The word “polarized” often is thrown around these days in discussions about America’s political state. Some historians argue our nation has not experienced such division and internal tension since the Civil War. In fact, recent studies show a majority of parents would oppose their children marrying someone of a different political party.
This polarization places Christians in the difficult position of integrating political convictions with a Christ-centered ethic of loving and honoring our neighbors—including our enemies.
At its heart, the Christian faith is counter-cultural, and that’s never been more true for politicians than in a politically divisive climate.
A painful exchange
A painful exchange was caught in late July by a reporter from The Hill when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ted Yoho crossed paths outside of the capitol. After a tense exchange, Yoho labeled Ocasio-Cortez with a vile epithet.
The exchange went viral, leading Yoho to state an apology on the floor of Congress. In his statement, he cited having a daughter and wife as evidence of his good character. He finished by saying, “I cannot apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family and my country.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s response began by acknowledging this treatment is not new to her. She spent years bartending and waitressing, existing as a woman in a culture of deeply entrenched patriarchy.
Patriarchy, she asserted from her podium, thrives on dehumanizing language and abusive displays of power. What Yoho’s actions teach us is that a man can have a family, an audience of constituents, and still accost women.
A question to answer
Her point poses a question: What do we do when we are faced with evil that is not as we imagined it to be? What do we do when abuse is familiar, when it takes the form of an uncle or a friend, colleague or boss with “good intentions?”
Oppressive forces in our culture rarely present in an easily identifiable way. Instead, the methods are wrapped in the trappings of justification.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
The Trojan horse of good intentions often leaves victims silenced. While in Yoho’s case the abuse appears blatant, the weaponization of shame and his attempt to establish dominance is the same undergirding of less obvious exchanges.
I recently experienced the cost of asserting my boundaries in the face of an abuse of power. I felt pins and needles as I awkwardly entered the elevator to meet my fate. My mouth was dry, and it felt like the ground was disappearing beneath me.
As I rode the elevator to a meeting in which I would directly oppose those in a position of power, I could feel my heartbeat in my fingertips. My heart rose up through my throat, and I thought, “That’s exactly where it needs to be.”
I closed my eyes to recall the stories of Mary and Esther.
In the story of Mary Magdalene, we witness a woman embodying femininity. She brings Christ her sweetest gift and pours it out in a passionate display of devotion. In her breathtaking vulnerability, she anoints Jesus’ feet and then weeps.
Judas Iscariot, who embodies the worst the parts of us obsessed with amassing wealth and wielding power, openly criticizes her. However, he doesn’t directly address her. He hides behind morality and accuses Mary of selfish wastefulness.
Rather than level his accusations directly at her, Judas looks over her entirely and addresses the Teacher in the room. It’s a display of his clear disregard for Mary’s inherent worth and dignity.
Jesus is contrasted sharply with Judas in this story. Jesus flips the power dynamic by openly praising Mary’s extravagance, blessing her for her display of affection.
Esther, a Jewish queen in a foreign land, was placed in a position of timely influence. This is the figure I most recalled when watching Ocasio-Cortez’s response to Yoho.
Esther lived under her cousin Mordecai’s care. After being recruited by the state as a queen for the Persian king Ahasuerus, she faced an impossible decision. Should she advocate for the lives of her people by opposing a man in a powerful position or risk her life by disobeying cultural norms.
Esther displays immense bravery in her boldness and the assertion of her dignity. She approaches the king, and her actions of bravery result in the salvation of the Jews. But it is her soliloquy in Esther 10 that gives me goosebumps: “If I perish, I perish.”
When Ocasio-Cortez recalled the exchange with Yoho as a dehumanizing experience, I was aware how often women are asked to risk their careers, reputations, and their bodily and psychological safety in order to stand for what they believe is right.
Ocasio-Cortez is correct; women frequently are accosted when they oppose those in positions of power.
It is a solace to me to remember that as a woman and a Christian, I have a great cloud of witnesses to encourage me onward in a fight for equality.
Alice Fry is a graduate of Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary and the Garland School of Social Work. She lives and works in Waco in the field of social work. The views expressed are those solely of the author.