Saturday, June 17, 2006

Equality, Bible-Style

One of the things I believe very strongly in is the Bible's teachings about our equality and unity in Christ. As a United Methodist, I don't catch much flak for this within UM circles. It amazes me, however, just how furiously some Christians oppose these beliefs! They assert instead that the Bible requires a hierarchy of men over women in marriage, family, and church, with a lot of waffling over whether this should be the case in the greater society as well.

Actually, there's a lot of waffling in that position anyway. They can't agree on just what verses define the "men's roles" and "women's roles" that they insist the Bible prescribes, though they're fairly unanimous in these roles being mutually exclusive. They all pretty much draw the line on "no women preachers or pastors," though they disagree sharply on just what constitutes preaching, pastoring, and even the group setting that constitutes the church in which such things must be limited to men. They disagree on what ventures are permissible for women to undertake (what is work, how far afield is "outside the home," if women can work outside the home before and/or after children are in the home), what submission to one's husband entails for the wife, how far a husband can go in loving his wife as Christ loves the church before it becomes submission--a unanimous "no-no" for husbands, and so forth and so on.

There's also a huge amount of hyperbole going on about what Christian egalitarians believe. (Here in Texas, "hyperbole" is one of those "four-bit words," and many would prefer "lie" because it's plainer what I mean. But since some of these folk actually believe the hyperbole, I think I'll go with that. If they're a-lyin', at best they don't think they're a-lyin', and at worst I have no proof they're a-lyin'.) I've read all the following falsehoods, and I'm not a-lyin':
  • Egalitarians are really communists
  • Egalitarians think men and women are identical
  • Egalitarians think abortion is OK
  • Egalitarians think divorce is a good thing
  • Egalitarians don't believe the Bible is inspired by God
  • Egalitarians don't respect the Bible
  • Egalitarians are out to feminize the church
  • Egalitarians are out to feminize God
  • Egalitarians are anti-marriage
  • Egalitarians are the cause of homosexuality
  • Egalitarians hate women
  • Egalitarians hate men
  • Egalitarians hate God
  • Egalitarians are conforming to the world's culture

First of all, until very, very recently (and only in the affluent West), the world has always been overwhelmingly patriarchal and hierarchical in its various cultures. Christian patriarchalists see a number of descriptions of this worldly patriarchy described in the Bible, and mistake these descriptions for commands from God. Yet the Bible, counter to the world's rule-by-might sinful pattern, calls for each to consider the other better than oneself, sacrifice oneself for the sake of the other, love as Christ has loved, and submit ourselves to one another out of our reverence for Christ. That's as counter-cultural as it gets. No one gets to ursurp Christ's authority over us and invent hierarchies. We're called in various ways by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve one another. Where there is authority, its source is always God and is given to us as a tool so that we might serve more effectively.

In Christian marriage, the husband is described in high metaphor as the head of his wife. Christian patriarchalists lift this metaphor out of its context in order to invent an authority and hierarchy in marriage that is expressly proscribed by Jesus. "One flesh" is not to be divided into a leader and a follower in this way. They seem to miss, or ignore, the fact that in this metaphor the wife is referred to as her husband's body. This is unambiguously a metaphor for unity, not for authority. Christ is Lord (authority) of both husband and wife, and of the one flesh that is their marriage and of their family, if any. Patriarchalists insist on making the husband the authority in the marriage, investing in him a variety of responsibilities and privileges that the Bible never gives him (just exactly what privileges and responsibilities depends on which patriarchalist "expert" one reads). "Final say," his wife's spiritual well-being, head of the household, priest of the home...these are just a few examples of things the Bible never places on a husband.

And in the church. You'll never find such a convoluted, conflicting set of teachings as from patriarchalists on the "role of women in the church." They must be totally silent. They don't have to be totally silent, but may only sing, not speak. They may not lead congregational singing. They may speak and sing, but may not pray aloud. They may pray aloud, but may not address the assembly. They may address the assembly, but may not do so in a way that resembles teaching or preaching. They may teach, but must not preach from a pulpit. They may teach or preach, even from a pulpit, so long as they do so under a man's "covering." They may do whatever they like so long as there are no men in the room. They may do whatever they like, so long as there are no men or boys older than twelve in the room. They may do whatever they like, but only with pre-school children. They may not lead meetings, except for women's groups. They may write Bible studies, but may not teach them. They may not write Bible studies. They may not study theology or biblical languages. They may study biblical languages, but not in a seminary. They may study in a seminary, but must take only "women's" classes. They may study at seminaries but are not permitted in Master of Divinity programs. They may study anything they like in seminaries, but may not be ordained. They may be ordained, but only as women's pastors or children's pastors.

