March is Women's History Month, a gauntlet more spiritual than secular. By history, we mean "woman's place." No thinking woman escapes the battle. No thinking man escapes the knowledge that, until woman is his equal in all things, from pay to position, he cannot grow to his full height.
The church should be the greatest freedom fighter for women. I speak of the churches of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, which treat women as second-class citizens. The limelight Christian, Pope Francis, talked down to women when he said in January, as an afterthought, that "women should have a bigger presence," but ruled out "opening up the priesthood to women."
Some churches send out women missionaries but do not allow them to pastor or be deacons, say women can "share" but not "preach," and time after time break their own manmade rules, using women, when, "poor God," cannot find a man. This hurts all women and hampers Christianity's avowed purpose of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the great Redeemer of humankind.
I have an axe to grind. It is the kind John the Baptist meant when he proclaimed that "the axe is laid to the root of the trees" (Matthew 3:10), his metaphor for repentance or true change. Eventually, we got our word "radical" from the Latin for John's word "root." It was a good word, intended to describe persons who like to go to the "root" of a matter, always a limited group. "Radical" garnered a negative connotation when those worthy of the name carried out its meaning: They seek to revamp or overturn existing wrongs. That offends status quo.
When injustice is as deeply rooted as that which holds back equal rights for women, nothing but radical action changes it. The most revolutionary method is exposure. That was the goal of the early suffragettes, who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, insisted that women - the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and partners of men - be legally able to vote. Their first attempts, playing nice by society's rules of femininity, failed to produce the 19th Amendment.
Before the voting booths opened, these women fought for the same reasons their men went to war - for full citizenship to practice freedom of assembly, of press, of speech, and of religion. By the time the amendment passed on August 26, 1920, our foremothers had endured great abuse, including imprisonment, hunger strikes, and torturous forced feedings. They earned the appellation, "Iron Jawed Angels" (a 2004 movie), and the 2014 Presidential Proclamation speaking of their "grit and sacrifice."
The generations of women following WWII went backwards for a time, again letting culture dictate position. The Church perpetuates the lie, using misinterpreted, biblical "proof" texts, disregarding the great women of the Bible, soiling the clear records of both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul, who set women free in a 1st century patriarchal society. Yet, in 2014, there are still those, secular and religious, insisting women bow to a "Dark Ages" set of rules.
I will celebrate Women's History Month by speaking more plainly than ever before about "woman's place." Let us look around at what has been a mostly male-dominated world. We are on the brink of disaster. It is time to call up - and make way for - the other half of the troops.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.