Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jesus in the Gardens: Undoing What Adam Did

It's Easter week, and I'm thinking about gardens.

My own garden is full of tulips and daffodils that are starting to fade now, but my cherry tree is still in bloom and dropping pink petals on the grass.  The grass is bursting out of itself, growing too fast, faster than a mower can keep up with.  And the birds are singing as they wing over my plantings. Gardens are beautiful in the spring.

Jesus' death and resurrection was in the spring-- right around the time of Passover.  Two gardens feature heavily in that story.  There was a garden at Gethsemane, where He prayed and cried on the night He was arrested.  And there was a garden where His body lay entombed.

When Adam and Eve first sinned, it was in a garden.  And they were driven out of the garden by an angel with a flaming sword.  In the garden stories of Gethsemane and the tomb, angels appear again.

Gardens. Temptation. Angels. Death.

Turning points.

I think that when we see Jesus in gardens, in narratives that repeat so many of the motifs of Eden, it's good to pay special attention.  Jesus, after all, is called "the second Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45).

Matthew and Mark tell the story of the "place called Gethsemane" (Matt. 26:36, Mark 14:32), but it is John who informs us that the place where Jesus withdrew after the Last Supper was in fact a garden (John 18:1).  The original readers, of course, would have recognized the name of this garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives (which is how Luke describes it in Chapter 22) without having to be told. But look what Jesus does in this garden:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39)
The passage says He prayed this way three times.  Three is an interesting number, because that is the number of times Jesus asked Peter to reverse his denial of Him (John 21:15-17).  It is the number of times Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Adam and Eve were tempted just once, and they fell.  Jesus, as the second Adam, resisted three times.  Somehow, three is the number of reversal, of undoing what has been done.

Adam in the garden at Eden, all of his life ahead of him in a place of joy and peace, chose his own will over God's.  Here in the garden at Gethsemane, Jesus in an agony of distress for the death He is facing, gasps out three affirmations of God's will.

And an angel comes (Luke 22:43).  Not with a flaming sword to drive out, but with outstretched arms to strengthen and comfort.

And then there was the other garden.
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:41-42)
The narratives give several different versions of what happened next-- just as we might expect if a number of people all told individual eyewitness stories.  But several elements appear over and over again.

The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb.

Angels appeared-- again not to drive out, but this time to proclaim: Jesus had risen from the dead.

And the first to see and speak to the risen Christ were women.

I want to focus on the story in John:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. [Emphases added.]
One thing stands out immediately.  Mary didn't see Jesus just because she happened to be the first one there.  Jesus could easily have appeared to Peter and John, but He didn't.  He waited until they had gone home. Then He appeared to Mary.  Why?

In the first garden, the garden of Eden, the woman who listened to the serpent was thinking about her own gain.  She saw that "the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" (Genesis 3:6). And so she took, and she ate.

In this garden, the one with the empty tomb, the woman isn't thinking about herself at all.  She's thinking about something else.  Someone else.  Three times she says it: "They have taken Him away.  Where is He?"

The third time, He answers her Himself.  "Mary."

And she rushes into His arms and won't let go.

Just as Jesus reversed what Adam did, Mary has reversed what Eve did.

But He has something He needs her to do-- something He chose her, and not Peter or John, to do.  So He must ask her to let go of Him and do it.

After the scene in the garden of Eden, God warned Eve that now her husband will rule over her (Gen. 3:16)  And what we see in the biblical story from that time on, is men ruling over women.

Until Jesus came along.

Two years ago I wrote an answer to the question, Why Did Jesus Choose Twelve Men? 
The twelve were the main witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In the Ancient Near East and Roman cultures, the testimony of women was considered invalid. It was not accepted in court; it was not legally binding in any way. The world was simply not going to listen to women, and Jesus knew it.
So here’s what He did. His very first act upon Resurrection was to appear to the women. In fact, John tells us that though Peter and John ran ahead of Mary Magdalene on the way to the tomb, they saw nothing. Then after they left, Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Resurrected Christ. John 20:3-14. Other women also saw Him shortly afterwards– but no male saw the Lord, revealed for who He was, until that evening, eight hours or more afterwards. . .
The significance of this would not have been lost on the male disciples in that patriarchal culture. They knew that they themselves had refused to believe the women’s testimony that morning. Then when Jesus appeared to them, they realized the women had been telling the truth.
Jesus was communicating this very clearly (the fact that we miss it today is a product of our culture): “The world will not accept the testimony of your sisters, but I have just forced you to listen to it. My kingdom is to be different from the world. You are to listen to your women and allow them to testify of Me.”
 Before Jesus commissioned the apostles to take His message to the world in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene and her sisters to take His message to the apostles.  This was a much bigger deal than it looks like.  As Christianity Today's online article Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon puts it:
As you preach this Easter, do not bypass the testimony of the women as an incidental detail. In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable "because of the levity and boldness of their sex." Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a "hysterical female … deluded by … sorcery."  
This background matters because it points to two crucial truths. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. In this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were "cleverly devised myths" (2 Pet. 1:16, ESV), women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.
 Jesus does not send Mary back to the male disciples to be ruled over by them.  He sends her back to them to teach and proclaim His truth.  Far from telling her to know her place, He deliberately raises her out of a woman's place and into a place of equality.

Mary, in desiring Christ above all else, has undone what Eve did. And Christ responds by undoing "he shall rule over you."

Last year Preston Yancy wrote the most beautiful blog post I have ever read anywhere.  He called it When It Matters Because of Two Gardens, and I probably would never have written this post if I had not first read that one, and thought about it ever since.  Here is a little of what he said, though I encourage everyone to read the whole thing:
I think of how one little verse, one little verse of a redemption in the twentieth chapter of the most beautiful Gospel, the story of us, could mean all this. 
Could mean systemic patriarchy has been overthrown. Could mean that equality is now. Could mean that the Law of Moses would be overcome by the law of grace. Could mean that a woman is a person not a thing, joy of father or husband, and that her word is worth, her voice use. . .

And I think of them, sometimes, of that second Man and that other woman, in that garden west of Golgotha, and I think of her as she was sent forth, running east, and I think of the tangled mess of grace tripping and dancing round her in her wake, her feet bringing the news of healed cosmos, healed creation, and He has done this, first, and we shall follow, and so comes the Light.
Jesus in the garden is an undoing and reversal of what drove humanity out of the garden. He has begun the righting of all that has been wrong-- and not least what has been wrong between men and women.

We should not read the rest of the New Testament in ways that negate this truth.

For He is risen indeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Another Take on the World Vision Question

Last Week I wrote about the controversy revolving around the international Christian charity World Vision and its decision, quickly reversed, to employ same-sex married Christian couples.  I wrote about the issue in terms of real, living children overseas who have developed long-distance relationships with their sponsors, and I will not back off my stance that breaking off such a relationship once it is formed is wrong. Regardless of the fact that the child will still receive World Vision benefits through his or her community, Christians should not abandon or reject kids they have started a relationship with, even if it's a very long-distance one.

But Rod at the Political Jesus Blog has added an important perspective to the discussion that needs to be taken seriously.  He asks the question: Are African, Indian, South American children being used as pawns in the White Culture Wars?  

