Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Debate Continues: Evangelical Versus Secular Feminism

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We now have before us three views of the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. It’s time to listen to what each of our speakers thinks of the others’ presentations. This evening evangelical egalitarian Sarah will respond to Gloria’s presentation of secular feminism.

Note: Gloria’s original statement was posted on Ron Highfield’s blog on December 3, 2016. You may wish to refer to the original as you read the critiques.

Three Points of Agreement Between Sarah and Gloria

Sarah: Thank you, Moderator, for the opportunity to reply to Gloria from an evangelical egalitarian perspective. I will begin with the places where I agree with Gloria’s presentation.

(1) In her opening paragraph, Gloria asserts the following principle:

 It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.

I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?

(2) I also agree that women’s experience serves as an important source of truth for constructing the ethics of gender relations. Because of their experience of oppression and abuse, women can see oppressive structures and abusive relationships to which men are blind. Even if men come to agree with the principle of equality, they need women to help them see specific areas where they are privileged.

(3) If male privilege is morally wrong, it stands to reason that any theory that justifies it is also wrong. Hence, for the most part evangelical egalitarians agree with Gloria’s call for reform:

Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil.

In sum, as an evangelical equalitarian, I agree with secular feminists when they stand against male privilege, assert the equality of women, and call for reform that institutionalizes equality.

Moderator: Thank you for this precise statement of agreement. It will help us achieve our goal of getting as clear as possible on the most basic agreements and disagreements between these two philosophies and facilitate our making an informed decision between them.

Sarah Critiques Secular Feminism

Sarah: Clarity is also my goal. So, let me state this clearly: I am not secular feminist. And I am grateful for the opportunity to explain why. I am an evangelical Christian. I believe that God is the creator and ruler of all things and that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. I don’t know whether or not Gloria is an atheist, but it’s clear that she leaves God completely out of her theory. She grounds all her principles and values in human existence and experience. My specific disagreements with her arise from this fundamental difference. In the following I will address five places where this fundamental disagreement comes to the surface in what Gloria says.

(1) As I admitted above I agree with Gloria on the injustice of rules that keep women from doing what they want to do just because they are women. But Gloria goes on to make a much more radical and deeply troubling statement. She says,

Anything that is possible [to a woman] should be permissible. Secular feminists recognize as legitimate no law of nature, no social custom, no political legislation, and no divine law that forbids a woman to do what is possible for her.

I understand why Gloria would make this argument. Patriarchal society forbade women to do many things they were perfectly capable of doing: vote, run marathons, become doctors, serve as police officers, soldiers and fire personal, preach in churches, and many others. But she goes too far when she equates the permissible with the possible. Many things are possible that are immoral, unjust and illegal; they should not be permitted for women or men. In order to free women from rules that derive from the false idea of male superiority, Gloria denies the legitimacy of any rule that does not derive from her own will. In effect, she denies the objective distinction between right and wrong. This move makes as much sense as slitting your throat to cure a headache. It’s effective, but the side effects make it impossible to enjoy the cure. For if there is no objective distinction between right and wrong, then male domination of women is not objectively wrong either! In contrast to secular feminists, evangelical egalitarians believe in a God-given moral law that roots justice, love and the equality of men and women in the eternal divine being and will.

(2) My second objection is closely related to the first. It concerns the source and nature of the dignity of women. In an astounding claim, Gloria declares,

The dignity of the [woman’s] self does not derive from any value system outside the self, from nature or God or society. Its dignity is self-grounded. That is to say, I am related to myself and I am worth something to myself. I value myself more than I value the whole world. Given the power of the self to create its own identity and establish its own dignity, it makes sense for the self to assert its right to determine itself and liberate itself from all external frameworks and forces.

This statement contains so many extraordinary claims I hardly know where to begin with my critique. Gloria rejects being created or loved by God as relevant to the dignity of woman. Instead of finding her dignity in her relationship to God, she grounds it in her subjective feelings of self-worth. And then she demands that other people make way for her to act as she pleases and become what she wishes. The problem with this view is that our subjective feelings of importance and desires to live and act as we please cannot legitimize making objective moral claims on others. For other people have their own feelings and desires that they may assert against our claims. And in Gloria’s system there is no objective law or arbiter to adjudicate competing claims. Unless human dignity has an objective and universal foundation, it can found no rights or claims against the state, social institutions or individual human beings. Because there is no universal authority to which all parties can appeal and are willing to submit, efforts at persuasion are doomed to fail and coercive power becomes the final arbiter between competing wills.

