We who are male are born into a society in which men are more privileged and powerful than women. This patriarchal society gives men the right to enjoy unearned advantage over women. Patriarchy defines what roles men and women play, sets the limits of opportunity, and determines the protections that women receive. Men of all races and of every religion and nation are complicit in patriarchy which permeates every aspect of culture, especially our religion. No men are exempt from unfairly getting the unearned benefit conferred by systems of patriarchy and privilege when women speak up against the system. No women are exempt from unjust suspicion, criticism, and hostility when they speak against institutional sexism and concrete statements or acts that denigrate or demean women or remain silent when they could be advocates and practitioners of justice.
History is replete with the accounts of women who had the courage and moral stamina to resist patriarchy and to seek a more just social order. During this Advent Season we are reminded of the words of the Magnificent found in Luke 1:46-53 where un-wed, expectant peasant girl Mary says: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” Following the example of Mary, women of all races, religions, and regions are calling for justice.
The issue before all men is: Shall we who are born into cultures of patriarchy be comfortable with patriarchy, allowing this evil to continue from our generation to following generations? Author Alice Walker endeavored to teach both perpetrators and the silently complicit about the evil of violence to women, misogyny, and the shaming of women in “The Color of Purple”. With very deep regret my reading of her work missed the point of correct exegesis leading my flawed eisegesis to impose upon her work homiletical malpractice, calling the sermon “The Color is not purple”. I, with deep pathos, apologize to her and to many who heard the sermon and may God heal the harm I have done. How audacious it was of me to speak as
a representative of the highest and the best and for whom there is none GREATER.
My past behavior contradicted with my history of being the first Black pastor in Northern California to ordain women, having ordained (according to our records) sixty women and to hire women to serve on the pastoral staff. From this inconsistency in my personal history I have learned about my own creature-like ignorance of the limitations of my finite mind whose ego, if not checked, makes itself the center of existence in pride. My word to seminarians who wish not to make the mistakes of an elder is to realize that within our earthly temples of the mind, there are three types of pride we must keep in check: the pride of power, the pride of knowledge, and the pride of self-righteous virtue.
Not all evil, and not all of the tragedies in history have been caused by criminals, but many have been caused by idealistic good people whose motives of self-interest acting in the guise of good have allowed themselves to demonize contrasting perspectives and interests. Realizing my own fragility as a human being, I endeavor to employ for my self-accountability the self-critique presented to us by Abraham Joshua Heschel in “The Insecurity of Freedom”. I ask: What have I done today to alleviate the anguish, to mitigate evil, and to prevent humiliation?
Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr.
December 18, 2017
Dr. J. Alfred Smith, St. is the Pastor Emeritus of the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Ca. , professor emeritus, American Baptist. Seminary of the. West, and a former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Inc., the body organized to support the work of Martin Luther King. Jr.