The thing is that in focusing on the gay-marriage issue here in the United States and fighting among ourselves over it (with non-white children overseas caught in the middle as both sides accuse each other of not doing what's best for those kids) Christians in the white majority culture on both sides of the issue may be blind to our own self-centeredness.  And we seem to be missing the bigger question: Are World Vision and other Western-created charities actually the best way to give to poor children in other nations?

The problem is that as white American Christians, we have a weakness for falling into what the By Their Strange Fruit Blog calls a "white savior complex":
The 'white savior complex' is a perception that white folk have that they are the benevolent benefactors of helpless 'others.'. . The 'white savior complex' is particularly strong when it comes to white aid in Africa. . .Often church missions have a concept of the 'poor starving children of Africa' and very little understanding of the self-empowerment and independence that can thrive in our absence.
As Rod at Political Jesus put it:
Both sides (in their blog posts), were more than eager to press this story as one where we had to “save the children.” At no one point were the problematic practices of World Vision, its advancement of White Saviorism through its advertisements or its questionable method of “child-sponsorships” (but not really child-sponsorships) ever put under scrutiny. . . African and other nations populated by darker skinned people are represented time and again as the passive recipients of white benevolence. This “help” however, is just a re-hashing of old Western-style colonialism brought to those countries by missionaries. [Emphasis in original]
 To be fair to World Vision, they are aware of this weakness and have published an online paper about improving their accountability in this and other areas:
A related mistake is to ignore our ‘inbound’ accountability to listen and learn from the poor. The good news of Jesus implores us to seek only the best for the other. Ministry approaches which breed dependency, or which are patronising, or paternalistic, or which treat the poor as our “clients” diminish the Good News. All parts of our global family must be respectfully and sensitively engaged.  It has been wisely observed that “The Christian gospel has sometimes been made the tool of imperialism and of that we have to repent.”
Other Western Christian charities, such as Kinexxus, seem to have done their homework on this issue and are striving to overcome it:
Mission organizations and humanitarian agencies that operate from the same misguided assumptions that Africans are too poor or incapable of doing anything significant to bring about development to their communities only reinforce a receivership mentality. They come to Africa with a heart of compassion and noble intentions to alleviate the suffering of an impoverished people. But if they don’t take the time to understand the community and cultural worldview they are entering or attempt to learn even simple greetings in the local language, these well-intentioned “do-gooders” run the risk of rushing in and unconsciously imposing their will – utilizing material resources to gain control so they can make their project “happen.” The results will be short-lived and often counterproductive. The local community will not own the project, nor will they feel any obligation to maintain it.
Still, as I've been looking into this matter, it seems to me that for those who have not already committed to a relationship with a sponsored child (who need to keep that commitment), the best way to help impoverished people on other continents is to help those churches and other charities that are indigenous to the countries in which those people live, who already understand the issues and problems unique to those regions, and to whose knowledge and expertise we ought to be deferring.

As By Their Strange Fruit goes on to say:
The 'white savior complex' is basically based in pride. It reveals an attitude of superiority and paternalism, . . .Rather than perpetuate the myth that white folk are somehow the world's saving grace, we need to empower others to take the lead.
And of course, when indigenous charities and churches already are taking the lead, the best we can do is get on board to help them.  

For instance, we can contribute to the African Independent Churches that are local to countries we want to help:
Even though the denominational, ritual, and linguistic diversity of these churches makes it difficult to analyze and classify, the common thread uniting all of the Christian churches is that they were all established by African initiative rather than by foreign missionary agendas. Even though many of these churches have traditional denominational names and relationships, they are not defined by these traditions. These churches emphasize that they are established and led by Africans. In addition, all AICs place emphasis on the biblical warrant to include African cultural norms into their modes of worship, theology, and practice, though to varying degrees.
A link to the webpage for contributing to African Independent Churches is here. For those who want to help poor people in the Western hemisphere, there is a Pasadena-based ministry which specifically empowers indigenous church leaders in Latin America: Latin American Indigenous Ministries.  Or we can contribute to secular charities whose founders are native to an area we want to help, such as the Wayuu Taya Foundation, which empowers and aids indigenous Latin American peoples in many countries, or Alaffia, which is involved in communities in West Africa.

It's important to develop the humility to see that other people groups are quite capable of helping their own poor, and that God has already provided for leaders there.  Sometimes we white Western Christians aren't meant to be the team captains, but the water carriers; not the heroes, but the sidekicks.

But one thing we want to try hard not to be is the villains.  And historically, too often that's exactly what we have been.  We've got to open our eyes to this and work on breaking the cycle.

The key with overseas charity is to stop talking and begin listening-- to stop trying to teach and open ourselves to learn.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

World Vision and Evangelicalism

I was going to write about something else this week, but I can't get this off my mind.  A lot of other people have blogged about it this week, and some more than once.  But even if I'm partly repeating what others have said, I have to speak up, too. 
It all started when Christianity Today published online a letter from the president of international charity group World Vision, announcing that it was changing its policy on allowing gay Christians who were legally married to be employed by their organization:
World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently "tearing churches apart" over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor. 
Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision's home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.
Two days later, amid a ferocious evangelical backlash, World Vision reversed its decision.  But not before ten thousand children had lost their sponsors. 

A few of those who dropped the children they were sponsoring have returned.  But apparently most have not.  

A lot of bloggers have written about this in the days after, but Elizabeth Esther best put the way I'm feeling into words:
[R]egardless of whether I agree or disagree with World Vision’s initial policy change, I have made commitments to three very precious and very REAL children. It is my DUTY to fulfill those commitments. . . Christians ought always disagree in the spirit of St. Matthew 18 and ESPECIALLY when the LIVES of CHILDREN are at stake. We ought to gently and wisely confront leadership–NOT encourage our fellow Christians to forsake promises to innocent and NEEDY children. (Emphases in original)
I think it was Matthew 18:15 that was probably in the front of her mind: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother."  The passage goes on from there to advise on what to do if the "brother" doesn't listen.  Although this passage is really about interpersonal relationships and not about a Christian's interactions with a large charity organization, I think Elizabeth Esther was right that the spirit of the passage still applies:  when Christians disagree, they should try to work it out, not suddenly cut off relations with one another.

I do understand the perspective of many evangelicals on this.  My church background is evangelical, and it was through evangelicalism that I came to to the faith.  Evangelicals have always put a huge amount of weight on keeping to what they understand as an incontrovertible, biblical moral code. They give this at least as much weight as they give to foundational Christian doctrines.  To evangelicals, World Vision's attempt to take a neutral stance on the issue of whether gay Christians can marry same-sex partners was incoherent.  There could be no neutral stance in their minds: either World Vision was going to forbid same-sex married for Christians in their employ, or it was going to allow it.  Even if it allowed only one same-sex marriage among all its employees, this meant allowing same-sex marriage, and that was unacceptable.

Evangelicals felt they could no longer have anything to do with World Vision.  In their minds, this had nothing to do with hating gay people; it was all about biblical holiness.  Holiness is about reverence for God.  It's not a trivial matter.  A devoted evangelical will pay almost any price, sacrifice his or her own comfort, endure scorn, disapproval and anger from society, in order to obey what they believe God has commanded. I get it.  I really do.

But there's something being overlooked here, and it's a big thing.  It's the principle Jesus taught of mercy over sacrifice.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Paul articulated the same basic principle in 1 Corinthians 13:3:
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Though these two passages might not seem to be about quite the same thing, I think they are.  It's encapsulated in something my mother taught me as a child, and though I didn't always listen to her, this is one thing she said that has stuck with me.  She said, "People are more important than things."

