logic is upended, and the disciples are enraged. Despised by the Jews and abused by men, a Samaritan woman becomes the first great evangelist, bringing the good news of her people’s inclusion in Christ (John 4:6–30).
Like the Samaritan woman, the Syrophoenician woman meets Jesus outside Jewish territory. Gentile and female, the Jews viewed her people as “dogs”—undeserving of God’s gifts. Considered “unclean,” Jesus—a Jewish rabbi—approached her and the disciples try to shoo her away (Matt. 15:23). Persistently, she begs Christ to deliver her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus says he’s come to feed first Israel’s children not the Syrophoenician “dogs.” Defying patriarchy’s logic, she will not be excluded by prejudice. She says even the “dogs” are satisfied by crumbs off the children’s table. Her faith exceeds that of the “children”—the Jews, and especially the disciples who doubt Christ could feed a multitude with a few fish and loaves (Mark 6:35–36). Not this Gentile woman! A few crumbs are enough. She too is God’s beloved “child,” and Jesus healed her daughter (Matt. 15:28).
Through these stories and others, Scripture shows how women demeaned by gender and race were called and used by God. Outsiders like Ruth the Moabite and Rahab the Amorite become insiders, and both are cited in Christ’s lineage. Confronting patriarchy’s dominance (Gen. 3:16) made brutal through tribal and ethnic disparities, Jesus made clear what patriarchy’s dominance had obscured. Women and especially those degraded by race are equally created in God’s image as co-workers with men (Gen. 1:26–29). They too are equally recreated in the image of Christ as leaders in the church (2 Cor. 3:18). This is the work of Christ who absorbed, in his own flesh, sin’s ultimate dominance on Calvary.
Christ’s victory, summarized in Galatians 3:28, surpasses the logic of dominance. It compels those with ethnic, socio-economic, and gender privilege to serve as Jesus did—with empathy always void of dominance. Tragically, the church has too often aligned with and fortified powers and principalities (slavery in the US, Apartheid in South Africa, The Third Reich in Germany, etc.). Here lament plays a critical role. It acknowledges our complicity and brokenness. Lament prioritizes empathy and removes obstacles to redemption by resisting quick fixes to deep wounds. Lament opens necessary space to sit with our pain, to depend on God’s transforming power, and to seek wisdom of leaders at the margins, who know best the logic of patriarchy. Without collective lament we speak “peace when there is none” (Jer. 6:14).
As we follow Jesus, let us also expose and challenge the logic of patriarchy. May we lament the church’s complicity with dominance, and may we pursue authentic peace, humbly and persistently as Christ did.
This article appears in “Learning Lament, Building Empathy, and Joining our Sisters at the Intersection of Race and Gender,” the Summer 2021 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.
1. Adele M. Stan, "This is What Patriarchy Looks Like," The American Prospect, November 22, 2017.