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Feminism, Social Issues

liberation theology, Moses, and us

prince of egypt

So, in preparation of launching my YouTube channel, I created a Tumblr. I had never gotten into Tumblr before, and I regret not finding out about how awesome it is sooner. Like Twitter, it’s the social media that you make of it, but once you’ve found a few good people, it sort of balloons into a parade of wonderfulness. I saw an amazing gifset from The Prince of Egypt featuring Tzipporah, so one night when I was up with insomnia I watched it– and liked it. A lot. It was nice finally seeing a biblical story without any white people in it (Noah, I’m looking at you).

Watching The Prince of Egypt was the first time I’d really thought about Moses and The Exodus since I’ve started looking into Liberation Theology, and one of the things that stood out to me this time was what Moses had to overcome in order to become the man that could lead the Jews.

He had to overcome his classism.

This is something the book of Exodus actually seems to emphasize as part of Moses’ story, although I have never heard a message taught from this perspective. Moses was a child of mind-boggling privilege– fantastically wealthy, raised as the grandson of a god, and educated in one of the most advanced civilizations of the time. Exodus 2 doesn’t say how or when Moses discovered that he was not actually an Egyptian– only that Pharaoh’s daughter raised him as her own son, but sometime before the events of verse 11 it seems that he knows.

What the story does illustrate in two different ways is how Moses overcame his privilege. He probably could have remained in the palace indefinitely, embracing a system that justified brutality against those deemed lesser, but he didn’t. He committed an act of violence in defense of a victim. He does the same thing, again, when he sees his future wife being driven away from the well by a group of shepherds.

He could have ignored the oppression happening right in front of his face when he saw a supervisor beating a slave. He could have thought this is the way things are supposed to be, or if I get involved, I could lose everything, but he didn’t.

He could have thought it was right for the shepherds to take what they wanted, to use their strength and status to drive women and girls away from water. He could have thought I am only one man, what can I do? But he didn’t.

I don’t want to read too much into Moses– the text does not speculate as to his state of mind, or to his motivations. But, it is entirely human to go along with the power systems that benefit you without questioning them. The status quo is maintained not because there’s a group of conspirators actively making sure classism, racism, and sexism remain systemic and institutionalized, but through sheer force of numbers the people who accept “the way things are” keep these kyriarchal power structures in place. It would have benefited Moses to play along. He could have remained in luxury and privilege, but he didn’t. He chose to recognize suffering of those the culture he was raised in had collectively decided “deserved” to be slaves, and do something about it.

That’s also what the Bible says God responds to.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

I’m not sure why it took God so long to do something. He didn’t act when Pharaoh ordered all of the firstborn Jewish boys slaughtered. He didn’t act for however long they were enslaved until he sends Moses to liberate them, and that … bothers me. I wish there was some explanation for why then, why not before, what changed, but the Bible doesn’t give us any.

But it makes me wonder– Americans enslaved Africans for centuries before we decided to go to war over it. Segregation and Jim Crow went on until a woman sat on a bus and four boys sat at a lunch counter and a black preacher said “I have a Dream.” It took a woman sitting down and writing Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) to point out the inequality between the sexes, and another six centuries before women could vote, own property, and legally divorce abusive husbands (this is an oversimplification for brevity).

It seems that people like Moses, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and Rosa Parks, are necessary, that it takes regular, every day, run-of-the-mill humans to stand up and say “No More.” I’m not sure what it says about God, but I like what it says about people, about you and me.

I just finished reading Robert Reich’s Beyond Outrage (which became the documentary Inequality for All), and he makes an interesting observation in the book– that the class of political activists he calls “regressives” (conservative Republicans) are advocating for economic Darwinism– a political and economic justification of classism, essentially. Rich people are rich because they worked hard and therefore deserve to be rich; poor people are poor because they are lazy or inept and therefore deserve no help from society or government. It’s a  “meritocracy” and “boot-strapping” and “rags to riches” that, frankly, doesn’t exist (in the case of meritocracy) and isn’t possible for most people.

And it’s going to take us– all of us– standing together and saying “No More.” What’s wonderful about the story of Moses is that it shows us what it takes, and what we have to lose, and that we’ll need patience and perseverance– but it also shows us everything we have to gain if we “go out to where our own people are.”


(update on Elsa: she seems to be doing ok at the moment. She ate and drank regularly yesterday, and she hasn’t vomited — at least, not yet. I played with her for a while today and she was her enthusiastic self, but when I picked her up she meowed like it hurt her, and she’s currently curled up in the corner behind a chair. That’s not all that unusual, but one of the possible symptoms is “hiding” for long periods of time. She’s yet to have a bowel movement since she ate the string, but I’m trying to remain hopeful. Thank you for all your encouragement yesterday– this is starting to exacerbate my pretty constant low-level anxiety, and hearing from you helped.)


people who disagree with me aren't stupid

senate chamber

When I registered to vote in 2005, I registered as a Republican, and I followed the primaries closely during 2007-2008. I read a lot of papers, and magazine articles, and online analysis of the speeches and debates between the Republican candidates.