Anybody else going "huh"? Isn't it so much simpler, and more godly as well, to listen carefully for God's guidance, participate in a discerning community of faith that will help us discern God's callings, and then OBEY GOD?

For ever prohibition, we have at least one biblical "exception" to that dizzying list of rules, or else no biblical examples of either men or women doing such things. Try as we might, we cannot find "yes or no" answers in Scripture for every possible human endeavor. We can find principles if we're willing to examine the whole of Scripture. When we're willing to do that, many of our cherished preferences will end up nailed to the cross. Submitting ourselves to God and to one another is a big leap of faith, for we no longer get to say, "But God, that's not what I was taught." Patriarchalism is one of those things that simply cannot stand up under contextual biblcal scrutiny. We can't afford to read the Bible through the lens of patriarchy or any other human construct. However, we can always, reliably, read it through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in Whom the Apostle Paul writes in the Spirit, we Christians are all one, "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. "


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Interestubg list. Shows the diversity of interpretation, if nothing else. And I bet that a person taking one view might admire a person taking a contrasting view, but not know it. How would they discuss this???

I'm in on a discussion elsewhere on the 'net about Faulty Reasoning. Good reasoning and logic just doesn't seem to be taught in high school anymore. Just look at the politicians. The religious world isn't any better, perhaps worse. My correspondent stated, "Someone needs to set up a Name That Fallacy web site and make a game out of it. Maybe one already exists."

One of the problems is that some branches of Christianity don't believe in Biblical scholarship. Others don't believe in letting people openly discuss issues or state opinions. I've found that out personally when I've tried to post comments. I haven't been nasty, but sometimes I've gotten nasty replies to comments.

I recently found a blog by a woman religious conservative radio commentator. I wrote a comment that wasn't contrary to what she wrote, but rather asking a question. First the computer said that they wouldn't post it until they checked it out. The next day they refused my comments entirely.

My Christian tradition is more open minded, which I guess means Liberal to some people, but I don't think that means lack of faith. To me that means that my faith isn't threatened by looking at different sides of an issue.

Psalmist said...

That's just the problem: they generally don't discuss it. Egalitarians will offer scriptural evidence for our beliefs and be met with ad hominem, strawman and bifurcation instead of actual discussion (thanks for reminding me of "bifurcation"--I'd forgotten the term--which is more accurate than my coined "binary thinking").

I couldn't agree more with your last paragraph here. It's religiously popular to deflect discussion by using "liberal" as an epithet when speaking of people with whom one disagrees.

I suppose it's a safety mechanism. If we never discuss our beliefs except with those who share or applaud them, we won't ever be challenged about them. But we also won't ever learn how to effectively communicate with people. If we ever want to share the Good News, lacking this skill seems problematic to me.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Our previous pastor, who we are still in touch with because my husband and he are best of friends, attended the same Bible Study I have gone to for years. He was great. I learned much about his deep faith. He wasn't bothered by anybody's quesions because he had already worked through many issues in his own faith.

He also had been a missionary to Africa twice and had traveled to just about all parts of the world. One thing I admired about his is that he was Christ centered not America centered. It bothers me when some of our Christian brothers and sisters in the groups that seem to get more air-time, seem so America centered. I think that this can be a trap to prevent clean Biblical thinking.

I'm currently reading a book about Bohnhoffer. That man's life should shake up any Christian who doesn't critically (meaning THINKING) look at the accomodations a religious group makes to the government and culture.

My husband recently atttended a conference about the culture of consumerism and the American Christian church(es.) The success theology is rampant in many groups and it troubles us.

Psalmist said...

I agree, P. Softly. It's a shame that so many of my fellow American Christianss are sold out so to our culture that we ignore what Jesus called success (thinking here of the Beatitudes and the storing of treasure in heaven).

This applies to the differences between worldly patriarchy baptized as Christian, and biblical equality. I will give both "camps" the benefit of the doubt and say that we're all seeking God's will. The problem, though, is that the former folks seem to believe (based on their writings) that if they patch together a code of behavior in two parts (one for men, one for women) from fragments of Scripture, and enforce them rigidly, they're doing the will of God. It's works/law-based. I think it's a very poor substitute for allowing Scripture to say what is says to each of us, in every particular as the Holy Spirit would teach us. We're either free to obey God, or we're not. Patriarchalism quenches the Holy Spirit because it enslaves men and women to roles that God is calling many to step beyond. We're each, first and foremost, redeemed children of God. We're male or female, yes, but that is not our primary identity nor the determining factor in how God is allowed to call and use us in the Kingdom.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

I guess it gets down to "are we limiting God?" Some prayer traditons seem to word prayers in such a way that they tell God what to do. So maybe that is one and the same.

The JWs have told me that the Trinity isn't "logical." My response is, do we limit God to what can be contained in human wisdom? I try not to.