Monday, December 13, 2010

Love Neighbor 3

The last bread crumb was here.
The history of the Wesleyan tradition, indeed the origins of my own branch of it, went beyond the principle of helping the individual needy to a concern for the structures of society as they perpetuate inequity.  Addressing the "hateful" structures of a society is loving your neighbor written large.  The Wesleyan Methodist Church traces its origins to 1843 when a group of Methodists withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church primarily in opposition to slavery as an institution in the United States.  Along with Quakers, some of these individuals participated in the underground railroad and one can still see the bullet holes in one of the church buildings that survives in the South.

In keeping with their sense of the trajectory of the gospel, they were some of the first in recent times to acknowledge that God could call women as well as men to preach the gospel, in keeping with the promise of this age of Christ, when God's sons and daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:17).  It was in the building of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Seneca Falls, New York, that the movement to give women the right to vote, the birth of the women's rights movement, took place.  And Luther Lee, one of the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, preached the sermon at the service of the first woman to be ordained in America, Antoinette Brown, in 1851.

As we mentioned above, the Wesleyan tradition could take these positions because it recognized the priority of the principles of Scripture over its time-bound particulars.  This is not to say that our parents in the faith had worked through their hermeneutic in sophisticated terms.  It is only to say that they recognized that in their time, it seemed impossible to play out the core principles of the gospel and perpetuate structures that Scripture allowed, such as slavery.

At the same time, we are prone to miss the ministry role that, for example, women actually played in the ministry of the early church.  We would argue that only one passage in the entire Bible potentially stands in tension with women in ministry--1 Timothy 2:11-15--at that it is really much more about the husband-wife relationship than women preaching.  By contrast, we have ample evidence that in practice women worked side-by-side with men in ministry.  There was nothing unusual for Phoebe to be a deacon in Romans 16:1 or for Junia to be an apostle in Romans 16:7.  The book of Acts also treats the ministries of women like Priscilla (Acts 18:26) or Lydia (Acts 16:15), just as Paul speaks of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).

We wonder if today even the structure of husband headship in the home, a concept whose language and categories come more from Greek political theory than from the Old Testament, is a structure God would have us abolish today in the name of Christ.  The subordination of Eve to Adam in Genesis 3 was a consequence of the Fall, and Christ has atoned for all the sins of Adam, let alone the sins of Eve.  We know that women are not in any way innately inferior to men intellectually, spiritually, or as leaders. Nothing stops us today--indeed we improve our witness to the world--if we advocate for women as complete co-partners with men in all areas of life, including the home, without putting on them the artificial distinctions of ancient culture.  In the kingdom women will not be "given to men" in marriage, in subordination as they were.  What would stop us from making the structures of earth now more like the structures of heaven?

There may be other societal structures our love of neighbor will want to speak prophetically to.  Those of us who are "white"--a construct that only means we do not look like those who are "other"--do not realize the ease with which we move through life in comparison to others.  We do not have police or store owners scrutinize us more carefully because of how we look.  We do not face the likelihood of distrust in many of our dealings with others.  We often to not realize the additional obstacles that those who look differently face on a regular basis.  The same has often been the case for women in contrast to men.

Those of us who grew up in middle-class homes where you are expected to go to college and walk into a predictable career also do not often realize the obstacles--both real and psychological--that might keep others from emerging from cycles of poverty and dependence.  The path out may seems obvious to us--go get a job.  But usually those who would say such things do not realize the difficulties such a seemingly simple proposition may pose (we have cars, attainable jobs that pay enough and are in good proximity, either no children or someone to take care of them).  But perhaps even more serious, what seems like a common sense path to us may be to others like some skill we do not have would be to us.  Suggesting someone in generational poverty go get a job might be like someone asking me to replace a water pump.

Suffice it to say, it is the charge of the Wesleyan tradition to be on guard against structural hatred of our neighbor, and to work for its abolishment and reformation.  Many in our tradition failed in this charge in the twentieth century.  We were not outraged that African-Americans had to ride in the back of the bus or drink from a different water fountain.  Indeed, many begrudged those "trouble makers" who were causing such a societal ruckass.  We largely slept through the civil rights movement, to our shame.

