Legalism, "The Help," and a "Woman’s Place"
by Ed Stetzer
On a recent post I reviewed the newly released movie, The Help, in two parts (part 1 dealt with the movie, part 2 dealt more with issues of race). As I noted then, the main issues in the movie are race and class, and people should not miss those, but I was struck by yet another issue. As I tweeted from the movie: "The Help‘s mix of elitism, judgment, & scorn (wrapped in cultural religion) is STILL real & even taught as discipleship in some places."
Hilly Holbrook is the antagonist in the film, pitted against the two protagonists, an African-American maid and a young white woman writer, both of whom wanted something different than they inherited from society. But Hilly was a respectable "Christian" woman who took it as her responsibility to teach people cultural values and to look down on those who did not embrace her specific beliefs.
When given a chance to help a maid in need, for instance, she takes the position that God would want her to work harder. Never mind that the average maids were making less than $1.00 an hour and many African-American men had to work for terrible wages as well. Hilly took it upon herself to keep people "in their place." Ultimately, she scorned everyone she didn’t like or who didn’t measure up to her standards– and she did so using her "Christian" beliefs as a club.
Grace was not a part of her life; it was all judgment and condemnation. And, the condemnation was built around the idea that others were just not "good Christian women."
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As the movie played, I felt some strong emotions. I wanted to stand up and shout at the Hilly character: "I know you. You hurt people, and you do so in the name of religion."
Hillys are still too common in the world where I live. They may not be focusing on the exact same issues she concerned herself with, but the tendency is the same. Cultural norms become elevated to the level of defining what it means to be a Christian– particularly a "good Christian woman."
I’ve seen how being a "good religious woman" that fits religious-cultural expectations destroys the lives and passion of women. My wife calls such training, "making Stepford Wives." While I watched The Help, I could not help but consider how many times I have seen that "Hilly look" when some women did not want to fit the same mold…
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