Monthly Archives: January 2017

Three Views on Women in Leadership: A Hyperlinked Index

A reader of this blog requested that I compile an index that organizes and hyperlinks all the posts in my recent series on the debate between secular feminism, evangelical egalitarianism and Christian Neo-Patriarchy. This series ran through December 2016 and January 2017. I am in the process of turning this series into a book with the tentative title Three Views on Women in Leadership. I am considering giving last names to Sarah, Gloria and Abraham. I am open to suggestions. I am also open to suggestions on anything I need to add to the book to make it better.

I changed the order from the way they appeared onthe blog. Now they are ordered so that the responses follow immediately after the presentations. If you wish, you can forward this page to a friend who would like to read them all together in this new order.

 

Gloria Explains and Defends Secular Feminism

Sarah Responds to Gloria

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part one)

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part Two)

Abraham Responds to Gloria (Part Three)

Sarah Explains and Defends Evangelical Egalitarianism

Gloria Responds to Sarah

Abraham Responds to Sarah (Part One)

Abraham Explains and Defends Christian Neo-Patriarchy (Part One)

Abraham Explains and Defends Christian Neo-Patriarchy (Part Two)

Gloria Responds to Abraham

Sarah Responds to Abraham

Women and the Bible: An Egalitarian Critiques Patriarchy

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to our twelfth and final talk in our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening evangelical egalitarian Sarah will reply to Abraham the spokesman for neo-patriarchy.

Sarah: Thank you Moderator for your guidance throughout this dialogue, and thank you Gloria and Abraham for your stimulating presentations. From my perspective, among the most interesting and surprising developments in these discussions were those occasions where Gloria and I agreed against Abraham or Abraham and Gloria agreed against me (!) or Abraham and I agreed against Gloria. I didn’t expect these strange alliances to develop. Each person’s presence added something important to the discussion.

And I have to say, I found both my dialogue partners’ thoughts challenging. Gloria challenged me to show more convincingly just how the message of Scripture supports the case for equality in ways reason and experience cannot. Abraham’s creative combination of reason and scripture to support the justice of traditional role differentiation surprised me and made it necessary for me to seek in the future a combination of the two that supports egalitarianism. But my task tonight is to reply to the central argument in Abraham’s first speech.

Sarah Summarizes Abraham’s Argument

As I understand it Abraham’s argument can be summarized as follows: Abraham asserts the infinite worth of each individual, man or woman, and insists that our primary duty to one another is love. He defines love this way:

“To love another is to seek what is best for them individually, given their natural and historical circumstances.”

Hence to love others and do them justice cannot be identified with treating them equally but falls under the rule of seeking “what is best” for each person. Abraham argues further that since men are on average much stronger physically and more aggressive in temperament than women, the rule of love and justice—that is, of “seeking what is best”— demands that men (and society in general) adopt an attitude of protectiveness toward women. In a just order, the rules and roles for women must give them special protections not needed by men. In Abraham’s words,

“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 women possess infinite worth to God.”

Based on this moral vision, Abraham criticizes the egalitarian demand that all social and church offices and roles be open to women and men alike based on giftedness (or ability) rather than on gender. Instead of this meritocratic rule he defends the church’s practice of withholding “ruling” offices and functions from women as consistent with the teaching of Scripture and the demands of love and justice as exemplified by Jesus.

Sarah’s Four-Part Reply

What’s Wrong With Equality?

I shall reply to the four most basic claims made in this argument. (1) In criticizing my emphasis on equality, Abraham asserts that women and men possess infinite worth in God’s eyes. Equality, he says, is a morally suspect idea. Apparently Abraham thinks my argument and practical program of reform depend on the concept of equality. Without it, so he thinks, egalitarianism falls to the ground. In response, I admit that attributing infinite worth to women says something more sublime about women than the equality claim asserts. But if both men and women have “infinite” worth, don’t they also have equal worth? So, how does Abraham’s move defeat my argument? Shouldn’t women still be treated equally even within Abraham’s theoretical framework? How can he justify departing from the rule that equal dignity demands equal treatment?

Abraham replies to the equal-dignity-equal-treatment challenge by defining love and justice as “seeking what is best” for each person given their natural and individual differences. Equal or infinite dignity demands not equal treatment but true love and justice individualized for the needs of each person. It’s hard to find anything wrong with this principle in theory. But here is the problem: who decides “what is best” for men and women collectively or individually? Wouldn’t there be lots of room for stereotypes, misinformation, prejudice and selfishness in such deliberations? And why should men have any say in determining “what is best” for women? Perhaps each woman should decide for herself what is best for her?