By "things," she didn't just mean my toys and clothes.  She meant the things I gave my time to, the books and television shows I watched.  She even meant the rules for things like bedtime or homework that usually stood firm in our family. There were times that rules could be broken.

There were times when you closed the book and turned off the TV.

There were times when you didn't worry who that toy belonged to.

Sometimes it was because you had a relationship with someone, and that relationship called you to set aside special time for them.  A visit from far-away relatives.  Or a holiday.

And sometimes it was because even if you didn't know the person very well (or at all), there was someone hurting-- someone in desperate need.

People are more important than things.  Needs are more important than rules.  Mercy towards people is more important than sacrifice for God.

Many evangelicals have defended their decision to drop child sponsorships through World Vision by saying that World Vision doesn't give the sponsorship money directly to the child, but to the community, so the child won't directly feel the impact of the loss of their sponsor.  They say they are switching their sponsorship to another organization and another child, and that the important thing is giving, not what group receives the gift.

In response I'll cite some excerpts from the FAQs at World Vision's web page on How Sponsorship Works:
World Vision child sponsorship is an amazing model that allows for a one-on-one relationship with a sponsor, while pooling the gifts of all sponsors who support children in the same community so that we are able to provide long-term resources for lasting change. 
About 10 days after you sponsor a child, you'll receive a Welcome Kit in the mail with your child's photo and more information about sponsorship. Within 6 to 12 weeks, be looking in the mail for your first letter from your sponsored child. You can email and write back! 
Every year, you'll also receive an annual progress report with a new photo of your sponsored child and details about the progress that your child is making, as well as a newsletter of accomplishments in his or her community. (Emphases added)
Sponsorship is about far more than the money given.  It's about the relationship established with the child.  So I must ask some questions of those who have dropped their sponsorships, or switched to another organization.

How is your earlier-sponsored child to understand why you aren't sponsoring him or her anymore-- even if someone else steps in and becomes their sponsor in your place? Will this child really think, "The people who used to write to me and answer my letters have dropped me, but it was nothing personal, so it's ok"?
Is this new child you're sponsoring simply interchangeable for the earlier one? 

Will you miss the pictures and letters from the earlier child? Will you wonder over the years if he or she made it to adulthood or what happened to him or her?

Was this child a person to you?  Was (s)he more important than things

Evangelicalism claims to love children from the moment of conception.  So what about this child?

You see, it doesn't really matter how much you disagreed with World Vision's change of policy about gay marriage.  Ultimately, that change of policy was a thing. And the person who is your sponsored child was and is more important than that. As Elizabeth Esther said, there are ways of expressing disagreement, or even extreme disapproval, of something that you believe compromises Christian holiness, without compromising Christian love and mercy.

You might even have had a little mercy on World Vision.   It can't be easy to juggle all the differing beliefs and convictions of Christians from all the different branches.  Maybe they were sincerely trying to do the best they could with the real people, including those in same-sex marriages sanctioned by their own churches, who came to them wanting to help impoverished children and their communities.  

You see, I also understand the perspective of non-evangelicals on this.  And from where they're standing, this really does look an awful lot like hate. 

As for myself, in the most foundational ways I still am an evangelical.  I believe in the central doctrines, and I strive for personal holiness.  I stopped calling myself an evangelical, though, because I wanted no part of the whole "you disagree with us, so you're not one of us" thing that so many evangelicals are involved in.  And because I'm a theistic evolutionist, because I'm an egalitarian, because I question the literal interpretation of some Bible passages-- and because I wonder if the verses about homosexuality are really applicable to committed, monogamous same-sex Christian marriages-- many evangelicals do indeed consider me no longer one of them.

No matter.  You may not consider me one of you, but I consider you one of us-- all of us who call on the name of Jesus for salvation, who consider Him Lord and do their best to follow Him.  The tent of Christianity is just fine for me, even if I don't fit in a smaller tent inside it.  I'm grateful that my own church, which is evangelical in doctrine and practice (and whose motto is "We are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only") still seems to think there is a place for me.

Finally, for those who are troubled and sad-- even angry-- as I am, by the events of this last week, and who wonder if they should leave evangelicalism or try to stay-- I'll just repeat my mother's words.  "People are more important than things."  Labels are things, and evangelicals and non-evangelicals are all people.   Hebrew 12:14 says, "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone." True, it then goes on, "and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."  But if holiness is obedience to God, then "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is holiness too.

I don't know what any of you should do, except to love people and follow your heart, where the Holy Spirit dwells.

But let's all have mercy on one another and make every effort to live in peace.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Equal But Subordinate" and Soft Complementarianism

My analysis of the "Equal but Subordinate" teaching on women in Christianity seems to be turning into a series.  I didn't intend to do this, but I do believe the implications of this teaching in its various manifestations should be addressed fully.  This, then, is Part 3 (and I hope the conclusion!)

My last two posts were on the basic position taught by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") that male authority and female subordination is intrinsic to manhood and womanhood, even to the point where it will continue in the new creation.  As I said in Part 2, if the CBMW really believed that male headship was not part of what it means to be a man--
then there ought to be times and places where women are not expected to defer to men or to acknowledge any inborn, natural ability and inclination towards authority in men over women, simply because of being born men.
The CBMW allows for no such exceptions, and thus their position is actually that women are inferior and men are superior, no matter what they may say otherwise.  This harms and damages women and belittles the image of God in us-- and it really isn't great for men either.  So before I proceed, I want to ask my readers to support the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition by signing their petition on demanding an apology from the CMBW for these harmful and erroneous teachings.  I don't think it matters whether this succeeds in changing the CBMW at all (it probably won't).  But we can still make a difference by adding our voices to call the CBMW to account, so that those who have been subjected to spiritual, emotional and/or physical harm will know they are not alone or unheard.

That said, I'll move on to the question that remains:  What about those who don't go as far as the CBMW does, but still believe in some form of male authority and female subordination as God's will for Christians?  People in this camp usually call themselves "soft complementarians," and they distinguish themselves from the "hard patriarchy" of the CBMW.  In general, soft complementarians disagree with the CBMW by saying that women may take positions of authority over men in the world of business or politics without violating their feminine natures.  Soft complementarians also don't generally say that male headship and female subordination in the church and in marriage (which they do uphold as God's will) is "part of the reality of creation" or the "divine principle weaved into the fabric of God's order for the universe," as I quoted the CBMW saying in my earlier posts.