(3) I said above that I agreed substantially with Gloria about the role and importance of women’s experience in this discussion. However she seems to view men wholly negatively. As a Christian I do not view men as irredeemably evil. Men too are made in the image of God. They can repent and learn how to treat women as equals.

(4) My fourth critical observation concerns Gloria’s statements about the practical program of secular feminism. She says,

Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil. We also demand that every framework, order, institution, and structure that blocks or inhibits the realization of women’s potential be reformed or abolished…And since these institutions are heirs of a long history of oppression, they cannot be left to reform themselves. There must be an aggressive public policy of affirmative action to move rapidly toward equality.

While I agree that institutions need to be reformed in an egalitarian direction, I think Gloria’s rhetoric labeling patriarchal ideas “false, anti-human and evil” crosses a line. Such rhetoric arises from deep anger and fuels the fires of hatred. And her obvious willingness to use government coercion and possibly violence to compel the recalcitrant shows that her philosophy of self-assertion, outlined in objection (2) above, is at bottom a will to power that sets itself above the distinctions between good and evil and right and wrong. In its secret heart it harbors the kind of metaphysical and moral nihilism that would be willing to destroy itself and the whole world to taste one second of revenge on its enemies.

(5) Gloria’s assessment of the Bible is distinctly uncharitable:

Bible, that ancient patriarchal and misogynous text that ought to have been relegated to the dustbin of failed mythologies long ago but is still revered by uneducated men and the women deceived by them.

Gloria’s disparagement of the Bible and those who love it betrays a striking lack of empathy for past cultures and an appalling ignorance of the central message of the Bible. Evangelical egalitarians do not believe the patriarchal aspects of the Bible are essential to the its ethics. There is even an internal dialogue within the Bible in which patriarchy is overcome and replaced by equality. We can see this most clearly in Jesus’ teaching and in Galatians 2:26-28, which I quoted in my original talk:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This text shows that evangelical egalitarians have a great advantage over secular feminists in criticizing male superiority and advocating the equal dignity of women. We can ground our program of equality in divine authority. We can challenge Christian men (There are hundreds of millions of them!) to live up to the ethical demands of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Secular feminists’ assertions of dignity and demands for respect, once you see through their deceptive rhetorical form, boil down to expressions of subjective feelings and wishes with no authority at all.

Moderator: Thank you Sarah for this analysis and critique of secular feminism. Next time we will hear from Abraham who will speak from a neo-patriarchal perspective.

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Ten Things Natural Science Cannot Do

One of the most insidious falsehoods perpetuated in contemporary culture is the idea that natural science is final arbiter of truth and the ultimate hope of human salvation. Below I have listed ten things natural science cannot do. This list demonstrates that human beings cannot live a human life by natural science alone. It’s far too narrow, and it aims way too low. We need access to a truth science cannot supply and contact with a reality science cannot touch.

  1. Natural Science cannot answer a single important question—not even one. Science cannot establish the worthiness of anything it does.
  1. Natural Science cannot establish the validity of its methods or the truth of its theories. Science cannot demonstrate that it is doing anything more than organizing our empirical experience into meaningful patterns.
  1. Natural Science cannot prove the rightness or goodness or beauty of its activities.
  1. Natural Science cannot give you a reason to become a scientist or even to live another day.
  1. Natural Science cannot make a single moral, aesthetic, metaphysical or theological statement. Science is limited to describing, explaining and predicting the empirical structure and behavior of things in terms of physical causes, spatial and temporal relations, quantitative relations, organic functions, etc.
  1. Natural Science possesses no competence speak about existential meaning or purpose.
  1. Natural Science has nothing to say about to you as a person. It cannot tell you who you are, why you are here or what you are supposed to do.
  1. Natural Science cannot guide itself toward ends. Science has no mind or heart or soul; it cannot love or hate or feel. It cannot do anything or feel anything or think anything. It cannot read or write or speak. Science exists solely in the minds of scientists and is a wholly human enterprise subject to the same error and sin as are such other human enterprises as politics and economics. If human reason is limited, science is correspondingly limited. If human goodness is limited, science is limited accordingly.
  1. Natural Science cannot give you hope for the future or reason to love others or others reason to love you.
  1. Natural Science cannot forgive your sins, raise you from the dead or give you eternal life. It cannot tell you God loves you. It cannot give you the power to live a good life. It cannot comfort you at the graveside of your loved one or in your own dying hours.