To escape this endless, convoluted discussion evangelical egalitarians choose equality as the norm for the treatment of women rather than “what is best.” The concept of equality is simple and generates simple rules. It’s not subject to endless discussions that attempt to take into account myriads of factors. Indeed, as Abraham points out, equality is more a mathematical than a moral concept. But at least mathematics is simple! There is less room for obfuscation and humbug!

Even for Christians, “Biology is not Destiny!”

(2) Abraham makes much of the biological differences between men and women. I grant that in terms of raw physical strength and psychological aggressiveness men have the natural advantage. But Abraham argues that those biological differences demand to be embodied in hierarchical relationships in society and church. Moreover, he contends that though technological advances can ameliorate the social impact of these differences to some extent, they cannot neutralize them completely. Gloria dealt with this claim effectively in her response to Abraham, so I don’t need to address it at great length.

However, I want to consider one aspect that Gloria as a secular person could not really understand or deal with effectively. Gloria pointed out that Abraham presupposes that God’s choice to create male and female unequal in the areas mentioned above justifies maintaining traditional social inequities. She deals with the problem by dismissing divine creation. I do not believe this is necessary. Indeed, as an evangelical Christian I believe God created male and female with all the differences that that entails. Those differences are good for each gender and for society. We are better and happier together than alone.

But it does not follow that it is wrong to strive to overcome the negative impact of those differences, especially when they are magnified by the effects of sin. God also made males and females intelligent, so it cannot be wrong to use this God-given intelligence to equalize the sexes in the workplace and in other areas. If it were wrong to use our intelligence for this purpose, wouldn’t it also be wrong to use it to cure disease, treat pain, increase productivity and enhance human life? Even for Christians, “Biology is not destiny!”

Condescension and False Dichotomies

(3) Abraham argues that men will relate to women either protectively or exploitatively.  He allows no third alternative. As Abraham sees it, on average men possess superior physical strength of a kind that gives them the ability to intimidate and harm women in one-on-one, private encounters. This fact forces men, whether consciously or not, to adopt one of two attitudes toward women: protectiveness or exploitativeness.

Although Abraham asserts that protectiveness need not be “condescending,” given women’s equality of dignity and intelligence, I am not convinced. It seems to me that both protection and exploitation are condescending and domineering. Both imply that women depend on the goodwill of men in a way that men don’t depend on the goodwill of women. These attitudes discount the equal dignity and intelligence of women and reduce them to their bodies. And this condescension is a constant source of insult and irritation to women.

Additionally, Abraham sets up a false dichotomy. I don’t deny the biological facts of the situation, but why can’t men overcome the impulse to condescension of any kind and simply treat women as equals? Why must the issues of sex and power—as inseparable as the two sides of a coin—cast their cold shadows over every encounter between men and women?

The Weakness of the Biblical Case for Neo-Patriarchy

(4) What about the teaching of Scripture? Abraham contends that Scripture teaches the subordination of wives to husbands in the home and of women to men in the church. He attempts to inoculate Scripture from the secular feminist charge of irrational male prejudice by showing that Scripture’s perspective and its instructions are reasonable, just and loving when measured against the facts of nature. He anticipates the evangelical egalitarian argument from Galatians 3:26-29—“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.”—by limiting its application to justification. These verses speak of a new way of relating to God. In the matter of sin and its forgiveness, the worldly status of people makes no difference. All that counts is faith and the life that flows from it. This text does not speak of actually recreating people so that they are no longer male and female. Accordingly, Abraham concludes, it should not be taken to imply that the traditional social, ecclesiastical and familial orders be reordered so that being male or female makes no difference. Hence preserving the “ruling” offices in the church for men is not only reasonable, just and loving, but also obligatory. I shall reply to each phase of this argument in order.

First, I can see why Abraham appeals to reason and natural law to absolve Scripture of irrationality and male bias. He presents an interesting case for patriarchy. Some people may find it compelling. But I don’t believe it really meets the challenge of secular feminism. It leaves the essential idea of patriarchy intact. I too want to defeat critics of Scripture that accuse it of such prejudice. But I don’t see the need to appeal to biology and natural law. I think we can show that the central message of God’s love, new creation and redemption in Christ shows that patriarchy is peripheral to the ethics of Scripture and has been made obsolete by the Christian vision of equality in Christ.

