St. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

This Sunday begins our annual canonization of the saints.  Now for the explaining of the rules and the making of the disclaimers.  Candidates must have been dead for five years and they must have performed miracles.  In our understanding, a miracle is when the world is pushed off of the track it was on, knocked out of its orbit, so to speak.  Essentially, the world became a different place because of this person.  We understand that reality is often more complex than the hagiographies present.  The stories we tell about our heroes say more about the storytellers than the subjects of the stories.  We understand that our saints were not always virtuous or heroic and we try to be honest about that, but we are mostly interested in the miracles.  Those actions and their effects tell us something about how we might live more fully into the world of God’s dreams.

We begin our series with a pivotal figure in the struggle for women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Stanton, at the young age of 33, had the idea to hold a convention on women’s rights.  Along with the Quaker minister Lucretia Mott and other women, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention on July 19 and 20 of 1848.  At the convention, attended by such luminaries of progressive politics as Frederick Douglass, Stanton delivered her Declaration of Sentiments, which included her demand for voting rights for women.

Her support for women’s rights was tireless and fearless, even at the risk of alienating supporters.  For example, she opposed extending voting rights to black men without also extending them to all women.  This view produced a schism in the fight for women’s suffrage.  Later in her life, she spearheaded the production of The Woman’s Bible, a commentary on all mentions of women in the Bible written by women.  She took the position that organized religion created a society in which women were expected to be subservient to men, so changing religion was at the heart of changing society.  For this, she was pushed aside in the suffrage movement with the thought that such radical thinking might undermine the chances of success.  As is often the case, the suffrage movement succeeded by embracing a mainstream idea: a world bounded by home and hearth, womanhood as keeper of morality.

It is an interesting coincidence then that this week the lectionary presents us with Proverbs 31.10-31, the Woman of Worth.  For many women growing up in church, this became the ideal for womanhood.  Some embrace it; some reject it.  As with any biblical text, it is not often read with much nuance.  People tend to focus on the woman’s devotion to husband and family, whether they find that posture comforting or alienating, so it becomes a bludgeon of expectation or an effigy to be burned.  That’s definitely a part of the text.  However, it also contains the potential for liberation.  In contrast to how we might normally think of women in the ancient world, the woman is active, strong, and productive.  She makes business deals and advises the men with her wisdom.  She brings home the not-bacon and fries it up in a pan.  The wealth and status of the family depend on her, not the man.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we put the life of St. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in dialog with the biblical Woman of Worth as a frame work for talking about women in church, society, and politics today.

Grace & Peace,

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