To call a woman a “Jezebel” has never been a compliment. In fact, it is quite an insult. Recently, however, it has become an even more loaded reference.
Two Texas pastors have repeatedly labeled Vice President Kamala Harris a “Jezebel.” When called on it, they have doubled down.
In a recent sermon, Southern Baptist pastor Steve Swofford wondered what would happen if President Biden became unable to serve and “Jezebel” had to take over. “Jezebel Harris,” he said. “Isn’t that her name?”
After her inauguration, Texas pastor Tom Buck tweeted: “I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power.”
So who was Jezebel anyway?
She is a controversial figure in the Book of 1 Kings in the Old Testament. She was the daughter of a Phoenician King who married the Hebrew King Ahab. She was fiercely independent and refused to give up her native religion and encouraged Ahab to worship the Phoenician gods Baal and Asherah.
When the prophet Elijah had a group of Baal priests slain, she threatened him. The bible also has an account of her arranging the murder of a landowner so that Ahab could seize his vineyard. With this, the ruling elite had had enough and she was executed.
Knowing this was about to happen, however, she did not flee but instead applied makeup, arranged her hair and waited for death at her palace window. She is then thrown from that high window; meeting a graphic death on the surface below where her unattended body is devoured by dogs. This fulfills a prophecy of the prophet Elijah who is clearly the hero of the story.
In the bible she is painted as a villain who got her comeuppance. She is even referenced in the Book of Revelation as the unrepentant prophetess.
More recently, however, feminist theologians have taken another look at her place in history. Taken out of the biblical narrative as told from the Hebrew perspective, she is seen by many today as one who refused to submit to the patriarchy of her time. It is even unclear whether “Jezebel” was her actual name since it can be translated as “who is your husband?” and may have been an insult.
Historically, assertive, single black women have borne the brunt of being called “Jezebels.” Consequently, there are enormous racial overtones to using this term today. Beyond that, it is a term meant to put a confident woman of any race “back in her place.” So it reads as both racist and anti-feminist today.
That any Christian pastor would sling this word around is inexcusable. That it was directed at Vice President Harris only serves to highlight its toxicity. Pastor Swofford serves on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee; the leadership organization of this denomination that still refuses to let women be ordained and only recently struggled with its association with slavery and Jim Crow laws.
This is more than a dust-up. It is symptomatic of a segment of our faith whose leaders feel free to use derogatory language about women and cannot bring itself to accept that the revelation of God can come in any form other than a select few.
May their comfort level with racial and gender stereotypes, hatred, and exclusion prompt greater soul-searching.