Second, I’ve already dealt extensively with Galatians 3:26-29 in this dialogue, so I don’t need to spend much time on it. I admit that the subject of this text is justification before God and unity in Christ. This is the subject under discussion in the Galatians as a whole. But that doesn’t settle the issue of what follows from the fact of our solidarity in Christ. If our worldly—even biological—status makes no difference in the matter of sin and salvation, surely we are not permitted to carry on “business as usual” in society, church and family! If God accepts us because of our faith rather than any biological or social status, surely we must accept and relate to each other on that same basis! And if we really accept each other on this basis, how can we defend and practice an order based on biological and social status? Moreover, if we insist on continuing the old order, don’t we render our assertions of salvation by faith and oneness in Christ empty phrases? Pie in the sky with no ethical teeth?

Third, what is this all talk about “ruling” and “ruling offices” in the church? Jesus rebuked his disciples for talking like this. He told them that the greatest among them is the one who serves all the rest (Mark 9:33-37). And Jesus himself set the example of greatness in service by washing his disciples’ dirty feet and dying on the cross for sinners (John 13:1-17 and Philippians 2:1-11). The New Testament understands every office and function in the church as service to others for Christ’s sake. If we are thinking rightly about church officers and functions, we won’t view them as ruling but as serving roles. Hence even if you think women should not rule over men, why object to them serving the church in any way they can and doing anything the church needs done and calls them to do?

Moderator: Thank you Sarah, Gloria and Abraham for a very stimulating debate. This concludes our time together. I hope that truth will be served by such respectful and thoughtful conversations as we have witnessed in these twelve sessions. And I am sure you agree.

Programming Note: I am now in the process of editing this 12-part dialogue for publication as a small book. The tentative title is Three Views on Women in Church Leadership. The purpose of the book, like the purpose of this dialogue, is to help churches, church leaders and members to think through the issues now facing many Bible-believing churches concerning the apparent tension between the teaching of Scriptures on the subject of women and church leadership and the increasing demands of society for the equality of women to men in society and church.

Is Protesting for Justice a Christian Act?

Yesterday and today many of my Christian friends, my dear friends, proudly shared selfies of themselves in the streets of Los Angeles protesting for “justice.” I was troubled, not by their choice of causes, but by their untroubled confidence that protest is a noble and Christian thing to do. Hence this afternoon I ask you not whether the cause for which they protested is just but whether protest as an act is a Christian thing to do.

It seems that many good people allow their belief in the rightness of a cause to blind them to the moral ambiguity of the means of supporting it. Protesting, marching, and demonstrating become inherently noble things to do. But are they? What is an act of protest? It is at least an act of speech that includes symbolic actions meant to express aggrieved feelings and convey a message of strong disapproval and anger. It is not a mutually agreed upon dialogue or debate in which one presents one’s reasoned arguments. It presupposes, rather, that dialogue and reasoned argument have been abandoned. By its very nature protest interrupts others and demands that they stop speaking and listen. Protest by its very form embodies a threat of disorder, for it is an act meant to display and exert power, conducted outside the usual political process.  My question is this: Is this form of speech and action a Christian way of speaking and acting when confronted by what one believes is injustice? Ought we not at least ask this question?

In view of these events, I am reblogging today an essay I wrote in 2016. Here is the paragraph in that post that convinced me that I should reblog it:

“Justice seekers often attempt to awaken and mobilize the oppressed to resent and hate their oppressors. We make seeking justice for oneself a holy task, a moral obligation, and a virtuous act. In so doing, justice seekers remake the oppressed in the image of their oppressors. It is an infallible dialectical rule that we become like what we hate.

 

“On the Difference Between Seeking Justice and Doing Justice”

(Originally Posted January 1, 2016)

 In a time of increasing emphasis on justice ministry (a.k.a. social justice) in evangelical churches, colleges, and seminaries, perhaps we ought to reflect on the difference between seeking justice and doing justice. On almost every occasion in which the Old Testament uses the expression “seek justice” it  refers to seeking justice for others, for “the fatherless” or the “poor” (Isa 1:17 and Jer 5:28). Quite often these instructions are given to people in authority or with social status enough to advocate for others. A king, for example, should “seek justice” for all the people (Isa 16:5). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33). Micah informs us of what the Lord requires: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). But neither the Old nor New Testament tells us to “seek justice” for ourselves. Advocating for the legitimate rights of others is counted a virtuous act. But seeking it for yourself is at best ambiguous; it is not condemned but neither is it praised.

Oversimplifying matters a bit, I see three different modes of enacting justice in the Bible: (1) seeking justice for the powerless against unjust powers; (2) seeking justice for yourself in matters where you believe you have been treated unfairly; and (3) acting justly in all your own relationships with others. Let’s discuss them one at a time.

