Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sanctified Sexism

When asked whether reading a Bible commentary written by a woman would be placing a man under the teaching authority of a woman, the well-known evangelical preacher John Piper responded as follows:

It might be. Uh. He may feel it that way. And if he does, he probably’s not gonna read it. He shouldn’t read it. . . [But] It doesn’t have to be experienced that way I don’t think. And here, here’s my reasoning. 

The point of Paul in I Timothy 2:12 where he says. . . I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over men. That’s a key text. I Timothy 2:12. I don’t permit her to teach or have authority. And those two things together, I think, constitute the eldership office. Teaching and authority. . .

What is the dynamic between how men flourish and women flourish as God designed them to flourish when an act of authority is being exerted on a man from a woman.

And so I distinguish between personal, direct exercises of authority that involve manhood and womanhood.

Because it’s personal. She’s right there. She’s woman. I’m man. And I’m being directly, uh, pressed on by this woman in an authoritative way. Should she be doing that? Should I be experiencing that? And my answer’s, No; I think that’s contrary to the way God made us.  So that the, the personal directness of it is removed. And the man doesn’t feel himself, and she wouldn’t feel herself, in any way compromised by his reading that book and learning from that book. Because I’m not having a direct, authoritative confrontation. She’s not lookin’ at me, and, and confronting me, and authoritatively directing me, as woman. There’s this, there’s this interposition of this phenomenon called “book” and “writing” that puts her out of my sight, and, in a sense, takes away the dimension of her female personhood.

Whereas if she were standing right in front of me, and teaching me, as my shepherd, week in and week out, I couldn’t make that separation. She’s woman. And I am man. (
Transcript of portion of John Piper podcast provided by Bible Literature Translation.)
Notice that though John Piper uses the text of 1 Timothy 2:12 to support his view that a man can learn from a woman through a book, his actual point is that he would "feel" himself "compromised" if she came into his office and spoke to him in person-- presumably even if she quoted exactly, in person, the same words he just read in the commentary.  The fact is that as far as I can see, the text of 1 Timothy 2:12 really doesn't distinguish between a woman being physically present, or just reading what she wrote in a book.  The traditional reading is more about (as he himself admits above) whether she's an  "elder."  But that really doesn't seem to be what Rev. Piper is talking about.

As long as he doesn't have to notice she's a woman, Piper says, he has no problem receiving teaching from a woman who would be considered enough of an authority on the Bible to have her commentary published.  Apparently it isn't authoritative teaching by a woman that's the problem.  It's authoritative teaching by a woman in front of him, in the same room.  And this is a problem even, it seems, if she holds no "eldership office" anywhere in any church, but is instead a doctor of theology. 

So is this really about Dr. Piper's interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12?  Or is it more about Dr. Piper's feelings about how women should act towards men? 

John Piper considers himself a "complementarian." Theopedia.com gives us this definition of "complementarianism":

Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. . .Complementarianism holds that God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.  

Complementarianism, holding that women are equal to men in their ontological being, thus sets itself apart from the more traditional view held both by Christians and the whole of society from the beginning of recorded history until at least the beginning of the 20th century-- the view that women were simply inferior to men.  As the Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, Vol. 1 states: 

"Early philosophical speculation emphasized the inequality of the sexes on all dimensions of social importance. . . [I]n later centuries female inferiority was viewed as a function of divine fiat, physiological instability, or defects in the brain.  Though the rationale for this belief changed over time, its substance remained the same: females in every respect, were viewed as lesser beings."

This belief was certainly not confined to the church, as Charles Darwin and his fellow evolutionists unabashedly declared that women were evolutionarily inferior to men.  But it is this traditional attitude that women are inferior that forms the basis of what is called "sexism," just as the belief that certain races are inferior is the basis of "racism."  

Here is one of Dictionary.com's definitions of sexism:

"discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women." [Emphasis added]


Beliefs which hold one sex superior to the other thereby justifying sexual inequalities. [Emphasis added]

A complementarian, therefore, should eschew sexism by principle.  Since complementarianism purports to base itself on Scripture alone for its view of the essential equality but functional differences between men and women, it seems reasonable to expect that those church leaders who publicly define and defend complementarianism in and for the church in general, would reject sexism, insisting that nothing but Scripture should define how men think of and act towards women.

Unfortunately, it's not always that simple.  

Human nature being what it is, most of us hold attitudes and ways of thinking which we have imbibed since we were children: attitudes that come from existing in our bodies in the societies and among the cultural mores in which we live.  Complementarians sometimes say that egalitarians, in rejecting "biblical" male-female roles and "male headship," are capitulating to "modern, feminist culture."  But the roots of sexism in American life lie far deeper and more entrenched than we may realize, and feminism (which has only existed for about 100 years) is really still the new kid on the block.  And complementarianism, of course, is itself informed by feminism when it re-examines the traditional Christian view and disagrees that the Bible supports the notion that women were created inferior.