When McCain earned the nomination, I was a little dismayed. Out of all the primary candidates he’d been my least favorite, and when he announced that Sarah Palin was his running mate . . . well, I didn’t have a lot of respect for Palin. I felt that he was completely out of touch with the situation in Iraq, and I disliked that he seemed dedicated to maintaining the status quo and two financially ruinous wars. I was also uncomfortable with his response to the economy that summer. Overall, he did not inspire confidence.

That’s when I started looking at Barack Obama’s campaign. He wanted to disentangle ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan– so did I. He was advocating for health care reform and pushing for universal health care, which I never really thought would make it out of a campaign speech, but was an idea I liked; and while I thought that alternative energy “solutions” are anything but, I did think we needed to invest in research, because being dependent on gas, oil, and coal just seems like a bad, bad idea.

I read an article in Newsweek that featured both Obama and McCain, posing the exact same questions to both candidates and publishing what seemed to be their full, unedited responses. It was an in-depth article, and reading it convinced me that I did not want McCain serving as my president, and while I was still on the fence about Obama’s economic policies, I realized that the only thing I really cared about that a President could control was getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, that November, I filled in the little oval circle next to “Barack Obama (D)”.


Last year, when the woman at the DMV asked me how I’d like to register to vote, I answer “Democrat,” and I felt pride. I was owning my decision, owning my beliefs, owning how far I’d come, how I’d changed. How I was different. I was doing something that the 20-year-old me couldn’t have imagined.

In the six years it’s been since I first voted for a president, my political views have shifted dramatically. Interestingly enough, even after I’d voted for Obama, I still considered myself a typical Republican– leaning slightly libertarian, but pretty conservative. When I started graduate school and I met a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, for a second I thought I might faint when she started challenging me on everything I believed about American economics.

I started doing research. I became pro-choice. I embraced government programs like SNAP and WIC. I support raising the minimum wage. I am worried about the consumer-based approach we have toward capitalism, and I’m starting to dislike capitalism in general. I don’t like how the astronomically wealthy have turned my country into a functional oligarchy. I find it abhorrent that conservatives have consistently pursued legislation that directly lead to disasters like the Elk River chemical spill. I hate the military-industrial complex and how the the balance of powers seem to be evaporating slowly, with the Executive branch consuming more and more power. I want marriage equality and for our government to recognize that gender isn’t a binary.

There’s no real label for what I am politically, so I usually just refer to myself as “liberal” because it seems like the biggest-tent term I can find. All I really know is that I’m not a conservative, not a Republican, and I sort of hate everything the Republican Party represents (I have my problems with the Democrats, too).

I got here because I started reading. I did research. I educated myself about the issues, and found out that most of the time a few simple facts was enough to revolutionize my political stance on an issue– and it’s extremely rare that I become more conservative, although that does occasionally happen.

So, when I’m on facebook, and I see a friend “liking” Rush Limbaugh’s status mocking the First Lady, I cringe. When I see others posting memes that make fun of liberal ideals like “feed hungry people” and “end police brutality” I want to scream.

Every time, I have to fight this reaction to assume that people who disagree with me are stupid. I’m usually successful in moderating that sentiment down to something reasonable like “this person is uninformed,” but that is a battle every time, and even then, it’s still not compassionate.

I want to assume that they just don’t know any better, but how patronizing is that? I am positive that there are educated, knowledgeable, intelligent Republicans. They exist.

But it’s become difficult for me to keep that idea in front of me when I see a conservative pundit spouting about something ridiculous and people I know rushing to agree or “like” it. It’s difficult because when I became informed, when I began educating myself, when I actually started doing research for the first time in my life, I became a liberal. Because that’s my personal story, it’s easy to assume that if people knew what I knew they’d agree with me, therefore they don’t know anything. But that’s dangerous, and wrong-headed.

It also wasn’t just “having more facts” that changed my mind. It was a simultaneous change in how I thought about people, and my responsibility to them. I stopped thinking in terms of individual responsibility and started seeing myself as a member of a community– and as a cis, white, able-bodied person, a rather powerful member at that. I stopped believing in the meritocracy. I opened my eyes to the reality of what it’s like not to be a white middle-class American. In a way, I feel like I grew a heart.

Which adds another layer onto my judging-conservative-people complex. Not only are they uninformed, they’re also greedy racist homophobic bastards that don’t care about suffering people. Which is also not true (at least, not for all of them).

I have to maintain a mentality that will allow me to honestly engage with people who disagree with me. If I enter every conversation I have thinking “they just don’t know anything and they hate everyone,” we’re not going to get anywhere, and it’s not just about politics– this extends to theology and social justice and relationships and… well, everything.