The soft complementarian position is fairly well defined on the Bible Questions Answered!  website.  Here is on women in the church:
God has ordained that only men are to serve in positions of spiritual teaching authority in the church. This is not because men are necessarily better teachers, or because women are inferior or less intelligent (which is not the case). It is simply the way God designed the church to function.
 And here is on marriage:
A wife should submit to her husband, not because women are inferior, but because that is how God designed the marital relationship to function.
Notice how this position ties female subordination to the "function" of the church or of marriage rather than to essential male or female humanity.  When my second blog post on this was reposted on No Longer Quivering, an astute commenter gave me feedback as follows:
[You said] "You can be equal and still in a position of submission to authority if the submission is part of the position, not part of who you are." By this do you mean you are OK with the husband having authority and the wife rendering submission to his position of authority in their marriage?
"Kristen clearly expresses her disagreement with an "ontological inequality" as John Piper teaches it (while denying he's teaching it, of course), but states she has no problem with "functional inequality".  Complementarians teach and practice what they believe to be functional inequality. . . [S]ome complementarians would have no problem working for a female boss, complementarian wives work outside of the home, some as employees and some even as employers or in positions above men. Some complementarian women teach, even at Christian colleges, but they may be restricted from teaching doctrine. It seems like SOME complementarians really do believe in in a more functional and restricted inequality.
So the question is, if I have no problem with "functional inequality," (such as exists between a boss and an employee, related to their functions or positions and not to their being), why would I have a problem with the soft complementarian position that limits male headship to the "functions" or "positions" of church and marriage, and does not support it in other areas of life?

Well, here's the problem.  I disagree that either of these are ultimately about function or position just because they're limited to the marriage relationship or within the church. A woman is not under authority in marriage or restricted in the church because she's married or because she's a church member-- she's under authority or restricted because she's a woman. Hence her subordination is still not related to her position but to her being.

This is clear because when men become church members, they are not automatically restricted from the pastorate. In other words, the restriction from becoming a pastor is not related to one's position as a church member. It's related to one's being as a female. A man is restricted from the pastorate only by his qualifications, training and giftings. The woman is restricted even if she has the appropriate qualifications, training and giftings.

The same goes for marriage. One doesn't come under authority by getting married-- one comes under authority by being a woman who gets married.

The employer-employee situation is easy to distinguish from these.  Either a woman or a man may be an employee or a boss in an employment relationship. The difference is in the position, not in one's being when entering the employment relationship.

Soft complementarianism still says the woman must be subordinate in these two areas-- the church and the home-- without exceptions.  So the equality it grants women in business and politics does not negate the implication of her being-related lack of authority in the home and church.  Although her subordination is limited to those two situations, within those situations it still applies across the board and is related to the woman's being within the function, not to the function itself.

So since this is ultimately about being and not function, the question is why a woman's being would be subordinated in these two areas.  If not because of her essential nature, then why?

What does it say about women when you insist that they are functionally equal only in the more external worlds of business and politics, but in their intimate personal and spiritual lives they are subordinate?  Are you saying something, intentionally or not, about the personal and spiritual nature of women?  Or if you still insist this is not about women's nature, are you maybe saying something unintentional about the nature of the God who would so subordinate her?

I addressed this question some time back in my blog post entitled  "But That's What the Bible Says":
Either women are not equal to men, because God created them with a certain lack of authority over themselves, or ability to lead others, that men do not lack. And this lack is intrinsic to womanhood, while any lack a particular man may have in the area of leadership, is simply an individual characteristic, not intrinsic to his manhood. This makes women, in their essence as women, inferior to men.

Or women are equal to men, but God simply decided that women, because they are women, despite lacking nothing that He gave men for authority over themselves or leadership of others, may not use that authority or leadership. In other words, they are to be under male authority even though God did not design them or create them to be suited for being under male authority. This makes God, in His essence, arbitrary and unjust. He makes rules without good reasons.
You see, you can't tie the fundamentally unequal characteristics of authority to one group and subordination to another group, based on something like the sexes (which people are born with and have no control over), without rendering them as groups unequal.  If you tie the characteristic to the group's very nature (as CBMW does), then you deny the equality of that group in any real sense at all.  But if you tie the characteristic to the group functionally, as soft complementarianism does, even though you say the groups are equal by nature and there is no difference in the group's ability, as a group, to perform the function-- then you have no justifiable basis for the unequal treatment. And if you then claim this unjustifiable, unequal treatment is from God-- you have turned God into something you never intended.  "Because God said so" doesn't exactly glorify God.

Dividing humanity into two subsets based on their chromosomes, and then giving each entire subset a different and unequal status, results in a class system.  If a woman must be under male authority in the church and in the home because she's a woman, then regardless of what she can do in other areas of life, she's in a lower class-- just one with a few less restrictions than the CBMW would impose.

Jesus did not come to enforce a class system. He came to teach mutual service and that "the last shall be first." (Matthew 20:16)

So why am I so angry with the CBMW and not with soft complementarians?

Because soft complementarians, in treating women's inequality as functional and limited, do avoid in practice the harmful and degrading view of womanhood as intrinsically subordinate, as espoused by the CBMW. Soft complementarians do often unconsciously act on the unspoken (and un-faced-up-to) implications of their view in a certain paternalism towards women-- but because they acknowledge that woman are able to lead men at least in the public sphere, they do usually truly respect the strengths, talents and giftings of women.

Also, when soft complementarian men follow the biblical admonitions to love and serve their wives, they often end up, instead of giving lip-service to equality, giving lip-service to headship. A soft complementarian couple may claim the man is the "head," but in practical day-to-day living they function as equals, with the man taking very seriously his duty to serve his wife and put her needs first.  In short, I think they end up where Paul's teaching to first-century patriarchal marriages intended to lead them-- each partner focusing on serving the other, in mutual submission (see Eph. 5:21), without worrying about who was in charge.

Ultimately, "equal but subordinate" as a view of women doesn't work.  It is self-contradictory whether viewed in terms of being or of function-- it's simply more dangerous to women when viewed in terms of being.  In marriage, soft complementarians usually end up acknowledging a watered-down version in theory, while ignoring it in practice.  But the best way to deal with the concept "equal but subordinate" is simply to scrap it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Protesting "Equal But Subordinate" is Not Just Me Having a Problem with Authority

I received some feedback in the comments on my last post regarding the logical fallacy of claiming women are equal and yet divinely intended for eternal subordination to men.  Here is a quote from the comments:
I feel so sad that whether or not you are are subordinate or authoritative is the means by which you determine whether or not you want to go to or will enjoy heaven? We will all be subordinate to Christ. . . I have been both a boss and an employee, both roles have their perks and unpleasantries, I for one am glad to be in submission to Christ and if He determines that a man should be in authority over me, then in His wisdom I welcome it. Not all men are abusive and brutish with their leadership. . .When the new heaven and the new earth are brought about. . . authority and submission will not be the same as here under this fleshly existence and curse.
When it was pointed out to her that my post was not about the abuse of authority, but about assigning authority to men because they are men and denying it to women because they are women, the same commenter responded:
[I]f abuse of power is not the issue, then what is? What difference does it make then who is in submission to whom?  I have seen people who initially did not seem qualified and capable of serving by the gifts they presently possessed, rise and exceed expectation. . . As an older woman I have placed myself under the authority of younger men and women and rather than watch them for inadequacies, I rather encouraged and helped them succeed in their role. Submission is not an inferior thing unless you make it so by your prideful reaction to authority. That's why I say this real, argument has not gone beyond that line of thinking. . . I for the life of me can not see what is so evil about authority and submission in and of themselves. People can corrupt those positions, but I don't see where one is greater than another?
I promised the commenter that I would try to explain more fully using some concrete examples, so this is not an attempt to put her on the spot, but rather to address the issues she has raised.

This appears to me to be related to the argument from the article from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") that male authority and female subordination are mere "functional" differences.  My commenter is saying that there is nothing inherently superior about being in authority, nor anything inherently inferior about being in submission to authority.  In terms of "functional" differences, she is of course, quite right.  Despite her reference to my "prideful reaction to authority," it really is not authority in and of itself that I am reacting against.  What I object to is the idea that one group has a divine right to have authority over another group, based on nothing other than their identity from birth as part of the authority-holding group.