Even today, many grass-roots Wesleyans are more concerned about the fact that illegal immigrants have broken the rules in getting here than about the lives of real people and the potential consequences of reactionary laws to children and adult alike.  Suffice it to say that this attitude is not only out of sync with the Wesleyan tradition.  It does not know the mind of Christ as revealed in the New Testament, nor the dictates of the Old Testament law toward strangers in Israel's midst.  No "true Wesleyan," the name of some of an early journal of our tradition, will have such attitudes today.  The working out of principles is complicated.  These values are not.


Anonymous said...

How do you interpret the role of women and men in the home in light of 1 Cor. 11:3?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Wesleyan tradition is one among many traditions. Other traditions put value on other priorities. When Wim was at the State Department, we started to realize how incongruent different issues became. Humanitarian causes "sat" right next door to national security issues. Which one is more important to affirm? Which one would get budgeted for their particular issue, etc.

In light of what you have said, the Christian could only choose one, the humanitarian one, which leaves me a little baffled. But, perhaps, those who aren't Christians should be more interested in national security or those that cross our borders, the drug trafficking, or the stress on our economy. That sounds reasonable ;). The President has oathed to safe-guard our borders, leave that all up to him. No Christian should become a police officier or a part of the National Guard.

There is no job within reason that isn't "Christian". "Christian" is a term that is useful for those that want to use it for whatever purposes they deem most deserving. It is called "faith". Sell the idea of your tradition, so others will join the cause. This has always happened in the Church.

Certainly, you believe that you job is a worthy one,(Wim does) teaching undergraduates and being a part of a seminary. This is what your dreams were made of. It is what you enjoy! Right? Doesn't every Christian have the responsibility to find their place and what they enjoy?

Are the Fine Arts lower on the Wesleyan tradition's radar, as an appropriate interest?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, a Christian could serve the humanitarian cause in the State Department, couldn't they?

Dick Norton said...

Ken, I don't think it will be necessary to "abolish" the idea of the "headship" of men in the home. I fear that you look upon the apostle Paul as too much a creature of his own time, unable to discern between a culturally generated notion and a God-given principle. He was a very intelligent fellow, quite capable of incorporating cultural concepts into his teaching when they were enlightening (e.g. "inheritance" as a Roman concept was very like the inheritance we have as Sons of God, so it was useful for him to mesh the Roman concept with the O.T. idea of inheritance). He was also capable of dismissing cultural norms when they did not align with God-inspired teaching.

Thus, in Eph. 5, when Paul teaches the mutual "submission" of each of us to the other (v. 21), he finds that playing out in the distinctively different roles of "sacrificial love" on the part of the husband, and "submission" to the husband (as to Christ) on the part of the wife.

Let's not be too quick to cavalierly dismiss those ideas we don't like as mere cultural anomalies that don't apply to us anymore. Maybe it's just symptomatic of our own cultural bias, which needs to be re-informed by scripture.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It becomes difficult to work out a 'pattern" that universal, because of the differences in the "couple" and the individuals involved in the marital contract. Therefore, I believe that both parties in the marriage have to work out their contract themselves. This is not to suggest when problems arise that they do not seek help. But, it does mean that patterns in scripture, whether marriage or parenting cannot be literalized. So, beside other factors, one questions why the scriptures are relevant anymore, except in a vague overarching way or in a specified historical investigation into ancient history and the mind of the ancients. It is only by faith that one can believe that scriptures are still relevant.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pardon, me, but I'm always clarifying my thoughts as I'm often misunderstood.

Whenever one reads, "Wive submit to you husbands", or "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church", one has to interpret that admonition.

It seems the charge to husbands is a little more specific in giving a "role model". But, again, one has to determine where their boundaries will be. Marriage should be emotionally comfortable. And people differ as to what makes for an emotionally comfortable environment. Certainly, trust is a foundational aspect to any marriage.

Ken Schenck said...

I see 1 Corinthians 11:3 as Paul trying to address social tensions caused by the fact that women were prophesying in the close quarters of house church worship. He is trying to walk a fine line between the full participation of women in public worship with the potential disgrace and social conflict it could create in a first century context.

Angie, I do not see defense and humanitarian causes in clear competition here. The vast majority of illegal immigrants pose no threat to the United States and taking their lives into consideration does not keep us from firming up our borders.

