TFN Insider is pleased to present this guest post from Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands north of Houston. Rev. Cooper participated in TFN’s clergy gathering in March in support of women’s access to birth control and state funding for family planning. She blogs regularly for the Houston Chronicle at Keep the Faith. Rev. Cooper also posted on TFN Insider about her experience in being lectured on morality by legislative staffers at the Texas Capitol.
Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Montgomery County Texas Eagle Forum, which featured reports on the latest special sessions of the Texas Legislature from state representatives Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; and Cecile Bell Jr., R-Magnolia. This forum of ultra-conservatives was a proverbial lion’s den for a religious progressive like myself. But I am firm believer that there is no progress without dialogue, and no dialogue is possible if you don’t show up to ask the questions.
Besides. They sent an invitation to my church. It seemed rude not to accept.
So I went, in clerical collar, prepared to practice what I preach. I did not go there to be angry at them, although I am. Deeply so. I did not go there to attempt to retaliate, in some way, for their refusal to legislate on the basis of science and fact and reasoned testimony, although the blatant disregard for the separation of church and state is deeply frustrating. I did not go there to insult and jeer at the men who are routinely patronizing of those who are not, well, just like them. When my faith says we “affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people,” we include them, though that can be a challenge.
I went into that lion’s den to raise a prophetic voice on behalf of the women of Texas whose individual right of conscience is being denied; who are being treated as second-class citizens; who are being told repeatedly that our lives not only have less value than men’s, but have considerably less value than an unformed life.
I went there that night to speak from my heart to my representative, to look him in the eye and make sure he understands that women have a voice and we are not afraid to raise it, and we will demand respect and will not be shouted down.
I went there that night because I have been there. I have made the agonizing and complex choice to terminate a pregnancy, and all of those people need to know that access to the full range of reproductive health care is not an abstract notion. It has real, human faces and names and stories behind it. Some of them look just like you no matter what your stereotypes might tell you. Some of them don’t, and they, too, have a right to equal access.
The famous story of Daniel in the lion’s den comes from the sixth chapter of the Book of Daniel, part of the Hebrew Bible’s body of prophetic literature. Prophetic books emphasize a member of a community calling his own community to account and exposing hypocrisy. There’s another, lesser-known wisdom story that scholars generally consider to have once been part of that book, but was removed at one time, perhaps by priestly authority. Wisdom literature are stories that reflect intuitive understandings of right living. An apochryphal text, the story of Susanna describes a young woman. Two elders lust after her, and corner her, demanding she either give them what they want, or they’ll publicly accuse her of adultery, which carries the penalty of death. Because the reality is, no one will believe her anyway. She shouts down the elders, and the noise brings the members of the household. The patriarchs will decide her fate.
Kind of a familiar story, isn’t it?
It’s the prophet who intervenes, demanding that a decision be made on true facts, not out of sheer power alone. “You old relic of wicked days,” Daniel addresses them, and truth, not power, carries the day.
May that day come soon for the women of Texas. And may the relics of wicked days give way to the prophets for the common good.