Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
August 14, 2005
Conservative Christian Women are Watching Cindy Sheehan…...and Seeing Themselves
In the Old Testament, the story is told of courageous Esther, who appealed to a king to spare the lives of her people. Cindy Sheehan is also appealing to a king -- for Mr. Bush's "executive powers" have expanded to royal dimensions -- to spare the lives of her people -- particularly the young. The mainstream media present this mother's protest as idiotic, unpatriotic, or crafty, depending on each critic's preference.
But the fact remains that conservative Christian women can't help but see Cindy Sheehan at both the conscious and subconscious levels. This Sunday they may still be nodding in agreement as the preacher exclaims what a noble, Christian thing war is, and how all the dead families over there and all the dead youths over here are "worth it". But something has changed for these women, something that isn't yet visible, but soon will be.
For a very long time now, many Christian women have felt compelled to go along with their husbands, their pastors and their friends in supporting the "War on Terror" without reservation. Yet they've had many…silent misgivings and pain that they've kept to themselves.
When other churchgoers insist that the war is "worth it" no matter how many Iraqi children and American youths are killed, devout Christian women have swallowed hard and tried not to think about their own children, or about Jesus' teachings. Instead, they've tried to adjust their thinking to fit a new, revised version of Christianity wherein Our Leader has come to replace Our Savior. This revamped prowar version of the faith is what I call Bushianity.
Christian Women are to be Seen and Not Heard
Women in fundamentalist churches across the country have been under enormous pressure to conform to increasingly restrictive models of ideal "womanhood". In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention actually changed its doctrine to achieve a more completely male-dominated church. Conservative preachers have been teaching with great fervor these last few years that obedience to men, not to Christ, is a Christian woman's highest calling; thinking for herself or disagreeing with men is thus her greatest sin.
Long story short, conservative Christian women in the US have lost their "umph". They've become weak, unsure of themselves, and unable to stand up for anything if others, particularly men, would disapprove. Go to any conservative Christian bookstore and you'll see a remarkable array of pink book jackets urging women to be silent and submissive if they want to get into heaven or keep their husbands from philandering.
Conservative Christian men have come to believe, at the urging of preachers with their own authoritarian agendas, that they can and should condemn (punish) their wives whenever they use their pretty little heads to disagree on serious matters such as politics, religion, or war. Husbands are ego-stroked every Sunday by male preachers as "family leaders" or as "the head of the household". And, thus far, many women, fearing the labels "sinful", "feminist", "defiant", or "unfeminine", have bought it.
Dissent in Conservative Ranks?
And so it shouldn't be surprising that the sight of Cindy Sheehan, a Christian woman on a mission, is creating a lot of cognitive dissonance for women in conservative communities. A terrible inner struggle is occurring within these women, who've tried for so long to avoid social rejection by supporting their Leader and "respecting" (submitting to) whatever he decides to do.
George Bush has been presented in conservative churches as the benevolent, protective Father who is never wrong, indeed cannot be wrong because he is widely assumed to be, as some Catholics believe the Pope to be, infallible. But one little woman in a wrinkled baseball cap, sweating and fighting off fire ants in the sweltering Texas heat, sees his mistakes. And if Mr. Bush doesn't meet with her soon, unscripted and with cameras rolling, women all over the US may start to see his clay feet, too.
Christian women can't help but remember, when they see the presidential limousines pass by Cindy Sheehan, all those times when they've been ignored, criticized or ridiculed by supposedly "godly" men. Cindy Sheehan, standing out there in the dust, represents something so universal that even the most conservative women must fight to keep themselves from sympathizing with her sorrow and anger -- and admiring her courage.
"It is the heart that sees, before the head can see." Thomas Carlyle
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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldn't Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.