Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hiatus - Working on a Novel

This is just a note to my readers that I won't be posting very often for a few months, because I've resurrected a children's novel I started writing about six years ago, and I don't seem to have enough hours in the week to do both that and blogging!

The novel is hopefully going to be one of a series with the name "Terra Incognita," and it's about a family that gets sent into a parallel universe where the creatures of European medieval legend are real.  I got stuck years ago when I was halfway through chapter 10-- but I've figured out how to finish it, and I think I only have about five chapters left to complete.

Wish me luck!

Friday, June 19, 2015

In Tribute: Suzanne McCarthy, 1955-2015

In early 2008 I encountered Christian egalitarianism for the first time and embraced it with excitement and relief.  Finally, I could let go of my cognitive dissonance! I could believe in a God who hadn't arbitrarily consigned me to subordinate status; I could trust that I hadn't been created for subordination to a man while still somehow being his equal.

Naively I thought that any Christian who learned of this liberating new way of looking at Scripture would feel the same way I did.  Surely it would be a relief to them, too, to stop fighting against their better instincts the way I had had to fight mine.  Surely they would be happy to understand that God's ways were higher than the church's ways.  Surely they would be happy to see women set free.

And then, jarringly, upsettingly, I began to come across the counter-arguments.  The ones that said egalitarian Christians were in rebellion against God; that they were twisting the Scriptures because they didn't want to fulfill their God-given gender roles; that in their heart of hearts they loved the world and the world's culture too much to stand against it for Christ.  The Bible was plain and clear, they said.  How could I go against it?

Once I would have been willing to believe them, but the cage door was open and swinging, and I had found my way outside.  How could I go back in?  Dismayed, doubting myself, I looked for scholarly support for what I hoped, what I had to believe was somehow true, no matter what the accusations against it.  Men of God with credentials and letters after their names-- men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem-- were insisting that egalitarian scholarship regarding Greek words like "kephale" (translated "head" as in "the husband is the head of the wife") was mistaken and wrong-headed. I had no training in ancient languages.  Who should I believe?

It was then that I came across her blog-- or maybe I was directed there; I don't remember.

Suzanne McCarthy. Suzanne's Bookshelf.

Her bio simply said she was a woman living in Vancouver, Canada, but that she also blogged at Abecedaria, a scholarly site about language and letter systems.  As I used the blog search engine, it seemed that any topic on the complementarian/egalitarian debate that I typed in, she had addressed. As I read her words, I found myself encountering a singularly wise, compassionate, articulate scholar, who seemed to feel the same way I did about being consigned to female subordination.

For anything that Grudem or Piper said, Suzanne McCarthy had a strong answer, using facts and evidence from ancient language sources, showing how the words Paul and Peter used had been used by their historical and literary contempories.  For instance, here is an excerpt from one of her articles about how the word "kephale" ("head") was used by Philo of Alexandria:
The "head" is the virtuous person. I see no indication that this person has ruling authority. In another book, Philo gives an example of this kind of person, Philadelphus,
        "Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus, was the third in succession after Alexander, the monarch who subdued Egypt; and he was, in all virtues which can be displayed in government, the most excellent sovereign, not only of all those of his time, but of all that ever lived; so that even now, after the lapse of so many generations, his fame is still celebrated, as having left many instances and monuments of his magnanimity in the cities and districts of his kingdom, so that even now it is come to be a sort of proverbial expression to call excessive magnificence, and zeal, for honour and splendour in preparation, Philadelphian, from his name; (30) and, in a word, the whole family of the Ptolemies was exceedingly eminent and conspicuous above all other royal families, and among the Ptolemies, Philadelphus was the most illustrious; for all the rest put together scarcely did as many glorious and praiseworthy actions as this one king did by himself, being, as it were, the leader of the herd, and in a manner the head of all the kings." On Moses II:29 
Here "head" means "most illustrious" and simply cannot mean "authority over" since Philadelphus is head of the kings in his family who lived before him and followed him. He simply never had authority over the other kings in chronological succession with him. Was Philadelphus really the "ruling authority" over his own father? 
. . . Much still needs to be done to release men and women from a ruler - subject relationship, and allow them to enter into a relationship of hesed, which is "covenant love" and is simply called kindness, or lovingkindness in the King James Bible. The scriptures are so clear on the fact that hesed is the core value in relationships. [Emphasis added.]
At the time I first encountered her blog, Suzanne McCarthy's day job was teaching special-needs children.  Her gentle graciousness in imparting the wisdom she gained from these children seemed to shine a light into my soul:
The learning goals for the Down's syndrome child are to have her identify and express her choice or personal preference. The student also learns appropriate group behaviour and how to act as hostess and leader of the group. She plans, buys and prepares the food. She cleans up. She passes the food around and passes the pen for other students to record their choice. It is her event. 
Experiencing and expressing personal autonomy is essential to psychological health. These students are more than just trainable. We do not train even a child of the most limited ability as if she were anything less than fully human. She also has the experience of being the leader of the group. She controls the pace and responses. We each need the experience of functioning as a leader. We ask this for all of us, that we would also be able to experience and express choice in ways that are respectful of other people.
In a comment on her own post, Ms. McCarthy adds: "I thought that it was an important statement on authority/permission and the individual. We do not restrict even children to total submission."

To be human, she says, is to be able to make choices for oneself, to have personal agency.  Even those we might consider the least capable need the dignity of self-expression, the experience of autonomy, and a chance to try leadership.  Here is "do unto others" in a nutshell.  And here is the definitive answer to male headship, in a post where she never overtly mentions the topic.  If full humanity cannot be realized in a state of constant subordination, how can we Christians consign women to just such a state?

It seemed to me that I could hear Jesus saying, "I had Downs syndrome, and you helped me learn to make my own choices. I was a special needs child, and you gave me dignity. I had limited abilities, and you let me experience leadership. Inasmuch as you have done this to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me."

Later, Suzanne began blogging on BLT: Bible Literature Translation, and she, with the other members of that group, ended up inviting me to join.  To be honest, with my simple Bachelor of Arts, I have always had a bit of an inferiority complex about posting my stuff among the much more erudite offerings of my fellow members-- but Suzanne McCarthy made a special effort to make me feel valued as a contributor, however infrequently I posted.

In January 2014 Suzanne announced on BLT that she had been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  It was in the context of this that she shared her post There are Worse Things than Dying:
No matter what, the overwhelming trauma of living 30 years in complementarianism will not fade. The further away I get, the more I experience a normal, loving life, the more I realize that I lived those 30 years in severe physical and psychological pain and trauma. I will never be able to describe the absolute terror of living 30 years in a form of bondage that was supposedly willed on me, not by culture, not by my own stupidity, but by God when he created the world. That is what I believed. I tremble as I write this. It brings on nausea and shaking. It was completely terrible. But that is what Carson teaches, but he has never experienced the trauma himself. He wills it on the other sex. 
Not all women experience complementarianism the way I did. However, the reality is that not once, while I was in the situation, did I express my true feelings about this belief. How would anyone know what women caught in this web of suppression really think? In the situation, there was a kind of numbness that keeps one going. There is a way to live and not live, at the same time. That is what it was like.
I did not experience complementarianism in marriage like that, but I do know and have experienced how God's name is taken in vain when it is used as an instrument of power and control.  As I read her words, I was humbled and blessed by the transparency and openness with which Suzanne McCarthy wrote. Her writing was embued with the power of her mind and the beauty of her heart, and I have to say it has spoken to me as few others have in my life.

