Simple Things

Are there Limits to White Privilege?

“Mom, what does ‘go drink your race’ mean?”

This was posed to me by one of my children yesterday after school. Evidently it is one of the many odd statements directed at him by his classmates. As a standalone statement, it’s a goofy thing to say, and doesn’t make sense. Considering that my eldest child’s nicknames include “white bread,” “white cockroach,” and “salt,” and that my seven-year-old- daughter is growing self-conscious about her skin because she is always asked why her skin is so pale, the odd question makes sense.

White privilege is very real, and the current conversation about it is centuries overdue. It is hard to conceive of my privilege as a white female of a comfortable socio-economic status and how I take advantage of it without realizing. I applaud and am grateful for the strong voices from people of all ethnic backgrounds. I’ve especially received a lot to consider and pray about by reading The Root. It’s uncomfortable as hell, I’ll be honest, but that is the point. As it probably should be.


I am afraid to write that “but,” yet it hangs on my heart like a weight that wants to drown me. I am painfully aware of my privilege, of how much I am still unaware of the ramifications of my privilege, and how addressing this “but” may be interpreted.


There are limits to white privilege, and they exist in places where whiteness is a minority. I don’t mean “whiteness” in the manner of the population percentage of those with predominantly-European ancestry. Rather, “whiteness” is a cultural habit of consciousness. And that is OK. In fact, it’s great that the whole word isn’t dominated by “whiteness.” It’s one of the things that my husband and I were initially excited about when coming to our current destination: immersing ourselves and our family in a different way of life.

But almost a year later, my children are becoming accustomed to casual “racism” on a daily basis. They don’t understand it. They don’t understand the invisible barrier that was placed between them by their peers; almost impossible to describe but ephemerally perceptible to the mind and piercing the soul. It is inconceivable to them why they would be rejected simply because their skin is not the same color as most everyone else. And when  we explain to them that this treatment is the tip of the iceberg for what people of color and people of other ethnicities have experienced at the hands of far too many white people, for centuries, they stare at my husband and I dumbfounded that this is even a thing.

Right now I feel like I’m going crazy. I look to my left and see so much hatred and bigotry spewed on us for our pasty skin, and on the right I find beautiful, kind people of diverse ethnicities who don’t care about my freckles. I’ve never felt closer to understanding the experience of people of color, yet I am afraid that mine and my family’s pain is nothing more than racial blasphemy: my white privilege is simply unaccustomed to rough treatment and I should quit my whining.

This heartache, aside from inspiring me to understand, acknowledge, and check how I use my white privilege, continues to circle around one detail that, in my opinion, may be a really good place to start earnestly course-correcting how we all think about privilege and race.

That detail is the word “race.” The world generally uses the words “race” and “racism” and “race relations” when discussing issues surrounding white people and literally every other ethnic group in existence. That is a huge problem, because the word “race” specifically drives a wedge between people by omitting a particular ethnicity from the “human race.” In anthropological and scientific circles, “race” has long been frowned upon as a term specifically for this reason, and where it is still used has increasingly become scrutinized. So why do we still use it in our cultural conversation?

“Black people are people, too” should not be a ground-breaking statement. We are all human. Full stop. We are all one race. Full Stop. By defining the ethnic bigotry that has been heaped on people of color as “racism” automatically pits them as outsiders who need to fight their way back in. While that may have been the intention when “race” was introduced by pasty white dudes to describe “primitive cultures” way back in the days of exploration, it should not be accepted anymore. Are there white people who still consider other ethnicities to be less than human? Absolutely. Are there people of other ethnicities who believe that white people are roaches beneath their feet. Apparently.

To recover and rejoice in the truth that all people are indeed people, that ethnicity is a beautiful expression of the whole of humanity, and to begin frank and uncomfortable discussions about the privilege each of us carries about our own ethnicity in relation to that of others, I humbly suggest we start by removing “race” terminology out of the discussion. Affirm what is equally good in all of us, so that we can start to affirm what is good in each other.

If you made it this far, thank you.

Faith and Life · Uncategorized

Magic in the Mundane

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

-Leonardo Da Vinci

There is something deeply compelling about the fantastical: the ideas, the possibilities, the inhabitants, of a world that is so like ours yet alien in ways both exciting and unnerving. It fires up our sense of wonder, and a kind of nostalgia for the childlike ability to see magic in the mundane.

