Sunday, August 5, 2012

Does Your Sermon Pass the Bechdel Test?

Big Momma God Shines
I've been going to church for the last couple of Sundays. It's not important to the story to know which church. I will tell you it's in the American South.

Here's a poll from ABC News about religion in America. It says older women in the South attend church the most. 

And that ties in to the Bechdel Test in an interesting way. The Bechdel is a quick way to gauge how female friendly a movie is. By friendly, I mean, is it a story that is women centered or are the women in the flick just cardboard characters?

What do movies and church sermons have in common? They are both all about the story. Tell a good story and viewers will flock to the theaters. I'm sure it's the same for church sermons.

But how can a sermon pass the Bechdel Test when most of the information for a sermon is pulled from the Bible? You know that book that tells stories about men, about a male God, and that male God's son. Big Momma God, I've stepped into a hot sticky mess.

Last Sunday's sermon was about the Prodigal Son. How did it score on the Bechdel? Ummm, there were no women, two sons, a male father and a male God and a male son of God.

This Sunday's sermon was about David killing Uriah. It Bechdelled with a male King (David), a guy getting killed, a wife (not even named in the reading), a male spiritual leader (Nathan), a male God and a male son of God. Oh wait, there was a whole Bible passage reading that really kinda compared a woman (the above not named wife) to property of a man in the form of a female lamb (2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:1-9, 13a of The Message).

So... is there any way to write sermons that score well on the Bechdel Test if your source material is the Bible?

Just so you know, to pass the test a movie has to contain these three elements.

1.) There have to be two or more women in it who have NAMES.
2.) They have to TALK to each other.
3.) And they have to TALK to each other ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN A MAN.

How about you? Did your sermon this week pass the Bechdel Test? Heck, I'd even be interested in knowing if you saw a movie this week that passed the Bechdel Test. Those are far and few also. Shoot me an email and let me know kathrynusherart @


Priscilla Hammond said...

Great thoughts. Although in Scripture you are hard pressed to find two or more named women talking to each other (Ruth & Naomi come to mind), that doesn't mean that the stories have to be gender exclusive. In other words, if I tell the story of David, Uriah and Nathan, I can tell it with the male characters intact, but then align it with teaching points that apply to everyone, male and female. I can use contemporary comparisons to help it connect to both women and men. I am constantly pushing for gender-free dialogue - in the pulpit and other communications. I just unsubscribed to an emagazine that always spoke of the pastor's "wife" - and in doing so commented to them that it's not really that hard to use the word "spouse" in its place. It only takes a bit of creative thought to include women in the story.

Kathryn Usher said...

Priscilla - I'm glad to know there are others who are thinking about storytelling and word choices. Some days it's a struggle to not get bummed out.