Seeking Justice for Others

To engage in this mode of justice you must possess some qualities the oppressed do not possess. You cannot be powerless and oppressed yourself. You have to possess power or you cannot help those without it. And you cannot be a member of the oppressed group or you would not be seeking justice for others but for yourself. You cannot seek justice for the poor if you are poor or the vulnerable fatherless if you are vulnerable and fatherless. This distinction between those who have status to seek justice for others and those for whom they seek it makes the activity seeking justice morally ambiguous.

True, all good deeds are morally ambiguous because the moment we recognize the goodness of our actions we become proud of our goodness. And pride is wrong. But seeking justice for others adds another dimension. We must distinguish ourselves from those we aim to help. We have power, wealth, and status, and they don’t. Hence our compassion for the victim can easily transform into relief that we are not victims, not poor, not powerless. A root of distain is given life.

Additionally, it is easy to forget the people we were trying to help and get caught up in the noble, heroic cause of justice and the feelings of self-importance it engenders. It is often said these days that giving “charity” to the needy offends against their dignity but seeking justice for them affirms that dignity. But as you can see from the analysis above, seeking justice also distinguishes between those who have power, wealth, and status and those who do not. Seeking justice makes plenty of room for a condescending attitude on the part of the justice seeker. It would be ironic indeed if in seeking justice we grow to despise the very ones for whom we seek it.

One more irony: justice seekers often attempt to awaken and mobilize the oppressed to resent and hate their oppressors. We make seeking justice for oneself a holy task, a moral obligation, and a virtuous act. In so doing, justice seekers remake the oppressed in the image of their oppressors. It is an infallible dialectical rule that we become like what we hate.

Seeking Justice for Yourself

Seeking justice for yourself is not a noble or virtuous act. It’s normal and spontaneous indeed, but we have no duty to make sure other people treat us fairly. We have a highly developed and finely nuanced power of detecting injustice when it is done to us. But we are notoriously bad at judging our own cause. Who feels that life treats them with perfect fairness? Does anyone feel like they get enough recognition or are paid enough for their work? Who is happy with a B+ when you know you deserve an A? Every 6-year old child says, “No fair” at least 5 times a day. Indeed, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seems to discourage or even condemn seeking justice for yourself. It’s too easy to clothe envy and selfishness in the purple cloak of justice. No one is qualified to be their own judge. We need an objective standard and an impartial judge. I addressed the need for an objective standard for justice in my post of November 28, 2015 (“No Love, No Justice! On the Difference Between God’s Justice and Ours”):

Human justice distributes goods according to merit and demerit as measured by a set of rules or law. Just laws embody the principle of justice that says, “each according to his due.” Just acts follow those rules. A just person lives by those rules with all sincerity. Clearly the question of justice is the question of the fitting relationship between two things: between a law and the principle of proper merit or between a rule and a behavior that expresses that rule. One serves as the standard for the other.

Doing Justice

Doing justice is at the heart of the issue. Seeming to seek justice for others does not require that you give up your supposed rights and privileges. You can seek justice for others for less than noble reasons and you can remain deeply self-centered while doing it. But doing justice is an altogether different matter. I do justice when I submit all my actions in relation to God and others to the test of the right. Doing justice requires that I renounce all self-judgment and reject all actions that privilege my desires, my supposed rights, over others. We do justice when we do the right thing whether it is in harmony with our interests or not. The foundation for doing justice is loving justice more than you love yourself.

How can we claim to seek justice for others when we don’t do justice ourselves? And how can we seek true justice for ourselves when we turn a blind eye to the injustice we do to others? Perhaps, if we will concentrate our hearts on doing justice in all our acts, we will be better able to seek justice for others. And if we focus on doing justice we might not be so insistent on seeking justice for ourselves.

“Biology Is Not Destiny”: The Feminist Case Against Male Superiority

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We are now entering the last phase of our dialogue on the subject of gender relationships in society, church and family. Only two presentations to go. In this our eleventh session, our representative of secular feminism Gloria will respond to Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy. Please welcome Gloria to the podium.

Gloria: Thank you. There are so many things I’d like to address in Abraham’s talk, it’s mood of condescension, it’s male-normative perspective, and it’s exaggeration of female vulnerability. My suspicion is that Abraham’s rational and theological arguments are mere rationalizations of the prejudices I just mentioned. I will let the audience decide. Despite my suspicions, I will limit my assessment of Abraham’s talk to its philosophical aspects.

As I see it Abraham’s case rests on his rational analysis of the natural characteristics of women and men. Men are physically stronger and temperamentally more aggressive than women. Women become pregnant, carry babies and provide them with milk from their bodies. These factors make women vulnerable to male exploitation and dependent on male protection. According to Abraham, these facts of nature will necessarily manifest themselves at the social level and, consequently, they justify the social, ecclesial and familial inequalities present in traditional societies. To be fair, I should point out that Abraham admits that particular arrangements will differ from society to society and from age to age. Nevertheless, it is clear that Abraham denies that these natural inequalities will ever be neutralized completely at the social level. Nor should they be, in his view.