The idea of the Garden of Eden, a place of perfect peace and harmony between God, man, and nature, is fantastical. What does “perfect peace” mean? What does that look like? How does that even work? Eden imagery, for people of predominantly European descent, usually evokes a single moment: the one right before man breaks union with God. The world of Eden is frozen for our reflection. It is fantastic, we think, that lions and lambs and turkeys coexist without fear. It is fantastic, we wistfully say, that the world here is sunny and unbloodied. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, we think, if the world was more like this again?

29994-adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden.800w.tnWell, what if the world did retain some vestiges of Edenic harmony? What if the magic is still in the mundane? What would that look like?

The people of the Arctic and Hawai’i have a pretty good idea.

Scientists are increasing interested in studying the Arctic peoples who have a rich cultural history of communicating with whales and other animals. Their anecdotes, like that of Harry Bower, Sr. are fascinating.

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts…In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs.

What can we take away from the experiences of the Arctic people? One, they support theories that animals have an acute awareness of self and their relationship to “other.” Two, man and animal have the ability,  on some deep level, to know each other and communicate that knowledge. Three, that man and nature have a hierarchical relationship, but one that is rooted in deep humility and respect for what each can, and should, offer the other.

Farther south, in tropical waters, the Hawaiian people have their own rich tradition of understanding and cooperating with the natural world. Nowhere better is this tradition expressed than in their creation mele (song), the Kumulipo.

The Kumulipo, composed before the arrival of European explorers, is breathtaking in it’s comprehensive and scientific understanding of how nature works harmoniously. The song speaks of the creation of all things-male and female-and how for every life in the sea there is a counterpart on land that guards its purpose:

Seaweed and grasses
Man by Waiololi, woman by Waiolola,
The Koeleele was born and lived in the sea;
Guarded by the Ko punapuna Koeleele that grew in the forest.
A night of flight by noises
Through a channel; water is life to trees;
So the gods may enter, but not man.

Like the traditions of the Arctic peoples, the Kumulipo expresses the Hawaiian understanding of reciprocity and its centrality to life. There is an awareness of self, of the “other;” we give generously and take with a profound humility for the gift that is given.

Both of these cultures beautifully express how man and the natural world can reclaim a bit of the fantastical. More importantly, they are living invitations to do more than just reflect on a frozen moment of time. They invite us to generously give now, to humbly accept now, to live now, as we were first created to do.


Faith and Life

New Theories and Old Traditions


In the protective recesses of Yale’s museum is an ancient fresco fragment. To the average eye it is humble in appearance: the outline of a woman, bending down to what seems like a well. The long-held belief, logically, is that the fresco depicts the Samaritan woman at the Well, from the Gospel of John, Chapter 4.


This simple fragment has been at Yale for decades, but is having a renewed moment in the spotlight because researcher Michael Peppard is proposing a new interpretation of this work of art: the fresco is not the Samaritan woman, but Mary at the Annunciation!

If you are at all familiar with the Lukan version of the Annunciation, you are already saying to me, “but Melissa, there is no well in the story. This guy is off his rocker!”

And you would be correct, if Mr. Peppard was not basing his theory off of another ancient text: the Protoevangelium of James. The Protoevangelium of James is a popular work testifying to Mary’s holy beginnings, upbringing, and early time with Joseph. It is a bold move on Mr. Peppard’s part to use this text since it is apocryphal, but not completely out of turn. The Protoevangelium of James is alluded to by Ss. Jerome and Justin Martyr, among other early Church luminaries, and continues to leave an impression on Catholic tradition and Her liturgical calendar. It may not be far off to say that the only reason the text remains apocryphal is because despite it’s lack of heretical over-or-undertones it never gained the universal traction and approbation that the canonical books did.

But you know one place where the Protoevangelium of James would have been very popular? In Syria, where James the Lesser (as far as scholars can tell) is believed to have preached after Pentecost! And this fresco fragment happens to be an artifact from Dura-Europos, a border settlement on the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria.

Aleteia featured the endangered site of Dura-Europos and Peppard’s fresco interpretation, and besides being a sucker for all things archaeology and Church history, I was struck by a bit of background information that the article offered:

The wall painting was taken from the small baptistery of the 3rd-century house church. Christians had met for liturgical celebrations there before Constantine allowed Christianity to be practiced openly, said a 2014 article at Vatican Insider:

The church in Dura-Europos kept its function as a private house on the top floor; but on the ground floor, around 230 A.D., a small room containing no more than 60 people became a Christian place of worship. The frescoes on the walls prove this; there are the first known representations of the Good Shepherd, the healing of the paralytic and Jesus walking on the waters with Peter. It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could exist only after the 313 A.D. edict, through which the Emperor Constantine recognized Christians’ freedom of religion.