Perhaps it's also because she loved the wild places like I do, and could write about them like this:

I am looking out my window
at the mountain now
That we climbed last fall
To train for further climbs we said
But we didn’t really know.
From the summit
we gazed down
On straits and islands
To the west
On city to the south
And to the north
The serried ranks
Of mauve tinted peaks
Reached to infinity.
We lay spreadeagled
on the soft sand table
The very topmost leaf of land
From which everywhere
Is down
And the ravens dipped
Out of the wild blue sky
And the thrumming beat
of their broad wings
Echoed through our bones
And their black serrated spans
pinned us to the earth
Then we hurried down
Heels digging in the gravel
And promised to each other
That we would return next summer
With pencils and paper,
Sketchpad and notebook
And a day’s worth of food and water
But we never did.
The mountain came to me
And I lay myself down
Face to the moss carpet
That edges the creeks
You cross as you ascend
This is the return
To the earth before Adam and Eve
When we were children playing
In the land before time
I see the children playing
-- that I feel as if we were in some way kindred spirits, even though we never personally met.

I will miss you, Suzanne McCarthy.  One day in eternity, I hope to take your hand and tell you how much you have meant to me. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Good Stuff - April - May 2015

Here are some of the things I have found most interesting online since the beginning of April.*

On racial injustice:

How Western Media Would Cover Baltimore if it Happened Elsewhere [or rather, if it happened right where it did happen, but the USA were a third-world country]:
International leaders expressed concern over the rising tide of racism and state violence in America, especially concerning the treatment of ethnic minorities in the country and the corruption in state security forces around the country when handling cases of police brutality. The latest crisis is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, a once-bustling city on the country’s Eastern Seaboard, where an unarmed man named Freddie Gray died from a severed spine while in police custody. 
Black Americans, a minority ethnic group, are killed by state security forces at a rate higher than the white majority population . . . 
The United Kingdom expressed concern over the troubling turn of events in America in the last several months. The country’s foreign ministry released a statement: “We call on the American regime to rein in the state security agents who have been brutalizing members of America’s ethnic minority groups. The equal application of the rule of law, as well as the respect for human rights of all citizens, black or white, is essential for a healthy democracy.” Britain has always maintained a keen interest in America, a former colony.
We're Dying Too by Andrea J. Ritchie at Colorlines:
In the popular imagination a victim of a police shooting is almost always that of a young black man. Media headlines, presidential speeches, and rally chants all paint a picture of police violence as a problem plaguing black communities, but really, we’re only talking about young men. This time, the life of the unarmed black person taken was a young woman’s.

Boyd is one of hundreds of black women killed by police whose name has not grabbed national headlines or galvanized national movements. Chicago alone has witnessed the killings of Frankie Perkins, who police choked to death because they erroneously believed that she had swallowed drugs; LaTanya Haggerty, whose cell phone was mistaken for a gun; and Angelique Styles, who police fatally shot after coming to her home to address a domestic dispute. . . 
Sadly, these stories are not unique—although each black woman killed was. There are literally countless others we’ll never know because there is no official data about the number of police killings being collected and because black women’s stories rarely gain media attention.
She Who the Son Sets Free: Black Womanist Resistance in Context by Eboni Marshall Turman at Divinity Magazine:
Because black women’s bodies sit at the intersection of racialized subjugation on the one hand and gendered subjugation on the other, their experiences and distinct contributions are not only marginalized and caricatured but often rendered fictitious, as if black women do not know for themselves that their stories are true. Womanist theology recognizes that black women “are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes … in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, KJV).
On Christian Fundamentalism (and Recent Related Events):

Faith in the System, or Faith in Jesus? by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk:
[T]he evangelical Christianity that I spent most of my adult life studying and teaching, is not, in the final analysis about Jesus, except insofar as Jesus is a part of the system. It is faith in the Bible that is more fundamental. It is believing in the system that is crucial. They are not just making a claim that reading the Bible aright leads to Jesus, it’s more than that. It is that the Bible is a divinely given systematic presentation of an entire worldview that must be believed in its entirety for one to be a faithful Christian (along with having “accepted” Jesus, of course). Indeed, beyond that, if we allow one crack in the wall of this system, society itself will become subject to moral decay, chaos, and ultimately destruction. . . 
When your faith is in a system, this system becomes your “platform.” 
Those who hold to it become the “party” of those defined by allegiance to the system. 
The party begins to function as a “political” entity. 
And the whole thing becomes a “partisan” affair in which faithfulness is defined as defending the system against all who suggest any other way.
Modesty is Causing Women to Stumble by PerfectNumber at Tell Me Why the World is Weird:
If you say something that causes a woman to stumble- to believe the lie that she's not good enough and she should feel shame because of her body- that's her own responsibility. Of course it's not your fault. Except that it totally is, and you have a responsibility to not contribute to a culture that heaps this kind of shame on your sisters in Christ. 
So the next time you want to make a comment on what women should or shouldn't wear, stop and think first. Will my words cause someone to stumble? (Your opinions on what's sexy are good and God-given, but they are meant to be shared only with your spouse, not the general public.) When in doubt, you can ask your mother or sister for their advice.
The Duggars: How Fundamentalist Teachings on Sexuality Create Predatory Behavior at Diary of an Autodidact:
[I]n the cases of all these cases of sexual assault within [Christian Fundamentalist] Patriarchy, we want to be able to dismiss them as outliers. Bad acts by bad people. Josh Duggar is a child molester, so we just keep him away from kids, and everything will be fine. 
And then we NEVER have to address the damage that our poisonous teachings on sexuality are causing. It is not an accident that we are attracting (and paying) narcissistic predators like Gothard and Phillips. And it is not an accident that there are problems with assault in Patriarchal families. At some point, one can't just blame bad luck for the lightning strikes. We have to admit we have been standing outside in the storm, holding a metal pole. We attract bad actors, and we make predatory acts by those who would not otherwise have been predators more likely. 
True, let's remove the bad actors, but let's not ignore the other source of poison: bad beliefs and teachings.
Weaponized Grace by Lewis at Commandments of Men:
In any setting - legal, cultural, religious - justice must first be established when people have been harmed or wronged. It's the ONLY way a victim can be the priority. The ONLY way. Once you figure out how justice shapes up, then, and only then, can you start talking about grace or mercy for the victimizer.  All of these people clamoring for "grace" to be immediately shown to Josh Duggar would feel entirely different were one of their daughters a victim of his crime. No matter what came out of their mouth, their heart would demand justice. Holding other people to standards by which you won't truly measure yourself is always ugly, and always lacking in genuine integrity.

People can hide behind the idea that his victims "forgave" him, but those of us who know the culture know they had a choice between "forgiveness" and being a familial AND religious outcast. They would be told, over and over again, how much of a sinner they are/were until they caved in and "forgave". In other words, "grace" would be weaponized against them.
On gender roles:

There Are No "Biblical Men" by Brandan Robertson at Revangelical:
As I have studied the cultural context surrounding the New Testament writings and early Christianity, it has become astoundingly clear to me that Dr. Rainey (and subsequently many other evangelicals) definition of masculinity is derived much more from the Greco-Roman culture than from any clear teachings of Christ. 
In the Greco-Roman world, there was an idealized version of manhood that all men were to aspire to become like. It is, for instance, a Platonic ideal that men should separate themselves from emotions and passions. It is from within the Greco-Roman culture men are seen as providers, leaders, and protectors of their families. But what of men who don’t have families? What of men who are deeply emotive and creative? According to the definition and logic of the culture of Ancient Rome and of many evangelicals today, they are seen to be less than masculine. . .