Far be it from me to deny the basic facts of biology. Nor do I deny that biological differences will manifest themselves in society. In a one-on-one, unarmed encounter, men have the advantage over women in a fight to the death. And in primitive, warrior societies where the survival of the tribe depends on its effectiveness in battle, I admit there are good reasons for the traditional division of labor between men and women. And I understand that the warrior class (males only) will also demand to be the tribal leaders. Nor do I dispute the overall reasonableness of this demand, since leadership in that setting is about conducting war or perpetually preparing for it.

Like his hero Aristotle, Abraham recognizes that women and men are equal in native intelligence. I think he would also admit that if human minds did not live in bodies or if they could be transferred to unisex humanoid robots, the differences would be overcome. So far so good, but our agreement ends here. From this point on Abraham’s argument goes terribly wrong. The facts do not warrant the conclusions he draws from them. Though he admits that modern technology has made the physical differences between men and women less significant in the sphere of work and war than in the past, he still seems to think that the superiority of the naked male body for war and work (hard physical labor) creates a moral imperative for society to mirror this relationship of superiority and inferiority in all dimensions. Perhaps his belief that God created nature lies behind his assertion that the order of nature possesses the force of law. Some such metaphysical belief must be at work here.

I begin at a different place and argue for a different result. I argue that equality of intelligence between men and women, which Abraham also accepts, creates a moral imperative for us to strive for equality in all other areas. Biology should not determine ethics. Or, as one of my feminist sisters said, “Biology is not destiny!” Unlike Abraham, I do not believe in divine creation. Evolution creates facts but imposes no moral obligations. Hence I do not believe that the factual biological order possesses any moral force. In sum, Abraham allows biological inequality to blunt the moral force of intellectual equality. I argue that it should be the other way around.

I envision a society where technology eventually makes all—or nearly all—work depend on knowledge rather than muscle, thought instead of testosterone, and where law roots out all irrational bias against female knowledge workers. As to areas of work where muscle still determines productivity, I believe society should not allow profit to be the sole determining factor for allocating social goods. The moral imperative of intellectual and moral equality should rule out of court any bias against women in hiring for such labor intensive jobs.

Concerning Abraham’s contention that women continue to need male protection, it should be pointed out that everyone, men as well as women, need police protection against violent criminals, male or female. Men murder other men more often than men murder women. Society as a collective is neither male nor female, and it is stronger than any one man or gang of men. Society has replaced big brothers and fathers as the protector of women. Modern family law has replaced the will of father as the law of the household and has outlawed domestic violence, marital rape and other abuses of women.

In response to Abraham’s theological arguments, I have little to add to my case against Sarah’s theological use of the Bible. In response to Sarah, I argued that the Bible cannot be made to support feminism; such support would be redundant in any case. Feminism doesn’t need any help from religion. Indeed Abraham represents the Bible more accurately than Sarah does. Sarah is grasping at straws. Abraham is correct to argue that the Bible supports patriarchy rather than equalitarianism. But I am not moved by either argument, for the Bible holds no authority for me. The arguments between Sarah and Abraham about biblical interpretation seem to me much ado about nothing.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria. I appreciate your contribution to this dialogue. It was invaluable.

Note: The twelfth and last part of this series will be posted on Tuesday, January 24. Sarah will present her response to Abraham.

Evangelical Egalitarians, Married Bachelors and Other Impossible Things

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: It’s hard to believe that this is our tenth session in our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. Abraham will now reply to Sarah’s evangelical egalitarianism from the perspective of neo-patriarchy. Perhaps Abraham can keep it brief this time.

[Note: Sarah’s talk was posted on this blog on December 10, 2016.]

Abraham Replies to Sarah

Abraham: Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Sarah and for the encouragement to brevity. Let me begin by referring back to Gloria’s critique of evangelical egalitarianism. As a secular feminist, Gloria has no sympathy for the Bible or evangelical Christianity. Nor does she betray much understanding of either one. But she has stumbled on the central problem with Sarah’s position, that is, the tension between the evangelical view of the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Bible and egalitarianism. Gloria argues for their incompatibility, and so will I. But our agreement ends at this point. Gloria rejects the Bible in order to preserve egalitarianism. I reject egalitarianism in order to preserve evangelical Christianity (and reason!). And Sarah wants to preserve both.

The Function of the Feminist Principle in Evangelical Egalitarianism

Sarah affirms her full agreement with Gloria’s feminist principle and program of reform. For your convenience I will quote it again:

 “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.”

