Scripture: Exodus 1: verses 15-22
By Rev. Carolyn L. Boyd
During this presidential election season, we have experienced the violent display of ugly hate-speak, divisive forces, the elevation of misogynistic behaviors and expressions as normal and acceptable and the further erosion of civility and tolerance as values worthy of protection and admiration in a democratic society.
Many progressive activists, people of faith and people of good will worry that intolerance, inequality and injustice will rise to new heights and they will witness new lows in hard-fought advancements in civil, women, and human rights, economic and racial justice. We fear a dismantling of President Obama’s executive orders and regulations in place to safeguard our environment and protect climate change initiatives.
What does a theology of resistance look like, feel like and sound like in the age of ignorance, hate-speak and violence—when freedom, liberty and equality are so easily undermined in the new incoming administration? What about with a political leadership that believes it is supreme, righteous and ordained by God? What if any options do people of faith must preserve fairness, just laws and an open society? What are the rules for resisting unjust political authority?
I am sure I am not alone in wondering what viable paths of resistance are available to people of faith in the era of Trumpism. Some might even suggest, let’s just wait and see what happens, others might say, let’s give President Trump space to formulate and communicate his policy priorities. A few brave souls, might say, “I will actively oppose his administration with every breath I take; he gets no breathing space to further alienate and divide neighbors and communities of this nation.”
As a black woman in America, I am sure it does not matter too much to me who is President of the United States. I say this fully aware that many will rebuke me for saying something so “unenlightened.” Let’s be clear why I offer such a critique. Fundamentally, the status of black women and our communities of interests: our children, men, families and communities by and large do not change ‘significantly’ from one political party to another. For us, our daily reality of struggle, oppression and marginalization continue uninterrupted by any counter balancing force of genuine economic, class and racial justice policies and political actions.
We can be fooled by the nicer, friendlier and passionate presentation of the message: often demanding little in the way of specific outcomes in the exchange for our votes. In the end, on mass, black women and our families and communities of interests remain poor, unequal, shut out and invisible to the levers of power and privilege operating at all levels within the American society.
How do we resist what is shaping up as a repressive and regressive administration with anti-black policy prescriptions for black women and our communities of interests? Let me be clear again, I am focusing solely on black women and our communities of interests. My personal experience has shown black women issues are so easily compromised and relegated to the back of the of the justice bus. Other groups and populations somehow seem to climb over us and even use us to achieve their own freedom and social advancements. Yet, we press on, upward and forward.
In Exodus, chapter 1, we learn of two ordinary women, who demonstrated extraordinary courage and commitment to God’s call in their lives during one of the most difficult and challenging periods of the Hebrew people’s sojourn in Egypt.
In verses 8-13 the text reads in part, “Not long after the children of Israel settled in the land of Egypt there arose a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph of Egypt and who was concerned that the Hebrews were “…fruitful… and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.”
In fact, the Hebrews were becoming more numerous and stronger than the Egyptians and this scared the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh fearing the soaring and potentially powerful force the Hebrew population represented did not want to go to war. The Egyptians enslaved the Hebrew people and ruled them with an iron fist. Even with tremendous oppressive oversight, the children of Israel continued to multiply, even more than they had before.
He desperately sought to protect his national identity, territory and sovereignty of his crown. To do so, he devised a diabolical plan to de-populate the Hebrew population, thereby, eliminating the Hebrew threat to the Egyptian ruler and his Kingdom. Pharaoh was the most powerful, richest and fearless King in all the land. In fact, the Egyptian people regarded Pharaoh as a leader appointed by their gods.
To eradicate the threat posed by the Hebrew people, Pharaoh ordered Puah and Shiphrah, two women working as midwives to kill every baby boy born to a Hebrew woman. Pharaoh indeed was a hard taskmaster, uncompromising leader and downright evil ruler.
We have seen our own versions of depopulation schemes and genocidal efforts to reduce black populations in this country and around the world: the HIV/AIDS and drug epidemics, mass incarcerations of black men, state-sanction murders of black people and the de-stabilization of families. These actions too, were ordered by evil men and women, the Pharaohs of our day and time, who are frighten by the ‘other’ and unwilling or unable to make room in their hearts, homes and board rooms for the diversity of God’s family.
Puah and Shiphrah, displayed the most amazing and heroic response to the Pharaoh’s order of death to Hebrew male child. These midwives said ‘no’ to the Pharaoh’s demand to be an assassin and cold-blooded killer of children. They rejected his order even through their lives were on the line: life and death in the hands of the Pharaoh. They stood boldly in the King’s presence and defiled the wishes of the most powerful ruler in the entire kingdom.
Refusing to be agents of death and destruction, Puah and Shiphrah resisted the temptation to yield to the temporal power of the Pharaoh. Instead, these warrior women yielded to the eternal power of God. They carried out God’s divine assignment without regard for the political, cultural or social environment in which they lived. They are examples of brave women who valued human life and were willing to go against the established order of their society.
Puah and Shiphrah held on to the values that made them human and therefore, offered a frame for them to see and relate to the humanity of the ‘other.’ They refused to kill the Hebrew children. Their movement against the authority of the King and their commitment to higher God-inspired principles paved the way for an engaged mass resistance movement.
Specifically, these two women capitalized on a derogatory stereotype to subvert the Pharaoh’s urgent decree to kill all male Hebrew children. Throughout the land, it was believed Hebrew women were breeding like wild animals, too fast for the midwives to get to the Hebrew women in time to prevent the birth of the male child. In fact, they used this demeaning stereotype as a major part of their defense in not carrying out the Pharaoh’s decree. Puah and Shiphrah deliberately exploited the Pharaoh’s fears and misconceptions about the birthing habits and lifestyle patterns of Hebrew women.
From Puah and Shiphrah, I offer the following insights toward a theology of resistance in the face of ignorance, hate-speak, violence and abusive political power.
• We can own the stereotypes often attributable to black women to subvert and sabotage the forces of oppression and repression stifling and draining the life from black communities.
• A few, strong right-minded black women, sister girls can conceive and lead a new kind of resistance movement in this critical time in the life of our communities.
• Black women with little social status or agency can achieve long-lasting, significant change that fundamentally alters the reality in which we exist.
• When we are clear about who we are and what our divine assignments are, we can be assured of the movement of God in our lives; therefore we can act with unshakeable confidence.
• A righteous and just cause is justification for resistance to unjust rulers and oppressive leaders.
• Righteous and courageous actions are rewarded by a generous and gracious God who rewards out performs anything we can ever imagine or gain by collaborating with the evil Pharaohs and Herods of our day.
We can take blessed assurance in God’s promises to a faithful people. No other population is more faithful and confident in the promises of God than black women.
We testify to and witness God’s watchful eyes and intervening hands in the despair and degradation of black life. We labor on in an unconquering and overcoming call to justice.
We seek a fresh vision of resistance and renewal. We look to the past in the rich legacy of our ancestors: the souls and spirits of black women who were victorious in the struggle; speak to us again, strengthen us from within and champion our cause of liberation.