So when the most public faces of complementarian Christianity in America today speak of men, women and male-female relations, Christians (complementarian and egalitarian alike) should be willing to confront them when the things they say, and the attitudes they reveal, show not so much a complementarian viewpoint as a sort of sanctified sexism-- a reflection of a deeply entrenched societal devaluation of women, a culturally imbibed societal expectation of favoritism towards men as the superior sex.

To do him justice, John Piper says this in the same podcast:

So, I think the point of that text is not to say that you can never learn anything from a woman. That’s just not true. It’s not true biblically, and it’s not true experientially, because the reason for saying that I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over men here is not because she’s incompetent. It’s not because she can’t have thoughts. In fact, the women in your church, and the woman in, the woman you are married to, have many thoughts that you would do well to know. [laughs] And to know, and learn, and to learn from. And so the issue there is not that she doesn’t have thoughts that you wouldn’t benefit from. Or that she can’t, uh, teach you anything.

The, the issue is one of how does manhood and womanhood work. 

Piper obviously believes that he believes men and women are equal.  He doesn't think he can't learn from a woman, or that women are incompetent to teach men.  But he can't seem to get past his discomfort in having a certain kind of experience of women-- an experience that gives him a feeling of being "directly pressed upon by a woman in an authoritative way."  Remembering that according to the complementarian injunction that a woman is excluded only from being a church elder, and not from being a theologian who comments on the Bible-- this is not about what she's teaching or where she's teaching or how she's teaching.  It's whether he has to directly experience a woman being an authority on a subject in his presence

It looks like sexism to me.  Sexism that's sanctified by its ostensible complementarianism, so that it slips under the radar as just part of complementarian doctrine.  But what Piper's words are really communicating, whether he intends it or not, is that he doesn't want women to get uppity in his face.  He doesn't want to feel, in the presence of a woman, that she might have more knowledge than him on a particular Bible text.  It makes him feel uncomfortable about his manhood.  

Is this, at its heart, about what Scripture says?  Or is it about how a man (raised in the 1950s and 60s when men expected to be deferred to by women) feels when a woman is not deferring to him? 

The same sort of thing happens in the most recent Pat Robertson controversy being picked up in the media:  the one where Pat Robinson (who became a married adult during the Father-Knows-Best 1950s) counsels a woman whose husband has been cheating on her that "men will be men":

"Here's the secret," the famous evangelical said. "Stop talking the cheating. He cheated on you, well, he's a man."

The wife needs to focus on the reasons she married her spouse, he continued.

"Does he provide a home for you to live in," Robertson said. 'Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children... Is he handsome?". . .

"Recognize also, like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit," Robertson said. "What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn't want to wander. . . ."

In another appearance back in January of this year, Robertson told a woman,

We need to cultivate romance, darling! ... You always have to keep that spark of love alive. It just isn't something to just lie there, 'Well, I'm married to him so he's got to take me slatternly looking.' You've got to fix yourself up, look pretty.

This certainly has a lot in common with traditional social attitudes towards male adultery, as illustrated in a Los Angeles Times article from 1987:

In a Parliamentary debate in 1857, the Lord Chancellor said that "A wife might without any loss of caste condone an act of adultery . . . but a husband could not condone a similar act on the part of the wife . . . as the adultery might be the means of palming spurious offspring on her husband." Englishmen could get a divorce for any evidence of adultery, while Englishwomen had to prove that the adultery was incestuous or otherwise unnatural.

Unflattering as it is towards men to say they shouldn't be required (or expected) to control their sexual urges, this mindset is part of traditional permissiveness towards male sexual behavior, while female behavior has traditionally been tightly controlled.  Though it may seem on its face to treat men as the inferior sex, what this attitude is actually rooted in is a devaluing of the woman to her sexual/reproductive functions as primary to her nature, while men are treated more as whole persons.  Not being expected to control himself is part of historically male autonomy, while being kept under rigid social control is part of historically female subordination.  So also is being told, in essence, to just be grateful for a roof over your head (which frankly, in this era when women usually contribute almost equally to the household rent, mortgage, grocery bills and clothing purchases, simply sounds ludicrous).

But what does this have to do with the Bible?  Where does the Bible say a man shouldn't be expected to control himself, or that it's a wife's job to stay pretty so that her husband won't stray?  On the contrary-- throughout the Book of Proverbs it's the man who is warned to not to be enticed by adulterous women, not the wife told to keep him from getting enticed! In fact, Proverbs tells men to choose to see the woman they married as beautiful, no matter how old the couple has become: 

May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
Prov. 5:18-20, emphasis added.