To put it in the simplest terms, it makes a difference who is in submission to whom if the nature of man is to be in authority over woman, and the nature of woman is to be under the authority of man-- because submitting to authority is not equal to being in authority, and I believe this is self-evident. To be the one who acts and commands (authority) is not equal to being the one who is acted upon and commanded.  That's why the one under authority is called a "subordinate." The very word means "under."

You can be equal and still in a position of submission to authority if the submission is part of the position, not part of who you are.  But if these unequal things then become part of our very natures as men or women, then men and women not equal. I'm not against authority; I'm against being made unequal when the Scriptures say I'm equal.

This shows more clearly when we look at how it works in other distinctions besides that of male/female.  Look at it in terms of economic class, for instance.  A century or so ago, if I had been born into the aristocracy, I could feel confident that my God-given identity was as part of the ruling class.  That is, for no other reason than what family I was born into, my inherent, inborn nature was to rule over the lesser classes.  Many older novels refer to "an unmistakable air of breeding" or similar words meant to show that a member of this class had not just been taught refined manners, but that he or she was inclined by nature and inborn ability to take authority over the serving and working classes (who were taught to "obey their betters").

Another obvious example would be that of race.  If people of one race, for no other reason than being born of that race, are created and decreed by God to be in authority over people of another race, then there is no equality, no matter what anyone claims otherwise.

This really is something different from what the commenter calls "authority and submission in and of themselves."  Here is what "authority and submission in and of themselves" look like.  My boss is in authority over me by virtue of the fact that he hired me and is paying me, while I was hired by him to work for pay.  This is what is actually meant by "functional" authority.  My boss's authority over me is not essential to his being or to mine-- it is circumstantial, time-bound and limited.  When the workday is over, his authority over me ceases.  If I invite him to dinner at my house, he cannot command me to make him steak instead of of pork chops-- and if he did get that obnoxious and I asked him to leave, he would have to go if he didn't want me to call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!  (It's true that I might not keep my job after that, but that doesn't change the fact that the law considers me to be in authority in my own home.)

Even the authority of the police is time-bound and limited.  They cannot search my home without a warrant, for instance, and when a policewoman clocks off her shift and changes into her own clothes, she no longer has the power to direct traffic.

Furthermore, neither my boss nor that policewoman were born into their roles.  They had to go through training and prove themselves capable, before they could take on any authority over me. And since they have gone through that training, I am perfectly willing to submit to their authority.  Nor do I protest even if (as the commenter described) they don't seem qualified or very capable at first and need to grow into their positions.  In fact, I too have helped a less experienced new boss succeed.  No prideful reaction against authority has ever been noticed by a boss of mine.

The question, then, is how the authority of men over women is viewed and treated by the CBMW.  If it is a matter of "authority and submission in and of themselves," then there ought to be times and places where women are not expected to defer to men or to acknowledge any inborn, natural ability and inclination towards authority in men over women, simply because of being born men.

Furthermore, if CBMW considers the difference in authority between men and women to be functional rather than essential, then the philosophical differentiation between "necessary" and "accidental" traits as I discussed in my last post should apply.  CBMW should not be found saying that all men have "headship" over women, but that some, because of certain personal traits and circumstances of their lives, have simply lost or missed out on"headship," just as a person can miss out on being able to do calculus or ballroom dancing.

But here are the kinds of things CBMW and its spokesmen actually say:

John Piper gives this definition of manhood and womanhood, in his contribution to the CMBW book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 29 (he used all caps to show the centrality of this point, so I am rendering the text as he did):
On page 37 he quotes J.I. Packer:
[T]he man-woman relationship is intrinsically nonreversible. By this I mean that, other things being equal, a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary, or a marriage in which the woman (as we say) wears the trousers, will put more strain on the humanity of both parties than if it were the other way around. This is part of the reality of the creation, a given fact that nothing will change. [Emphases added.]
Notice that reversal of male authority and female submission is said to put a strain, not on the parties' roles or even on their sense of their own masculinity or femininity, but on their humanity.  Male authority is part of male humanity, and female subordination is part of female humanity.  Therefore, if they don't act in accordance with their own, very different kinds (and it would not be inaccurate to say classes) of humanity, they are going against creation itself.

On pages 41-42 Piper gives examples of appropriate behavior for men and for women which affirms male humanity in terms of its authority over female humanity.  First, for men:
The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. . . Some of the more obvious[situations] would be in military combat settings if women were positioned so as to deploy and command men; or in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settleheated disputes among men. And I would stress that this is not necessarily owing to male egotism, but to a natural and good penchant given by God. [Emphasis added.]
And for women:
[A] mature woman. . will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men. This is true even though she may find herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her. . . One or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point . . . [but]her demeanor-the tone and style and disposition and discourse of her ranking position-can signal clearly her affirmation of the unique role that men should play in relationship to women owing to their sense of responsibility to protect and lead. . . To illustrate: it is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man that neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. It is not a contradiction to speak of certain kinds of influence coming from women to men in ways that affirm the responsibility of men to provide a pattern of strength and initiative.
But as I said earlier, there are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive and healthy for the overall structure of home and society. Some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role.
It appears that there are in fact no times when the CBMW would say women are not expected to acknowledge the God-given and innate authority of men.  The proof of the pudding, though, would be in a real-life situation where it might make sense to say that male authority and female subordination are not functioning due to the particular circumstances involved.  If male authority is functional and not essential, then there ought to be exceptions to the pattern.  If there are no exceptions-- if male authority holds true even in the most adverse circumstances possible-- then we are certainly not talking about "authority and submission in and of themselves," but of inborn and innate authority which puts male humanity and female humanity in different and unequal states of being. 

So here is the test case: the sad and lovely marriage of Ian and Larissa Murphy. Here is Ian and Larissa Murphy's Story on John Piper's Website.  If you have time, please view the entire 8-minute video.  

Her-Meneutics Article on the Murphys from May 2012 describes it like this:
They met in college and fell in love. They talked about getting married, and he started looking for a ring. They dreamed about life together, a life of beauty and joy, raising babies and laughing with friends and growing old. They did not imagine a car accident. They did not imagine his brain injury. They did not dream about the need for constant care and a wheelchair and fear that food might choke him. They did not plan for this.
Larissa agreed to marry Ian even though in every practical way, she is required to be the leader in their relationship.  She must manage the household, she must be the breadwinner, she must take care of the finances.  She does all of this while feeding and bathing him and giving him his medications, because she loves him, and he clearly is capable at least of loving her.  I admire her and that kind of love very much. 

The Her-meneutics article goes on to say:
She differentiates (following John Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage) between primary and secondary things within marriage: "Ian can't do many of the secondary things, like working or making a meal for me. Everything that's primary, though, he can do, which is leading me spiritually."
I'm glad that Larissa and Ian Murphy have found some way that he can contribute some strength of his own to the relationship, so that it's not entirely one-sided.  And it's possible that, despite his severe brain injury and inability to communicate more than the simplest concepts, he is in some way leading her spiritually.  But to focus on that as the one primary aspect of their relationship, passing over all the ways that she can and must be leading him, is pretty good proof that in CMBW's view of manhood and womanhood, authority for leadership is essential to maleness-- without exception.

