Priestcraft and Miss New Jersey by Kerry Connelly

As usual, there is a swirl of disjointed thoughts in my brain that I know are mixing, like the seasonings in one of my grandmother’s meals, to make something tasty. Here are the thoughts:

Miss New Jersey.

Lucretia Mott.

My great-grandmother’s diary.

And Jesus, of course.

Let’s start with Miss New Jersey.

Recently, she came to visit the middle school that my neighbor’s daughter (I’ll call her Haley) attends. Haley is an incredibly intelligent young woman who quickly deducted an interesting irony. The school removed female students from educational instruction to attend this mandatory, girls-only assembly with Miss New Jersey, the topic of which was the importance of education (with not just a few plugs for girls to apply to enter the pageant). The boys, who were not required to attend, stayed in the classroom and received the educational instruction the girls were missing.

Now, if you’re like Haley and me, you can see the problem here.

Haley attempted to speak up and out about this, and the administration and her peers tried to shush her up. I encouraged her to keep speaking, no matter how tired she gets. And I reminded her — because sometimes, we all need reminding — of the issues.

First of all, I wonder if in the great state of New Jersey — home to Princeton University and a multitude of small, women-owned businesses — Miss New Jersey is all you’ve got in your female-empowerment arsenal?

I mean no harm against Miss New Jersey and all, but let’s be clear: her “crown” was obtained because of how she looks in a bathing suit and evening gown.

Could we not find a rock-star scientist, businesswoman or sports figure to come and speak to the kids? And hey — once we do find a truly successful woman, how about we don’t hide her away from the boys like a shameful secret?

I started thinking for a minute about how Jesus treated women, and when these two thoughts — the Miss New Jersey fiasco and Jesus — combined in my head, the result was absolutely ridiculous. I tried to imagine Jesus as the judge of a beauty pageant. I tried to imagine Jesus being the MC, delicately holding up the hand of bikini-clad woman as an accessory, prancing her around for all the world to see.

Ridiculous. Jesus would never do it. He would never, ever let a woman be ogled and objectified in such a way. Instead, he would take off his beautiful King-robe and throw it around her shoulders. He would remove his own crown and place it on her head, place his hand beneath her chin and lift her face to look him in the eye. Then he would touch her soul and heal her of all her empty places, filling them with himself. And with a heavy sadness, he would turn to us and call us fools for missing the true beauty of that woman — his presence within her.

This is what Jesus does.

Which got me thinking about Lucretia Mott. Lucretia was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist who roused the ire of many a preacher during the 1800’s.  In 1854, at the Women’s Rights Convention in Philadelphia, a minister challenged Lucretia, saying that men should have authority over women. Lucretia was a Quaker, however, and well versed in scripture. Check out her off-the-cuff and like-a-boss reply (bold emphasis mine):

It is not Christianity, but priestcraft that has subjected woman as we find her….

Blame is often attached to the position in which woman is found. I blame her not so much as I pity her. So circumscribed have been her limits that she does not realize the misery of her condition. Such dupes are men to custom that even servitude, the worst of ills, comes to be thought a good, till down from sire to son it is kept and guarded as a sacred thing. Woman’s existence is maintained by sufferance. The veneration of man has been misdirected, the pulpit has been prostituted, the Bible has been ill-used…

We have been so long pinning our faith on other people’s sleeves that we ought to begin examining these things daily ourselves, to see whether they are so; and we should find on comparing text with text, that a very different construction might be put upon them…

She goes on to deconstruct, citing Greek and Hebrew scholars, the traditional interpretation of male authority in an absolutely delicious way.

Can I just stop and say a quick, Preach it, sister, PREACH!

Okay. So then I started thinking about this priestcraft thing. How the whole of women’s experience has been crafted, in a way, by the way men view us. When we think of rape culture, of space, of ownership, breasts and sexuality, motherhood, manspread, and yes, even scripture — it is all crafted through the eyes of men.

So no wonder even Martha got mad at Mary when Mary chose Jesus over housework. Martha was living in the crafted space; Mary had stepped through veil, and Jesus protected her right to keep on stepping right through.

Lucretia spoke of how blame is at the core of women’s position of subjection. No doubt, she was referring to Eve. Someone on Facebook, and I’m sorry I don’t remember who, recently pointed out that Eve was seduced by the ultimate seducer — the ultimate liar, phony, the absolute expert in all things devious and evil. Adam, on the other hand, was simply seduced by another human being.

Yet through priestcraft, the whole of human failing has been placed on the shoulders of women. And Jesus, because he is who he is — the ultimate redeemer, and the ultimate subversive — turns the whole priestcraft on its head.

If Eve sinned first, she was also the first to know who Jesus was. He reveals himself first to a woman — his mother — through the holy spirit who comes in the form of an angel to share his plans. If a woman is punished for original sin with the pain of childbirth, the whole world is redeemed through it as well.

Jesus reveals his true identity to the Samaritan woman at the well, and first reveals his risen self to Mary on Easter Sunday.

Jesus loves women, and women, Jesus. Which brings me to my great-grandmother.

A suffragette like Lucretia, my great-grandmother fought for women’s rights and, once we got the vote, worked in politics for many years. But I found a few lines in her diary that stopped me in my tracks, because it was not part of the oral family lore that had been passed down: She also helped to start a church.

Like many of the unnamed women who helped the Gospel spread after the resurrection of Jesus, this work goes unnoticed. In my family, that’s probably because some of us took the atheistic, intellectual route, and those were the people who held our stories like gem stones.

Only some of those stories — perhaps the most important ones — were kept hidden. Like the church on the corner of Drift Street and Suydam Avenue in New Brunswick — a 131 year old building where once, my great-grandmother worked for the sake of the Gospel.

So when I think about work, about Jesus and about all those women who fought for the right to serve him, learn about him, seek him and answer his call, I think about crowns. I think about how easy it is to get caught up in seeking the wrong kinds of glory — the kind that’s shiny and speaks of our outward wonder.

It’s more about the crown of glory that flows from the vine into our veins, like this long lineage of women who have spoken, even when people tried to shush us up, for Jesus.

And when I think about that, I just want to stand up and say, Preach, sister, PREACH!

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Kerry Connelly is a writer, speaker, coach and business consultant. Her work has appeared in DailyWorth.com, SheLovesMagazine.com,  and SAVORLIFE Magazine, among others. She writes a popular blog called Jerseygirl, Jesus, and coaches through her company, Vision to Mission. Kerry is a graduate of the New York City Leadership Fellows Program and just recently began DoveWriters, A Christian Writers Incubator, as she is looking for writing partners as she works on her first book, a memoir titled, We Called Her the Lion Tamer.

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