“Red and yellow. Black and white. All are precious in his sight.” — C. Herbert Woolston and George F. Root, “Jesus Loves the Little Children”
Yes, but what about gender identity? Does that matter to God?
As a child of six, I remember walking out of church one day and looking up at my mother and asking her this question: “Mama, there is the father, the son and the ghost — but where is the girl part?” There was of course no answer to that profoundly simple question, but as I grew up attending Sunday School, learning about women in the Bible, I did not want to be like any of them. I didn’t want to be a house cleaner like Martha, a virgin like Mary, or a prostitute like Mary Magdalene. I knew something was wrong with this picture. I secretly held out hope for us girls.
When I was 10, my mother announced to me that National Geographic magazine had just published the discovery of new books of the Bible. I was elated and just knew that the preacher in his sermon on Sunday would tell us there were books of the Bible with a girl’s name on them. But of course on the next Sunday at church, there was no mention of any new books in the Bible. I guess no one but me was interested in my cause.
As you can see, I was steeped in the Christian religion as a child, much like how water absorbs the strength of the teabag as it rests in the cup, unaware of its influence. Knowing there was a Father up there watching over me gave me comfort as a child; however, as I grew into adulthood, I could no longer believe in the fairy tale of a big man sitting up in the sky running my life. So I drifted away from the religion I was born into and searched in other places for something that would satisfy my longing for inner peace.
Years later, I was walking through a bookstore and Karen King’s book, “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala,” jumped out at me. A gospel named after a girl? Mary Magdalene, it seems, was not a prostitute, but one of the disciples, and some 1500 years later was added to the list of disciples by the Catholic Church. King, in her translation of this gospel, declared she was not just a disciple but one favored with visions and insight that far surpassed Peter and the other male disciples. She was advanced in spiritual nature and declared as “the woman who knew the All.”
Finally, a girl with some power.
Mary Magdalene: From Prostitute to Christian Leader
“The Gospel of Mary” is the only existing early Christian gospel written in the name of a woman. King, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard University, presents a radical interpretation of Jesus’ teaching as a path to inner spiritual knowledge in “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.” She sees Mary’s view as rejecting Jesus’s suffering and death as the path to eternal life and exposes the belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute for what it is — a piece of theological fiction.
What was different about Mary Magdalene’s view of Jesus’s message? The following four points taken from this gospel spoke to me:
- This new view of Christianity proclaims a new word for God. Instead of calling God a Father, Jesus uses the term “the Good” to describe God. Taking away the gender of God, he tells the disciples that the true nature of people is not male or female, but non-gendered, simply human in accordance with the divine image of the transcendent Good. A God who says gender identity is not a problem? This was a shift for me, and spoke to that little girl in me wanting to see my place in the grand scheme of things.
- Excessive laws and dogma within the Christian community are tools for domination and are unnecessary for proper order. What a relief! No more figuring out what is right or wrong for others.
- This Gospel sees Jesus as a teacher of divine revelation rather than a savior of souls. He encourages people to discover the truth about themselves: that they are spiritual beings made in the image of the Good.
- There is no hell or eternal punishment (whew!) in the Gospel of Mary’s teachings, for God in this context is not conceived as a wrathful judge. The only real punishment for wickedness is self-inflicted, as justice is built into the human identity. One reason I had tossed Christianity out in my youth was that it took away personal responsibility.
I learned that there is a high degree of probability that Mary Magdalene was a well-educated, wealthy patron and powerful high priestess. Upon hearing Jesus speak, she believed in his message so much that she may have helped finance his mission. Mary was very likely Jesus’ patron. After Jesus’ death, she may have been a prophetic visionary and leader within some sector of the early Christian movement.
So, there was a woman who co-authored Jesus’s message as well as financed its marketing? Now, I felt my life was justified and valued, just as much as the boys I grew up with who had chosen careers based on material reward where mine was teaching spiritual advancement. A girl was a leader all along in the religion I had given up on.
The Master Story Silenced and Rewritten
As I realized how fearless Mary Magdalene must have been to write the other side of the story, I could feel a role model rising before my wanting heart. The strength and stability of her truth brought the peace and calmness I have been searching for all my life.
Mary’s Jesus answers each of his disciples’ questions with the formula: “Whoever has two ears to hear should listen.” Are our ears ready to hear this message of gender equality?
Some Messages Are Eternal
A non-gendered God who lives within us? I think Mary calls us forward to take our places beside men as equals, changing our beliefs about what we can do and be in this world.
To that little girl of six who dared to question if girls were important in God’s eyes: God is something different than you were told. Keep asking questions and challenging what others say is the truth.
Mary Magdalene did. Even though no one recorded it, her voice rings in eternity, because it is our feminine voice waiting to be heard. Mary Magdalene gave me back my voice and speaks to all men and women by validating a different view of the divine.
Our freedom, as women, lies in our willingness to accept that God is not a man sitting up in the sky running our lives but an inner presence in all our hearts and minds. We now know that the divine is a voice deep within us urging both men and women to fulfill their destiny.
Girls, now is our time to rise and be heard.