It is worth remembering that the very idea of a church separate from private houses could only exist after the 313 A.D. edict…” Wait, what? In the early Church, churches were…domestic? Who would have ever thought of a domestic Church?


Sadly, the reality we often forget about the early Church is that it did not have the luxury of material ability to put the boundless love of God on radiant display as in later centuries. In fact, the treasury of stone, marble, stained glass, art, and ornamentation that many of us take for granted, or take as the epitome of faithful expression, is really just the Catholic version of Solomon’s Second Temple. And that is okay!

But the reminder that the Church began, survived, grew, and conquered within the home is much-needed today. Saint John Paul II re-proposed the Domestic Church to the world, and started a frenzy. The simple Well-woman fresco, having yet another moment to evangelize to those who have the courage to hear, is also re-proposing the domestic Church but in a very specific and simple way: bring back the practice of sacred spaces in the home!

I know many people who already do this, but I know many more who don’t. I’ve wanted to set up a sacred space in our home for a while, but it just hasn’t happened yet. When we move to O’ahu in June, planning what wall gets to be our sacred space is #1 on my list.

A sacred space (a Holy Hot-Spot? called it!) is a single location in your home that you designate as a center for prayer, meditation, and a frequent visual reminder to keep Christ front and center in your life (and the life of your family). Like the home-Church in Duro-Europa, pictures and icons that speak to you and your family should decorate the area. A crucifix is a must, as is Scripture and a selection of prayers and other devotionals. Statues are always good, especially to hold your rosaries. Candles, smells, and bells are at your pleasure; add a holy water bottle and you are set! Really, just take an afternoon to browse Monastery Icons and go nuts.

Most importantly, gather your family around your Holy Hot-Spot daily. Pray, read, or just talk about your day, but do it at that sacred place in your home. Invite your parish priest over for dinner and ask him to bless the area. Use it well, and share it with others. A time is coming, as it was in the beginning, where the Church may only be allowed behind the doors of our homes. And that is okay too. It worked the first time, didn’t it?



Why Can’t the Church Support Gay Marriage?

The topic of homosexuals, gay marriage, and Catholicism weighs heavily on people’s minds. I understand how confusing and hurtful Church teaching seems on this issue, and a good friend has been gently nudging me to address this for a while now. His most recent comment to me is as follows:

One thing, as you might imagine, that I wonder about with the Catholic position on procreation is where, exactly, it leaves same-sex couples. Obviously the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality is no secret, so I get in terms of systematic theology. But in life, in practice, and with a Pope who has opposed same-sex marriage and adoption but has also said some pretty impressive (and I think holy, Jesus kinds of things) about embracing people regardless of sexuality…how does this all fit?

It’s been a journey, but my understanding of my faith has led me to support same-sex marriage, and a I think these kinds of conversations have to keep happening. Even in the progressive UCC, lots of churches are slow to embrace official “Open and Affirming” status for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-considered and pastoral…even while being, in practice, exactly that.

My friend deserves a good answer. Everyone who is confused or hurt by the Church does. This week, I’m going to do my best to give you one. This week I’m not going to talk about Pope Francis. Instead, I am going to try my best to talk like him. Here we go…

First, it’s not possible to separate the theology from the praxis. If you don’t practice what you preach, it’s hypocrisy. If you don’t have a rudder, you can’t steer your ship. I think everyone agrees that a consistent ethic is ideal, and that that ethic should be one of goodness. For Catholics, the most fundamental ethic is the source of our existence. God created all people in His image and likeness; this marks us as having a priceless value that commands an almost divine dignity.

I’ve often heard that the Church’s position on gay marriage denies the value and dignity of homosexuals. In all fairness, it certainly seems that way. Homosexuals are losing out on civil benefits that their straight counterparts take for granted, and on top of that they are made to feel like their love is not as good as a straight couple. From this perspective, both the moral and economic dignity of homosexuals is impugned.

That’s a heavy charge, linking personal dignity with the ability to get married. And that’s what moves us to what this debate is really about: defining the purpose of marriage. We’re asking what marriage was created for, the reason for its existence. We’re looking at settling an issue of theology, of abstract ideology, to suit our desired practices.

