Naming women’s names

By Christopher L. Webber

There are those who think it’s a sin to add to the Book of Common Prayer and there are those who think it’s a sin to be bound by the levels of political correctness current in the 1970s. One of the most frequent additions made by the latter for the sake of a more enlightened inclusivity is that made to Eucharistic Prayer C where it’s the usual thing to add the names of their wives to the names of the Patriarchs. Thus we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob supplemented by Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.

But why? Giving birth is no light thing and being married to a patriarch wasn’t always a lot of fun either, but this is not a complete list of the patriarch’s wives. Abraham also married Keturah (Gen. 25:1) and she gave him six children. So why not Keturah? You might say, “Well, she wasn’t Isaac’s father and had no bearing on the direct line of succession.” But neither did Rachel. She may have been Jacob’s first love and second wife, but the Davidic line passes through Leah. If you want Rachel on the list, why not Keturah? Indeed, why leave Hagar out?

Let me suggest, however, that a desire for inclusive language ought to have some higher view of the importance of the female side of things than just being married to a patriarch. Why are we not including some of the women of the Hebrew Covenant who made a difference in their own right? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to include, say, Deborah, Ruth, and Esther. Deborah, after all, was one of the Judges, a ruler in Israel in a day when women didn’t often lead. Ruth and Esther have their own books, something Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can’t claim. Ruth also was a Gentile, which adds ethnic balance to the list. And Esther was one of those who took events in her own hands and saved her people. Other names that come to mind are Rahab, without whom Joshua would not have gotten to first base in Jericho, and Judith, another sister who took events in her own hands and changed them. Yes, she’s Apocryphal, but the Thirty-nine Articles tell us we should read the Apocrypha for “example of life and instruction of manners” and Judith is a remarkable example. Then, for a more challenging example, there was Jael, who nailed the opposition down by her own right hand; or even the three ladies listed in Matthew’s Gospel in an early effort at inclusivity: Tamar, Ruth (again), and Bathsheba. Bathsheba, there’s a name to consider. Think how she shaped the course of history by maneuvering Solomon onto the throne.

So we have some choices here, but all of them better, it seems to me, than the three otherwise anonymous ladies who just happened to be around when the patriarchs needed partners. Let’s have some names in the Canon to inspire us by reminding us of the wisdom, leadership, and executive ability of some of our foremothers who were significant in their own right.

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