All about Eve: The Christian roots of the GOP war on women

The Senate has defeated the “Blunt amendment,” the controversial bill named for Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have that … Continued

The Senate has defeated the “Blunt amendment,” the controversial bill named for Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would have that would allowed even non-religious employers to opt out of health care coverage they disagreed with on “moral grounds.”

John Miller

AP

People crowd into a room during testimony about a bill that would allow Idaho employers and insurers to ignore a federal mandate to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans at the State Capitol Monday, Feb. 20, 2012 in Boise Idaho. State Rep. Carlos Bilbao, the measure’s sponsor, says no employer should be required to provide insurance that violates religious beliefs, but he’s being forced to amend his bill, on grounds it has the unintended consequence of denying prescription coverage for conditions unrelated to birth control.

This defeat is not an end to the GOP’s war on women, however. It is merely a skirmish in what looks to be a protracted struggle for women’s freedom and dignity in this country. This attack on women is, and I am grieved to say it, driven by a particular Christian theological perspective that denigrates women and holds them responsible for sin, particularly sexual sin.

GOP politics today is, in fact, all about Eve.

The GOP war on women will continue precisely because of the conservative Christian theology that drives wedge politics in a campaign season has a fundamental contempt for women and their equal dignity and worth. As the Southern Baptist Convention voted in 1984, “[M]an was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall.” In conservative Christian eyes, women are the evil temptresses, the sinner “Eves” who lead the gullible Adams astray, especially sexually. Therefore they are “first” in sin, i.e. it’s women’s fault that men get kicked out of the Garden of Eden.

There are “softer” forms of this view of women as sexual temptresses, as in John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on women, where Mary is the “new Eve.” Women’s “femininity” earns them love, but the implication is clearly only if they stay “Mary,” the good mother, and don’t wander over into the independence of “Eve.” Eve, of course, is the sexual face of women in these theological perspectives. The message is “good women” don’t do that.

The real underbelly of these views of women as the sexual temptress “Eve” was on display in a recent Rush Limbaugh statement. Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University student whom House Republicans would not let testify at the Issa hearings, a “slut” and a “prostitute” for wanting to testify of the need for birth control to be covered by insurance. It is clarifying for the intensity of this denigration of women to remember that Fluke’s testimony for birth control was about a friend who is a lesbian and needs the pill for medical reasons.

The “Blunt amendment” was also called the “conscience” amendment as it was billed by its supporters as about “religious freedom.” The use of the term “conscience” about this bill that is an attack on women’s health care is very revealing. The religious conservatives who now dominate GOP politics do not think that women have consciences, or are entitled to religious freedom, as the statements of Rep. Issa on why he was justified in calling an all-male panel to discuss women’s health care. It’s about “religious freedom and conscience” not birth control, said Issa. So, no women allowed?

In the “Eve the temptress” theology of conservative Christianity, women don’t have consciences apparently.

The GOP’s war on women, fueled as it is by the “Eve the temptress” theology is losing them votes, as Rick Santorum has recently discovered in the gender gap in voting.

Mitt Romney would clearly love to run away from the GOP war on women, but apparently his campaign won’t let him. Mitt Romney’s patented “I was against it before I was for it.”response to the Blunt amendment was very telling. In the initial interview, Mr. Romney’s response sounded authentic to me. “I’m not for the bill,” Romney told ONN-TV, when asked if he had a position on the legislation. “But look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”

Like the Romneys, my husband and I have been married for four decades and this sounded to my experienced married ears exactly like a sensible husband’s approach.

So naturally, almost immediately Romney’s campaign “clarified” their candidate’s response, saying he was “confused by the question” and actually does support the legislation.

Leaving aside whether ‘dazed and confused’ is the kind of image you want your candidate to keep reinforcing, Romney’s original response is clarifying of the conundrum for the GOP.

Women are not, as a matter of fact, second in the order of creation, and first in the order of sin. Women were created by God, in Genesis, equal in dignity to the Creator. (Gen. 1:27) And women are not, by virtue of being sexual beings, evil temptresses. Human sexuality is another gift of the Creator, who called what had been created good.

But mark my words, the GOP’s war on women will not end because the Republican party has shackled themselves to a theology that sees women as ‘all about Eve.’

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
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