Marriage, civilly speaking, has serious economic considerations. From the government’s perspective, the more people get married, the better. When people argue that a ban on gay marriage hurts the economic dignity of homosexual couples, they make a valid point because marriage has been made an economic tool. This is the purpose of marriage in the civil sense. The Church doesn’t take economic dignity into consideration, however. A person’s right to civil benefits isn’t necessitated by their state in life; their very existence necessitates the right to civil benefits. When talking about marriage, economics is a secondary function for the Church.

The Church and society don’t agree that economics offers a legitimate reason why marriage exists. Both agree that marriage entails a moral component, though. It is on moral grounds, then, that the Church’s position should be understood.

Let’s go back to being made in God’s image. This simply means that we were created, as individuals, to manifest certain qualities as we moved through life on Earth. These qualities remain constant because God is constant. Circumstances may change, but the qualities can’t. I do mean can’t; insinuating that God can be something other than Himself amounts to negating His existence. The point to this is that circumstances do not substantially affect our personal dignity. Slavery doesn’t lessen a person’s created value. Being a mass murderer doesn’t lessen it, either. These only change a person’s outer appearance.

I think we can all agree that a person’s outer appearance, as described above, has some effect on our created value. If we are created to be the likeness of God, but use our life to look like everything but God, then that’s a problem. That would be like Picasso putting his personal touches on the Mona Lisa. The created value of Mona Lisa is still there, but it’s overshadowed by whatever you want to call Picasso’s work.

Marriage, in the eyes of the Church, is a praxis that guides two people’s outer appearance to reveal God’s likeness. Marriage is not an end to itself. It’s only a means to an end. All things should lead to God, and all people should reveal Him. Homosexual marriage leads neither to God nor helps homosexuals reveal their created likeness of Him. Not in theory, and not in practice.

Heterosexual marriage accomplishes this in theory. This is the argument that most people hear given by theologians, bishops, cardinals, and conservative religious pundits. But the reality is that in practice, heterosexual marriages are not guaranteed to do what they were made to do. It is a disparity between theory and practice that is rightly called out. In fact, I think it should be called out more. Broken heterosexual marriages have grossly obscured marriage’s fundamental dignity and set the stage for this entire debate. But the theory-pushers are correct on one thing: inconsistent praxis does not invalidate theory.


Weekly Series: Friday Francis Roundup

Note: I am a new contributing member of the weblog radinfinitum. One of the things I’ll be doing over there is a weekly series called “Friday Francis Roundup” to give a fun recap of how the Holy Father is rockin’ the world. Even better, this site offers a buffet of culture commentary that will give you plenty to think about and enjoy. Please check it out! Now for my roundup…

Pop your personal bubble before you suffocate in it. That’s pretty much what the Holy Father is telling us in the New Year. In stark contrast to the Magi, who traveled far outside of their comfort zone, Pope Francis called out those who have hard hearts and fall into a narcissistic cycle of fear, pride, and vanity. This cycle, says the Holy Father, gives the illusion of self-sufficiency, but really locks a person inside himself. The Magi, by opening themselves to something far beyond their knowing, find God and themselves.

Like the Magi, Pope Francis holds up mothers as wonderful examples of traveling outside of themselves and being better for it. The Holy Father does not mince words about how he views a mother’s value:

“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Before anyone brings the snark about the Church valuing women only as far as they are actively breeding small nations, read what Pope Francis follows up with:

 “In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

And in case his words don’t quite sink in, the Holy Father’s decision to elect cardinals from the fringes of the world puts practice to his preaching. Cardinal-making stalwarts, like the United States, did not see any gains in the new election. Many of the new cardinals come from countries that never had a cardinal before, bursting the College bubble for the first time in a long while.

On a lighter note, the Holy Father raffled off personal possessions to raise money for the poor and rubbed elbows with Lara Croft.