The Wartburg Watch wrote about the Murphys in June 2012:
In the video we learn that Larissa, along with her pastor, had to go before a judge to be granted permission to be marry Ian. This means that Ian was judged incapable of making that independent legal decision. . . Larissa must do just about everything for Ian. She works, cares for the home, etc. She holds his head while he throws up, and she interprets what he is saying. She is in charge.
[But] this story is quite threatening to the patriarchal movement. It is obvious the Larissa is in control and has authority but that is an anathema to their “authority” definition. So, this situation has been reinterpreted to put Ian back in the driver's seat.
 Piper said in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (see link above), pages 29-30:
[A] man may not be physically able to provide for or protect his family and yet be mature in his masculinity. He may be paralyzed. He may have a disabling disease. His wife may be the main breadwinner in such a circumstance.
And she may be the one who must get up at night to investigate a frightening noise in the house. This is not easy for the man. But if he still has a sense of his own benevolent responsibility under God he will not lose his masculinity.
His sense of responsibility will find expression in the ways he conquers self-pity, and gives moral and spiritual leadership for his family. . . .
Piper wrote these words in 1991, long before Ian and Larissa's story began-- but his words and their story dovetail together.  Whatever else a man may lose, he cannot lose his spiritual authority, because it's essential to his manhood.  He may not be able to act on his authority, but he never loses it; and no matter how much she may be required to lead, a woman never truly loses her innate disposition to submit to the man.

Piper, and CBMW, clearly believe that this is about the God-given, inborn and innate authority of men and the God-given, inborn and innate subordination of women.  When men and women don't function according to these inborn directives, they are in rebellion against God and their own natures. But gender distinctions really are not different in any way from the distinctions of race or class. When one group of human beings has a natural, inborn trait of (and divine right to) authority over another group of human beings, equality is simply gone.  Just saying there is still equality will not make it so. 

So this really isn't about my having a problem with authority.  It's about me having a problem with being delineated as a woman in such a way that the image-of-God equality of all human beings set forth in Genesis 1:26 is to all intents and purposes negated and denied to me.

Lip-service to equality doesn't satisfy me.  I want the real thing. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Logical Fallacy of "Equal But Subordinate"

Julie Anne over at Spiritual Sounding Board has drawn the blogosphere's attention this week to an article that the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ("CBMW") posted in its Spring 2006 Journal entitled "Relationships and Roles in the New Creation," written by Mark David Walton. Spiritual Sounding Board put up its first post on this dated March 12, 2014, and the CBMW has since removed this article from its website.  However, this screen shot captures the withdrawn article.

The gist of the article is that male headship and female subordination are part of the very nature of manhood and womanhood, and thus will continue in the next life: that the full arrival of the New Creation in Christ will simply be a more complete and joyful enacting of our gender roles.

In referring to "gender roles," CMBW does not mean only that women take care of the house while men provide for the house; indeed, if that were the extent of it, it would be annoying but not nearly so dangerous.  No, what CBMW means by "gender roles" is that men were designed by God for "headship" over women, while women were designed by God for "joyful submission" to male headship (i.e., willing subordination).  Since according to CBMW, headship and subordination are part and parcel of what it means, respectively, to be a man or a woman, the logical conclusion would in fact be that these would continue into the next life. As the article puts it:
Complementarity [by which is meant male headship/female subordination] is not just an accommodation to the less-than-perfect conditions that prevailed during the first century.  Rather, it is a divine principle weaved into the fabric of God's order for the universe. . . . To deny the very concept of male headship on the false assumption that it is incompatible with creation ideals is, at best, reckless theology.
The Strange Figures blog has written a very humorous parody of the article-- here's a sample:
To our dear sisters in Christ, 
Greetings to you in the name of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who has bought us with His blood, purchasing for Himself a people reflecting the richness of biblical manhood and womanhood. . .

For we have taught you always that your rank as women is part of the divine order, God’s prelapsarian will for the “better half” of his highest creation (if you will permit us a tiny and theologically unsound joke). If submission is God’s will for you in this mortal life, would it not also be His will for you in heaven? Heaven will be a return to the lost edenic dream in which you were created to be helpmeets to the “adams” God has appointed over you, and we look forward with anticipation to the blessings that will come to you when that perfect vision is restored.
Besides the fact that the idea of a new heavens and new earth in which I as a woman will be eternally subordinate-- perhaps to all males, but at least to my husband, my father, my father-in-law, my grandfather, my grandfather-in-law (and so on down to the roots of the family tree) smells a bit more of fire and brimstone than any self-respecting concept of eternal bliss really has any business smelling of-- there are some serious logical flaws in this whole line of thought.

I want to particularly address this line of reasoning from the article:
At the very heart of the feminist movement is the conviction that there can be no true equality as long as gender-based differentiation of roles and responsibility remain. . . Only where there is functional equivalence between the sexes does equality exist. . . [But this] premise is false because functional equivalence cannot be genuinely necessary to genuine equality.  A biblical worldview understands that the locus of worth of a human life does not reside in any physical, emotional or intellectual attribute or possession.  Neither is it to be found in the individual's functionality or potential for productivity.  The worth of each person is based upon the truth that he or she bears the imago dei, the image of God. . . . Feminists, both secular and evangelical, define equality in terms of functionality rather than ontologically-- on the basis of being.  They err by effectively reducing equality to "sameness". . . We can be certain, however, that the new creation will be characterized not by sameness but by incredible diversity- diversity of abilities, diversity of gifts, and diversity of rewards. [Emphases in original.]
CBMW is here saying that all individuals have differing gifts and abilities and thus are not functionally equal, but are still ontologically equal: equal in their essential being or nature.  Male and female gender roles are like this, the article implies.  Just because women have differing gifts and abilities (and thus differing roles and responsibilities) than men does not make them essentially non-equal.  If one person is gifted to be an entrepreneur and another to be a car mechanic, this functional difference does not equal an ontological difference.  Both are made in the image of God and are thus equal in their very being, even though not equal in their gifts and abilities.

The difficulty here, of course, is that no "feminists" have actually denied this.  As a Christian egalitarian and a Jesus feminist, I do not in fact believe what he says I believe: that functional equivalence is necessary for true equality-- nor is this conclusion implied by my position.  The idea is not that a particular man and a particular woman cannot be equal if he is leadership-oriented and she really prefers a supportive role.  No-- the egalitarian/feminist objection to male headship is not based on a requirement for functional equivalence.  The objection is actually based on a false equation: that male headship/female subordination IS actually a functional difference. It is in reality an ontological one. 