There is no onus laid upon women anywhere in the Bible to stay forever youthful in appearance, or to take responsibility for keeping their husbands from adultery.  Women are instead told not to focus on beauty, but on "the hidden person of the heart."  (1 Peter 3:4).  And far from being expected to just be grateful for being provided for by a man, Proverbs 31 shows that Old Testament women (wealthy ones, at least) had their own incomes, businesses and land ownership!

So-- are Robertson's words complementarian (focused on Scripture as teaching male-female equality along with difference in role)?  Or are they just sanctified sexism? 

It looks like the latter to me. 

So here's my respectful request and challenge to complementarians:  Please, no more sanctifying of sexism.  If an attitude that one of your public spokesmen (however well-intentioned) is perpetuating about women has nothing to do with what you believe the Bible teaches, then please, speak up about it!  Egalitarians and complementarians might be able to find some common ground here-- an area where we can work together for the uplifting and honoring of all our sisters in Christ. 

Just because a preacher is well-known doesn't mean he can't make mistakes, or that his mistakes shouldn't be addressed-- or that he shouldn't be encouraged to retract them just as publicly as the mistake itself was public.

Perpetuating the notion that the heart of Christianity is sexist-- devaluing to women and treating them as inferior-- isn't doing any of us any good.  

Are you with me? 

37 comments:

Raymond Voigt said...

I always find myself mildly puzzled and amazed at the lengths that people will go to to retrofit and reinterpret the ancient Biblical writings to today's age. The Bible is inherently paternalistic; reflecting an archaic world where slavery was commonplace, women were chattel, and domestic violence was not just tolerated, but encouraged.
I agree that Jesus often demonstrated that women and children were of equal worth to men and deserved the same dignity and rights. Paul, however, contradicts those clear teachings and provides plenty of fodder for those who fear and suppress the feminine.
One of the sad results of Evangelical adherence to the idolatry of Biblical literalism is that Paul's words are given equal weight to Jesus's. It may even be argued that their faith should rightly be called Paulism.
I used to struggle with many of these issues when I was a believer. But I began to lose my faith when I saw women I loved suppress their own talents and intelligence to conform to the atavism of their father's faith.
Is it still useful to search for the baby Jesus in the fetid, cold bathwater of dead religion? I've moved on. I can accept there may be a few pearls of wisdom in the pig pen of Christian theology, but I'm not going to wallow with the swine to find them.

Kristen said...

Raymond, I'm a little puzzled as to why you would comment on my blog only to indicate that you believe my entire blog is an exercise in "wallowing with the swine." As such, your comment constitutes a "silencing technique. If you're not interested in this conversation, please move on. If you want to add more to the dialogue than "you're wasting your time talking about the Bible," then you can find my views on the Pauline passages which are supposedly anti-woman by looking at my topic index.

Raymond Voigt said...

I've read your previous post about "silencing" and that was not my intention by any means. I believe I've included enough about my own personal impressions on my former faith to show where I'm coming from.

I certainly didn't reject all aspects of Christian beliefs, simply commenting on the structural sexism, racism, and agism that will NEVER be erased from Biblical teaching. Even when I was a believer, I understood the word of God was intended to be an expression of "logos", not the cold, dead legality of "biblios".

I was a believer for nearly forty years, so I certainly have been informed by faith, even if I no longer adhere to theistic supernaturalism. I'm no longer a believer because I've experienced the inertial forces that halt individual growth and societal progress.

As far as the swine remark, I'm criticizing the chauvinistic porcines that you've been wishfully attempting to reform; those who would use theology to silence women.

I do recognize that even well-intentioned believers have a tendency to stop their ears when challenged. Silencing techniques are the "shield" of maintaining faith. But I think you missed one. I will most certainly move on, as I can see you cannot tolerate a view that comes from outside your carefully restrained worldview. I hope you will appreciate the irony and ultimately understand that "silencing" is something that is most destructive when you use it to quash your own doubts.


LyricalPolyphony said...

Kristen- great post!! You're spot on.

Kristen said...

Raymond, you are certainly welcome to stay if you want to talk about Christianity; but explaining again that you think I'm wasting my time and that my objection to this assertion is silencing you, is hardly furthering the conversation.

This has nothing to do with whether or not I can "tolerate" your assertion of your worldview. Feel free to explain your worldview here all you want. But that's not what you've done at all; instead you've explained to me (twice now!) why you think I'm wasting my time. I don't think I'm wasting my time, and I don't want to continue to defend the validity of the conversation I have started, which I invite commenters to join, not disparage.

Believe it or not, I have been through several phases over a period of years of challenging my own beliefs; they are hardly unquestioned or unexamined. But the validity of my beliefs is not what this post is about. If and when I do a blog post about "why I'm a Christian," feel free to come back and explain to me then why you think I'm wrong.

But if you're simply here to say, "Christianity can never stop being sexist, so might as well stop trying," then what you are telling me is that my blog is a waste of time. That means there's nothing more for you and me to talk about with regards to this post-- and saying so isn't silencing you.