BAD MEN AND OTHER PREDATORS—ABRAHAM’S RATIONALE FOR NEO-PATRIARCHY

 

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: The last time we gathered, Abraham began explaining his viewpoint, which he calls neo-patriarchy. Through no fault of his own, he was unable to finish his presentation on that occasion. So, I’ve asked him to continue this evening. If you were not present last time, may I suggest that you read his talk (“Abraham Speaks…In Defense of Neo-Patriarchy”), which I have placed on Ron Highfield’s blog, ifaqtheology.

Abraham: Thank you Moderator for allowing me to continue explaining neo-patriarchy to our audience. By way of review, Christian neo-patriarchs believe that each person possesses infinite worth in God’s eyes and that we ought to love each other in a way modeled on God’s love for us. To love others is to seek what is best for them individually, given their natural and historical circumstances. As a matter of natural fact, men are on average much stronger physically and more aggressive in temperament than women. Hence men must make a decision about how to use this advantage. They can protect or exploit women. Christian neo-patriarchs believe they ought to view women as mothers, wives, sisters or daughters and adopt a loving and protective attitude toward all women. Not a condescending attitude, for we know that women are just as intelligent and wise as men and that women possess infinite worth to God.

Moderator: What are your sources of authority that ground and justify your viewpoint?

Abraham: I was just about to turn to that subject. In fact, it’s already been implicit in what I’ve said so far. Like Gloria, I appeal to reason and nature, and like Sarah, I appeal to the Christian Scriptures to support my position. I shall question Gloria’s use of reason and Sarah’s use of Scripture in latter addresses. But I will delay that critique for now and explain my view of these two authorities. When it comes to moral issues, I believe Christian thinkers like Sarah and I should attempt strenuously to harmonize Scripture, reason and experience. Any theory of the ethics of the relationship between men and women in society, church and home, must take into account the natural and historical conditions of men and women. Men and women are not equal in every respect. This is a fact of nature. To deny or ignore it is irresponsible and will harm women in the long run. And, as I argued in my previous presentation, egalitarianism ignores the ethical significance of this fact.

Until the resurrection of the dead, where, as Jesus said, people “will neither marry nor be given in marriage; [but] they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25; Matthew 22:30), women will live in a world where there are good, weak and bad men . (There are good, weak and bad women too, but that is another story.) Any ethical theory of male/female relationships that ignores this reality will inevitably be bad for women. There are a few good men. Good men are aware of their greater physical strength, but they refuse to use it to exploit or harm women.

Bad men despise women for being physically weaker and resent them when they excel intellectually. They view women as sex objects to be exploited and weaklings to be bullied. They seduce, intimidate, abuse, rape and murder women. Weak men lack self-control. They cheat on their wives and refuse to take care of their families; they are lazy, whiny and resent successful women. Good men use their strength to protect women from bad and weak men. And because their self-worth is based on God’s judgment, they rejoice in academic and professional and other life successes of their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.

Christian neo-patriarchs appeal to the Scriptures also. As I argued in the previous session, the Scriptures assert that God created men and women in God’s image and that God loves men and women beyond reckoning. The infinite dignity of women is grounded in God’s love. And the glorious eschatological destiny of men and women transcends mortal bodily life and the conditions necessary to sustain it. Neo-patriarchs believe Galatians 3:26-29 just as strongly as evangelical egalitarians do! Verse 28 asserts, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.” Being male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile is not what counts toward being acceptable to God. What counts is “faith” (v. 26), being “clothed with Christ” (v. 27) and “belonging to Christ” (v. 29). The one thing all Christians have in common is the one thing that matters in relation to God and it’s the one thing that makes us one! This text grounds neo-patriarchs’ commitment never to treat a sister (or brother) as an inferior.

But Scripture does not draw from this truth the practical conclusion evangelical egalitarians draw, that is, that society, church and home must create one set of rules that applies to men and women equally. Jesus did not appoint six women and six men to be apostles. When the apostles lost Judas, they selected a replacement from a pool of men only (Acts 1:21-26). The seven “deacons” appointed by the apostles to take care of the Jerusalem church were all men (Acts 6:1-6). Paul gave different instructions for how women and men were to behave in public gatherings of the church. In certain settings, women could “pray and prophesy” as long as they wore a head covering as sign of respect for their husbands (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). In other settings, perhaps in view of some abuse of speech, women are told to be completely “silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34-38).