Any attempt to construct a Biblical model for masculinity proves to be an impossible task because even Christ himself, along with many other men in the New Testament, are constantly being called in to conflict with the predominate model of masculinity of their day. . . What we see demonstrated in the New Testament is a call to embrace the fullness of our unique identity in their Creator, whatever that may look like, rather than to conform to our cultures standards of manliness.
Here's What It Would Look Like If We Treated Our Sons Like We Treat Our Daughters by Lori Day at Everyday Feminism:
Logan is an active preschooler. 
As he runs through the house, you hear the tap-tap-tapping of his little shiny dress shoes on the hardwood floors. Occasionally, he slides in them and goes down on his bum, but he gets right back up again. 
Outside is a new swing set. He loves to try to run up the slide, but it’s tricky in those smooth-soled shoes. 
When he wears them to preschool, the teachers notice that it’s hard for him to run and climb like the girls, but they gush over how handsome he looks in them. . . .
Middle school! 
It’s a whole new world with different classrooms, different teachers, and kids who seem to have changed a lot over the summer. 
Sometimes he pretends to be dumb so girls will like him. 
Logan feels some pressure to conform. He wants to dress like the other boys in clothes that you and his father feel are a bit too clingy and revealing. 
He notices how hot and sexy all of the boys are on television and in the movies, and he wants to be hot and sexy too, so he rolls up the bottoms of his turquoise shorts to make them shorter, hoping not to receive a dress code violation. 
He has mastered the ability to look around nonchalantly as he walks down the hall, checking to be sure the girls are admiring his body.
Logan is now an adult in his final year of college, and beginning to interview for jobs after graduation. 
He always dresses well for his interviews, wearing a slimming outfit that makes him look both professional and attractive. 
As he navigates the city streets that he hopes will connect him to a future full of happiness and success, he passes by billboards and bus ads of men in G-strings with flawless, Photoshopped bodies. 
He barely notices them. 
As he mentally rehearses for an upcoming interview, he walks down the sidewalk, lost in thought. “Smile, baby!” a woman calls out to him. “You look more handsome when you smile.”

And finally, this beautiful mingling of sorrow and mercy that sounds a note of hope through it all:

Reading the Bible With a Red Pen by Esther Emery at SheLoves Magazine:
Now, I read the Bible and all over the thin and crinkling pages I see the madness. I see the hatred, the nationalism, the patriarchy, the appalling injustices. I see Jael, who invited her enemy into her tent and nailed his head to the ground with a tent pin. I see Saul, who lost God’s favor for failing to annihilate his enemy down to the last child and head of cattle. I see the language of homophobia, misogyny and violence … woven right into the fabric of redemption. 
I see God’s story of love and liberation, woven tighter than I ever dreamed with the reality of suffering. God’s threads, tied into our threads. God’s eyes, on the darkest places of the heart. No life unredeemable. No hatred or oppression invisible. No suffering too unspeakable to be given voice. . . 
I don’t like this, but I think it’s true. We are all threaded into this earthly world, tied right into this history of bloodshed and domination. When are we the ones who are sinned against? And when are we the sinners? We can’t always tell. This fabric is woven tighter than we thought. . . 
Though I might know and love compassion—and I do—yet still I have given my voice to the mob, sometimes by choosing silence. Yet still I have given my arms to stones that kill. I have been wrong as well as right. The Bible cries out to my heart to seek redemption, transformation, and holy hope.

The next time I read the Bible I will read it like food instead of words. I will drink it like salty water. I will feed the thirst of my soul with it, even with this brutally rendered portrait of a broken world, confessing itself at every turn in need of redemption.

*Where there is emphasis in any quote, it appears in the original.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Man as "Prophet, Priest and King" of Wife & Children

The teaching that a man is the "prophet, priest and king" of his home isn't new.  I've certainly heard it before.  In fact, the fundamentalist website National Center for Family-Integrated Churches recently reprinted a piece written in the 1600s by a Puritan named William Gurnall.  Here's a sample:
Every father hath the care of souls upon him. He is prophet, king, and priest in his own house, and from these will appear his duty. . . How comes it to pass that many...children, when they come to be themselves heads of families, are so unable to be their relations’ mouth to God in prayer, but because they have in their [childhood] lived in prayerless families and were kept in ignorance of this duty...?
In those times, of course, it was simply assumed by society at large that men were to be in authority over their wives and families, so Gurnall quotes a number of Old Testament passages about the Biblical authority roles of prophet, king and priest, and applies them to husbands and fathers.  I disagree, of course, with Gurnall's interpretation, but it isn't a particularly surprising one.  The ancient authority positions of prophet, priest and king were held in the Bible by numerous human beings.  Since male heads of families were also in authority positions, Bible passages about the roles and duties of such authorities would naturally be applied to them.  However, I might point out that Elizabeth I was Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, and Gurnall lived from 1616 to 1679.  He would not have been unfamiliar with the concept of women sometimes fulfilling authority positions, and he would probably have admitted that some of the Old Testament prophets were in fact female, and that at least one, Huldah, was treated as a voice of authority by an Old Testament king.

In fact, Gurnall's quote above uses the word "children" and not "sons" as those who can come to be heads of families, probably recognizing that in his time (the 17th century), some women were indeed heads of their households.  Gurnall does, however, focus on fathers as "prophets, priests and kings," and though I think Jesus actually taught something quite different about Christians and cultural authority, Gurnall's words are at least understandable in his social context.

Recently, though, I learned that a disturbing new trend is placing a very troubling contemporary twist on this notion.  A Sampling of Prophet/Priest/King Teaching by the Christian Patriarchal Watch List provides a number of links and quotes exposing this new trend.

Here's an example from Charisma Magazine:
Some men think Christ is Jesus’ last name. Of course, Christ is not a name but a title for Jesus that means “Messiah” or “anointed one.” Jesus loved the church—His family—as its Christ, or anointed one. Since husbands are to love their wives in the same way as the anointed one loves His family, they need to know exactly what Jesus was anointed to do. In the New Testament, as we shall see, husbands become anointed ones.[Emphasis added.]

In theology, Christ occupies the classic threefold office of prophet, priest and king. Let’s explore how this relates to you. 
Notice what is happening here.  The authority positions of prophet, priest and king, as held by various individuals in the Old Testament, are indeed brought together spiritually in the Person of Christ in the New Testament.  But before Christ, no two of these positions were held in the Bible by the same human being.  Certain men of the Levite tribe were priests, but there is no record of one of them ever becoming a prophet.  The line of anointed kings came from David, of the tribe of Judah, so the kings were not priests and the priests were not kings. Prophets came from various tribes but were not priests or kings.

God apparently thought it best not to concentrate too much authority or power in the hands of one person-- except in the Person of His divine Son.  Christ is the "anointed one" or "Messiah" precisely because He is not merely human, but "the Word become flesh" (John 1:14).  However, this concept of separation of powers did not carry through into the Christendom of the 17th-century West, where kings ruled by divine right and the monarch of England was also the ruler of England's Church. Gurnall thus sees no reason not to combine all three authoritative roles in the person of a male head of household. However, as I have understood this traditional teaching, it has not gone so far as to equate male headship authority with the divine anointing of Jesus Christ.

Until now.