Anonymous said...

in the 1970's my (now deceased) wife was informed in No Uncertain Terms that she could not run sound for the particular interfaith services, as it would "put her in a position over the man who was preaching" (!)

Heather-Rose said...

Kristen, your piece is very well-written and well-thought-out. But I agree with Raymond: you're wasting your time. The patriarchal church leaders know that they're being sexist, and they don't care. They think it's a good thing. They've figured out how to use more acceptable language than in past centuries, but it's just lipstick on a pig. Have you read Mary Daly? She wrote excellent books analyzing sexism within Christian doctrine and eventually came to the conclusion that reform is impossible.

Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Heather-Rose, I appreciate your kind words, but I'm not writing to patriarchal church leaders. I'm writing to ordinary Christians who post on the Internet, including complementarians who feel uncomfortable with the way patriarchalism and extremists are beginning to drown out moderate voices in the church. I happen to know these people exist; I've talked to them in real life and on their own blogs. I want to encourage them to stand up and say, "John Piper and Pat Robertson do not speak for me." No, I don't think it's a waste of time.

Judy said...

I love reading your thoughts.

Heather-Rose said...

Kristen, that's a laudable goal, but I suggest you consider the idea that patriarchalism is in the very DNA of Christianity (and the other Abrahamic religions). Piper, Robertson et al. are merely a few manifestations of this toxic mindset. And "complementarians" have internalized this patriarchalism, though they haven't realized this. Solving this problem requires a radical approach - either re-imagining Christianity without patriarchy (some feminist theologians believe this is possible), or simply dumping the whole thing and going on to some other, more woman-friendly form of spirituality. I chose the latter.

Don said...

I do not see that patriarchalism is the DNA of Christianity, altho Piper and others like him may think this is the case. When understood in cultural context, Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. were egalitarians, but I admit this can be challenging to see sometimes.

On Darwin, ESSENTIALLY EVERYONE thought that women were inferior to men, that blacks were inferior to whites, etc. Darwin fit into this racist and sexist culture of the times, as it was simply assumed to be obviously true by almost everyone. That is, in order to make his theory seem more reasonable, he thought that it fit in with the "obvious truths" that the 19th century Western culture taught. Lincoln was a thorough racist, but we should not judge him by the standards of the 21st century in this, but rather the 19th, as he was less racist than many others.

Greg Hahn said...

I disagree, Heather. The DNA of Christianity is the DNA of Jesus, who can't be shown to be patriarchal in the least.

I've been a Bible student for over 30 years, and the more I learn about the Bible, the farther I get from partriarchy, a system I have come to loathe as unbiblical and satanic.

How can you reconcile that?

Heather-Rose said...

Don: in their cultural context, the authors of the Bible (both OT and NT) were thorough misogynists and thought women were immoral creatures, badly in need of masculine control.

True egalitarianism didn't enter into the picture until the Enlightenment, when philosophers began to move away from religious prejudices/superstitions and embrace rationality. Even then, the equality of the genders was recognized by very few, but at least an intellectual framework was coming together that would support the recognition of gender equality.

In the present day, the greatest gender egalitarianism is found in those schools of thought which have rejected traditional religious belief, and the least is found among the fundamentalist religions. This is no accident.

Greg: if only that were the case! Unfortunately, Christianity carries a lot more baggage than merely the teachings of Jesus. The Bible is a hodgepodge of stuff that came from many different sources, all of which demonstrate an authoritarian mindset with a male always in authority.

I encourage you to read Mary Daly's books, starting with "Beyond God the Father". She explains it much better than I can :-) But her observation that "When God is male, then the male is God" is the best and pithiest description of religious patriarchy that has yet been written. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/328594.Beyond_God_the_Father

Greg Hahn said...

LOL. If that's the best and pithiest description that's yet been written, I'm not sure I need to see the stuff of lesser genius.

And what I said about Jesus absolutely is the case. Sure there is patriarchy in various parts of the Bible- as predicted in Gen 3:16. I never ever claimed otherwise. You made the claim about the DNA of Christianity, and I pointed out that the DNA of Christianity is Jesus. And now you want to point to OTHER parts of the Bible. Well, sorry, we were talking about the DNA- not the other parts.

Show me where Jesus taught male over female hierarchy. Anyplace.

BTW- Jesus also used female imagery when describing God in Luke 13:34. He was fine with that, because the Christian God is not male or Female.

Heather-Rose said...

No, Greg, the DNA of Christianity is the same as that of the other Abrahamic religions - that is, the Old Testament, which is patriarchal from beginning to end. Jesus said himself that he didn't come to destroy that law, but to fulfill it.

Of course, Christian sects differ widely in their beliefs regarding which OT requirements they're supposed to adhere to, but they all acknowledge their theological connection to the OT.

