Now that we’ve had some time to reattach our bottom jaws after that season two opener of Greenleaf last night, I am here to tell you these writers of yanked the pin out of the grenade, making it clear that Lady Mae had been sexually abused by her father. Sadly, molestation and physical abuse seem to be a fixture in the McCready family. I am GRATEFUL to the writers for their willingness to take it there, because we need to talk about the ways people in general and church folk in particular can be complicit in situations of abuse by refusing to both acknowledge it and deal with it.
But first let’s get some lighter stuff out of the way. We learned that Charity will never be allowed to have a happy baby announcement or moment without family drama letting all the air out of her happiness balloon. Plus, we learned the Rev. Basie Skanks not only lives up to his name, he is just as trifling as we all thought he was. Not only did he offer the Bishop’s son, Jacob “you have no place” Greenleaf the job of pastoring a church practically right across the street from his father’s church, we found out that Skanks is the son of the man who died in the fire that the Bishop may have started to get the insurance money to build Calvary in the first place. Jesus, take the wheel. But the biggest shoe to drop in this episode was the revelation that Henry sexually abused Lady Mae, and that she was willing to use that abuse as currency to get her father to change his story so Calvary can recoup some of the dwindling church donations because, priorities.
Greenleaf is taking it all the way THERE. Is Lady Mae demonstrating her strength and independence by using her past trauma to her (and Bishop’s) advantage? Or is she acquiescing to patriarchal norms of womanhood to endure whatever circle of hell in order to keep the family together? All we can know for sure at this point is there was a lot of pain in the McCready household that has been simmering beneath the façade of respectability for a long time, and every McCready child has developed her/his own coping strategy.
This episode showed us many of the ripples effects of abuse; from Mavis’ self-medicating to Mac’s smug entitlement to Lady Mae’s bitterness. We gained a clearer understanding as to why she may have not been willing to believe her brother was abusing Faith as well as her palpable contempt for Grace’s unwillingness to put the needs of the church before her need for uncle vengeance for her sister. We don’t know all the details as to why Lady Mae may have turned a blind eye to Faith’s charges of abuse by “Uncle Mac,” but it does remind me of how David turned a blind eye to his daughter, Tamar, after she had been raped by her brother, Amnon, in 2 Samuel 13:1-28. Grace, like Absalom, is all about making things right. But Lady Mae, like David, seems unwilling to do anything about the harm Amnon/Uncle Mac did to Tamar/Faith. One of the most troubling passages in the Bible is 2 Samuel 13:21:
“When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.”
This should cause some serious internal conflict as to how exactly David is a man after God’s own heart.
But back to Greenleaf.
Although Lady Mae’s motives are slowly being revealed, we did see that she was willing to give her father the (gag) thing he wanted to get him to drop the charges against the Bishop. And this is a familiar depiction of the lengths some church folks will go to in order to protect their pastors and other male leaders. Lady Mae was both a victim and an enabler in this scenario, and it was uncomfortable to watch. (Lynn Whitfield is killing it. She can say more with a glare than many actors can say with a soliloquy.)
And we need to have a conversation about that level of discomfort, because it forces us to ask a painful question: “have I ever been guilty of participating in someone else’s oppression?”
Meanwhile, we found out that at least some of the tension between Mavis and Lady Mae has to do with the perceived favoritism Mavis assumed Lady Mae got as she saw her sister get pretty dresses and go on trips with daddy while Mrs. McCready (I cannot wait for their momma’s backstory) beat the living stew out of Mavis. Lady Mae had a hell Mavis didn’t know about. And that will preach all day and twice on Sunday. We never know what hell anybody is going through, and all the pretty trappings on the outside don’t do a dangnabbit thing for the real brokenness on the inside, those secret places we do everything to keep covered.
Greenleaf is showing us how wrong it is for churches to cover up the presence of the Henrys and the Macs in our congregations while simultaneously crafting and hiding behind ‘perfect’ images of respectable churchiness. When Bishop said he preaches grace, not perfection, I think he meant we need to forgive ourselves for participating in our own oppression, and we need to seek God’s grace for the times we participated in someone else’s. May God help us all.