Here's an excerpt from Rob Flood over at Family Life:
It has been widely accepted that Christ's activity on behalf of the church can be summarized in these three functional titles: Prophet, Priest and King. A brief look at each will give us keen insight into our role as husbands. 
Christ as Prophet: A prophet is someone who brings forth the Word of God to mankind. He is responsible for accurately discerning what God is saying and communicating that to others. Christ performed this prophetic role perfectly in two ways. First, He accurately spoke and taught the Word and words of God to others. Second, He was the actual expression of God and the Word made flesh. 
The Husband as Prophet: We have the amazing privilege of bringing forth the Word of God to our wives. While this might involve some actual Bible-teaching time, we need to see the various other forms this should take. We can proclaim His Word and His will as we counsel our wives, as we make family decisions and as we plan for our family's future. The common ingredient in all of its forms is God's Word. Without the Word of God, a prophet has nothing to say; his words are empty and meaningless. 
In addition to bringing forth the Word in our actions, we too must personify the Word made flesh in us. We must model the truth we are teaching. We must personify what we desire our wives and our marriages to become. Without personally living the truth we proclaim, we can expect no higher praise from Christ than the Pharisees received. (Matthew 23:2-4) 
Christ as Priest: A priest is an intercessor: someone who seeks God on behalf of someone else. As Priest, Jesus is constantly seeking God on our behalf. Through Him, we are made holy, righteous, and acceptable to God. Yet, this Priest is different from all others in that He did not sacrifice a lamb, dove, or bull. This Priest sacrificed Himself on our behalf. 
The Husband as Priest: As we love our wives, we must serve as priest. Our wives and marriages need prayer. We have the privilege and duty of petitioning God on their behalf. We should pray for their purity, their protection, their joy, their faith, and their burdens. We should pray for their success as a wife, as a mother, and as a woman of God. 
We must again follow Christ's example and allow our priestly sacrifice to be our very selves. Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus looked past His own sacrifice to the joy that would occur on the other side. With that in mind, look at all that your wife could become. Consider what God might want to do with her, in her, and through her. And, for that joy set before you, willingly endure when you are called to sacrifice yourself. In so doing, you will love your wife as Christ loves His church. 
Christ as King: A king is someone who is supreme or preeminent. As our King, Christ deserves our honor, our praise, our obedience, and our servitude. He is in charge … the undisputed leader of the church. Paul speaks many times of Jesus as the head of the church. Yet, while this King rules and reigns, He also serves and ministers to His people. His rule is peculiar in that He models leadership by serving. He says that the greatest among His people will be those who serve. He also is an accessible King. In many courts throughout history, subjects were never permitted to be in the presence of their king. King Jesus invites us in; He leaves open the door to His throne room. 
The Husband as King: Ephesians 5:23 makes it clear; the husband is the head of the wife. In essence, kingship undeniably belongs to the husband. As we embrace that, we as husbands must lead. We must lead clearly and boldly. We must be out there on the edge looking to the provision and the protection of our kingdom. To do less is to fall short of our calling to headship. The privilege is ours to rule our home. 
However, we are not called simply to take our crowns and dominate our wives. We must rule as Christ rules … with humility. He modeled precisely how He wants us to love our wives. As our King, Christ knelt and washed the feet of His disciples. We must follow His example and serve. Lead boldly, yet serve. Never let the brawn of your leadership outweigh the sacrifice of your leadership. Christ kept them in perfect balance; that is our calling as well.
I applaud the article's insistence that husbands should serve and not dominate their wives-- but what this article is doing is turning husbands into little Christs in their homes.  Men are essentially being told to stand in the place of Jesus to their wives and children, setting themselves between them and God as an intermediary, exercising Christ's spiritual authority over them, and "personifying the Word made flesh" to them.

I believe the New Testament does teach that followers of Jesus are a "kingdom of priests" (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:10), but that applies to women and men alike, and there is no New Testament passage that says one group of Christ's followers has the right to claim Christ's own anointing to take authority over others of Christ's followers.  There is a real problem with taking one verse out of Ephesians 5, "The husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church," and reading that as if it meant, "the husband is everything to the wife that Christ is to the church."  As K. Bonikowsky's blog The Happy Surprise points out:
I think we all agree that husbands do not literally become Christ. Husbands do not literally atone for their wives’ sin. Husbands are not the voice of God to their wives. Husbands do not have absolute authority over their wives’ lives. How do we know this? Because of clear passages elsewhere. 
Since Acts 4:12 shows Peter and John proclaiming, "Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved," orthodox Christianity does not allow that husbands can be the saviors of their wives, even though Ephesians 5:23 actually says "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior [emphasis added]." So the very wording of the passage itself shows that we cannot read it as meaning "the husband is everything to the wife that Christ is to the church."

As I have shown in detail elsewhere, I believe that Christ's role as "head" of the church would have been understood by the original biblical audience as a limited and very specific relationship, not a generalized statement of power and authority (for though Christ does have power and authority over the church, Christ's role as "head" is not about that):
“Head” of the church, therefore, would simply not have been seen by the original Ephesians readers as synonymous with “Lord” of the church. Neither would “head” of the wife have meant “lord” of the wife. Though Christ certainly is Lord of the church, He is also Savior, redeemer, sanctifier, recipient of worship, and Master of the church. But Paul deliberately limits husband’s role towards the wife, to being the “head.” Husbands are not to appropriate to themselves any of Christ’s other roles, or seek to become as Christ to their wives. This would be idolatry, and to the extent churches today encourage married couples in such a practice, they are teaching idolatry. . .
A pater familias, accustomed to a high and prominent position, and keeping Chapter 1 in mind as he read on through Chapter 5, would have understood that as “head” in Chapter 5, he was expected to “give himself” for his wife as Christ did for the church, with the result that the church was raised up to be glorious (Eph 5:25-27). Laying down his prominence of place in regards to his wife, and raising his wife up to be beside him in oneness, and exercising his social position on her behalf and for her good, is part of what it meant for a husband to be “head” to his wife as ‘body” in Ephesians 5.
The other place where the head-body metaphor is used for Christ and the church is in Chapter 4. Here Paul says, “But speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together. . . maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Here the “head” is clearly seen as the source of growth and energy for the “body.” A pater familias, keeping this in mind as he read Chapter 5, would understand that as “head” in this sense, he was to “nourish and cherish” his wife as his own body (Eph 5:29).

But nothing about “leading” or “having authority over” the church or the wife is mentioned as part of the “head to body” relationship anywhere in the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nowhere is Christ as “head“ spoken of in terms of “leading” or “ruling” the church. Nowhere is the husband told to “lead” his wife or “rule” his household. And to the original audience, which was expecting to hear such words, the absence of any such words would have shouted.
The fact is that even though Christ is in a position of divine authority over the church, and even though husbands in ancient Ephesus were also in a position of earthly authority over their wives, the Ephesians 5 passage is primarily about husbands imitating Christ in laying down power and authority, not in stepping into Christ's own anointing and using that to exercise even greater power.  Jesus told His followers in Luke 22:25-27 and Matthew 20:25-27 that following Him simply wasn't about who got to be in charge.  Though Jesus did in fact have the right to claim ultimate authority, He instead laid it down and took the place of a servant, and that is what we are to imitate.

And yet looking at the "husband as prophet, priest and king" teachings being promulgated today, very little attention is paid to Christ's teachings, in the scramble to grab Christ's power:
Jesus was a prophet who spoke the Word of God to the people and was, in fact, the Word incarnate. A prophet speaks for God. 
A husband is to be the family prophet. He represents God to his wife (and, by extension, his family, the fruit of their union). When his wife reacts emotionally, he calms her with God's wisdom. He proclaims the gospel of faith to his family. He provides biblical instruction and training to his wife and children without becoming legalistic. He prepares family devotions and encourages private devotions. He is the arbiter of family values. He insists on regular church attendance. He is a messenger from God to his family.
Husbands are to be the anointed spiritual leaders of their wives. God has anointed you to lead your wife as her prophet, priest and king. Because of the fall, your wife, according to Genesis 3:16, has a desire for you that is best rendered "a desire that borders on disease."
Charisma Magazine: Exploring a Husband's Role as Prophet, Priest and King by Patrick Morley
A husband can stand on the shoulders of others as he fulfills his prophetic responsibility to declare the truth of the Scriptures to his wife. He confronts sin and calls his wife to repentance . . . First, confronting sin and calling a wife to repentance may rock the domestic boat. A husband may decide he doesn't want to incur his wife's wrath. But he needs to obey God's call regardless of how his wife will respond. He may also fail to confront his wife ' s sin because he has a soft view of what it means to love her. Pointing out sin seems harsh and judgmental, not loving. But our example here is Christ, who loves us too much to overlook our sin. The same Prophet who wept over Jerusalem, pronouncing judgment on Israel, comes to us today by His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and to lead us to righteousness. If we begin to understand the consequences of sin for ourselves and for future generations, we will not think it loving to ignore or overlook our wives ' ongoing patterns of sinful behavior. 
Dennis Rainey, "Building Strong Families," quoted on the Patriarchal Watch List
Notice the complete lack of reciprocity here. The husband is the sole arbiter of family values, and he alone is treated as capable of teaching, training or proclaiming the gospel, while his wife (who, we would hope, is an adult with some understanding of her own faith) is mentioned only in terms of receiving his teaching and being "calmed" when she gets "emotional." She needs her husband to represent her before God, raising the question of whether she is allowed her own access to God through Christ, despite 2 Timothy 2:5.  Her "desire for her husband" according to Genesis 3:16 is interpreted in the most demeaning way possible, from a 19th-century male-written commentary.