Paul modifies but still uses the traditional Greco-Roman household code to urge women to submit to the rule of their husbands and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:21-31). Peter also adapts the traditional household code, telling women to remain submissive to their husbands and husbands to respect their wives as “the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In Titus and 1 Timothy, Paul lays down different rules for the behavior of men than those he gives to women. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women are forbidden to “teach or assume authority over men.” Finally, the rulers of the church, elders and bishops, must be men (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).

I am sure Sarah will wish to challenge my use of these texts, and Gloria will view them as manifestations of patriarchal culture to be dismissed summarily. But neo-patriarchs do not believe these texts should be dismissed as benighted or interpreted in a way that makes them irrelevant to our contemporary setting. For sure, allowances must be made for our very different cultures, clothing styles, educational levels, the leveling effect of technology and more, but nature has not changed. The core insight of patriarchal ethics remains true, that is, since women cannot rule men (except by social convention, a subject for a later talk), the guidelines for the behavior of women must differ from those governing men. And in a Christian setting, the motivation for the restrictions on the behavior of women, however imperfectly embodied, is protective love, which seeks the best for each person, given their natural and historical circumstances.

What about the contemporary church? Should the church maintain the New Testament’s restrictions unchanged? Or should the church, as the evangelical egalitarians insist, erase traditional distinctions? Should it open all offices and functions to women? In contrast to all negative stereotypes, neo-patriarchs do not mindlessly wish to preserve specific role differentiations simply because they are traditional and made sense in the past. We believe Scripture’s restrictions were intended for the good of women and men and for welfare of the whole church. They were designed to affirm the goodness of the created differences between male and female, to protect women from bad men, and to keep the ecclesial order aligned with the natural family order. And we believe these truths and goals are just as important and obligatory today as they were in the First Century.

Women are not the natural rulers of men. Men know this, and women know it too. Hence the church must maintain some form of continued role differentiation to make sure that the church’s social order does not contradict the natural, created family order. To be specific, we don’t think women should be appointed to ruling offices, whatever those happen to be in your denomination, for example, preaching minister, priest, executive minister, bishop or elder. The church maintains these distinctions for the sake of true justice and enlightened love, for men and women. For nothing but sorrow and pain can come from fighting against the Creator and the created order. But the exact shape of the ecclesial order must work itself out over time. Some churches will move toward the egalitarian position and others will try to maintain the scriptural restrictions unchanged as if time and circumstances make no difference.

Egalitarians ignore nature and come close to denying the goodness of the Creator for the sake of their abstract principle of equality. Traditionalists mistake faithfulness to the past for faithfulness to God. Secular feminists attempt to replace the Creator with their own will to power. Nature will eventually recoil on those that deny or ignore its laws. And we believe that the church, even if she strays in the short term, will be granted the wisdom to return to a balanced position in the long run. The gentle but constant voices of Scripture, reason and nature will eventually be heard above the den of tortured, whimpering and demanding voices clamoring for  versions of equality, justice and rights uprooted from nature and history, impractical and abstract.

Moderator: Thank you Abraham for this presentation. I am sure our audience found it challenging and a bit surprising. Now that we have all three views before us, we will allow each of our dialogue partners to respond to the others and in turn defend themselves from those critiques. In this way, we hope to clear the ground of all extraneous and superficial differences and get to the most fundamental disagreements, that is, to those places where our most basic values and beliefs tilt us in one direction or another.

Abraham Speaks…In Defense of Neo-Patriarchy

 

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Neo-Patriarchy

Moderator: Gloria and Sarah have stated their positions. Now we will hear from Abraham who will represent neo-patriarchy. Let me remind the audience one more time that we are engaged in a dialogue on the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church and home, focusing on the decisive and most contested issue in the contemporary discussion, that is, male power and privilege. As moderator, I will not take sides but will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep our speakers from straying from the topic under discussion.

Programing Note: Dr. Ron Highfield, on whose blog we are conducting this dialogue, asked me to warn the audience against taking the views expressed by any of our participants as identical with his own. His interests in sponsoring this debate are clarifying the basic decision points that divide these three perspectives, allowing everyone to hear a coherent and intelligent presentation of a view other than their own, and presenting a model for civil and rational debate on important and emotion-laden issues, such as the one we are discussing.