In order to see where I'm going with this, it's important to understand the distinction between necessary (or essential) and accidental properties, as these terms are used in philosophy.  As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:
[A]n essential property of an object is a property that it must have while an accidental property of an object is one that it happens to have but that it could lack. . . In the characterization just given of the distinction between essential and accidental properties, the use of the word “must” reflects the fact that necessity is invoked, while the use of the word “could” reflects that possibility is invoked. . . [T]o say that an object must have a certain property is to say that it could not lack it; and to say that an object could have a certain property is to say that it is not the case that it must lack it. 
Many would say that each individual human could not fail to be human; if so, . . . the property of being human [is] an essential property of each human. And, too, many would say that although someone, say X, is in fact fond of dogs, X could have lacked that property; if that is right, then. . . the property of being fond of dogs [is] an accidental property of X.
Keeping those definitions in mind, it is clear that maleness or femaleness is an accidental property of being human.  A human could be male and still be human; she could be female and still be human; a human could in fact be intersex and still be human.  There is, then, a subset of humanity which is male and a subset which is female, and both subsets are human.  Let's look, then at what the CBMW article does with the concepts of headship and subordination as they relate to male and female humanity.
In the ordering of his creation. . . God formed the man first and gave him responsibility and authority as the head of the human race.  This headship, far from being a result of the fall - feminist and egalitarian claims notwithstanding - is a central feature of the divine created order.  Because the new creation is, fundamentally, a return to the divine order that prevailed before the fall, it follows that male headship will remain in the new creation. . . . The principle of headship and submission in male-female relations is clearly affirmed in the New Testament. Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is this principle replaced or rescinded. . .  There is every reason to believe, then, that male headship will continue as the divine order for male-female relationships. [Emphasis added.]
Notice what is happening here. God built male headship into humanity at creation and ordained that it would continue always. In other words, CMBW has assigned this quality - headship - as an essential attribute of those possessing one particular accidental trait: that of maleness. And they have assigned another quality - subordination/submission - as an essential attribute of those possessing another accidental trait: that of femaleness.  Remember that it is the essential traits that make a thing ontologically itself.  A human cannot be genetically non-human, because the human genome is essential to the being (the ontology) of humanness.  CBMW is saying that headship is part of what makes male humans ontologically male, while subordination is part of what makes female humans ontologically female.

Now, we might say that possession of the XX chromosome is essential to being a female human, and that possession of the XY chromosome is essential to being a male human.  We might also say that the potential ability to bear children is essential to being female, though a particular female human can have the accidental quality of being actually unable to bear children. Equivalently, the potential ability to engender children is essential to being a male human, while an actual inability to engender children would be an accidental quality of a particular male human. But notice how the essential qualities are equivalent.  There is no essential ability in the one that does not correspond to an equal and corresponding essential ability in the other.  One does not have an essential ability (potential procreation) which the other lacks, but both male and female are essential to human procreation.  In other words, these essential properties are equal and result in ontological equality in male and female human beings. 

The same is true of the imago dei which the CBMW article quite rightly identifies as the essential spiritual quality of humanness.  Both male and female humans are equally made in the image of God. The image of God is not lesser or diminished in one human sex. To be made in the image of God is what it means to be human: this is a necessary/essential property of humanness.

But what does it mean to say that the subset of humans with the trait of maleness essentially possess headship, while the subset with the trait of femaleness essentially are subordinate to that headship? Submission and subordination are not positive ontological qualities in and of themselves; they are, rather, responses to the ontological quality of headship in the other.  The human with headship is the agent, the mover, the one who acts.  The subordinate human follows and responds to the agent and mover. Subordination is not an essential ability which is equal and corresponding to headship.  It is in every way a lesser and dependent quality to the quality of headship.

If headship is essential to male humanity and subordination/submission is essential to female humanity, and since the essential attributes are what make a thing ontologically itself, then male humanity in its very essence possesses a quality which female humanity in its very essence lacks and is dependent upon.  The result is that given these definitions of the nature of male and female humans, female humanity then logically and necessarily becomes ontologically lesser to male humanity.

We simply are not talking about functional differences here!  If the nature of human maleness is headship and the nature of human femaleness is subordination, then what we have are two classes of humanity which are superior and inferior by their very natures. This is what egalitarians and feminists object to-- and this is what CBMW, intentionally or not, is holding forth as a truth not simply of this world, but of the one to come.

What, then, happens to a verse like Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus"?  CBMW's position is that this applies only to our standing in Christ in terms of salvation; that it means nothing with regards to male headship and female subordination in the body of Christ today or in eternity.  But if headship and subordination are essential and therefore ontological traits of male vs. female humanity, and if headship and subordination are therefore going to continue even into the fullness of the New Creation, then Galatians 3:28 means exactly nothing at all.  Our standing in Christ does not and never will add to female humanity this additional human quality of headship which it now lacks and always will lack.  In Christ, in fact, there absolutely is "male and female," now and forever.

And yet it is the CBMW which insists that egalitarians have a "chronic conundrum" of "how to reconcile passages that are . . . plainly inconsistent" with their worldview.  Egalitarian interpretations usually show how historical-cultural understandings of particular texts give them different applications for today.  They do not simply render a scriptural passage, to all intents and purposes, moot and fundamentally meaningless.

I try to avoid in principle speculations into the motives and internal character of other Christians, so I will not offer any opinion on why CBMW has removed their article "Relationships and Roles in the New Creation" from their website.  I will simply say that the article does reflect the logical conclusion of male headship thinking, that its logical conclusion contradicts its own premise of male-female ontological equality-- and that it contemplates a supposedly divine reality that I would really rather be excused from ever having to live in.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Forgotten Women in Chuch History: The Great Triumvirate - Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth and Hannah Whitall Smith

The theme of this year's Women's History Month is "Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment."  My "Forgotten Women in Church History" series is now up to the mid-1800s, which ushered in the first prominent, public and professional ministries of Protestant women.  Daughters of the Church calls three of these "the great triumvirate" - Phoebe Palmer, Catherine Booth and Hannah Whitall Smith, who all encapsulate this year's theme.

But while the successes of these women were well publicized in their day, Christian history often passes them by.  The book Church History in Plain Language, for instance, has this to say about the founding of the Salvation Army (Third Edition, p. 411):
The most outstanding example of a ministry to the dispossessed was the work of a pietistic evangelical William Booth (1829-1912).  He started the ministry with the Methodist New Connection but soon withdrew to work with London's poor.  His street preaching in London's East End in 1864 met with phenomenal success. . . His workers, organized like a military unit, were soon called the Salvation Army. Evangelist Booth became General Booth.
Catherine Booth has no mention in this book.  And yet the Salvation Army was actually in every way the joint creation of William Booth and his wife, as William Booth himself would have testified! However, Church History in Plain Language not only fails to name her, it also speaks of the Holiness Movement (p. 432) while failing to mention Phoebe Palmer or Hannah Whitall Smith, who were instrumental, if not indispensable, in that movement.

These three women were contemporaries, members of husband-wife teams in which "the women [were] more prominent or equally prominent in each case (Daughters of the Church, p. 261)." All were connected to sectarian movements that "recognized special calls to ministry over and above ordination (Daughters, p. 258)":
The nineteenth century, more than any century before, was one of "women preachers." Most of these women were not ordained, and did not have their own parish, but they nevertheless "preached," attaining wide recognition.  They moved across denominational barriers and sometimes even in circles of high social standing.  This was indeed a new phenomenon in religious life-- one that prompted strong criticism from more traditional elements in the established churches. . . As had been true in previous centuries, the "call" was a very important factor in justifying a woman's role in Christian ministry.
Booth, Palmer and Smith all testified to receiving such a call, and all found well-publicized success in part through the cooperation and support of their husbands, whose own calls to public ministry were of course unquestioned.  In addition, each of these women introduced her own new contribution to the particular doctrinal emphasis of the movement with which she was associated.