And even though Matthew 18:15 shows that any Christian can take a Christian brother aside and point out sin to them, husbands are here given a special dispensation to point out sin in their wives in the same way Christ pronounced judgment on Jerusalem, while themselves appearing to need no such admonition.

The Patriarchal Watch List also has on the same page a screen shot of this illuminating list:
A Man as Intercessor in Prayer
A Man as Director of Religious Worship
A Man as Mediator of Divine Blessing
A Man as Instructor in Sacred Scripture
A Man as Judge in Holy Things
Hmm.  Apparently a scrotum is a miraculous organ which renders its bearer nearly divine, while lacking it turns his fellow human being into a creature nearly incapable of grasping spiritual things or approaching God.

Look.  I don't like to have to say something as harsh as this, but sometimes the truth has to be presented unvarnished.  While degrading the image of God in female humanity, this pernicious teaching essentially removes Jesus from the lives of a woman and her children and replaces Him with the husband-father as Christ to them. Put bluntly, it is nothing short of blasphemy, and needs to be addressed as such.

On its home page the Christian PatriarchalWatch List asks these highly pertinent questions:
Many of the ideas espoused by these groups are in fact "Biblical", i.e. verses can be strung together without regard to cultural context or the larger trajectory of Scripture to advocate a return to the highly patriarchal, highly stratified, master/subject social norms of the ancient world that Jesus transcended and began to transform. Is this really the timeless, universal ideal, the highest and the best way to read our Bibles? In a world where religious extremism is using women's bodies and souls as its battleground, is this really what we want to be the face of Christ in our world? Is this hierarchical vision of how we are to relate across the gender line what we want for our daughters and our sons? WWJD? What would Jesus Do? That is a good spell test. Would he re-create a hierarchical social structure from the Old Testament? Would he advocate raising boys to grow up to have such an exalted status as kings/priests with such unilateral authority and power and girls to serve them? Or would he chide us, as he did his disciples who jockeyed for a place of preeminence at his right and left hand? [Emphasis in original]
Husbands and fathers are not divinely anointed with Christ's threefold authority as Prophet, Priest and King! Husbands and fathers are our fellow human beings, made in the image of God but finite and fallen. In Matthew 23:9-11, Jesus said this:
Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Brothers, please-- stop exalting yourselves. Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think (Romans 12:3). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,
“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
In the long run this human appropriation of what belongs only to Christ cannot stand, but is destined to fail.  I suggest we all get back on shore before the ship sinks.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Close Look at a Complementarian Argument

Complementarianism and the Local Church is an article by Jonathan Leeman on the 9 Marks website, which is a conservative evangelical site dedicated to "help[ing] pastors, future pastors, and church members see what a biblical church looks like, and to take practical steps for becoming one."  The site has published a series of articles on male headship, and the arguments are pretty much the same ones my various blog posts have rebutted though the last several years.  But this one, which seems to be an introduction to its male headship series, was brought to my attention on another blog, and I'd like to take a closer look at what it's actually saying and the implications of its reasoning. The basic subject is what's wrong with egalitarianism-- so this is my egalitarian rebuttal. 

I'll present it section by section, followed by my thoughts.
The issue of gender roles in the church and home is not one of the nine marks. Nonetheless, we thought it would be useful to spend an issue of the 9Marks Journal exploring the pastoral significance of complementarianism. Complementarianism teaches that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity and yet he assigned them different roles in the church and home. Its counterpoint, egalitarianism, argues that you can only say men and women are equal in worth if you let both assume equal leadership in church or home.
It's nice that he identifies complementarianism (male headship in the church and home) as not being one of the essentials that 9 Marks focuses on in church life.  There are some groups that consider complementarianism part of the gospel itself, and question the Christianity of those who don't agree-- but Leeman doesn't go that far.  Also, the basic definition of egalitarianism above, at least doesn't set it up as a flimsy strawman position. I would add the caveat, however, that there is one way you can say men and women are equal in worth but still restrict women from equal leadership-- if you fall back on God's plan to do this to women as something mysterious that cannot be questioned.  As I said in another blog post:
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.
The gist of Leeman's argument, however, takes a third path.  He argues that having authority is not actually any different than being under authority, and he does this by seemingly redefining authority. But before he gets there, he offers the basic argument that egalitarians are capitulating to worldly thinking rather than being submissive to the plain teaching of the Bible:
Egalitarianism possesses an obvious appeal in an individualistic age. Like the immigrant parent who abandoned the Old World with its castes or its aristocracies, egalitarianism looks affirmingly into the eyes of the little boy and the little girl and offers that quintessential American promise: “You can be anything you want to be.” Boundaries are gone. Ceilings have collapsed. God has given everyone certain talents. The game now is self-discovery and self-realization. Faithfulness requires us to discover and employ all our God-given potentialities. Like Madeline who says “Pooh pooh” to the tigers at the zoo, egalitarianism’s brave maxim is to one’s own self be true. 
Egalitarianism depends upon the worldview of individualism. That doesn’t mean egalitarians are all self-centered. It means that individual desires and talents trump any class or category considerations. So the rule-makers should never keep anyone belonging to the class of “female” from being whatever she wants to be. And complementarians, admittedly, limit what members of this class can be in the home and church. Based on the egalitarian’s sense of justice, this is irrational. It is 2+2=5. Complementarianism is not just a different perspective, it defies an egalitarian’s basic assumptions about what it means to be human and is therefore dangerous. How many of history’s grand exploitations and terrors have rooted in the systemic prejudice of one group over another! 
As such, the emotions and the rhetoric run hot, as they always do in political contests where the two sides appear irrational to one another. Why? Because our rationalities always derive from our gods. Or rather, what you take to be “most reasonable” or “most rational” is your god. A god cannot be questioned. A god is the unmoved mover. A god is the word or logic who cannot be overruled. Emotions boil hot because one’s gods hold one’s universe together and gives it meaning, so we go to battle for them. 
Precisely here, then, is where the complementarian, in all of his or her worldly folly, leans in toward the egalitarian and warns, “Be careful you are not serving an idol, at least in this one area of your doctrine. You’ll have a pretty good idea that you are if, in spite of the plain teaching of the text, you’ll find some justification for re-interpreting it because your sense of justice can imagine it no other way.”
Let's examine this more closely.  Egalitarians are wrong because of "individualism."  And Leeman defines individualism in terms of individual desires and talents taking precedence over classes and categories of humans.  The Bible, apparently, is not plagued by this problem of individualism.  This would mean that New Testament doctrines are primarily meant to focus on our identity as members of categories and classes.  This raises several questions, however.

Why do Jesus and the Apostles put such emphasis on the necessity of following Christ, trusting Christ, obeying Christ as an individual person?  Why didn't they simply preach to the leaders of the groups they were seeking to convert? Jesus could have talked to the heads of the synagogues in each town, gotten them to agree with His teachings, and then left them to instruct their congregations. Paul could have sought out the governors or the priests operating in Athens, in Corinth, in Rome.  The leaders, once converted, could then have ordered their people to report for mass baptism.