The Christian God is indeed male. The names of God throughout Scripture are always male. Jesus nearly always speaks of God as Father. And the fact that God (supposedly) chose to incarnate on earth as a male should tell you something. The only way you can deny patriarchalism in Scripture is to ignore the vast array of masculine images and metaphors on display, both in the OT and the NT.

This is an interesting article on the topic. The quotes from C.S. Lewis are pretty remarkable!
http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=1165

It would be great if the Christian God were female as well as male, but alas, it's not true. The Abrahamic religions are the antitheses of Goddess-worshiping religions.



Kristen said...

Heather-Rose, the way I see it, the "DNA of patriarchalism" is not the DNA of Christianity or of any religion-- unless human DNA is the DNA of God (that is, that God is entirely a human-created figment of human imagination and human thinking). But if humans don't create God in their own image-- if God is not just a figment of human imagination-- then any revelation of God to human beings, experienced by humans within human patriarchal mindsets, is going to show the taint of patriarchy, as well as racism and every other kind of human prejudice. But that doesn't mean those things are from God. (If there is a God, in terms of an Absolute, Ultimate Source of all being, then God is ultimately beyond human categories of thought.)

Christianity as taught by Jesus (and Paul, actually) is about the "kingdom of God" -- a new way of being and thinking which God is in the process of inaugurating on earth, also known as "the New Creation." The kingdom of God is fundamentally Other than human kingdoms and their hierarchical systems of rule-and-be-ruled.

The way I see it, patriarchy is bound up in the Old Creation-- the normal ways of thinking of human beings since the dawn of history. Jesus came to bring a New Creation which has been slowly growing. The language of the New Creation is "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free; there is not male and female." Those were Paul's words, and when Paul was speaking in terms of the New Creation, that is the way he talked about it. "So from now on we regard no one from a worldly [according to this world] point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

It was when Paul was talking about how to get along without causing too much retribution from the leaders of the Old Creation systems, that he said things like "Wives be submissive to your husbands."

I'm afraid I don't have as much faith in the Enlightenment or in human reason as the source of freedom from human prejudice. As my blog post above shows with links and quotes, patriarchalism was just as much part of the Enlightenment as it ever was of Christianity. As far as I can see, it was not the Enlightenment that began to change this, but the Holy Spirit. The early suffragists and Abolitionists were largely Christians. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights marchers were largely Christians. If Christianity is in essence a bastion of patriarchy and racial oppression, this ought not to have been so.

What the Enlightenment did, I think, is open human thinking to the concept that the ordinary human being could think for her/himself, and not just as he/she had always been taught. And this opened Christians to re-examine their religious texts without the rule-and-be-ruled hierarchical presuppositions they (and everyone else) had always used. Christians had for long ages lost sight of what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God" and what Paul meant by "the new creation"-- caught up in hierarchical religious structures which had turned the church into just another set of Old-Creation institutions. Now, as they began to question those structures, certain things in their Bibles began to look different. And the Holy Spirit used this opportunity to start them thinking in terms of the New Creation again.

I just don't see the world in terms of human reason vs. human superstition, with the Enlightenment firmly in the former category and the Abrahamic religions firmly in the latter. And I feel no obligation to accept those categories of thought, from Mary Daly or anyone else.

Kristen said...

Also to Heather-Rose: The Christian God is not male. You keep telling other commenters to read what this person and that other person has to say about these topics. But what about what my blog has to say? I have a host of blog posts about the biblical texts, about Paul's writings, about the verses traditionally used to hold women down-- and they, too, are worth reading, particularly before you come onto my blog to continue a "why you're wasting your time" silencer which I protested about from the beginning!

Here is my post explaining why the Christian God is not male.

Is God's Nature "Father" and Not "Mother"?

C.S. Lewis aside, the orthodox Christian position on the Triune God has always been that God is a Spirit and not a man, and thus not male or female.

Kristen said...

P.S. Two-thirds of the contents of this blog can be said to address the question: "Is Christianity itself sexist by nature?" The topic of this particular blog post, however, is not "Is Christianity sexist by nature?" but "Since most complementarians agree with egalitarians that Christianity is not sexist by nature, why are complementarians permitting 'sanctified sexism' by their spokesmen?"

Therefore, comments to the effect that "Christianity is by nature sexist, therefore it's useless to have written this topic on this subject" are off topic as well as being silencing techniques. If conversation continues with people asserting "No, you're wrong; Christianity is by nature sexist, full stop," I am going to begin to consider them trollish in nature and to delete them.

Respect for this blogger, her right to blog on topics of her own choice, and the nature of the blog she created, is requested. Thank you.

geraldfordcounsel said...

Great post, many subjects, all well done.

Heather-Rose said...

Kristen, I've studied these subjects for almost 40 years. A crucial aspect of my understanding of these subjects has been a willingness to read and consider thoughtfully the works of people I disagree with. You're certainly free to ignore my contributions to this discussion, disagree with my views out-of-hand, refuse to read the authors I suggest, and tell me what I'm supposed to write on your blog, but if you do so, you're not investigating these important subjects in a serious fashion.

