When Liberation Becomes Complicated

Herb Montgomery | June 17, 2022


“And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Do we see ourselves in this story?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, dont torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, What is your name?”

Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesusfeet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:26-39)

This week’s story hasn’t aged well. Taking the story literally has born harmful fruit to those with disabilities because the culture in which the Jesus story was written and shared believed that things like mental disabilities and epilepsy were the result of demonic possession.

Josephus, a Jewish historian near the time of Jesus, wrote:

“Exorcism is an exceptionally powerful cure among our own people down to this very day.” (Jewish Antiquities, 8.46)

Today we know better. Things we once did not understand that once had supernatural explanations now have scientific explanations. The history of scientific discovery should make us careful about explaining things we still do not understand today with supernatural explanations, especially explanations like demon possession that have historically only hurt marginalized communities. Stories like this week’s now need to be shared with interpretive explanations to reduce the risk that Christians might use them to wittingly or unwittingly harm others.

In this story, the demonic possession is a metaphor for the very concrete, literal political reality of the Jewish people during this time. The Jewish people were possessed, that is, occupied by the Roman empire. One hint that this story should not be taken literally but as code for political oppression is that the name of the “demon” possessing the man in the story is Legion.

A Roman legion was the Roman army’s largest military unit. This occupying, militaristic presence kept Rome’s invaded and conquered territories in line during the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. These occupying forces, literally peacekeepers, kept uprisings and rebellions repressed through their continual military presence.

Another sign of metaphor in this story is the presence of pigs and pig farmers in a Hellenized Jewish community. Pigs are unclean in the Torah and forbidden as food. I imagine that the Jewish farmers in this story may have raised them for export to other regions of the Roman empire. Pig farming in this Jewish community indicates the economic entanglement of being “possessed” by the Roman empire. Roman occupation, especially in Hellenized Galilee, was a complex reality where Roman occupation both harmed and benefited the people simultaneously.

And this is a major story theme. To be liberated from Rome would come at a cost, an economic cost at least. The community eventually rejects Jesus’ liberation ministry because even though Roman occupation harmed them in some areas of their lives, it was beneficial in others and they were willing to live with it.

Jesus’ exorcism represented a real, political repudiation of the Roman occupying force. The people’s response to Jesus reveals the sentiment in some Hellenized communities that they didn’t want to be liberated to the extent that they would lose the benefits of Rome’s occupation. They may have wanted independence but that desire simply did not outweigh the benefits occupation brought to their daily lives.

Last month, Renewed Heart Ministries recommended book of the month was Kwok Pui-lan’s Postcolonial Politics and Theology: Unraveling Empire for a Global World. The work of decolonizing our theology and unravelling from empire is relevant to our story this week. The tension we encounter in this story between the desire for liberation and the fear of uncertainty and change that freedom and independence would bring is very real and not something we should brush off too lightly.

I used to read this story with eyes focused primarily on the demoniac. But as I get older, I’m starting to perceive the demoniac as a story device to connect the hearers of this story to its central characters: those so enmeshed and entangled in the system of their oppressors that they no longer want liberation when the possibility arises. Ched Myers reminds us, “Whether personal or political, liberation has a cost, and there will always be those unwilling to risk it.” (*Myers, Ched; Dennis, Marie; Nangle, Joseph; Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia; Taylor, Stuart, “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 60)

We often have said here at Renewed Heart Ministries that our primary work as followers of the moral philosophy of Jesus in our contemporary context is to, in whatever way we can, work toward shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, especially those made unsafe in our world and our societies.

As we imagine what a safer, more just world could look like, and as we work toward that kind of world, how do our entanglements with our current society create tension and reluctance for us to change things today?

For some people, this society doesn’t outweigh the desire for change; it doesn’t even come close. But for many others, and I’m thinking of many of my liberal friends who are straddling two realities, the present iteration both benefits them and causes them deep concern for the people who are harmed by capitalism, classism, the patriarchy, White supremacy, heterosexism, gun legislation, or so many other things.

There are times when it is appropriate to take inventory of whether you really want things to change? Is it enough to grant equal opportunity in a system that will continue to produce winners and losers? Or does the system itself desperately need change.

And what does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach?

Do we see ourselves in this story?

When liberation stands on the threshold of our lives, knocking, are we through our choices quietly asking it to also leave because we are “overcome with fear”?

As someone who didn’t ask to be born into my social location, my prayer is that when liberation comes knocking, I will have the courage to open the door and invite the change in.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2.  What does change cost? Is it this cost that causes us to be more moderate when we should be directly and actively opposed to things in our system that are harming the objects of the Universal Divine love we preach? Discus with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Jesus, and God as Woman

Herb Montgomery | June 3, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Dont you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:8-17)

This week’s gospel lectionary reading has a lot to details to notice. The first thing that strikes me now is the overwhelming maleness of this passage: Jesus is male, reveals the Father as male, and refers to the Divine exclusively in male language and symbols.