But it didn't work that way.  In fact, many (if not most) analyses of individualism agree that Christianity has historically been a major contributor to that philosophy. As says:
Christianity contributed doctrines of the freedom of the will and personal salvation that added a further dimension to human individuality. Created as equal persons in God's image, human beings enjoy inherent dignity by virtue of the divine flame that burns within their souls. Christian moral teaching replaced status, race, gender, occupation, and all other markers of social difference with one's individual orientation toward God as the determinant of the ultimate disposition of one's soul. While Judaism had conveyed some overtones of personal salvation, the dominant relation with God was conditioned by the divine covenant with the Jewish people as a whole. In contrast, Jesus' message was directed to all people who were open to his words and treated them as individuals capable of receiving divine grace and blessing. Every person, as one of God's created, could, through individual effort and renunciation of worldly concerns, render him-or herself worthy for salvation. [Emphasis added.]
In fact, the idea of personal, individual salvation is one of the distinguishing marks of evangelicalism, and particularly of conservative evangelicalism-- to the point where it has been indicted for its emphasis on personal, individual sin and atonement while tending to ignore many systemic, social evils.  So the real issue seems to be not individualism, but a certain aspect of individualism. Should the focus on the individual apply only to personal salvation? Or should the value of the human individual mean that systemic injustices against individuals because they are part of a restricted group should be abolished? In other words, does the gospel apply only to our spiritual state before God-- or is it meant to "set the captives free" (Luke 4:18) in our earthly lives too?

A while back I wrote What Galatians 3:28 Cannot Mean, which rebuts the idea that when Paul said that in Christ the category and class distinctions of Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female no longer applied, he meant to separate our spiritual state from our earthly lives so that Gal. 3:28 only applies to spiritual salvation.  Yet that is the main idea, really, that Leeman's argument is espousing.  Any application of Galatians 3:28 to earthly, human classes and categories, so that women are set free of restrictions that apply to them as a class in their churches and homes, is "individualistic" and thus worldly and wrong.   However, individualism in spiritual salvation is wholly embraced by evangelicals, and is in fact central to the "Marks" of Gospel and Evangelism in Leeman's own 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.

I would contend that the problem American Christians face is not individualism per se, but the sacred/secular split that spiritualizes the value of the individual and sees life almost exclusively in terms of personal sin and righteousness while ignoring or even condoning the unjust treatment of people as members of categories and classes.

The final paragraph in Leeman's argument above includes this warning: “Be careful you are not serving an idol, at least in this one area of your doctrine. You’ll have a pretty good idea that you are if, in spite of the plain teaching of the text, you’ll find some justification for re-interpreting it because your sense of justice can imagine it no other way.”

Taking a stand on the "plain teaching of the text" and accusing of idolatry those who disagree about how "plain" it is, seems to me to be a kind of spiritual bullying.  It invokes the authority of God as a weapon to make sure the writer gets his way on what a particular proof-text means.  As Zach Hunt puts it in his blog post Why Proof-Texting is Not Like Other Sins:
This sort of proof-texting – ripping a Bible verse out of context to prove a point – is the traditional weapon of choice in fundamentalism because it allows the soldier who wields it to destroy his or her enemy with a single verse while claiming the impenetrable high ground of clear Biblical authority.
There is, in fact, a principle of interpretation that evangelicals (including, I'm sure, Leeman himself) use all the time:  If a particular verse, read at face value, appears to contradict a number of other verses, and especially if it appears to contradict the big-picture meanings of the texts considered together, the particular verse must be re-examined. 

Consider, for instance, this individual text:
She will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15)
The plain sense of this verse is that women are saved through having babies, if they combine it with faith, love and holiness.  But complementarians such as Kim Ransleben on the Desiring God Blog re-interpret the text to be about the sanctification of women, not their salvation-- presumably because their sense of justice can imagine it no other way than that women, just like men, are saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Applying Leeman's own litmus test to this, re-reading the text in this way is idolatry, plain and simple. And yet an "idolatry" that clings to the overarching message of the gospel over the supposedly plain text of an individual verse, hardly seems unfaithful to God.

So I would say that the problem is not in re-examining a verse that places women as a class, under the authority of men as a class, in light of the gospel message that we are all one in Christ Jesus.  The problem is in bullying other Christians with threats of God's displeasure if they dare to re-examine what you, a fellow human being, have decided is "plain."

The next section of Leeman's article goes like this:
Complementarians imagine a different kind of home and church than egalitarians. They are just as acquainted with authority fallen, but they can better imagine authority redeemed. They know that being in authority is no better than being under authority, because both are assignments given by God for the sake of serving him and his praise. They know that redeemed authority creates, enlivens, and empowers, and it’s a shade short of silly to argue over who gets to empower and who gets to be empowered in God’s kingdom. In fact, if there is an advantage to be had, it doesn't belong to the person called to lay down his life, it belongs to the person who receives life because the first person lays his down. 
The calculations of justice change just a bit in a kingdom where the king gives his life as a ransom for many; where he calls all of his citizens to surrender their lives so that they might gain them; and where he calls out a class of his citizens to specially demonstrate this self-sacrifice. Is there any “advantage” to climbing upon a cross? Not by any of this world’s tape measures. 
The trouble with egalitarianism is that it continues to measure “advantage” and “authority” and “over/under” with the tape measures of this fallen world. It’s stuck believing that, even if there are occasional advantages to being under authority for training purposes, in the final analysis it is always better to be over. Like the mother of the sons of Zebedee, egalitarianism asks Jesus,

Can my son sit at your right hand, while my daughter sits at your left, when you enter your kingdom?

And Jesus replies,

Ah, my child, you still do not understand how authority works in my kingdom, but are thinking about it like the Gentiles do, where authority is always used to lord it over others, not to give your life as a ransom (see Matt. 20:20-28). 
The true danger is that of believing it’s always better to be over. If that were true, its logic would apply to God. Happiness will finally elude us until we are over God, as someone intimated a very long time ago. And so we return to the caution against idolatry, which rests behind all the debates over gender and sexuality hermeneutics. What do the horrors of history really root in? They root in that one moment when all the authority in the universe was turned upside down because a man and a woman believed they could be “like God.” [Emphases in original.]
Here is where Leeman appears to redefine authority (but without actually succeeding in doing so). He says, truly enough, that the New Testament calls those in authority, and particularly husbands in Ephesians 5 (remember that in first-century Ephesus men culturally already had this authority), to lay down their lives, to self-sacrifice, and to raise up those under them.  But what he seems to lose track of is that what this actually involves, as described in Ephesians 5, is a surrender of the authority itself. When Jesus allowed Himself to be captured by the Roman authorities and nailed to a cross as a criminal, He was in that act letting go ("emptying Himself") of all His power and authority (see Philippians 2:5-8).  It's true that God restored Christ's authority to Him afterwards-- but the text of Ephesians 5 does not tell husbands to imitate Christ in the re-assumption of authority, but only in laying it down.

Also, in Matthew 23:11 Jesus did not say, "the greatest among you shall become your servant-leader." He said, "The greatest among you shall be your servant."  If Leeman believes that those in authority are to empower those under them, the best way to empower someone is to raise them out of subordination to be your equal, not to keep them in subordination to you.  Leeman glosses over the subordination of the one under authority, as if it no longer existed in a Christian concept of authority. But if the subordination no longer exists, then in what sense does the authority even exist?  Authority cannot simply be redefined so it no longer means authority-- and indeed, his emphasis on the danger of wanting to be "over God" makes it clear that this is not what Leeman really means.  To Leeman, a wife desiring to be equal in authority to her husband is the same sort of thing as wanting to usurp and depose God.  Christians who believe Jesus taught that the family of God consists of equal brothers and sisters, all under one Father and one Elder Brother who are the sole authorities,* are idolators in Leeman's book.

But if "redeemed authority" is still hierarchical human authority, and those under it are still under it, then there is a real difference, and the one in authority is superior in power and agency to the subordinate.  That is simply what the words mean, and glossing over those meanings doesn't make them go away.