Abraham, please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home. And may I suggest that you begin by explaining why you call your viewpoint neo-patriarchy. I find it interesting that you would adopt a label that includes the term “patriarchy,” a viewpoint associated in many people’s minds with oppression of women.

Abraham: Thank you Moderator for the opportunity to defend neo-patriarchy, the most enlightened and person-affirming of all views of male/female relationships in society, church, and home. Indeed, I am aware that “patriarchy” is associated in the popular mind with prejudice and oppression of women. Whatever truth there is in this accusation—and its truth is not beyond dispute—I do not subscribe to traditional patriarchal philosophy. I am a neo-patriarch. Neo-patriarchy maintains the core insight of patriarchy but places it within a Christian framework and takes into account the equalizing effects of modern technological advancements.

You asked why I chose the term neo-patriarchy even though it’s sure make a bad first impression and prejudice the audience against my arguments before they hear them. The answer is two-fold. First, I chose it because it accurately describes what I believe. Second, it is a protest against our politically correct, progressive culture in which anyone who dares defend a traditional moral view is met with indignation and outrage. In calling my view neo-patriarchy, I embrace my marginality and refuse to be intimidated by insults and threats. I express my confidence in its truth, certainty of its rationality, and clarity about its moral superiority to the alternatives.

Christian neo-patriarchy asserts that God created every human being in his image. Each and every person is loved by God beyond all measure, which means that each person’s worth to God is incalculable. Men are not loved by God more than women. Nor are they worth more to God than women. But we do not conclude from this truth that men and women should be treated equally in every respect. Feminists and egalitarians sometimes fail to notice that equality is a comparative concept. You can love your neighbors equally even if you do not love them at all! Equality is a morally neutral term. It belongs in mathematics and not in moral philosophy. It provides little comfort to affirm that God loves everyone equally unless you also specify how much! Neo-patriarchs argue instead that God loves each person, male or female, infinitely. Hence we place ourselves under obligation to treat women (and men) according to their infinite dignity. We hold ourselves to higher standards than the ones proposed by secular feminism and egalitarianism.

Moderator: I’m confused. You don’t sound at all like a patriarch. Patriarchs don’t treat women as having infinite dignity, do they? Help us out here.

Abraham: You are confused because, despite my disclaimer, because you still expect me speak like a traditional patriarch. Apparently, you don’t yet understand significance of the “neo” in neo-patriarchy. Perhaps, I can best explain it by examining traditional patriarchy and then differentiating neo-patriarchy from it. Traditional patriarchy is a product of reason, common sense, and accumulated experience…with a big dose of sin thrown in. Let’s consider patriarchy in its most enlightened form rather than looking for its crudest examples.

In his book Politics, Aristotle examines the most basic unit of society, the family. For Aristotle, the family unit includes slaves, wives, husbands, and children. The ruling order of the family is determined by nature. The natural slave has a strong body but lacks the intelligence and wisdom to rule himself or others. Wives possess the wisdom and intelligence required for ruling but do not possess the strength to rule men, who possess both. The husband possesses both natural strength and wisdom and so is the natural ruler of the household, and by extension the city. A wise woman will accept this order and remain soft-spoken in relation to her husband and other men, since it is unwise to rebel against the unchangeable order of nature or provoke fights one cannot win.

Note: In Aristotle’s day, the household was a semi-autonomous sphere headed by the father. The state intruded in its internal affairs only in extreme circumstances. The father could use violence within prescribed limits to enforce obedience on wives, children, and slaves.

In many ways Aristotle simply states the obvious. Because of their vastly superior intelligence, human beings rule the animal world. Ruling requires both superior physical strength and intelligence. Neither alone is sufficient. This is the core truth of patriarchy that neo-patriarchs accept because it is an indisputable fact. But Aristotle draws a conclusion from these differences that Christian neo-patriarchs reject. He attributes more natural dignity to men than to women, and he does so because he measures dignity in terms of fitness to rule. Slaves have less, women have more, but men have the most dignity. We reject this formula. As I argued above, the Christian gospel asserts that women and men possess infinite dignity, and men are obligated to treat women in accord with this dignity. And this rule makes all the difference. Men have no right to pursue their needs, desires or any other private concern at the expense of their wives or other women. Selfishness, male or female, is always wrong. Always!

