By their nature, disequal power structures have always produced the exclusion of others.
Accordingly, our historically male-dominated church has produced the exclusion of many groups, all of whom have been judged and found wanting.
But no group has been more consistently excluded than the group that is intrinsically not male.
If we seek a touchstone for inclusive Christianity, a woman is an appropriate choice.
Why inclusive Christianity? Because Jesus set no limits on the inclusiveness of love; love, which according to the two commandments, holds primacy above all else.
Why inclusive Christianity? Because it is our exclusivity that has sent our neighbors, sisters and brothers, as well as those who might have been our neighbors, sisters and brothers, in desperate flight from us in order to preserve everything from their lives to their sense of God-given worth to their sense of self-respect.
Why Mary Magdalene of all women? Because, as I have said elsewhere, I believe that she is the best exemplar of love among the followers of Jesus.
And something more…
By their nature, disequal power structures have always produced the dismantling of others.
Whether that be the book-burning in Nazi Germany or the destruction of historical artifacts in a Taliban-ridden Afghanistan.
Whether that be the smearing of character conducted by religious authorities or the slander and spin produced by a political party.
Through the silencing of women in the assembly of the early Christian Church; through the endless cobbling of everything from Eve to Lilith to “The Mother/Whore" onto their identity and through the wanton slandering and profaning of their character, women were no less effectively dismantled.
Gone the days when Jesus commissioned the witness of women.
Gone the days when women spoke with authority.
In the case of Mary Magdalene, I believe that the principle of dismantling was most ably realized.
In reading the accounts of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, I have been struck by an odd sense that I can only describe as “the fractured”.
It was with some sense of recognition that I read the following passage, which was authored by one of the most solidly-credentialed academicians in the field of Magdalene studies.
“Finally, the different ways Mary Magdalene is depicted, and if/how these different depictions may be related, need explanation. The Magdalene of legend, the Mary of gnostic/apocryphal works, and the Mary Magdalene of the Christian Testament seem at first to be almost totally disconnected. As we have seen, there is great diversity of treatment in the legends and apocrypha. So too in the Christian Testament, where she is not mentioned outside the Gospels: her role in each Gospel is distinctive, in subtle and major ways. She is the speechless witness in Mark, the fearful/joyful messenger in Matthew, the intimate of Jesus in John, the former demoniac in Luke and Markan Appendix, perhaps the wealthy patron in Luke. Analysis is not a matter of determining trajectories, or logical developments or progressions. Different communities are involved, different social, ecclesial, political settings over two thousand years and within specific time frames that make the attempt to find patterns superficial and futile. But there is something tantalizing about the very disconnectedness: it is a dismemberment.”*
Having been struck previously by the idea of “the fractured” and by the reality of dismantling, I find myself strongly inclined to agree with the truth of that statement.
At the very least, one can hardly deny that such has been the fate of millions of lost faces who have been discredited by those who hold exclusive power.
I need not the lovely power of Jane Schaberg’s narrative to raise the name of Mary Magdalene as a representative of those lost faces.
My own narrative has led me to that position.
Yet, having come to this place, I find a need to stand aside and point to the testimony of others.
For the figure of Mary Magdalene is speaking, with increasing volume, to those who bear expert witness to dismemberment and exclusion.
She is speaking to the victims, those expert witnesses who always see crimes more clearly than do the perpetrators.
She is speaking to women.
And they, in turn, are speaking about her.
All of which may be more significant than any statement that I can make about her importance.
For even if I had no love, no compassion, no concern for anything except the coldly-rational realization that there might be something to Jesus beyond my own precious experience…
Perhaps that alone would call me to regard the testimony of others.
Perhaps that alone would call me to listen.
There might be something apart from my own experience that might, just might, just maybe, just conceivably, be true.
By the word of their testimony, and then by my own conclusions, I believe that it is quite appropriate to designate a vision of inclusive Christianity as Magdalene Christian.
Consider the meaning of the word.
It is the reversal of dismemberment.
And it holds the meaning of inclusion.
Putting the parts back together.
In view of the approaching season of the Christian calendar, it may be appropriate to recall another word.
I do not say repent, although that is the precious and traditional call of Lent.
For Lent means to let go.
And relent means to do it over and over again.
And over again…
Until such time that we have let go of all of our “privileged” understanding; until such time that we are so far outside of our own limits and our own experience and our own bearings that we can, finally, listen to others…
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for prayer or discussion, please contact me at email@example.com. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
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*Jane D. Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha and Christian Testament, Continuum, 2002, p. 225.
Dr. Schaberg is Professor of Religious Studies and Coordinator of Women’s Studies at the University of Detroit-Mercy.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over sixteen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.