Saturday, October 10, 2015

a few links to Practical Theology for Women on how American evangelicals have arrived at reductionists approaches to men and women

Now certainly to any number of readers the following observations will seem obvious but a teacher once gave a useful axiom, "never underestimate the obvious". It may be given to every generation to have to rediscover the obvious in our time.  So here we have a couple of links to things published at Practical Theology for Women that deal with ways American conservative evangelicals have over-reacted to the rest of culture in ways that either paradoxically reinforce the very sort of simplification about sexuality it ostensibly critiques on the one hand, or totalizing precepts in a way that can be disputed by biblical texts.
In my experience, men and women in the conservative church are mostly encouraged to not have any of those relationships at all beyond a superficial level. The fear that an inappropriate relationship between the sexes will develop justifies for many the avoidance of any male/female relationship outside of marriage. I'm afraid that in an effort to avoid inappropriate relationships between men and women, we have forgotten to foster appropriate ones. [emphasis original]

At the risk of quoting myself ... this got me thinking ...

Some men who think they are good Christian guys instantly converse with women only in categories of "wife candidate" or "not wife candidate" and conduct themselves very differently according to how they assess women. Women lament that "no guys ask me out" but neglect to mention the men they shut down who they didn't find attractive or interesting enough to date. I've heard a Christian guy say "I don't care if they're real as long as they're of a certain size" and then somehow still manage to be upset at how "shallow" women were because after a decade he hadn't managed to find too many Christian women he thought were attractive who would consider him as a possible boyfriend. I've met women who want a guy who gives her emotional space but will never let her cry, scarcely realizing that these criteria are mutually exclusive.

But even beyond that, when men and women within conservative Protestantism seem to collapse all possible ways of relating to each other into the category of eros and when "the friend zone" (a mysterious put-down of a category of relating that I didn't know existed until within the last ten years) is dreaded, it seems as if at a subcultural level the desire to avoid "inappropriate relationships" is more than just that, it's become a kind of abjection of other categories of relating.  Guys get so fixated on finding that wife both because it's a coveted relationship to have and because there's also a social pressure for it that anyone who's not identifiable as a candidate on that track is a time-waster.

Christians who object to the worldliness of sexual mores in the United States may paradoxically be worse about that focus. Particularly conservative Protestant dudes may be completely incapable of making a distinction between beauty and eros, most of all at an interpersonal level. Once I heard a fellow demur at the possibility of spending time with some people because, to paraphrase, if you're going to spend time with an attractive member of the opposite sex and nothing's going to come of it that all just seems like a big tease.  No, that's your problem by way of imposing your expectations on to a situation and a person. There "is" a distinction to be made between appreciation that someone is physically beautiful and the "tease" of your own hopes or expectations or senses of entitlement.

Sometimes it seems as if beneath the veneer of propriety and piety many an American Christian dude is a Sterling Archer.  Or Barry. You "might" have to know who those cartoon characters are to get what I'm getting at ... or you could look `em up on Wikipedia or something.

Moving along to the next post.  The quoted excerpt speaks for itself nicely:
There has been a similar round of conversation lately about submission as it relates to gender. Instead of submission being attached to the specific context of marriage, submission is being attached to womanhood as a defining characteristic, as leadership is to men. In that view, a woman’s submission to her husband is absolute, so as to reflect the church’s submission to Christ. And in life, that view teaches that a woman is to avoid vocations, actions or even words that will in any way guide or correct a man, or in some way dilute his inherent ability and masculine need to lead her. God’s work through women who lead, and even lead in rebellion, such as the midwives of Egypt, or Deborah or, my personal favorite, Jael, is dismissed as a collection of anomalies from the Old Covenant era. But it’s a New Testament story of God’s punishment of a woman’s submission which exposes clearly the wrong teaching that submission is some kind of definitive aspect of general godly womanhood.