The Enlightenment, not religion, opened the gateway to equality - not only for women, but for races other than white and for religions other than Christianity. Once the all-powerful authority of the churches could be questioned rationally, traditional social structures began to be challenged and transformed.

if it were not for the Enlightenment, neither you nor I would have been permitted to obtain the education to discuss these matters intelligently, and we would certainly not be allowed to challenge church doctrine!

But you don't need to believe me - just observe how the different Christian sects and schools of thought operate.

As I said above, the more open a religious sect is to accepting rationalism (e.g., the science of evolution), the more egalitarian it is. And the closer it is to irrational fundamentalism (e.g., creationism and Biblical literalism), the more sexist it is. The battle against gender equality is essentially a battle against Enlightenment rationality.

Kristen said...

Heather-Rose, You say: "the more open a religious sect is to accepting rationalism (e.g., the science of evolution), the more egalitarian it is. And the closer it is to irrational fundamentalism (e.g., creationism and Biblical literalism), the more sexist it is."

But you don't address the issue of what makes a religious sect more open to what you call "rationalism." You seem to be implying that the less irrational Christianity is, the less actually Christian it is. But what if it is the literalistic fundamentalist approach that is actually further from what Jesus was trying to establish, than an approach which celebrates and engages human rationality? Jesus taught in parables in order to engage the human mind and emotions, to make his hearers think, not just imbibe precepts handed down from authority. He rejected the Pharisees'fundamentalist approach to Bible interpretation. In fact, the Pharisees are held up as an example of close-minded, anti-humanist, literalistic expression of religion-- and rejected for the same.

Kristen said...

Continuing from above-- The fact is that I also have studied these subjects for many years and have read and considered thoughtfully the works of those I disagree with. I actually agree with all of the following:

The Enlightenment, not religion, opened the gateway to equality - not only for women, but for races other than white and for religions other than Christianity. Once the all-powerful authority of the churches could be questioned rationally, traditional social structures began to be challenged and transformed.

If it were not for the Enlightenment, neither you nor I would have been permitted to obtain the education to discuss these matters intelligently, and we would certainly not be allowed to challenge church doctrine!


I am grateful for the Enlightenment and the way it helped free religion from the bondage of hierarchicalism. But that doesn't mean I have to agree that the nature of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is to keep people under hierarchies and prevent them from thinking.

I simply think you're mistaken if you believe intention of the Founder of my religion (who is, as Greg stated, Jesus and not Abraham-- and to prooftext one quote of Jesus' in support of your conclusion seems unscholarly to me) was that His followers remain mired in patriarchalism. Nor does it follow that the nature and essence of religion is patriarchal. The seeds of the Enlightenment lay within the teachings of Jesus all along: that each person should be viewed as an individual and not just part of a collective, that human authorities are not final authorities, that the nature of leadership is meant to be service and not power, etc.

As for disagreeing with someone's statements out of hand and appearing to ignore what someone else is saying on the subject-- what am I to make of your comments along the lines of this one?:

"No, Greg, the DNA of Christianity is the same as that of the other Abrahamic religions - that is, the Old Testament . . . The Christian God is indeed male."

Instead of engaging what Greg said and explaining where you think he's wrong, you simply say "No, Greg," and set him straight as if you were the teacher and he the student. This seems to me a prime example of what you are complaining that I am doing.

But where have I said that I refused to read the authors you suggest? I have, in fact, read most of C.S. Lewis's works already, and am not unfamiliar with his position on God's "maleness." If it is to "refuse" to read an author you suggest simply by not stating outright that I have or will read them, what am I to make of your apparent ignoring of my blog post on "Is God's Nature Father and Not Mother"? which you have not indicated you have any intention of of reading?

What this is really about is not whether I am willing to consider other viewpoints-- which both you and Raymond above are trying to make this about. This is about what the nature of blog interaction is all about. I have allowed this discussion so far because "Is Christianity itself sexist?" does have some bearing on "Should we as Christians recognize and confront sexism in Christian leaders, especially when it has little or nothing to do with what any biblical text, however construed, appears to say on the topic?" But that doesn't mean it's appropriate to wrest the discussion off onto the tangent of "Should Christians just go ahead and renounce Christianity, because even talking about Christianity as unsexist is a worthless endeavor"?

Everyday Grace said...

Great post. As an aging male Christian who was raised in a church culture that was decidedly sexist and did not seriously examine it for some years I'd like to encourage you not to give up on the hope that some of us can indeed wake up to our error. You writing, to say nothing of Mr. Piper's, has been helpful in that process.

Charis said...

Thank you Kristen. This was a blessing to read; touched my heart.

Keep up the good work!

Heather-Rose said...