The symbols we use for God have a function. Exclusively speaking of God with only male language and symbols has a function too. Elizabeth Johnson explains:

“This exclusive speech about God serves in manifold ways to support an imaginative and structural world that excludes or subordinates women. Wittingly or not, it undermines womens human dignity as equally created in the image of God.”(Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is, Kindle Edition. Location 831)

Describing the Divine as exclusively male or masculine has produced bad fruit throughout Christian history. I offer two examples. The first comes from John Paul Boyer in Some Thoughts on the Ordination of Women:

“Being a Jew, being a Palestinian, being a first century man—all these are what we might call, in the language of Aristotelian metaphysics, the ‘accidents of Christ’s humanity’; but his being a male rather than a woman is of the ‘substance’ of his humanity. He could have been a twentieth-century Chinese and been, cultural differences notwithstanding, much the same person he was; but he could not have been a woman without having a been a different sort of personality altogether.” (In A Monthly Bulletin of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Vol XLI, No. 5, May 1973, Quoted by Jacquelin Grant in White Women’s Christ and Black Woman’s Jesus, p. 77)

For Boyer, every other detail of the incarnation is incidental, but the fact that Jesus was male is substantive.

The second example is from Pope Paul VI. On October 15, 1976, Pope Paul VI issued a declaration on the question of women and the priesthood. The declaration specifically excludes women from the Imago Dei and justifies the exclusion by referring to Jesus as the exclusive revelation of the Divine:

“The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: The priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease. The whole sacramental economic is in face based upon natural signs, or symbols imprint upon the human psychology: ‘Sacramental signs’, says Saint Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resemblance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persona as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his ministry if the role of Christ were not taken by a man. In such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains man.” (Franjo Cardinal Seper; Vatican Declaration, published February 3, 1977)

According to this declaration, because Jesus was male, those who represent Jesus sacramentally must also be male. It is only one step further to state that because Jesus was male and Jesus is the express revelation of God, God is also exclusively male.

Patriarchal hierarchy has been deeply ingrained not only through teachings based on Jesus’ exclusive male gendering of the Divine, but also the Second Testament practice of describing the church as the bride of Christ. With Christ superior to the church and the church subservient to Christ, the symbols of a male Jesus and a female church unhealthfully reinforce the false belief that men are superior to women and women are subservient to men. This doesn’t even begin to address how harmful a binary, exclusive understanding of gender can be.

I find it telling that it is often the gender of Jesus that defines God, qualifies human men for ordination, and centers men while disenfranchising those who do not identify as male within the church. Rarely do we see Jesus’ ungendered concern for the poor, marginalized, and excluded on the edges of society or Jesus’ ethic of universal love and treating others as you would like to be treated as what defines God, qualifies one for ordination, or impacts how to view and treat those who are not gendered as male.

There are many life-giving symbols of the Divine in the Jesus story. But Jesus’ maleness and the Divine being repeatedly and exclusively gendered as “Father” is not one of them. Because of them, many Christian and non-Christian feminists alike have questioned whether Jesus can be an effective savior or liberator for women at all within deeply patriarchal societies.

To say that Jesus is the “express revelation of God,” as Christianity claims, can be life-giving or death-dealing depending on what someone means by that statement. What do you mean when you say Jesus is a revelation or the revelation of the Divine?

Some, seeing the above challenges, have chosen to adopt genderless symbols for God or the Divine, and use symbols that can be heard and understood in multiple gender expressions. While part of me applauds this as an important step, we may have skipped a step. We don’t get to go from exclusively gendering God as male for two thousand years in Christianity to describing God as genderless. This conveniently bypasses the internal confrontation many have to face through the practice of gendering God as a woman.

A few years ago now, I engaged in a twelve-month practice of exclusively referring to and thinking of God with female gendered language and symbols. I was not prepared for what this would dig up inside of me that I didn’t even know was there. I had to face my own indoctrination and socialization in patriarchal social structures and internal biases that I didn’t know I had. I would now recommend the practice to anyone. It doesn’t take long to realize that gendering God as a women is not only life-giving, but that also not neutral: it’s redemptive and restorative as well—medicinal or therapeutic.

Fish don’t know they’re wet. Many of us don’t realize the misogynistic waters we’ve been swimming in all our lives and how we have inadvertently soaked up some of that water, no matter how hard we have endeavored to swim against the stream. I was raised by a single mother and thought I had evolved past a lot of these gender-based assumptions. I was shocked to discover how much patriarchy had still shaped me.

There are resources that can help if this is a new journey for you.

Just a few of books that I have found of incredible value are:

  • She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson
  • White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus by Jacquelyn Grant
  • A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney
  • Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse by Joanne Carlson Brown and Carol R. Bohn
  • The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament by The Christian Godde Project
  • And, especially for children, there is a new children’s book project due soon from a dear friend of mine, Daneen Akers, author of Holy Trouble Makers and Unconventional Saints. The book, Mama God, helping children imagine and relate to Divine femininity.)

People of all genders should be able to see themselves as bearing the image of the Divine because we all do. In our language for God, in the symbols we use for God, we can and must represent that image more clearly. Language and symbols have a function! We must be honest in asking whether the language and symbols we use genuinely are life-giving for everyone.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does imagining the Divine in genders other than male, impact your own Jesus following? Discuss as a group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp