Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Of feminism, racism, and patriarchy among Christians

I've been doing some painful reading lately. I knew it would be painful; perhaps this reveals a latent masochism I didn't know I had.

As a Christian who is committed to the equality of all persons which underlies the Holy Scriptures, it's always difficult to read much of the writing of people equally committed to finding patriarchy mandated in those same Scriptures. What's truly sad right now, however, is the falsehood and animosity toward us egalitarian Christians that many pro-patriarchalists are using to "defend" their preferred lifestyle.

One example is a group that identifies themselves as "Christian Anti-Feminists." Their description's opening sentence reads, "Christian Feminist is an oxymoron." Now I know this to be absolutely false, given the many people I know personally who are both Christian and feminist; I also happen to be both. This assertion, however, reveals a fundamental fallacy of the group's position, one common to many Christians who use "feminist" as their f-word of choice: Feminism, as they describe it, is a philosophy of female supremacy. This is why this group goes on to say (paraphrasing here) "Putting Christian in front of 'racist' doesn't make racism Christian." Of course it doesn't! This is why I have trouble understanding how Christians can endorse patriarchy as Christian, when it is actually antithetical to fundamental Christian teachings. (More about that in a moment.) The corrective to this kind of falsehood about feminism is to lay one's hands on a decent dictionary and find out what feminism really is. The word can't be taken at face value; it refers to the belief that both women and men are entitled to the same rights as fellow members of the human race. Unlike "racist," which means a belief in the superiority of one race over others, "feminism" in no way stands for any belief in the superiority of women. In fact, it is a highly insulting thing to so thoroughly mischaracterize "feminism" as to equate it with the gender version of "racism." I'm not certain this wasn't intentional on the part of the individual(s) who set up that particular group...but then, I'm not certain that it WAS, either. Either way, however, the rhetoric of this group makes it clear that they're not about to give up their inaccurate beliefs about feminism any time soon. That strawman is too easy to knock down in their quest to portray men as victims of feminists' attempts to take over the church and the world. Telling the truth about feminism and feminists after all this time would be inconvenient, to say the least!

It would also help if the "anti-feminists" of the Christian persuasion out there, would remember that just as there are Christian and non-Christian cab drivers, and school teachers, and physicians, there are plenty of Christians AND non-Christians who believe that women--like men--are members of the human race and therefore have certain "inalienable human rights." Just because you're offended by the worst behavior and writings of non-Christian feminists, doesn't give you the right to lie about Christian feminists by saying they don't exist and/or attributing the worst of the secularists' beliefs to those Christians. The evidence of Christian feminists and our true beliefs are all around you, including in your churches. (I think I just heard a collectively aghast, "Not in MY church!")

There are also a couple of weird little online conversations about (hold on to your hats, here) Christian egalitarians promoting a kind of patriarchy. (We don't, of course...but hang in there just a little longer while I explain.) These conversations have a common source in one woman who likes to pretend and contend that Christian egalitarians are actually communists. (I'll leave it at that. That's such an absurdly false notion that nothing further needs to be said.) The patriarchy nonsense goes like this: Patriarchy is God's design for the human race because God is our Father. Since God is our Father, patriarchy is good. Therefore, to say that patriarchy is anything but God's good design is to deny the Fatherhood of God, which makes the devil the father of any such person. This means that since egalitarians say that patriarchy is not commanded or commended in the Scriptures (which is in fact what most egalitarians do say, since that is the truth), this proves that egalitarians endorse a form of patriarchy in which their father is the devil. (How's THAT for a clever insult and denial of the very faith of their Christian egalitarian brothers and sisters?) This all piggy-backs on a conversation not long ago in which an extreme patriarchalist author, much respected at his own small venue, wrongly claimed that an egalitarian woman there was calling patriarchy "evil" (she was not), and that in doing so, she was dangerously close to committing the unforgiveable sin. Here again, since the assertion is so laughably false, I'm not going to comment any further. However, it is not difficult to see where the seeds of the "egalitarians are children of their father, the devil" claims were first planted.

All that, because some egalitarians do say that patriarchy is evil. I happen to believe that it is, because patriarchy is an extrabiblical construct that invariably requires some human beings (all men) to usurp the power that is rightly God's alone, in order to control other human beings (all women). In the case of Christians who believe patriarchy is a godly thing, they prooftext an elaborate set of rules and "roles" that require all married men to be the leaders of their wives and all church leaders to be men, to whom all women must submit. They must make unfounded assumptions about theological meanings of creation order, attire, modes of learning, definition of "church," and the nature of authority in the exercise of spiritual gifts, that are then defended by out-of-context verses and fragments that deal with entirely different issues. They ignore context altogether in most of their defenses and leave out entirely God's sovereign prerogative in how the Holy Spirit works in marriage and church. That doesn't matter. What matters is that patriarchy be (re)established as "God's way," by whatever means necessary.

Patriarchy is an ancient practice rooted in the rule of the stronger over the weaker. It feeds on and fosters misogyny in society, keeping women and children marginalized and dependent upon fellow flawed human beings for their very survival. Here in the affluent West, where society is at least somewhat egalitarian, we have seen that it is possible to set aside patriarchy in favor of the equal human rights for which Americans have fought so hard and which we claim to cherish. Those who would abridge the human rights of women and deny the image of God in them by enforcing patriarchy, fail to recognize that patriarchy is defined by the surrounding culture; it is never established by God. God created the human race male and female, declaring humanity "very good" in that initial design. Man and woman are halves of the human race ideally matched to each other, declared so by God in the beginning. Only when sin entered the world did God observe that the man would (NOT "must") rule over the woman, while the woman would (NOT "must") desire him inordinately. Neither the undue desire nor the ruling over is commended by God, and certainly neither is commanded. In our fallen state, that is how humans tend to act: the bigger, stronger half seeks to dominate the more vulnerable half who was created to be his ideal counterpart, even while she turns away from God and eagerly toward him. He usurps God's place in her life and she accepts him as her lesser god. Both, in their sinful selfishness, use each other instead of relying on God as the ruler of their lives.

As Christians, we find a starkly different paradigm commanded for our life together. Each of us is to defer to the other, to practice both self-sacrificial love and a chosen, willing submission. No matter what positions of power and authority this world may give us, as Christians we set them aside in order to be the servants of all. Even in the church, even in the home, and particularly in the one flesh unity of marriage, in Jesus Christ, the "wisdom" of this world is turned upside down. In weakness is strength. In chosen slavery to others, we lead. In poverty, riches. In surrender, victory. In Christ, we find no divisions of nationality, earthly inheritance, or gender; we are all one. We can choose to surrender again to the yoke of slavery, or we can live regenerate in the freedom Christ continues to offer us.

So yes, I believe patriarchy is evil. God, who created all that is, is the Ruler of us all. King and Father, Rock and Source, Shield and Strength. Human "patriarchs" cannot and should not presume to Almighty God's place of authority in our lives. Each of us called Christian is a servant of Jesus Christ, our Head and Leader. We serve in his name and as he calls us, each and all. As our Teacher and Lord washed his disciples' feet, he taught us that we ought to wash one another's feet. Let NONE of us demand from any other, a subservience that would legislate what Christ showed us we should ALL choose freely to embrace in our life together. Let none of us fall for the lie that patriarchy is God's best. That is what the world, historically, has believed. The legacy of patriarchy is sin, for that is all this world's principalities and powers can ever offer. Christ's Way is much more excellent.


revabi said...

Wow what a powerful post. Thoughtful. I am impressed and go with you.

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

The more I've dipped into the writings on-line of some groups that "dis" other Christians, the more I think that they believe that using one's brain is evil, as though God didn't creat the mind.

There also seems to be an attitude or presumption that they can completely understand God and therefore can prescribe what God can and can't do. In otherwords, some of the pronouncements seem, to me, to "limit" God. I really don't understand this attitude. I sure think that my mind is too puny to understand God and I don't think that there is a human who can understand God, much less presume to tell God that God can't do something.

I also don't understand the aggressively negative attitude toward Christian groups that believe differently than they do. Why are they threatened?

All these things seem, to me, to bring into question the depth and breath of someone's faith, if it hinges on these points that are picked apart. It also speaks of a sort of works righteousness, ie a belief that a person is saved by believing certain exact theologies or statements rather than being saved by God's saving grace.