Dick, you are right that I have to fully consider the possibility that my sensibilities are themselves culturally determined on this issue and, I want to make it very clear to anyone reading, that the question of women in ministry in no way rides on the question of husband headship, since as my first paragraph above works out for the Corinthians the combination of the two.

But husband-headship is irrational. What makes sense is for the person most capable of leading on a particular issue to be the one who leads, and for the other spouse to submit in that case. You don't pick a person to fly a plane because of their genitals. So husband-headship, in a day when there are no cultural obstacles that favor it, makes no sense at all. God is not stupid.

Dick Norton said...


God was also not stupid, and Paul was not stupid, when he wrote Ephesians 5. The scripture says "wives should submit to their husbands, as to the Lord." The only thing "irrational" about that is in the mind of the reader, who needs to think through how the owner's manual was right when the Creator wrote it, and how to work out his/her own "comfort" with what his/her Lord said. It seems to me that the creation works best when operating as the manual says.


Ken Schenck said...

Certainly Paul was not stupid, and there may very well be many world contexts today where this admonition continues to be the best working out of the gospel in highly patriarchal cultures.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There IS a conflict between national security, border patrol, and humanitarian concerns when it comes to personal commitment as to "vocation".

But, when one tries to systemize or universalize a "theology" or way Christians as a whole are to approach or think about such things, there becomes conflict. Conflict is inevitable because one must protect the borders, national interest and national security, while the other is looking at the specific human beings that are "doing wrong" or "having a need", ETC.

So, it doesn't matter what one chooses to do, it is a person's 'faith' in their choice, that matters. No one should be determining what vocation is appropriate or scriptural, etc. Otherwise, one undermines our Constitution and its protection of individual liberties.

As to husbands and wives, Wesleyans believe that scripture was not infallible concerning slavery, but question whether woman have equal rights? That seems a little inconsistant. Or do Wesleyans believe like a some political philosophers that "everyone has their place", so a "noble lie" is a valid way to "get one's way"?

This way of thinking is consistant with organizational structuring, when there are functions that might not be a matter of personal choice. But, then how are people who work for such organizations to trust their leaders and the validity of a contract or "intent" about other matters?

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, Wesleyans do believe the Bible was infallible when it came to slavery. But the question of whether something fails or is in error depends on what God wanted to accomplish with it. Wesleyans believe that when it comes to slavery, God did not wish to assume a structure that would exist for all times and places, that He was accommodating the existing structures of that day.

This is the debate Dick and I are having. I would place husband-headship in the same category, not because I am accusing the Bible of being in error but because I see this instruction also as an accommodation to the structures of that day.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ken said, "Wesleyans believe that when it comes to slavery, God did not wish to assume a structure that would exist for all times and places, that He was accommodating the existing structures of that day."

You speak of "existing structures". Social structures are institutions that create societies (Government/leadership, Church, family). This is a traditional view, as the social structure forms the child and protect society.

But, what of our Constitutional government, where society is made of "free individuals" that make choices, formulate ideas, and carry out their lives in vastly different ways? Wouldn't psychology's understanding of personality, human development, motivation, intelligence, educational psychology, moral development, faith development, social pscyhology, political philosophy, neuroscience and personal interest (and many more of the disciplines) all play into understanding the human person/individual?

Is there a "Human Nature", or not? If so, how much "evil" is due to human nature, Or is it really a matter of social/poliical structures that are imposing themselves upon the individual? What is the real cause of "evil"?What are power plays when it comes to such understandings of family, social and policial structures? Isn't "evil" a matter of universal understanding? or not?

The West has considered the oppression of individual choice as "evil". And individual choice is supported by natural rights.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I just read about the Tenth Ammendment and immigration (humanitarian causes of a liberal mind-set). It said that immigrants that illegaly attack our borders are not under the Commerce clause that protects foreign trade. Travel that is not of a specifically commerce/business nature is to be judged under "the Law of Nations" or international law.

So, States do not have the right to decide about commerce, Congress does.
Congress has the right, in fact the mandate to punish illegals from invading our borders!

The Constitution protects and defines morality, in individual liberties. But, it does not protect all humans everywhere and at all is for citizens.