But how does Christian neo-patriarchy incorporate the differences between men and women into its theory? Neo-patriarchs insist that we are obligated to love each other and treat each other justly.  The concept of justice states that “each receives what he or she is due.” But how do we determine what each is due? Egalitarians appeal to the concept of equality to quantify justice. They insist that a just system treats men and women the same. Neo-patriarchs appeal instead to the concept of love, that is, each seeks what is truly good for others. We argue that seeking “what is truly good for others” is morally superior to seeking equality of goods and privileges among them. Things can be equally bad for everyone!

Moreover, treating men and women equally in every respect would disadvantage women by validating and institutionalizing the natural advantages men have over women in areas of physical strength and aggressiveness. Women would have to win the goods they enjoy in competition with men on an equal playing field. We do not believe this order would be just, because we define justice in terms of love and not equality. Instead of encouraging men or women to seek “what is truly good for others,” such a rule (equal opportunity, same rules), would reward them for pursuing their private interests at the expense of others. Exercising authentic love and justice toward everyone entails uniformly seeking the best for each individual, given their natural and historical circumstances. In so far as women differ from men, what is best for men may not be best for women. So, neo-patriarchs believe in equality after all!

I can see my time is running out. Allow me to speak briefly as a Christian neo-patriarch about how we believe men should treat women. Men are physically stronger and more aggressive than women, and they are keenly aware of it. Women are aware of this too, or they should be. Technological advances have lessened but cannot remove the advantage this difference gives men in the contest for power and privilege. Men must decide what to do with this advantage, and there are only two honest options. (The dishonest option is pretending that it does not exist.) A man can use this power to exploit or protect women. We believe the ideology of egalitarianism facilitates exploitation and harms women in the name of helping them. It forces women to compete with men in areas where nature has placed them at a disadvantage. As Christian neo-patriarchs, we believe that the male form of true love toward women counts every woman as a wife, mother, sister, or daughter. And because we believe our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters are of infinite worth to God, we are determined to use our strength to protect, love, and honor rather than exploit and despise them. We draw our ideals from the original neo-patriarch, the apostle Paul:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:4-7).

Moderator: Abraham, I am sorry to interrupt, but we are out of time. I suppose you realize that you have not yet addressed all three areas I asked you to cover. Perhaps it’s my fault for asking you to explain why you chose the term patriarchy and for not interrupting you earlier to keep you on pace. But since our dialogue cannot proceed with responses and rebuttals until we have before us the full picture of all three views, I will give you an opportunity at our next meeting to finish your opening statement. You’ve certainly given our audience something to think about in the meantime!

Abraham: Thank you Moderator. I shall try to be more concise next time.

Programming Note: The second half of Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy is scheduled to be posted on this blog at 6:00 am EST on Monday, November 19.

 

 

 

 

Sarah Speaks

 

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Evangelical Egalitarianism

Moderator: Now that Gloria, our representative of secular feminism, has presented her viewpoint, Sarah will present her understanding of evangelical egalitarianism. Let me remind the audience that we are engaged in a dialogue on the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church, and home, focusing on the decisive and most contested issue in the contemporary discussion, that is, male power and privilege. As moderator, I will not take sides but will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep our speakers from straying from the topic under discussion. Sarah, please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home.

Sarah: Thank you Moderator for arranging this discussion and thank you Gloria for a clear and robust presentation of secular feminism. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put so well. You lay out the most fundamental decision points where your view and mine diverge and overlap. I am sure Abraham agrees with me on this. As I develop my viewpoint, the audience will see that I share many concerns and principles with Gloria. And in many ways our arguments come to the same practical conclusions. But we diverge in some places, and those differences are anticipated by the differing names of our philosophies.

Moderator: Pardon me for interrupting, but it may help our audience if you explain what you mean by “evangelical egalitarianism.” I notice that you do not call yourself an “evangelical feminist.” Why not?

Sarah: Sure. I’d be happy to do that. Who are evangelical egalitarians and what do they assert? I am a woman and an evangelical egalitarian, but you don’t have to be a woman to be an evangelical egalitarian. The word evangelical derives from the Greek word for good news or gospel. In the English-speaking world, especially in the United States, it has come to mean a transdenominational theological model with its own style, core beliefs, and practical program. We believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, crucified for our sins and raised bodily from the dead. We accept the Old and New Testament Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church. But I am also an egalitarian, which many evangelicals are not. Egalitarianism refers to a set of arguments for the equal status (that is, equal in power and privilege) of men and women in society, church, and family. Evangelical egalitarian arguments differ from those of secular feminism in that they are largely biblical and theological, but they arrive at surprisingly similar conclusions.

