My students are shocked to learn that women in many states, as late as 1970, could not file rape charges against their attacker if their attacker was their husband. They can’t believe it. They can’t wrap their minds around how and why our tradition allowed the rights of women to be so horribly disregarded for so long, and they want to know why. They seek answers and truly want to understand this important issue. More importantly, they have a right to know. And I adamantly believe it is the job of every public school to help children understand the true origins of sexism in America, even if it means dragging the Bible into the classroom. Honestly, I see no other way! You cannot have an honest discussion about the origins of Western sexism without examining the Judeo-Christian tradition. (Oh, and by the way, in 1993 North Carolina was the last state to remove “spousal exemption” from their sexual crime codes.)
In addition to teaching World Religions I also teach AP United States History. In both courses the Judeo-Christian tradition is discussed and debated. Many of my conservative Christian students are quick to point out that America is (and should be) patriotically grounded in a Judeo-Christian tradition. But when I asked these students how this tradition may be negatively effecting our culture, they look at me as if I had just vomited up a goat. The idea of a bible-based tradition producing something negative in our society is incomprehensible to them. Why? Because nowhere in their public education (or conservative Christian upbringing) have they been taught to think otherwise. Public schools, fearing controversy and possible violations of the Establishment Clause, typically stop short of biblical analysis when teaching kids about sexism. Schools want to avoid controversy – I get it! Schools are supposed to serve communities, not divide them. However, to leave out the Bible when discussing the origins of sexism makes about as much sense as trying to teach about the American Civil War without mentioning slavery – it can’t be done! And it is not fair to our children.
Unlike many teachers, I do not shy away from using the Bible in class. And to spark a discussion about the origins of gender inequality and “male dominance” I share with my students many passages from the Bible. I start with the biblical punishments put upon Eve in the Garden of Eden story. Most of my students are aware that Eve was punished with “pain in childbearing,” but they are surprised to learn that her second punishment was “your husband will rule over you.” Another reading I use in class comes from the Ten Commandments, specifically the tenth: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” Another comes from the New Testament: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” ( I Corinthians 7:4)
As a father of three daughters I can honestly say with great relief that we are culturally moving forward and leaving some of our Bronze Age Judeo-Christian heritage behind. Thank God! And seriously, isn’t it time public schools teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to our Christian traditions? Just a thought.