Sarah said of this principle, “I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” In my reply to Gloria [Posted January 06, 2017], I criticized this rule from a rational point of view. I won’t repeat those criticisms here except to say that I demonstrated that this principle is neither self-evident nor universally applicable. It is not true that “irrational prejudice” is the only possible motivation for making different sets of rules for men and women. No one, man or woman, really believes this!

Sarah’s larger argument assumes the feminist principle without analysis or argument. It then expends most of its energy attempting to demonstrate that the Bible can be interpreted in a way consistent with or even supportive of it. Clearly, the feminist principle serves Sarah’s argument as a self-evident norm by which to measure the moral vision of the Bible. Gloria argued that Sarah’s use of the Bible is redundant except as an appeal to her evangelical audience. I think Glory makes a good point. But if the feminist principle itself is not self-evident or universal, Sarah’s entire argument collapses. She loses her infallible principle that enables her to separate the Bible’s higher moral vision (egalitarian) from its lower one (patriarchy).

Let’s take stock of where we stand. I have made it impossible for Sarah to continue using the feminist principle as the unquestioned norm for her biblical interpretation. Even now her entire argument lies in ruins. It cannot be resurrected without extensive revisions. And without the presumption of the self-evidence and universal nature of the feminist principle her case can never return to its former glory. But now let’s look at Sarah’s argument from another angle. Let’s examine her claim to have preserved evangelical Christianity in her argument for egalitarianism.

Treachery of Feminist Hermeneutics

Sarah claims to be an evangelical Christian and she claims that one can defend evangelical theology while affirming the feminist principle. She gives a brief definition of evangelicalism:

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.

Of course Sarah admits that many texts in this “inspired Word of God” fall far short of affirming egalitarianism. The Old Testament law makes different rules for men and women, some of which sound to modern ears highly disparaging to women. Jesus chose only men as apostles. Paul speaks of man as the “head” of woman, and he gives different rules for women and men when they speak in the assembly of the church (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). He tells women to be silent in church and to ask their husbands any questions they have when they return home (1 Corinthians 14:34-38). He speaks of the husband as “the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” and enjoins submission of wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:1-21). Peter speaks of women as “the weaker partner” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women are forbidden to “teach or assume authority over men.” The rulers of the church, elders and bishops, must be men (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).

Secular or religiously liberal feminists, neither of whom submit to the authority of the Bible for faith and practice, can easily dismiss these texts as products of ancient patriarchy. They don’t need the Bible to support their moral vision; they get their morals from progressive culture. But evangelical egalitarians cannot take this easy option. They must find a way to subordinate the “patriarchal” texts to the “egalitarian” ones without denying that Scripture is “the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church.” How can this be done?

There is only one way. Evangelical egalitarians must argue that the “patriarchal” rules and restrictions on women do not express the essential moral vision of the Bible rooted in the facts of the gospel of Christ. Instead, these regulations are conscious or unconscious accommodations to patriarchal culture or situationally determined applications of such other principles as good order or time-sensitive apostolic judgments that can be revised by the church. My concern with this approach to interpreting the scriptures is this: despite evangelical egalitarian claims to the contrary, many people will conclude that one can remain a good Christian while ignoring or discounting the clear moral teachings of the scriptures. If we can find a way around the apostolic teaching about the roles of men and women in the governance of the church and the family, can we not follow the same procedure when the subject is same-sex marriage or homosexuality or abortion? In other words, I think evangelical egalitarianism opens the door to so-called liberal Christianity.

Galatians 3:28 Again

Sarah and other evangelical egalitarians argue that Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.”) articulates the essential egalitarian message of the gospel whereas the submission and restriction texts do not.

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with Sarah up to a point. In biblical interpretation and doctrinal application it is very important to distinguish the central gospel message and Jesus’ high ethical vision from the detailed applications the apostolic church had to make from day to day and situation to situation. Surely everyone believes that Paul would agree that it’s much more important to believe the gospel and love your neighbor than to keep women silent in the churches. Is it still important for women to wear a head covering and for men to keep their hair cut short? Matters such as these have to be debated and judgments have to be made in every generation. They cannot be settled in advance.

And I agree that Galatians 3:26-29 articulates a central gospel principle:

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 states plainly that gender, social status and ethnic identity do not determine one’s relationship to God. Faith and baptism unite people to Christ. But evangelical egalitarians are mistaken to deduce from Paul’s clear affirmation that the means of justification apply to all without distinction the conclusion that all distinctions in society, church and family must be abolished. Justification deals with something all people share regardless of gender and social standing: all have sinned and everyone needs a savior. Here there is no difference. But people are not the same in all respects. And Paul and other New Testament authors take these distinctions into account in their moral teaching about social, ecclesiastical and familial life. And I believe they are right to do so.