Kristen: you say "I feel no obligation to accept those categories of thought, from Mary Daly or anyone else." Have you read her writings?

The claims that "the Christian God is not male" don't hold up. The Abrahamic God has always been 100% male until the advent of feminism, which only began as a concept a couple of hundred years ago and still hasn't taken hold in many parts of this country. Only recently have feminist advances in theology pressed many church *FATHERS* to rethink their idea of God. The idea that "He" is all of a sudden beyond gender, etc makes no sense. When the Bible was being written, there were pronouns available to be used, but the choice was made to make "Him" male. And, correspondingly, "His" priests and deacons et al. were, and even now, mostly are, all male. Just look at the structure of church hierarchies right now. They are the product of several thousand years of misogyny. If Christ's teachings were so egalitarian, why has it taken so long for churches to get with the program? Because the very DNA of Christianity is misogynist. It's an authoritarian religion that clings to a "Word of God" that was written in primitive times - not only the OT, but the NT.

You write: "The seeds of the Enlightenment lay within the teachings of Jesus all along: that each person should be viewed as an individual and not just part of a collective, that human authorities are not final authorities, that the nature of leadership is meant to be service and not power, etc."

I disagree. What the Enlightenment gave to humanity was the concept that individual conscience (because of an individual's power of reason) took precedence over arbitrary authority that had no basis in reality (religious dictates, divine right of kings, etc.) In contrast, the teachings of Jesus confirm the concept of arbitrary authority coming from "God's Word" - which is always in the male voice.

In addition, the Enlightenment also opened up the prospect of human progress on earth - that we can make a better world for humanity right here, right now, without waiting for our reward in the next world.

Much as I admire many of the teachings of Jesus, it must be said that they can't have been that great if it took 1800+ years to free the slaves and 2000+ years to free the women.

Heather-Rose said...

Kristen, I read your article "is God's Nature Father, but not Mother". It's well-written, but, unfortunately, wrong.

I agree with you in principle - I wish I could believe what you do - but I can't.

The structure of most of today's religions is misogynist. It has been from the very beginning and it won't change. There are theories about why that is true - that religion as we know it was created to quell women's power and make women into simple sex toys and breeders with no voice. Well, that worked for thousands of years, until we were allowed to think for ourselves and talk back to the patriarch without fear.

Kristen said...

Heather, I will answer your second post first. I cannot agree that religion was invented by men simply to hold women down. It's reductionist, it loses the phenomena, and narrows the scope of reality to plays for power and control.

I cannot believe, after encountering God at the age of 15 and being sustained by God through the rest of my life to this day, that God is an invention of males to control women. Religion, being the systems that form around humanity's search for, and relationship with, God, is necessarily going to be affected by the taint of human weaknesses for power and control, but that it not what it's about, nor is the desire for control limited to men. I happen to like and enjoy men and I can testify that they are as fully human beings as women are. They are not monsters.

Kristen said...

Heather-Rose, with regards to your earlier comment, I have these responses:

You said:

"The Abrahamic God has always been 100% male until the advent of feminism, which only began as a concept a couple of hundred years ago and still hasn't taken hold in many parts of this country."

I really don't think that 100 years ago or sooner, some feminists sneaked things like this into the Bible:

“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deut. 32:18

God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13

"Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." 1 Peter 2:2 (Note that babies weren't given bottles in Peter's day-- Peter is picturing God as a lactating woman and the word of God as the milk, with Christians as babies nursing from God's breasts.)

The orthodox Christian position really has always been that God is a Spirit and does not have genitals. Thus, God is not male. Here are some quotes of the early Church Fathers articulating this orthodox doctrine:

"Far removed is the Father of all from those things which operate among men, the affections and passions. He is simple, not composed of parts, without structure, altogether like and equal to himself alone. He is all mind, all spirit, all thought, all intelligence, all reason . . . all light, all fountain of every good, and this is the manner in which the religious and the pious are accustomed to speak of God" Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:13:3 [A.D. 189].

"What is God? ‘God,’ as the Lord says, ‘is a spirit.’ Now spirit is properly substance, incorporeal, and uncircumscribed. And that is incorporeal which does not consist of a body, or whose existence is not according to breadth, length, and depth. And that is uncircumscribed which has no place, which is wholly in all, and in each entire, and the same in itself" Clement of Alexandria, On Providence [A.D. 200]

"First it must be remembered that God is incorporeal. He does not consist of certain parts and distinct members, making up one body. For we read in the gospel that God is a spirit: invisible, therefore, and an eternal nature, immeasurable and self-sufficient. It is also written that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. For of these the members of a body consist, and of these the substance of God has no need. God, however, who is everywhere and in all things, is all-hearing, all-seeing, all-doing, and all-assisting" Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Psalms 129[130]:3 [A.D. 365]).