As to the question of why I do not call myself an “evangelical feminist,” let me say this. Feminists are a very diverse group. Feminism includes egalitarians but also more radical views, some of which argue that women must minimize their association with men if they wish to realize their full potential as women. Egalitarians affirm the equal dignity of men and women and do not reject marriage and family. So, egalitarians are feminists of a certain type. But using that term in our self-description would lead to confusion. Evangelical egalitarianism focuses on the specific project of equalizing the power and privilege of women with that of men in the church and the family.

Moderator: Thank you for that clarification! You’ve got my attention. Tell us now what evangelical egalitarians assert.

Sarah: I don’t think I could improve on Gloria’s first principle, so, with her permission, I shall quote it as expressing my own thoughts.

Gloria: Of course. I am pleased and a bit surprised that you agree with it. In future discussions I shall want to probe just how far you really agree with it.

Sarah: I look forward to that! Gloria and I agree that: “It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.” Evangelical egalitarians don’t believe that being born a woman is a good reason for society or the church to make rules against engaging in any activity, holding any office, or performing any function. There are, of course, many things that ought to be forbidden—immoral things, such as murder, lying, and stealing. And the nature of our mental and physical capacities determines what we are able to do. If you cannot carry a tune, you’ll never be an opera star. If you have no capacity for math or logic or creative writing, Harvard won’t honor you with a professorship in these areas, whether you are male or female.

Evangelical egalitarians—and presumably secular feminists also—do not object to the kind of sorting that works itself out because of the diversity of capacities among human beings. But it is a completely different thing for an authority such as the state or the church to forbid a woman to do something she has the skill to do simply for the crime of being born a woman. Being female is not in itself a disability or capacity.  So, we condemn such discriminatory prohibitions and call for all rules to apply equally to men and women.

Now I will address the second area, the grounds that justify evangelical egalitarianism. We do not limit our sources of authority to reason and women’s experience as secular feminism does, though we do not reject these sources. They have much to teach. However, we gain access to truth from the Scriptures that is not available from reason and experience. The Scriptures tell us that women and men were created by God in God’s image and that God loves each one of us and wants us to live with him forever. And God demonstrated this love and revealed this purpose by sending Jesus Christ to redeem us from sin and death. Evangelical egalitarians ground the dignity of women and men in the eternal being and will of God, a much more objective, universal, and authoritative ground than reason and experience can provide. Jesus affirmed the dignity of women by accepting women as disciples and treating them with a respect scandalous to his patriarchal culture. And Paul’s words in Galatians 3:26-29 provide evangelical egalitarianism its theme text and interpretative principle by which it measures all other biblical statements about men and women:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Time does not permit me to document every assertion I am making in this brief statement. Nor can I respond here to every objection I anticipate will be leveled at my viewpoint by Gloria or Abraham. But evangelical egalitarians contend that the principle Paul lays down in Galatians 3:28 declares that the social distinctions that determine the way power and privilege are distributed in the world are invalid for the church. And we believe it obligates the church to renounce its traditional practice of withholding certain offices and functions from women simply because they are women.

Moderator: Sarah, our time is almost up. Before you conclude please share with us a brief overview of the practical implications of evangelical egalitarianism.

Sarah: I think I can do that in short order. Though evangelical egalitarians desire equality for women in all areas of life, as a theological program it focuses on reforming the discriminatory practices of evangelical churches. It contends that decisions about who occupies church offices and performs church functions should be made on the basis of “giftedness” instead of the gender of the gifted person. The Spirit endows women as well as men with wisdom, knowledge, faith, speaking ability, and administrative skill. We call on the church to stop resisting the Spirit’s decisions and depriving itself of the gifts God wants to give the body of Christ through its female members. If a woman has the gift of preaching, let her preach. If she can teach, let her teach. If administration is her gift, call her to that work. Let the Spirit decide who should bless the church and how.

Moderator: Thank you Sarah for that concise presentation. I learned much, and I am sure our audience did as well. Next time, we will hear from Abraham, who represents the neo-patriarchal viewpoint. I am looking forward to that.