Giftedness

Sarah admits that some distinctions must be made in roles, offices and activities in the church. But, she argues, these distinctions must be made according to “giftedness” and not according to gender. What about this principle? What is “giftedness”? It is a power, native or learned, natural or supernatural, that enables one to perform a task. It’s called a “gift” because whether in a natural way or a supernatural way this power derives from God and is given by grace. To be consistent with her egalitarian assertion, Sarah would have to insist that being created a woman or a man is not a gift, because if it were it could rightly become a basis for assigning roles and functions and offices in the church! But according to Sarah, to be given that set of characteristics and powers entailed in being a woman or a man implies nothing about church roles, offices and activities. And for the church to consider maleness or femaleness a gift and make distinctions accordingly would be wrong.

I find Sarah’s exclusion of maleness and femaleness from the category of “giftedness” implausible and arbitrary. As I argued in my response to Gloria, being a woman or a man is not a superficial characteristic like eye color or height. The differences between men and women are profound and are bound to have consequences for the order in society, church and home. Hence the apostolic rules differentiating the roles and functions of men and women in the church and home cannot be presumed without examination to be in violation of the Pauline principle of justification by faith or the evangelical egalitarian principle of giftedness. In fact, they are rooted in the created order, which can be discerned to some extent by reason, and they are intended for the good of women and men.

Moderator: Thank you, Abraham. Next time we will hear Sarah’s and Gloria’s replies to Abraham.

The Mormon Missionaries I Met Today—What I Said and What I Wish I’d Said

After two weeks of much needed rain, the Sun is shining brightly in Southern California today. I spent much of the morning finalizing my class roster for the three classes I am teaching this semester. And I cleaned out my sock drawer. It’s amazing how many mate-less socks and other useless things you can find in the back and underneath the top layer of a sock drawer! Just before noon I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. I ran 4 and ½ miles yesterday, so I planned to take it easy today.

After about a mile I looked ahead and saw two young women walking and a man walking his dogs on the other side of the street. The women greeted the man and engaged in a brief conversation, which I could not hear. I surmised that the two either knew the man or they were Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon missionaries. Since I was walking at a faster pace than they I soon caught up with the women. They greeted me and asked how I was enjoying my walk. What are your plans for the rest of the day, they asked further. I noticed the badge attached to their blouses, which identified them as associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

What I Said

After the pleasantries, I said something like, “I admire your faith, but you are very misguided in your theology.” At some point I had already told them that I had studied Christianity for 40 years and had been a professor of theology for 30 years. Mormons teach that the God of the Bible was once like us and that we can become like God is now, reigning over a world of our own. I asked them whether or not they agreed with Anselm of Canterbury who said that God is “that than which a greater cannot be conceived”? Or, paraphrasing Anselm, Do you believe God is the greatest possible being? They both said, “Yes!” I replied, “How then can you say that God was once like us? How can a being that was at one time not greater than any conceivable being become that great? Wouldn’t a God who is eternally great be greater than a being that merely becomes great after not being great?”

In reply, they urged me to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God to reveal whether or not it is true. I said something like this: You are asking people to make a decision based on a subjective feeling. Shouldn’t such an important decision be supported by facts and reasonable arguments? After all, Mormonism cannot be true unless certain historical claims are really factual. And you can’t substantiate historical facts by subjective feelings. Continuing along this line, I asked, “Don’t Mormons believe the New Testament is true? What if the theology of Mormonism is incompatible with the New Testament? Wouldn’t that count as evidence against Mormonism?” The two again urged me to pray.

What I Wish I had Said

After about 10 minutes I could tell that the two young women had given up on me and were ready to search for more open-minded subjects. As I continued my walk it came to me what I wish I had said. They wanted me to pray for enlightenment, and they said they too continually pray for divine guidance. I wish I had said this in response: “Well, I am the answer to your prayer. You asked God for guidance, and here I am. I may not know everything about Mormonism, and I may not be able to refute every Mormon claim. But I know what Christianity is, and I know Mormonism is not Christianity.”

Mormonism claims to be the original and restored Christianity, and it accepts the New Testament as the uncorrupted word of God. They claim that the teaching in the Book of Mormon is contemporary with the NT. But of course there is no trace of the Book of Mormon in the NT era. I wish I had asked this: “Can one be a good Christian without access to the Book of Mormon, with just the truth contained in the NT? If not, then we have no record of any good Christians before the Book of Mormon was discovered and translated by Joseph Smith in the early 19th. If so, then why try to convert people to Mormonism who believe and live according the NT presentation of the faith?”