Phoebe Palmer

According to ChristianHistory.Net, Phoebe Palmer was
one of those cases of someone almost unknown today, who actually left a Rushmore-sized impression on America's religious landscape.  Phoebe Palmer was the most influential woman in the largest, fastest-growing religious group in mid-19th-century America—Methodism. By her initiative, missions were begun, camp-meetings instituted, and many thousands attested to the transforming power of divine grace. She mothered a nationwide movement that birthed such denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army, bridged 18th-century Methodist revivalism to 20th-century Pentecostalism, and pioneered in social reform and female ministry. . . [T]his included ministering to Methodist bishops in her parlor, launching benevolent missions in the worst slums of New York, mobilizing an army of lay evangelists, writing impassioned biblical arguments for women in ministry, and preaching on two continents. And as she did these things, she helped launch a revival that changed a nation.
Palmer began holding informal prayer meetings called "Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness" in the 1830s.  This inspired other women to begin the same type of meetings, which "sprang up all over the country" and "had a significant influence also outside Methodist circles, particularly among Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists and Quakers (Daughters, p. 261-262)."   Palmer's "crowning achievement" was the Five Points Mission, which housed and provided schooling, both secular and religious, to about twenty poor families in New York.

In the fall of 1857 Palmer and her husband Walter spoke in Ontario, Canada, attracting large crowds, and a religious renewal sprang up which quickly spread back to America and then to England.  "At the time of her death, she was credited with having brought some 25,000 people to Christ for salvation (Daughters, p. 263)."

But the main emphasis of Palmer's teachings was her view of the Wesleyan doctrine of "entire sanctification."  John Wesley had believed that a disciplined life could lead eventually to an attainment of "perfect love" in Christ during life on this earth.  Palmer, however, was "proposing a radically new concept" -- that this blessing was "available the moment a Christian consecrated everything to God" and that "all an individual needed to do was to become a 'living sacrifice on the altar of Jesus Christ.'" Though this teaching was controversial, its emphasis on a grace-filled encounter with Christ as a "second blessing" for Christians drew many into a closer relationship with God.

A detailed survey of the life and ministry of Phoebe Palmer can also be found on Marg Mowczko's New Life blog.

Catherine Booth

Catherine Booth's husband William Booth was a prominent Methodist preacher in England.  Criticism of Phoebe Palmer's right to preach led Catherine to write a pamphlet entitled Female Ministry: Or, a Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel in 1859.  ChristianHistory.Net summarizes the pamphlet as follows:
[It was] a short, powerful defense of American Phoebe Palmer's holiness ministry. It was not a plea based on natural rights or other feminist themes of the day. Instead, she founded her argument on the absolute equality of men and women before God. She acknowledged that the Fall had put women into subjection, as a consequence of sin, but to leave them there, she said, was to reject the good news of the gospel, which proclaimed that the grace of Christ had restored what sin had taken away. Now all men and women were one in Christ. 
In responding to her critics, she asked, "If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it? … The Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other."
ChristianHistory.Net adds, "When she shared her emerging convictions with her new husband, he said, 'I would not stop a woman preaching on any account.' But he added that neither would he 'encourage one to begin.'"

Encouraged or not, it was about a year later that Catherine felt an inner prompting to rise after one of William's Sunday morning sermons and begin to speak.  Daughters of the Church says that "William was as surprised as anyone when she made her sudden announcement, but he quickly recovered, and when she had finished, he announced that she would preach that evening." (p. 264)

When, shortly afterwards, William became ill, Catherine found herself taking over his entire preaching circuit.  When he recovered, they left the Methodists to start their own revivalist ministry in London.  Catherine began preaching in the wealthy West End, while William began his very successful ministry to the poor in the East End.  But she soon joined him in city mission work, taking on a special ministry of rescuing women from prostitution.  Out of this joining of forces, the Salvation Army came into being-- and right from the start it encouraged the full involvement of women in ministry, and about half its ministers in the field were women.

The Booths then decided to spread the movement to America, sending a special team of women known as "The Splendid Seven" to preach the gospel and establish ministry to the poor.  The Army was widely scorned by "virtually every sector of society," and many Army workers, men and women alike, were often victims of assault (Daughters, p. 267). But the Booths persevered, and their children took up the banner of service after them-- most notably Evangeline Booth, who began preaching at the age of 15 and eventually became General of the worldwide movement.

Catherine Booth's special contribution to the doctrines of her movement was that whereas Phoebe Palmer had seen herself as an exception to women's usual domestic role, Booth insisted on the full equality and full contribution of women in ministry and in marriage.  Indeed, in her preaching ability she surpassed the men of her day, as Norman Murdoch wrote:
Many agree, no man of her era exceeded her in popularity or spiritual results, including her own husband. (from Church History magazine, September 1984; quoted in Daughters of the Church, p. 267.)

Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah Whitall Smith was raised Quaker and is best known for her devotional book The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.  She was married to Quaker minister Robert Pearsall Smith, and according to ChristianHistory.Net:
The two Smiths inspired the British Keswick movement, a non-Wesleyan holiness stream that would become highly influential back in America. Hannah was the more theologically astute as well as the more personally stable of the two, and her public appearances were noted for their quiet logic and their lack of the emotional appeals that Victorians associated with "feminine" rhetoric. It was Robert who experienced a "magnetic thrill of heavenly delight" in his 1867 "second blessing" experience, while Hannah's holiness teaching emphasized the subordinate role of feelings.
Hannah emphasized surrender and total abandonment to God:  "In order for a lump of clay to be made into a beautiful vessel, it must be entirely abandoned to the potter, and must lie passive in his hands."  In the 1870's she and her husband conducted a series of meetings in England in which she was hailed as "the angel of the churches (Daughters, p. 268)." Though their ministry eventually ended in a scandal caused by Robert's misconduct with a young woman, Hannah Whitall Smith continued to make public appearances from time to time, including a promotion of women preachers in London in 1895.

ChristianHistory.Net goes on to speak of the "Keswick" group that arose out of Hannah's "Deeper Life Movement":
The legacy of the Smiths lived on. . . in the English "Keswick" conferences, which began in the 1870s and continue today. Keswick participants—a denominationally mixed but predominantly Anglican group—preferred Boardman's term "the higher Christian life" to the more radical Wesleyan language of "entire sanctification" or "perfection." They denied that sinful tendencies could be eradicated (as many American Methodists believed). Instead, they taught that sin was counteracted by the experience of "baptism with the Spirit," allowing for a joyful and victorious Christian life.
Out of this movement came the ministry of Dwight L. Moody, and it also led eventually to the rise of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements.


All three of these women profoundly influenced Protestant Christianity as we know it today.  As ChristianHistory.Net puts it:
Throughout Christian history, from the martyrs and monastics to the Puritans and Pietists, movements have arisen in pursuit of a deeper devotion and more active Christlikeness.
Palmer, Booth and Smith took up just such a pursuit, and the movements that they helped engender are still bearing fruit today. In fact, the holiness movement was largely dependent on the contributions of these women and others like them, and it's impossible to fully account for this major movement and its descendant movements in Christian history, without the actions of women.

Even though we may not agree with everything they taught (nor did they always agree with each other), Palmer, Booth and Smith did agree on the beauty and holiness of Christ and our need to connect with Him as branches do to the vine (John 15:5).  As women of character, courage and commitment whose legacy lives beyond them, this "great triumvirate" of mid-19th-century women preachers should not be forgotten.