(WOMENSENEWS)--Perhaps the most powerful result of the recent release of "The Da Vinci Code" was not the film itself--given lukewarm critical response--but the heated debate that swirled as the movie opened in theaters around the world.
Much heat was generated in the public discourse. Was Jesus truly divine? Was he married to Mary Magdalene? Is the Catholic Church at times fallible? And at times abusive? What is the true nature of Opus Dei? As one observer noted, the film "set off a loud pealing of the electric chimes at the front door of the culture."
As a Christian feminist, I took note of those loud pealing chimes.
Unfortunately, much of the public discourse has generated more heat than light.
For example, the Vatican called for a boycott of the film. In a speech at the Pontifical Holy Cross University, Monsignor Angelo Amato claimed the film was full of "slander, offenses and errors that if they were directed toward the Quran or the Shoah (Holocaust) would have justifiably provoked a worldwide
revolt . . . Yet because they were directed toward the Catholic Church, they remain 'unpunished.'"
In the United States, the author of "The Da Vinci Deception," Rev. Erwin Lutzer, claimed the film "represents the most serious attack on Christianity I've ever known in 30 years of ministry."
Before the release of the film, in anticipation of the culture wars it might set off, I launched a Web site, HerCode.org, where people can respond to the nerve the story has touched with stories of their own.
Chance to Probe Women's Suppression
I saw "The Da Vinci Code" as an opportunity to engage in a thoughtful conversation about what I believe has touched off that loud pealing of the bells: the book's probing of the suppression of women by the church.
And so the conversation has begun on HerCode.org, including women from different Christian denominations--Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan and agnostic
women--and some men.
Sometimes a visitor writes very specifically about women and biblical interpretation. One recently asked about Paul's injunction, in Corinthians, that women remain silent in the church. In response, another visitor subsequently placed that citation into the context of the time and culture in which it was written.
A subsequent posting responded: "Whenever you read scripture, it is important to know some history and culture of that time. During this particular time, churches often had women sit on one side and men sit on the other (as was the custom of their Jewish roots). When a wife had a question, she would often call to her husband and ask for an explanation. Paul was addressing this problem when he said that women should be silent in the church and wait to get home to ask their husbands."
Dissenting voices are welcome, and heard, including this comment: "I am very disappointed in this site. It makes me feel guilty for wanting to follow Jesus' guidelines for women to be submissive to their husbands. I am very upset that liberal views, rather than traditional, are taking over the world."
Another visitor writes: "Why can't all you who aspire to earthly temporal greatness be satisfied with who you are and be grateful for that wonderful gift of femininity?"
Other visitors--in fact, many--have written entries with a touching confessional quality.
A woman from Chicago, who co-pastors a church with her husband, wrote of the cultural resistance she encounters in following her calling. "I am an ordained minister of Christ. I also know that along with my husband's blessings, I have a calling in my life by God. I will not allow the opinion of man or woman to suppress the call of God on my life. As the arguing continues about whether a woman can minister or not I continue to go forward in doing what God has called me to do."
Another minister, a woman, commented: "Anything that shakes up the religious status quo is good; Jesus did some of that, and we are living at a time when the history of women and religion is being shaken up and rewritten based upon Gospels that tell a vastly different story from the one we are used to. It is such a powerful story I plan to devote a good portion of my ministry helping to tell it."
Confessions by Men
It turns out that among the most confessional of the entries are those of men. One writes: "For years, I have been frightened by feminism. It is hard being told that I hate women. On the other hand, I can empathize with how women
feel . . . This is such an age old problem. I am glad to see women taking up the challenge. I just hope it doesn't deepen the rift and that we can transform our need to blame into understanding for a change."
That transformation from blame to understanding is precisely what is called for and HerCode.org provides the space for understanding and sharing to begin.
The way toward that understanding is dialogue, and the online conversation is but one example of what must happen to heal the world.
My hope is that women and men--both people of faith and secular people who envision a just and peaceful world--will engage in dialogue to transform blame into understanding and empathy, and that the understanding and empathy will grow in to action. And that the action will advance what I and other Christians invoke when we pray: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Helen LaKelly Hunt is author of "Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance" and the founder of FaithandFeminism.org, of which "HerCode.org" is part.
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For more information:
"'Da Vinci Code' Lifts Lid on Goddess Scholarship":