Acts 4 and 5 describes the joyful generosity of the early church as they sold what they had to share with those in need. In an act that was far more about sinful pride than avarice, one man in the church named Ananias sells some property just as others have done, keeping some of the profit but behaving as if he was giving all to God. Many presume that Ananias’ wife, Sapphira, was complicit in the decision to keep back some of the profit. But the text makes no such presumption. The decision to sell the property was Ananias’ and Sapphira’s together. But the decision to keep back some of the profit was his, albeit a decision Sapphira knew he had made. Ananias chose his course, and Sapphira submitted to his choice.

While this type of gender-roles-follow-creation-order American may attempt to argue that Deborah ad prophet and judge was an anomaly from the terrible time of the judges, Barry Webb is probably not the only scholar to have pointed out there's nothing in the text or tone of the book of Judges that indicates that Deborah holding these roles was considered in appropriate or a sign of a decline in Israelite society--that would be an imposition upon the text and its narrative by contemporary interpreters.  The case for this is not just from that text and its interpreters, though, it's a strong inference even from the precedent of Huldah being the prophetess to whom Josiah dispatched people to confirm the authenticity and validity of the discovered book of the law.

Starke, in her guest piece, points out that Peter dealt with Saphhira as having her own moral responsibility and complicity in her husband's deception. Had the apostle followed the submission trope that contemporary complementarians of a certain stripe insist upon why wouldn't Sapphira have been exonerated as having submitted to the headship of her husband? Well, I suppose we could point out that the husband and wife agreed to the deception but the rhetorical point still has merit, "if" Sapphira merely went along to get along would she have been off the hook? Probably not, because if we invoke creation order and federal headship as consistently as some complementarians have wanted, she'd be on the hook.  The larger point remains, that in an eagerness to assert a creation order as informing the way men and women relate to each other within a marriage, there's been a totalizing process that goes beyond not just a general observation about men and women but that runs into some problems within the narratives of the scriptures themselves.

To revisit an already posted observation, John Piper can talk about men and women and authority in abstract terms but there's still not much getting around that a teenage son, however biologically manly he may be, should still obey an order from his mom to take out the trash.  The idea that in the general world women should be deferential to the point of not issuing orders in an authoritative way to a male seems too abstracted from life as we know it.  If we're men we have all at some point gotten a direct order from our mothers and if we were understanding and obedient sons we chose to follow that order even if it was something we didn't particularly relish doing.


Mike said...

And if Nabal had taken more advice from his wife Abigail, he might not have been killed. And if Moses hadn't had a take charge, in your face, upbraid-the-husband-for-all-posterity-to-recount wife by name of Zipporah who was willing to step up and circumcise the son herself and slam Moses vigorously ("Husband of blood!--I assume not exactly a compliment in the Ancient Middle East), Moses might have been killed by God just like Nabal, and he wouldn't have been there to lead the Hebrews to the Promised Land.

For that matter Jesus raised an objection to Mary's suggestion to turn the water to wine at the wedding at Cana, but what did He do? He obeyed his pushy Jewish mother. I love the image: Mary tells him to perform the miracle, they're out of wine, Jesus says "But my time hasn't yet come!" and Mary, apparently ignoring him completely, turns to the servants and tells them "Whatever he tells you to do, do it."

So many of the versus cited by the patriarchal crowd fold like a cheap lawn chair under scrutiny. Paul made the birth order argument to a church in the grip of the cult of Diana, where women were spreading false creation order narratives and wreaking general havoc upon the church. That this statement to address a pressing issue at a particular church at a particular time has been turned into some all-encompassing theology and philosophy of life by some shows the general bankruptcy of the modern church. That people put up with this bilge shows that things have not changed much at all from the circumstances in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, when he mocked the church for putting up with those who abused and beat them.

chris e said...

You are quite right in alluding to the fact that the critiques of the relationship culture that one encounters in evangelical circles is fairly one dimensional and then generally concentrates on the most obvious. Typically those hot button moral issues behind which everyone can unite.

This applies more widely though - and is a feature of all the interactions between the church and wider culture - and so the institutions we end up building ape the world in a kind of unthinking manner. To take a subject discussed on this blog; church plants often seems to ape startup culture - where 'sweat equity' eventuallys build up into a megachurch - via a few forgotten co-founders exited for creative reasons. Like their predecessors in California these will have facilities that are built up along the lines of the campus of a successful tech company.