Church, Culture, and the Dignity of the Sexes

During the Thanksgiving holiday I was asked, in a nutshell, if I felt constricted as a woman by the Catholic faith (and more specifically the Vatican). It was a lovely discussion. Since then, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of articles that discuss gender identity, feminism, and how much the Church loves to subjugate the ladies. Maybe it’s my subconscious still mulling over that Thanksgiving conversation, but I can’t get away from the topic. There’s an interesting gem on SkepticInc that says the Church uses the same argument against the marriage equality movement as the woman suffrage movement of the early 20th century. Basically, both movements will negatively impact society and harm children by taking something far out of it’s natural context. Just today I found this delight from the Huffington Post on my Flipboard news selection. The gist, from the compilation of quotes, is that anything feminine that is healthy is labeled “mother” and fertile; it’s unhealthy opposite is cranky and unproductive. Therefore, the automatic conclusion is that women must be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen to be happy and productive. This conclusion is spoon-fed by one quoted question: “Do you see a bit of misogyny in the background (of your references to women mainly as mothers and wives rather than leaders)?”

Is it easy to find misogynist opinions in Church history? Absolutely. Does the Church encourage and teach misogyny? Absolutely not. The Church understands the sexes anthropologically, that is, as a way of being that transcends time and culture. The wording that is often used–mother, fertile, subordinate, what have you–sounds awkward and archaic to our modern ears, but they are used with a specific purpose and a specific context in mind. Not many people, especially those in the media, take the time to understand what the sexes mean in larger context of Christian revelation. To be sure, it wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church Herself began to address the subject of the sexes without a certain amount of pubescent awkwardness. But this awkwardness should not be confused with doctrinal discrimination against the dignity of women outside of a narrow identity. That kind of discrimination properly belongs to cultural mores. The Church’s mission is to translate timeless Truth to every time and culture. Many times the distinction between what the Church teaches and what culture teaches gets blurry. Take St. Paul, for instance. That good soul is the perfect storm of Church and culture. He spoke of women’s dignity in a narrow context, but he does not say that women lack dignity in any other context.

For the sake of brevity, let’s agree that the Church, the Graeco-Roman empire, and the emerging nations of Christendom all share the perspective that women are important in the domestic sphere and the propagation of the species (and, by extension, the faith, wealth, and status of the patrimonial line). While sometimes coasting along with cultural norms, the Church deviates significantly from culture on many occasions, right from the beginning. First, Jesus flat-out rejects all forms of discrimination in Galatians 3:28. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. Yes, this is Paul preaching, but it is exactly what Jesus practiced. Neither Samaritans, nor Gentiles, nor women received less from Jesus than the Chosen Ones of Israel.

Women especially had a powerful role in the New Testament. All of them, no matter what their circumstances, are held up as examples of how to do things right. None of the women are materially, socially, or physically powerful, but by lifting them up as examples of goodness, Jesus is telling us all to follow them. The New Testament women lead us to Christ, even though they are culturally “inferior” to men. Rather than interpreting this to mean women can only lead others to Christ through domestic servitude and babies, the early Church took the unprecedented step of liberating women from the cultural constraints surrounding marriage. The Church made it possible, and acceptable, for women to marry whom they wish (rather than be matched with a socio-economic peer). Even more, the Church removed the stigma of unwed women. The rise of the religious life became equal to, if not greater than, the state of marriage for women. Make no mistake, this shift was seen as freedom for women. Women were persons worthy to offer their entire selves to Christ and serve Him unreservedly, if that was their desire. Eventually devotion to the religious life became a culturally chić thing to do for women, a prestige symbol for wealthy families. This trend embroiled the religious orders in worldly drama more often than was welcomed.

It is a sad fact that for the large majority of sainted women who lived while Christianity ruled the Empire, money paid for the freedom to express a richer understanding of feminine dignity. Money opened doors, but women like Elizabeth of Hungary, Irene the Athenian, and Catherine of Siena proved on their own merits that the fairer sex could hold their own outside of the domestic sphere as well as in it. Fast-forwarding to modern times, women like Elizabeth of Hungary and Irene the Athenian are common. Elizabeth is represented by women like Gail J. McGovern, who is the CEO of the Red Cross, and no one represents Irene the Athenian better than Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

The comparisons are not adequate, however, because these modern women are products of a series of cultural shifts that specifically addressed gender inequality. After the 17th century science began dissecting everything it could to understand the functionality of organisms. Organisms became mechanisms. Applied to humans, gender became a mechanism that culture could use to reinforce old biases. You know, the ones like women are more fragile and emotional because they have a smaller frame, their brains don’t process logic, or they bleed more than anything else in nature without dying. Here is an amusing example of the practical application of science-based gender studies (warning: some graphic content) that was wildly popular around the turn of the 20th century. The Church, bruised by the Reformation and discarded by the Enlightenment, took no part in the industrialization of the human person. In fact, it is just a few decades before the 20th century when the Church began producing writings that specifically address social inequality.

