The Sins of Widow Muzzy

One of the churches I served, in the days when I was a pastor, still possessed its original membership book.  The small, tattered ledger dated to the late 1700’s, when the congregation was founded by Methodist circuit riders.  Names were listed, with dates for admission or termination, and a few words of explanation.  As you might expect, most members were removed for reasons of death or relocation, but two people stood out because they had been expelled—one was a man for swearing, and the other was a woman named Widow Muzzy for licentiousness.

I’ve always wondered exactly what they did.  I mean, what is required to actually get banished from a church for using cuss words?  Was it the sheer number, or maybe their particularly vile quality, or maybe where he said them?  Did he drop an f-bomb in the sanctuary?  Did they use f-bombs in the 18’th century?  Whatever the equivalent of an f-bomb was, you’ll never convince me that farmers plowing behind mules didn’t use them, along with several other four-letter words.  So, our parishioner must have engaged in some impressive swearing.

Widow Muzzy is even more intriguing.  Synonyms for licentiousness include: lewd, wanton, lustful, lascivious, libidinous, and lecherous.  Sounds exciting!  At the same time, her name conjures up images of an old woman wearing an apron.  I figure her husband died, she took in boarders to support herself, and offered more services than simply meals.  A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

Unfortunately for the two of them, Methodism in the circuit rider days was notoriously strict.  It’s not that way today, but, back in the day, they made Baptists look tolerant.  Imagine a Marine drill sergeant dressed in black and carrying a Bible.  Hell was real and you were going there unless you repented NOW.  Widow Muzzy obviously failed to get the message.

For the man, getting kicked out of church for swearing probably made him a hero at the local tavern.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a night of free beer.  The widow, on the other hand, would have become the red-letter woman in town, the subject of whispers, rumors, and shunning, exhibit A in what not to become.  That was the point of ejecting her.  But chances are good the Widow, like the man, didn’t care.  The prostitutes I’ve known were not concerned with what other people thought.  They had all learned to know better.

When I worked in the substance abuse field, I counseled more than a few.  Each had a different reason and rationale for their occupation, and guilt wasn’t on the radar.  They provided blow jobs to too many respectable men to be bothered with shame.  Shame, you find out, is a matter of visibility.

For example, all of us do things we’re ashamed to admit, because, if we admitted them, we’d feel ashamed.  Let’s say, completely hypothetically, I pick my nose.  I enjoy nose picking until I get caught, and then I’m embarrassed.  But everything is cool as long as I’m not observed; you can dig away without compunction.  Similarly, lots of people masturbate, but won’t say so publicly.  The surreptitious orgasm is shameful when made known.  I knew a  woman whose father walked in on her when she was masturbating at the age of 12.  She still lives with the trauma.

I guarantee that everyone reading this blog has things they don’t want made known, and you know the reasons why.  I’m not saying you’re a serial killer, but there are always things you’d rather not have attached to your name, and sometimes that’s all that separates us from people like our church expellants.  Their sins were exposed; the sins of others were not.  What are the chances that someone in the church sampled the widow’s services?  In a small town, I’d put the odds at fifty-fifty.  What are the chances that others in the church swore now and then?  I’d handicap other people swearing at ninety-nine percent, and will take all bets.

When I worked in the substance abuse field, and was also getting a divorce, my lawyer talked to me about one of his clients.  The client, a corporate vice-president, had been arrested while driving with a BAC of .23.  That is enough to make a social drinker unable to walk.  My lawyer wanted to know the criteria for alcoholism, in order to prepare the man.  I told him what we look for, and his client was probably able to circumvent a diagnosis of substance dependence, with the requisite mandatory treatment.  That stuff happens all the time.

One of my clients drove dump truck for a quarry.  He sniffed cocaine twice a month, being someone able to use occasionally.  But cocaine does stay in your system for three days, and he was tested on a Monday after a Saturday of snorting.  He turned up positive and mandated to treatment, which is how he met me, under threat of losing his license.  If he’d been drunk all weekend, nobody would have known or cared.

I once applied for a job as a substance abuse counselor at a clinic that handled only physicians as patients.  The AMA doesn’t like MDs mingling with the rest of the substance abuse crowd.  It’s bad for business.  What would people think if they knew a normal percentage of doctors are alcoholics and drug addicts who possess legal access to drugs?

Lots of time, money, and lobbying is spent on keeping things private.  Those without the time, money, or influence end up publicized, with the accompanying excoriation.  The swearing man and the widow woman were outed because there wasn’t a sufficient reason not to.  So, we can also say that shame is a matter of economics.  The lower class insane person is the upper class eccentric.

All of which shows the ridiculousness of trying to draw distinctions among the vast majority of humanity.  Most humans are not sociopaths or totalitarian tyrants.  We exist on a spectrum of sin and righteousness that makes us much more alike than different.

What did the church gain by terminating its immoral members?  They set an example of what it means to get caught.  And everybody else felt better about the state of their souls.

Only some bear the punishment; that’s a rule of life.  But there are different ways of choosing whom to punish.  Christianity says all people are sinners, and then condemns those that go public.  Jesus, on the other hand, did the opposite.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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