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Another Mother's Day

By Alan Matheson - posted Friday, 7 May 2010

Angrily reacting to the carnage and brutality of war, Julia Ward Howe, in 1870, began her 'Mother's Day Proclamation':

"Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

That’s one “motherhood statement”, which the politicians and preachers of the day, found difficult to accept.
Hallmark's Mother's Day cards in 2010 will carry no such message.


The shop down the street, the mega shopping mall, the tabloids, and the pulpit, will also ensure that such demands are ignored this Mother's Day.
Howe continued:

"From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonour, nor violence indicate possession."

It's only too obvious, why Howe's silence is bought for the price of a greeting card, a bunch of roses, or a, "Mother's Day Special" from the clinic around the corner. It's said that 96 per cent of American consumers, takes part in some way in the $14 billion Mother's Day industry. This market manipulation of the sentiments attached to mothers is not surprising. What is surprising is the enthusiastic supporting role played by churches in ensuring the ignorance of Howe's call for radical action on Mother's day.
There is no Biblical basis for Mother's Day, although, the lack of a Biblical basis has not stopped churches, embracing with politicians, national days of prayers, or going to war, or campaigning against abortion. There is however, a firm Biblical basis for peace, justice and freedom for the marginalised and the powerless, but bank on few sermons this Sunday against the war in Afghanistan.

The first Australian celebration of Mother's Day took place in 1920, in the Burwood Presbyterian Church (NSW). Nearly a hundred years later, and without question, churches have joined the community, in one of the market's biggest spending sprees, outside Christmas. In 2009,some $50 million went on Mother's Day cards,$35 million on chocolates,$95 million on cosmetics,$29 million on clothes, and a whopping $170 million on flowers, accounting for 25 per cent of the florist industry's annual revenue. For many restaurants, it's the busiest day of the year.
Apart from the market, the celebration and promotion of Mother's Day is a further playing out of the church's continuing drama and dilemma, of the role of women in the church. The Catholic Church's veneration of Mary, as both Mother and Virgin, is reflected in a myriad of ways in Protestant churches.

Mother’s Day, for example, provides a significant platform for clergy, mostly male, to define women, as only, “mothers”, “nurturers”, and “comforters”. Women will be invited to lead services, perhaps even preach, they’ll be interviewed, and preachers will wander on about the memories of their mothers. The Christian Right, in Australia and around the world, will use the occasion to affirm their understanding of the family, and at the same time, condemn single parents, gay marriages, and abortion campaigners, as threats to the very fabric of society.
This will not be a day for reflecting on priests, pastors and bishops, continuing to marginalise women. Content and enthusiastic with their role as mothers, the men of the church are not as happy with them, as members of financial committees, in leadership, campaigners, or in the pulpit. Churches love to tell the story of the anti slavery campaigns of Wilberforce, and sing Amazing Grace with gusto. But it was Wilberforce, who refused to have women involved in his campaigns. Elizabeth Heyrick, for example, took far more radical action, and demanded, “the immediate emancipation of the slaves in the British colonies”. Wilberforce was far more cautious and vigorously opposed her.

But history is written by the powerful, and the roles of women such as Anne Knight and Elizabeth Heyrick are ignored.


So down through the years, when women step outside the clearly defined roles set by men, then they can expect to be opposed. Women and in particular mothers, have a clearly defined role set by men and the market, particularly on days such as the second Sunday in May.
There are 27 million people still brutally enslaved, many of them girls and women, and mostly held by men. There will there be few pulpits, on this 2010 Mother’s Day, which will even remember them, let alone mobilise their congregations against such evil?
Is there a bishop or pastor, on this second Sunday in May, promoting a campaign such the CODEPINK-Women for Peace’s, “I will NOT raise my children, to KILL another mother's child". Each day the New York Times, in a special note informs readers of the numbers and names of members of the U.S. Forces, killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lists of the numbers and names of Iraqi and Afghani women, mothers and their families killed on that same day, are not listed, and in fact, have never been kept, by either the U.S. or Australian Army.
The recent “State of the World's Mother's Report 2010” has Australia, as one of the top five places in the world to be a mother. The bottom dozen, come from Africa, with Afghanistan ranked last. One woman in eight dies during pregnancy or childbirth in Afghanistan. According to the Report, mothers at the bottom of the rankings will see 8.8 million of their children die before their fifth birthday. The Uniting Church of Australia reports that 21 Dalit women, at the bottom of India's hierarchical caste system, are raped each week. The life expectancy of Aboriginal women and mothers, for example, is some 18 years less than Victorian non Aboriginal life expectancy.
The Rachel Sabbath Initiative, anchored in the UN's Millennium goal of improving maternal health is one such campaign which should get more dollars and attention than a box of chocolates or a Hallmark greeting card.
As the bunches of roses and carnations are carefully wrapped and presented, who will remember Anna M. Jarvis? When her mother died, she campaigned, "for the creation of an official Mother's Day in remembrance of her mother and in honour of peace”. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national celebration. Increasingly furious, with the increasing commercial exploitation, and the misuse of the day, she singled out the florist industry. In one stinging attack she wrote, "What will you do to route charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that could undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations"? Share those thoughts with your favourite florist sometime!
Jarvis and Howe are long gone and forgotten.

Howe concluded her Mother's Day Proclamation with a call:

"In the name of womanhood and humanity", for a congress,
“To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace".

Politicians and priests are too cautious, and the market preoccupied with its own wellbeing. Howe and Heyrick were extreme and radical, but for many on Mother’s Day 2010, that's not a happy place to be.

A few weeks ago, Dorothy Height died. Called, the “Queen of the Civil Rights Movement”, she was "a leading voice of the 1960s civil rights movement and a participant in the historic marches of Dr. Martin Luther King, and others". Interviewed on the occasion of the inauguration of President Obama, she said, "People ask me, did I ever dream it would happen, and I said, 'If you didn't have the dream, you couldn’t have worked on it".
Maybe Mother's Day 2010 is a time to dream.

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About the Author

Alan Matheson is a retired Churches of Christ minister who worked in a migration centre in Melbourne, then the human rights program of the World Council of Churches, before returning to take responsibility for the international program of the ACTU.

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