Cultural gender discrimination, backed by “science,” directly resulted in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900’s. Economic equality under US law followed not long after. World War II launched women into the workforce, and the Sexual Revolution ostensibly removed patriarchal domination of women’s sexuality. All of these are good. Women have the right to speak up for themselves and own property. Women certainly have the right to their own body. These advancements in the cultural understanding of gender equality, while good in and of themselves, are specific responses to a deficient understanding of only one aspect of womanhood. Advancement in women’s rights, frankly, has centered around lady-parts. A woman’s biological ability to produce other humans is seen as the shakle that confines feminine freedom. Men used it as an excuse to keep women “in their place,” and women saw it as a constricting identity. To some extent, women were right. Because of the ability to reproduce, women were being denied the chance to earn fair wages, advance in a career, and have equality under the law.

It seems to me that this is why there is so much malcontent towards terminology that seems to rattle the old shakles. From a cultural perspective, feminism is the drive to ensure that gender is never again used as a tool for oppression. Women can, and are, rejecting old stereotypes and redefining what it means to be a woman. The problem is that this cultural process is still oppressive, because gender is still the definitive mechanism for humanity. Traits are designated with a sex, male or female, to organize human function. Nurturing? Classically feminine. Powerful? Classically masculine. Emotional? Definitely feminine. We are in the cultural process of removing stigmas of sexes with gender-opposite traits–yes, men can be amazing nurturers! Women can run businesses well! These traits have never been dependent on gender, however. At least not in the cosmic sense of things. And that is why culture will always be oppressive in its attempts to balance the sexes. For culture, gender balance means moving in tandem. All eyes forward, steps in sync with one another.

The cosmic sense of things is knowing the purpose of your mechanisms. What is the endgame of the sexes? Why does gender matter? This is what the Church considers. As I mentioned earlier, everyone’s endgame is to enter the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. That door does not discriminate against gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It only discriminates against those who try to enter around the door rather than through it. Since gender is not a determining factor in salvation, why does the Church continue to profess the feminine genius in culturally oppressive terms and sound like bleating old goats? Well, the answer is simple: the Church does not stereotype “feminine” traits like compassion and meekness or relegate womanhood to the confines of biological motherhood. In contrast to cultural mores, the Church only expects physical traits to be gender-specific.

In Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women), a progressive sense of feminine dignity is laid out, followed by strong praise of the traditional roles of women as mothers and teachers. Rather than being misogynistic, encouraging women to embrace roles as mothers and teachers is a tacit acknowledgement of certain mechanisms that exist in women, in a special way, that aids in the biological ability to bear and raise children. Men are not excluded from having these mechanisms, but they are generally stronger in women. Scientific research tends to support this, though the issue remains open to debate. This is but one aspect of the overarching theology of sex in the cosmic scheme. The sexes, as the Church understands it, are not meant to balance each other, walking side by side into the sunset. They are made to tango, circling and supporting each other as if they were one body. Technically known as complementarity, this theology understands two kinds of dignity that are proper to men and women: the shared dignity of a united existence, reflecting the Trinity, and the unique dignity of each sex that is revealed by the proximity of one to the other.

In other words, complementarity says three things. One, all human share a pool of traits that are distinct to human dignity, or what it means to be human. Two, men and women use the same traits, but not always in the same way. Three, the “male” way and “female” way of exhibiting the same traits are a necessary good that reveals what it fully means to be human. It’s not an insult to say that men and women naturally do things differently. It’s quite the opposite, and for at least one good and simple reason. Let’s pretend that all men think the best way to settle an argument is by a gunfight. If there is no other option offered to settle an argument, eventually the pool of people to argue with is going to be very small. This is a gross exaggeration, but you get the idea.

This is why, at that Thanksgiving discussion, I did not hesitate to defend the Church against institutional misogyny. The Church doesn’t encourage me to be a size 0 with D cups. The Church doesn’t care if I show off pasty legs in the summer. The Church doesn’t shame me for not having the right house, or car, or purse, or kids that eat all their vegetables (any vegetables?). The Church doesn’t judge me based on whether I breast-or bottle-fed my babies, homeschooled, or voted Republican. Or Democrat. The Church doesn’t respect me less if I’m a maid or a CEO. But culture does. Culture praises and condemns me on the basis of its whims. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is true misogyny.