Tuesday, March 02, 2021

4. "God's Gift to Man" (book review)

 I have been reading Kristin Kobes du Mez's Jesus and John Wayne. Thus far:

This week we are on to chapter 3: "God's Gift to Man."

1. Much of this chapter was disturbing to me, especially as a Wesleyan. It starts telling of Marabel Morgan in 1970 writing on how the wife is basically to be a sex slave for husbands with hyper-inferiority complexes. Sheez. "Treat your husband like a king, revere him, and cater to his every need." Stepford wives stuff.

The Total Woman hit at the beginning of the Christian book store/sellers boom. It wasn't just the book. It was the distribution. 

I think most modern women would shake their head at this material, even those who are complementarians. The goal post moves, and we don't realize that we sit in the same place of people from earlier times whose thinking we would now soundly reject.

2. Elizabeth Elliott hits at this point too. Her book in 1976 was Let Me Be a Woman. It gave advice to her daughter drenched in stereotypes and subservience. "The very notion of hierarchy came from the Bible... Equality was 'not a Christian ideal'" (65). "You marry a sinner." 

In other words, he gets a pass. You get to dress up in Saran Wrap.

It's easy to see the trajectory of this line of thinking. They take gender roles and put them at the center of the gospel. In my view, the center of the gospel in this area is Galatians 3:28--"In Christ there is not male and female." The uniqueness of the Bible in this area is the empowerment of women, not the hierarchy of the ancient world.

3. I say it every time I teach Bible survey courses. There is nothing uniquely Christian or Israelite about the patriarchal culture in Scripture. When Colossians tells wives to submit to their husbands, it is saying little different from Aristotle's Politics 400 years earlier. It is when the Bible works against this grain that it is uniquely revelatory. 

This is an important hermeneutical point. The fact that Revelation thinks the earth is flat or that Paul thought God was in a third layer of sky straight up or that Genesis 1 thinks that God put stars in a dome holding back the waters above the firmament, these scriptures are operating within the thought frameworks of their day. The frameworks are the clothing in which the revelation comes. It is not the revelation itself.

It is the same when we see patriarchal hierarchies in Scripture. There is nothing uniquely Christian there. It is rather when Scripture pushes against these cultural norms that we have unique Christian revelation. It is when sons and daughters prophesy. It is when Deborah is the highest political leader of Israel or Huldah is the highest spiritual authority.

The problem with this whole gender role craze is that it mistakes ancient culture for timeless principle. It is the Amish fallacy. It says, "The abusive sexists of ancient times were the way God wants it to be forever." It makes Christianity no better than the inferior, sinful aspects of cultures 2000-4000 years ago.

4. But the most powerful figure was Phyllis Schafly, who recently passed. She probably singlehandedly kept the Equal Rights Amendment from passing (ERA). It was indeed an insidious proposed amendment to the Constitution: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

What a fiendish, Devilish amendment! Before you know it, liberals will be making unisex bathrooms and, as one legislator said, "I ain't going to have my wife be in the bathroom with some big, black buck!" "That anti-ERA rhetoric focusing on the vulnerability of women found expression in racist terms is not altogether surprising" (71). "The ERA was the first issue conservatives rallied around after they lost the legal battle for segregation" (70). 

In an irrational concoction, to be in favor of feminism is to be a communist is to be against national security. It's all so blurred together that we can't tell the difference between our conservatism and our Christianity. "The ERA took on a symbolic quality, encompassing a larger moral and existential threat to women, and to the nation. Any careful rebuttals or explanations that the ERA's proponents offered fell flat among antiratificationists" (69).

Of course, I would say that there is nothing particularly Christian here. Schafly herself, like Rush Limbaugh, was really more of a conservative political figure than a religious one. "Conservative Christian anti-feminism in the 1970s was intimately connected to a larger set of political issues--to anticommunism, Christian nationalism, and militarism" (70).  

5. So while American culture was becoming more like the kingdom, where women neither marry nor are given in marriage, conservatism did what it did during the abolitionist movement. It opposed the movement of God. Complementarians mistook the consequences of the Fall for God's divine plan. When God was redeeming women from the sins of Eve, conservatives institutionalized them.

It is a confusion of the earthly for the heavenly. There is no distinction in the spirit of male and female to suggest only men can speak with spiritual authority. And in the Bible women speak with that authority. There is no difference in intelligence between male and female to where only men can teach or lead. And in the Bible women teach and lead.

The trajectory of "family values" that drew sharp lines between the roles of men and women was never sanctified. It was always cultural. It was always wrong-headed and wrong-spirited. It was always a predictable backlash that had nothing to do with God. Unfortunately, it has only intensified and hardened in conservative Christian culture over the years, with the result that those pushed along by that wave can't hardly even tell what true Christian values are. 

1 comment:

John Mark said...

It all seemed reasonable at the time...