A Dialogue Between a Secular Feminist, an Evangelical Egalitarian, and a Neo-Patriarch

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Opening Statements

Moderator: I am very grateful that you three have agreed to engage in a dialogue on a topic of intense interest and immense significance for my audience, that is, the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church, and home. Of course, we will not attempt to address every dimension of that issue but will focus on power and privilege, which are at the center of the contemporary controversy. As moderator, I will not take sides but I will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep you from straying from the topic under discussion. The dialogue will begin with opening statements from each of you. Please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home. The order will be Gloria, Sarah, and Abraham.

Secular Feminism

Gloria: Thank you, Moderator, for the opportunity to explain and defend secular feminism to this audience. And since you seek clarity in this dialogue, I shall begin with a statement as clear as crystal: It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman. Some things are logically impossible for everyone. Some things are physically impossible for everyone. And some things are physically possible for some people but for not others. But anything that is possible should be permissible. Secular feminists recognize as legitimate no law of nature, no social custom, no political legislation, and no divine law that forbids a woman to do what is possible for her. And we condemn every political, social, ecclesiastical, and familial institution that keeps a woman from actualizing her potential the way she wishes.

Having stated clearly what secular feminists assert, I shall explain the grounds or justification for our assertions. Those grounds fall into two categories. The first concerns a view of the self that is presupposed by all modern progressive movements, including secular feminism. The second concerns women’s experience of their own selves as women. The modern view of the self began to surface in the Renaissance, continued in the 17th century Enlightenment and in the 19th century Romantic Movement, and came to maturity in the late 20th century. When you disengage the human self from all external frameworks that impose on the self a preexisting, unchosen, and alien identity—state, society, family, church, and nature—you discover the essential self. This self exists apart from these frameworks and possesses power to create its own identity, that is, to become what it wishes to be. Its essence or one essential property is freedom, the creative power of will. The dignity of the self does not derive from any value system outside the self, from nature or God or society. Its dignity is self-grounded. That is to say, I am related to myself and I am worth something to myself. I value myself more than I value the whole world. Given the power of the self to create its own identity and establish its own dignity, it makes sense for the self to assert its right to determine itself and liberate itself from all external frameworks and forces. In fact, this assertion is the self’s essence and its proper act. And it demands that others respect its self-respect. This then is first justification for secular feminists’ assertion of their right to self-determination against all external frameworks and powers.

The second justification is specific to women. Women are self-creating selves like all human beings but in their own particular way. We secular feminists call it “women’s experience.” Women experience their female bodies from within, and they experience the external world of nature, society, church, men, and family as women. And that experience includes misrepresentation, oppression, exclusion, domination, abuse, and rape. Women’s experience includes the feeling of powerlessness, forced silence, and dismissiveness on the part of men. Women experience being valued only for the satisfaction of male lust, as wombs used for reproduction, as housekeepers, cooks, caretakers for children, and babysitters for immature men. We secular feminists consider women’s experience an authority by which to critique the oppressive structures of the patriarchal past and those that still remain.  More accurately, the modern view of the self, which I described above, is the authority by which oppressive structures are judged to be wrong and women’s experience is the way even subtle oppressive structures are revealed as oppressive for women. (In philosophical language, the first is ontological, having to do with the mode of being, and the second is epistemic, having to do with the way of knowing.) Because of their experience of oppression, women can see things that men cannot see.These two sources together provide a foundation and justification for secular feminism.

The third thing the Moderator asked me to do was to detail some practical implications of secular feminism. I will be as clear in this section as I was in the first. Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil. We also demand that every framework, order, institution, and structure that blocks or inhibits the realization of women’s potential be reformed or abolished. These institutions include all public and so-called private institutions: government, churches, military, clubs, families, societies, and schools. And since these institutions are heirs of a long history of oppression, they cannot be left to reform themselves. There must be an aggressive public policy of affirmative action to move rapidly toward equality. As for churches, they are the worst offenders, not only because of their oppressive practices but, more egregiously, because of their patriarchal ideology dictated by Bible, that ancient patriarchal and misogynous text that ought to have been relegated to the dustbin of failed mythologies long ago but is still revered by uneducated men and the women deceived by them. While I am on that subject…

Moderator: Perhaps this would be a good place to stop, since you seem to have completed your case and are now skating close to the edge of incivility. I think you have given our audience a clear idea of the nature of secular feminism. Your statement was clear, bold, and honest. It will give us something to think about and discuss in the next phase of the dialogue.

Next, we will hear from Sarah our representative of Evangelical Egalitarianism.