There are some lessons here for Christians. But I will save those thoughts for another occasion.

 

Is the Bible Irretrievably Misogynous?

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the ninth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Gloria will reply to Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism from a secular feminist perspective.

Gloria: Thank you Moderator for this opportunity to present my evaluation of evangelical egalitarianism. I am a secular feminist. I am skeptical about the existence of God or anything like God. On the whole, I don’t think being religious on an individual or a social level supports humanistic values or enhances human life. Indeed, I think religion is a dangerous force. It has on rare occasions been harnessed for good, but for the most part it has not been good for women. This is not the right occasion to make an argument supporting my negative view of religion. I just want the audience to be clear about the position from which I shall evaluate Sarah.

Sarah claims to agree with the feminist principle I stated in my original talk, that is, “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.” And she seems to agree with the practical program of secular feminism as well, that is, of reforming every practice that falls short of full equality between men and women. Sarah does not make any rational arguments for the feminist principle and program. She seems to accept as them as self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person. But then she supplements and supports the feminist principle and program with arguments from the Bible. Why drag the Bible in to support something that is self-evident on the basis of reason and experience? I find this move unnecessary and actually detrimental to the cause of feminism for several reasons I shall explain below.

(1) The Bible itself is an object of disagreement and controversy. If the principle and the program of feminism are self-evident to any right-thinking and fair-minded person, why attempt to support them with arguments from a source that is not universally held to be authoritative? Sarah claims that the Bible gives evangelical feminism moral truth that is not available from reason and experience. As examples of these new truths she mentions two ideas, that human beings are created in God’s image and that they will be raised from the dead to eternal life. It’s true that the Bible makes these claims, but they seem to secular feminists unlikely and unknowable. Only someone who accepts the Bible as a divine revelation can take these arguments seriously. What a leap of faith that is! It’s not only redundant but introduces unnecessary ambiguity. It takes the focus off the self-evidence of the moral principle of feminism and places it on the complicated and doubtful process of exegesis and interpretation of the Bible. Sarah’s appeal to the Bible actually weakens the case for women’s equality! It makes it seem dependent on the improbable theory of divine inspiration.

(2) The Bible doesn’t really teach feminism. When we secular feminists read the Bible we don’t hear a message of equality. We hear a message of male privilege and superiority. The Bible is obviously male centered. I actually think Abraham is more realistic and honest about what the Bible actually says than Sarah is. Sarah attempts to reinterpret the anti-woman texts in ways that subordinate them to the (few) texts that affirm women in some way. But such interpretative maneuvers seem artificial, complicated and sophistical. They are unconvincing and give the impression of arising from wishful thinking. Sarah forces the texts to say what she already knows to be true on some other basis. Hence working so hard to reinterpret the Bible in a feminist direction turns out to be as implausible as it is unnecessary. So what if the Bible teaches male superiority! Even if it were possible, it’s not worth the trouble to retrieve the Bible for feminism. Let it go, Sarah.

(3) Using the Bible to support feminism gives the appearance of cynicism. Now I don’t wish to question the religious sincerity or conscious motives of all evangelical egalitarians, but I admit that I am somewhat suspicious of their strategy. Why strain so hard to make the Bible into a feminist text? Is it merely because so many people hold it in such high esteem? Is it that Bible believers will never accept feminism unless they can be made to think the Bible supports it…even if it doesn’t? Or, is evangelical egalitarianism merely a cynical strategy with a purely pragmatic goal? Well, for my part I am fine with that as an interim strategy. Whatever it takes! But in the long run people will have to make a choice between the Bible and egalitarianism. They are not compatible.

(4) Evangelical egalitarianism accepts many moral teachings that are incompatible with the feminist principle and program. Sarah claims to accept the feminist principle. But her view of the Bible forces her to argue that some things ought to be forbidden simply because the Bible teaches that they are immoral. Evangelicals hold that non-marital sexual relationships, abortion, homosexual relationships, divorce, gay marriage, and gender fluidity are immoral and ought to be forbidden. Many of these moral rules target women and prevent them from exercising moral autonomy to the same degree as men. Again, we see how anti-progressive the Bible is.

Secular feminism is a much more efficient route to gender equality than evangelical egalitarianism. It doesn’t need to apologize for the Bible’s retrograde teachings or spend its energy attempting to make the Bible say something it plainly doesn’t say.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria for this succinct statement critiquing evangelical feminism. Next time we will hear Abraham’s take on Sarah’s defense of evangelical egalitarianism.