Leeman's article concludes like this:
I understand that I’m making strong charges. And I hardly mean to indict Christians who hold to egalitarianism with wholesale idolatry. I do mean to indict aspects of egalitarianism as rooted in the gods of this world and the gods of the West in particular. It should not be surprising, therefore, to hear conservative voices characterize egalitarianism as the hermeneutical gateway drug to affirming same-sex marriage, or, ironically, to hear homosexuality-affirming liberal voices agree. Nor is it surprising that the egalitarian PCUSA should decide to affirm gay marriage, or that many of the evangelicals churches coming out now for gay marriage were egalitarian years ago. The same god who prioritizes the self-defining individual over and above 2000-years of Bible reading stands behind both positions. The same god whispers to both kinds of readers, “Surely the text couldn’t mean that. That would be unjust!” But who is defining justice here? Thomas Jefferson? Betty Friedan? Lady Gaga? 
Gender roles do not belong to the nine marks, as I said, but we believe they are critical to a church’s submission to Scripture and therefore its health. Fuller defenses of the position can be found at, which is run by Owen Strachan, who helped to compile the articles in this Journal. What you’ll find here are a number of pieces that examine the topic from different angles in the life of the church and church member. We pray they are beneficial.
Egalitarianism, he says, is rooted in idolatry, and embracing complementarian gender roles is crucial to fully obeying the Bible.  He throws in a version of the slippery slope argument (that if a Christian ceases to believe the doctrine of complementarianism, he or she will soon slip into worse errors like *gasp!* affirming same-sex marriage).  He tosses in the "this is what we've believed for 2000 years" argument, and implies that non-Christians couldn't possibly have any real idea of what justice means.

There is a problem with each of these arguments. First, as to the slippery slope argument: there was an article in the Atlantic last week on How Christians Turned Against Gay Conversion Therapy.  The fact is that whether we like it or not, we Christians are having to face the evidence that being attracted to the same sex is not something that can be cured or repented of.  This being true, we must rethink our approach towards people who, through no fault or choice of their own, want to marry someone of the same sex-- and many of these people trust in the same Christ we do.  In light of these facts, it makes sense to re-examine the proof-texts we've relied on in this matter.  After all, once the medieval church faced the fact that the earth did indeed revolve around the sun and not the other way around, it found that the proof-texts it had used against Galileo really could be read differently.

Perhaps what's going on is not that in rethinking these things, we're falling down a slippery slope. Perhaps what's really going on is that we're climbing a gradual ascent towards more compassion, acceptance and love towards people who aren't like ourselves.

Edited to add:  That said, the scriptures that have been used to restrict gender roles are of a different nature than those used to condemn gay marriage, and there is no reason to believe that changing one's mind about the restriction of women, necessarily implies changing one's mind about this other issue. Many egalitarians remain strongly against gay marriage.

Second, with regards to "2000 years of church tradition" -- for one thing, the complementarian position does not actually reflect 2000 years of church tradition. Complementarianism teaches that men and women are equal, but different in roles, while church tradition until recent times held that women were simply inferior.  In any event, evangelicalism is usually quite ready to admit that church tradition can be, and often is, mistaken.  Evangelicals long ago rejected the longstanding church traditions of the authority of the pope, of infant baptism, and of transubstantiation (that the communion elements become the actual body and blood of Christ).  Evangelicals only bring out the argument from tradition when tradition happens to support what they believe.

Finally, I disagree that giving women the freedom to lead** in their churches and homes is a "worldly" idea of justice.  As I detailed above, if women are not subordinated because they are inferior by nature, then their subordination is arbitrary and without reason-- and it is in clear violation of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," which is the ethic taught by our Lord Himself. Who would want to be consigned to a permanent subordinate status based on a purely arbitrary exclusion of one or more of his or her categories or classes of personhood?  And if we would not want it done to ourselves, we should not do it to others.

Also, non-believers are just as capable as believers of understanding "do unto others."  Jesus didn't mean it to be rocket science!  In fact, the fundamental knowledge that subordinating women is against "do unto others" is one of the big things that is keeping many non-believers from even considering Christianity.  They too are made in the image of God: they have a basic knowledge of what love is and what justice is, and they can see that some of the rules we Christians claim are from God, are neither loving nor just.

So I think I'll pass on accepting Leeman's indictment of worldliness and idolatry. And if what I consider most reasonable and most rational is my god, then I will proudly agree that my God is indeed reasonable and rational, not arbitrary, but loving and just.


*My extensive study of the issue of authority in the Bible can be viewed herehere and here.

** I continue to draw a distinction between "authority," the power or right to be the leader, and simply leading, which can be done by any person or group of persons at any time if they have the skills and inclination for a particular season or role of leadership.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Repost: Happy Easter!

It was in church on Easter Sunday in 1979 that the 15-year-old me, in the middle of the singing of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," lifted my eyes to heaven and whispered, "Ok, God, I'll trust You."  Today I'm going to let Peter Marshall, 1950's Chaplain of the US Senate, be my "guest blogger" to help me express what Easter became for me on that day: the day I first let my own life's story become caught up in the Great Story of the gospel, which Dr. Marshall retold so often and so well.  So here is a section I have abridged from perhaps his most famous sermon.


Three years before, the Master had called them to become fishers of men.  Now that His fame had died away, they would once more become fishers of fish.

Their King crucified like a criminal.  Their Messiah ending up-- not on a throne, but on a cross, hailed as King on Sunday, and dead like a common thief on Friday.

They remained the despairing survivors of a broken cause, as they stumbled blindly down the hill, their eyes filled with tears they could not stop.
They were the very picture of men without any hope.
Utterly crushed. . . beaten. . .
disappointed. . .
In their faces there was the stark, dreadful look of hopeless despair.

Jesus was a dead man now, very much like any other dead man.  The Roman authorities were satisfied that they had seen the last of this strange, troublesome Dreamer.

Thus they left Him on Friday evening-- just before the Sabbath began, His dead body hastily embalmed,
wrapped in bandages on which a hundred pounds of myrrh had been hastily spread. . .
the tomb closed with a huge stone and soldiers standing guard around it.

Then came Sunday morning.

The first rays of the early morning sun cast a great light that caused the dew drops on the flowers to sparkle like diamonds.
The atmosphere of the garden was changed. . .

It was the same garden. . . yet strangely different.
The heaviness of despair was gone,
and there was a new note in the singing of the birds.

Suddenly, at a certain hour between sunset and dawn, in that new tomb which had belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, there was a strange stirring, a fluttering of unseen forces. . .
a whirring of angel wings
the rustle as of the breath of God moving through the garden.

Strong, immeasurable forces poured life back into the dead body
they had laid upon the cold stone slab;
and the dead man rose up
came out of the grave clothes
walked to the threshold of the tomb,
stood swaying for a moment on His wounded feet,
and walked out into the moonlit garden.

We can almost hear in our hearts the faint sigh, as the life spirit fluttered back into the tortured body, and smell in our own nostrils the medley of strange scents that floated back to Him
of linen and bandages. . .
and spices
and close air and blood.

Then came a group of women as soon as they could, bringing spices and materials with which to complete the hasty anointing of their Lord. 

They came with all the materials with which to anoint a dead body,
and when they came to the grave in the garden, they found that the stone had been rolled away from the door of it, and the grave was empty.

Here is John's account of what followed:

"But Mary stood without the sepulchre weeping. . . and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?  She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus saith unto her, Mary.  She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master."

There were two names spoken, "Mary," and "Rabboni."
She heard her own name spoken as only one Voice could speak it-- gently echoing in the garden.
And there was her "Rabboni" -- the breathless "Master!" as she saw His face.

Christ had spoken her name, and all of heaven was in it.
She uttered only one word, and all of earth was in it.

Then, what happened?
Suddenly Peter is facing the foes of Jesus with a reckless courage.  Why, this does not sound like the same man.  The truth is, it is not the same man.  He is different--
very, very different.

The disciples of Jesus were scattered
with a sense of tragic loss
and then, in a few days, they were thrilling with victory, completely changed. 