Even C.S. Lewis, in his idea that God is "male" to the rest of Creation being "female,” is speaking philosophically, in terms of spirituality. He thinks of God’s spirit as “penetrating” the Creation and the Creation “being penetrated” – but Lewis would never have said that God has a penis.

Kristen said...

Continued from above:

The way I look at it is this: if there is one God, pure Spirit, Who wished to reveal Hirself in terms of monotheism in a patriarchal culture accustomed to placating a pantheon of male and female nature spirits, Xe would have to choose to be called and referred to in either male, or female terms. Since females were powerless chattel, male terms would be the obvious choice.

To me the question is, “Is God patriarchal, or has God simply been accommodating patriarchal mentalities in order to reach human beings?” I have to go with the latter.

As for Mary Daly– I am familiar with her but have not read more than a few quotes of hers. Have you read Julian of Norwich, a woman still revered by the Catholic Church, who in the early 1400s first taught God as Mother? Here’s a link to my blog post on her: Julian of Norwich

Tell you what– I’ll go and read some of Mary Daly’s writings and try in the next month or so to post a response to them. But please don’t expect me to then reject the Christ who revealed Himself to me in 1979 and who has comforted and upheld me ever since, just because He dared to be incarnated as a male and to speak of God as Father.

Kristen said...

Finally, with regards to the Enlightenment, you said:

"What the Enlightenment gave to humanity was the concept that individual conscience (because of an individual's power of reason) took precedence over arbitrary authority that had no basis in reality (religious dictates, divine right of kings, etc.)"

But many, if not most, of the original Enlightenment thinkers believed in God, and many of them in the Christian God. They simply believed that God desired them to use their brains-- which the religious AND secular authorities had always tried to prevent the commoner from doing, but which can be demonstrated to be a desire of God's as well.

You also said:

"In addition, the Enlightenment also opened up the prospect of human progress on earth - that we can make a better world for humanity right here, right now, without waiting for our reward in the next world."

But Jesus didn't preach "wait for your reward in a better world." He preached "the kingdom of God is in your midst." The doctrine that we're simply to wait for the next world is called "pietism," and it reflect a certain segment of Christianity but can hardly be set to be representative of the faith as a whole. The idea that humans can work together for a better world really wasn't invented in the Enlightenment.

daisy said...

Great post Kristen...I hope some complementarians do stand up and disagree with Piper.

Kristen said...

I appreciate that, Daisy-- also Charis, Everyday Grace, and others who have encouraged me not to give up.

I thought I might add to my responses to Heather-Rose above that a thorough study of Old and New Testaments shows that of all the many metaphorical images of God, there is not one that pictures God as a male having sex with the Creation. There are numerous images of God with a womb and giving birth, or with breasts and nursing-- but none at all of a God with male sex organs procreating. That's one reason why I think C.S. Lewis was speaking through his male bias when he spoke of God being male and the Creation female.

Don Doell said...

Kristen, once again you have briefly and cogently countered both Piper and Robertson in your blog, but the trolls who have tried to highjack your blog. Like you, I have been nurtured and sustained by God since I came to meet him as a boy in the 60's (in my case). Thank you for clearly and directly challenging the haughty unbelievers who seem to think that only the sceptics of Christianity think or have brains. Similarly to Greg's riposte where he skewered the comment with "If that's the best and pithiest..." You are much more gracious than I would be in like circumstances. I do not think I would even grant Heather-Rose's eulogy of the Enlightenment as you did. My combative nature would surely overtake any graciousness of the Spirit. I just read Rachel Held Evan's "Ask a Pentecostal" which was posted last year and found that J. Martin documented (briefly) that Pentecost in Acts 2 was the start of egalitarianist thought in the early church. Other authors have also noted the heavy emphasis of Luke to honor women, the poor, et al. Kristen, I strongly want to encourage you to continue your valuable efforts to "give a reason" for the faith. I would welcome listening to you "in person" to learn from you. And I would not feel emasculated in the least!

Kristen said...

Don, I appreciate your kind words, and I do strive to be as gracious as I can be and fair to all. This is the reason for my rule set forth on my blog: Please keep comments on-topic and avoid name-calling, personal attacks, or speculations on the character or motives of the blog writer or other commenters.

I'm afraid "haughty unbeliever" is along the lines of a personal attack or name-calling in my book, so I must caution you as I would any other commentor, against that kind of thing. But it is hard to hold a line that is fair to commentors while trying to keep posts from being hijacked, and I've done my best to hold that line here. Thanks for your vote of confidence!

Mel said...

Just because most of the comments are oddly argumentative and not in the spirit of good dialogue, I just wanted to add some back up. Regarding the "DNA of Christianity" 1) Jesus' lineage can most definitely be traced through females just as well as through males. 2) There are many many instances in the Bible using the feminine to describe God. (Piper does not do his research) 3) This blog post is not written in vain. Boom.

Kristen said...

Thanks, Mel!