The were all thrilled beyond fear in the stupendous knowledge that Christ was alive,
and they went about rejoicing in a joy beyond pain.

Happy Easter to my readers, wherever you are.  Thank you so much for coming and reading.


Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Fleming H. Revell Co. (1950), pp. 101-114.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Good Stuff - March 2015

So here's what I thought was eye-opening, mind-opening and/or heart-opening on the Internet this month.  Interestingly, as I look at these posts as a group, I see a thread running through all of them of false dichotomies: the idea that a thing or person must be either A or B, that there is no such thing as C-- and D? Well, that's just silly.

Of Boys and Girls (Good and Rotten) and Climbing Trees at Word of a Woman explores the thinking behind the parable that says girls are like apples on a tree waiting for a boy to come and pick them:
Funny, he says the “good” girls just need to be patient and wait for a brave boy who is willing to climb the tree to the top for them. Forget about whether or not the girls they have judged as being “rotten” and “easy” are actually awesome too. Or whether or not the ones they have judged as “good” and worthy are actually either. “Good” girls he says should wait for a boy to give them validation and approval. Thanks, but no thanks. Instead, perhaps we should teach ALL the girls that they are not some boy’s prize for being brave and not slumming it with a “rotten” girl. They are not an object to be possessed. Their value is not determined by whether boys think they are “good” or “rotten” but rather on the fact that they bear the image of God him/herself. Perhaps we should teach the girls not to compare themselves to each other and judge one another. Perhaps we should teach the girls to love themselves and each other.
The post shows that parables like this one, rooted in and growing out of patriarchy, use a false dichotomy: either you're a good girl, or a bad girl.  But this post, The Impetus of Patriarchy by Greg Hahn at This Brother, shows that patriarchy also uses a false dichotomy for guys: either you're a real man, or you're not, and "real" manliness means having power over women:
You have to be “considered fully creditable as a man”. And the unspoken understanding of many is that you don’t just get that from having X and Y chromosomes and reaching adulthood. You have to earn your manhood, so as to be seen manly by those around you. If you can feel it, all the better, but in the very least you need to be seen that way. . .

And if that’s true, that is ultimately what drives patriarchy: Men living in the pain of not “being the man”, which is believed to be “displaying power to exert control over one’s self and one’s world.” . . .

Apparently the only difference that Piper can see and articulate is that men lead, women follow. So John Piper’s masculinity is inseparably linked to his authority and leadership of women. . . .
I believe that fueling the reluctance to change or to even look deeply into the issue of male/female equality is, in the heart of many men, fear.

Often people think it’s about selfishness or control, and sometimes it is. But I don’t think most guys in the church are like that. It’s usually not a case that they’re bad men. Quite the contrary, most Christian guys just want to live their life, raise their kids and grandkids, serve the Lord and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end. But many men, even the strongest ones, have a deep and abiding fear of not measuring up. 
(Emphases in original)

I think a similar fear motivates people often times towards "America can do no wrong" patriotism. It's another false dichotomy: this time about what it means to love America.  I think President Obama really got to the heart of the problem in his speech Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches on the White House website.
The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America.

Roger E. Olsen at his blog of the same name, addresses the human weakness at the heart of the attitude behind the kind of patriotism the President was pushing back against. Olsen's post The Sin of Tribalism defines the us-vs-them, we're-in-and-you're-out mentality as fundamentally un-Christian:
“Tribalism,” however appears when a community closes its ranks around an illusion of superiority and excludes others for the purpose of increasing feelings of superiority. A tribe invents “badges” or emblems of superiority that to outsiders are totally illusory. Tribes rarely recognize themselves as tribal in this sense; members really do think they are superior to outsiders. Outsiders, however, recognize that the badges of superiority are false—unless they want in. . . .
Tribalism is sin—from a Christian point of view.

Jesus confronted tribalism among the Jewish leaders of his day. Some of them claimed that they were especially favored by God only because they were children of Abraham. The Apostle Paul also confronted that attitude. But the point for Christians is not to point a finger at any group guilty of tribalism but to examine ourselves. . . .
A wise and mature person is one who is aware of tribalism and resists it. That’s true whether the person is Christian or not. A wise and mature person, Christian or not, holds himself or herself aloof from the rituals of tribalism even when forced by necessity to be present.

And in You Can Count Me Out of Atheist Tribalism, Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism fights the same human tendency in non-Christians:
To put it simply, atheists who are quick to blame terrorism committed by Muslim individuals on Islam and just as quick to excuse atheism from any role in atrocities committed by atheists are using a glaring double standard. . . .

On some level I think I understand what’s going on here. A number of prominent atheists frequently point to religious atrocities and human rights abuses in order to argue that religion is dangerous and that we should work toward its elimination. When Christians or other religious believers respond by pointing to atrocities committed by atheists like Stalin, these atheists can’t respond with “Yes, and we think that’s bad too,” because their argument is that lack of religion is superior to religion, and examples like Stalin make it clear that a belief in a deity is not a required condition for mass murder or oppression. And so they have to find a way to explain away Stalin’s atrocities as not truly a result of his atheism.
I didn’t leave one tribe, with its demonization of other groups and tribes, ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy, and insistence on valuing in-group loyalty above all else, to join another tribe doing the exact same thing.

Another false dichotomy shows up in these two posts about racism and why it's so hard for us as white people to see it or even be willing to look for it in ourselves. Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race by Sam Adler-Bell at Alternet explains:
For white people, their identities rest on the idea of racism as about good or bad people, about moral or immoral singular acts, and if we’re good, moral people we can’t be racist – we don’t engage in those acts. This is one of the most effective adaptations of racism over time—that we can think of racism as only something that individuals either are or are not "doing." 
In large part, white fragility—the defensiveness, the fear of conflict—is rooted in this good/bad binary. If you call someone out, they think to themselves, “What you just said was that I am a bad person, and that is intolerable to me.” It’s a deep challenge to the core of our identity as good, moral people. 
The good/bad binary is also what leads to the very unhelpful phenomenon of un-friending on Facebook.
If we see racists as only those bad people over there, and never ourselves, we can feel superior (tribalism again).  But seeing racists as those bad people over there also renders it impossible for us to to humble ourselves and admit that we just might be participating in racism unaware. It's just too shameful and horrible for us to face.  So says Understanding the Racial Empathy Gap: the Power of Narratives by Judy Wu Dominick at her blog of the same name.
One of the things the Civil Rights Movement managed to do was inject a keen sense of shame into white America’s collective conscience over its institutionalized abuse of African Americans. It marked a significant turning point in the nation’s history. In the beginning, when shame produced an appropriate acknowledgement of injustice and a desire to make things right, it led to cultural shifts and new legislation that effectively released African Americans from the stranglehold of the Jim Crow era. 
The tricky thing about shame, though, is that it’s a toxic, identity- and value-threatening emotion. and when it’s not processed in a thoroughly redemptive way, it can actually lead to a recycling of our sins instead of a healthy and restorative repentance. . . .
So a new shame-based, reactive narrative set in: Forget the past. We are not racists. We are anti-racists. And we are colorblind. This new narrative unwittingly undermined progress even as progress was being made. First, it imposed a willful forgetfulness on one of the nation’s most traumatic and formative experiences, which desperately required thoughtful, collective, and public debriefing, not consignment to cold storage. Second, it introduced taboo-like sensibilities into the very act of dialoguing about race and ethnicity, which, instead of being helpful, has proven to be very damaging for blacks and other non-whites who wish to have their distinctives recognized, validated, and celebrated alongside those of whites, rather than denied and left unacknowledged.

Folks, this kind of either-or thinking isn't helping any of us.  I'd like to suggest that we start seeing not just A or B as possibilities, but also A and B, and C, and even D.  Who knows, maybe we'll get all the way to accepting and acknowledging Z someday!

And if we do, it will be partly because of the kind of brave people who said these things online this month.