Friday, September 24, 2010

hope sinks

Don't get me wrong. Underneath all this grumping I have a boundless optimism that indeed human beings have the capacity to desire good, to change, to shift, to repent, to act. I do, I really do. Otherwise I'd be outta here.

But damn it, I hate these online discussion like pure pizen. They, more than anything else, send me as close to the Pit of Despair as I ever get. I can sit through a service with its all-male revue and not sweat it. I can hear casual benevolent sexism, and sigh and move on. I can hear these stories, note that in the last decade nothing has changed, grumble, and then roll up my sleeves in determination that this must change. But these online things...I should skip them.

It's not even just that they are inevitable stalemates and dead ends, with the same hermeneutical arguments deployed futilely from both sides and (best case) the same polite incomprehension in the end. Or, even, worst case, ending in things like accusing women of "spiritual abortion" because somehow advocating the giftedness of women to do all sorts of things necessarily implies not teaching other women like the Bible says. (??)

The real problem is, the faith I had in the ability of narrative to crack open the possibility of real dialogue, conversations that won't just repeat ad nauseam as they swirl around the drain, is waning. I really thought this was the key, the sort of magic key, that might make our endless discussions productive. I haven't entirely lost this hope, but it's starting to be hard work to keep it afloat. Its initial buoyancy has been shot full of holes.

This is why (excerpted from my downer of a comment on preachermike's post):
the real disconnect is that one side of this discussion perceives the relevance of women’s experiences as part of the dialogue, and one side views all human experience as something basically sinful and untrustworthy, to be submitted to the corrective lens of (received interpretations of) scripture. In short, gals, it doesn’t matter that you experience an internal crisis of life-shattering proportions because you are caught in the middle of hearing God’s call and hearing the church you want to serve deny that this is possible or genuine or righteous. It’s not relevant, because what you need to do is “get your mind right” (in the immortal words of the Captain of Road Prison 36 in Cool Hand Luke). Somehow, it’s become a badge of righteousness to deny one’s own experience, and by extension, the lived experiences of these women.
To be "rude" about it, I'm stuck with an image of incredibly sincere, faithful, loving people opening their Bibles, staring fixedly at the text, and sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "lalalalalalala" to drown out the sound of these women's voices. Because we can't allow ourselves to hear, to understand, to care, to examine what these women are saying. That itself would be to dangerously flirt with unfaithfulness to the Word, a sign that we were wavering in our conviction that the only thing that matters here is our received interpretation of scripture.

The women thing is not about women. It's not. But it should be.


Lara said...


Anonymous said...

I didn't want to sidetrack the other comments, but I thought I'd follow up with you here.

So you really do NOT believe Jesus is subordinate to the Father?

So what do you do with:

when Jesus says, "Of THAT day and hour, only the Father knows."


1Corinthians 15:24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.


All of John 5...

John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he HAS GRANTED the Son to have life in himself.

Even the titles of Father and Son inherently communicate subordination.

But subordinate does NOT MEAN WEAK or powerless.

Please keep your Heart's Ears open to the possibility that MAYBE the headship of 1Cor 11:3 is a subordinate pairing. I think men have been DOMINATING (like the gentiles) for so long, that submission to a man's authority seems to carry with it all the bad history of the abuse.

In all honesty, I'd (in my flesh) just as soon defer my headship over my household, because with it comes EXTREME accountability and responsibility. I will be judged by what I did with it. I feel no hunger to dominate. My wife is MUCH stronger than me spiritually and expresses her gifts fully. But she does it all gracefully under my headship.

JJT said...

And if you think my analysis is too pessimistic or off the mark--about the refusal to listen or the demonization of gifted women in our churches, just take a look at this: It is "blame the victim" at its most self-righteous and vicious.

JJT said..., I'm not a subordinationist. My trinitarian heresy leans the other way, frankly, more toward modalism, but even worse (!), I think God-talk, like all human speech, is essentially metaphorical in nature and I'm not at all convinced that we should be privileging the Father-Son metaphor the way that historically Christian theologians have done. Plenty more metaphors in the sea, and God's bigger'n all of'em.

In regard to the biblical witness, I think at best we can characterize parts of the NT as proto-trinitarian. It's not settled yet how to parse out the relationship between Jesus and God, and there are differences between various NT writers on how it's handled. There are definitely some subordinationist leaning texts--and then there's John, busting out with the "I and the Father are one." It's just not settled in the NT canon. It's not truly settled, historically, until the Council of Chalcedon (451), at least--which was really not so much a solution as it was a decision about how to regulate language around Jesus' humanity/divinity.

Part of the problem, which I think your comment astutely takes account of, is semantic. Notions of authority are a real key here, and maybe if we could tease that out satisfactorily then we could reach a point where we realize that submission/authority ought to come together as a package--for everyone. And then perhaps it would be evident that this mess about what women can and can't do is rendered moot thereby. If to have authority means at the same time to be in submission--then, why, women's submission would then indicate a righteous sort of authority. If one can't have one without the other, I mean.

I feel like this comment got a bit tangled up, but I'll let it stand as is. Got to go feed the fam some dinner.

clairedf said...

Awesome, JTB!! I'm so glad you're on our team and by that I mean "everyone's team."

Wendy said...

I found your blog through the podcast and Mike Cope's post. Thank you for your courage and your voice. I am very blessed to be in Australia where nearly all the Churches of Christ are egalitarian. It has enhanced my faith-walk exponentially to be in a congregation where women can use all their gifts to serve (I was previously in a evangelical Anglican church) and it has empowered my daughter amazingly.

Keith Brenton said...

JTB, you said ... "To be 'rude' about it, I'm stuck with an image of incredibly sincere, faithful, loving people opening their Bibles, staring fixedly at the text, and sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "lalalalalalala" to drown out the sound of these women's voices."

I'm in the process of transitioning from a "sola scriptura" guy to a "prima scriptura" guy (scripture first - I hope that's what it means). So I have no intention of denigrating the experience and perceptions of women - but I still believe there are ample descriptions in scripture of women serving in a way we would now describe as preaching. My edit would be in the phrase "at the text," which I'd amend to "at certain texts (to the exclusion of others inconvenient to what they wish to believe)."

Scripture can be difficult and convoluted and can appear self-contradictory. But that's only an appearance, I'm convinced.

JJT said...

Keith, I take your point.

If there's one thing I don't like about the post as it's written, it's that it could be interpreted in that dichotomous conservative Bible-lover vs. liberal Bible-hater way. Whereas I'm convinced that "lalalala'ing" your way through biblical interpretation is a sort of violence to the text, among other things.

And I agree with you that there is plenty in the text that might jar our received interpretation and practice with regard to women. But I think in order to see or hear those things, one must be open to the possibility that they exist, within the text and without. Which means, I think, being able to hear the witness of the women around us first--that "magic key" which I'm afraid isn't maybe so magic after all. Sigh.

Keith Brenton said...


JJT said...

hi Wendy--glad you found your way over here and thanks for your voice in the preachermike discussion, too.

and sorry for the belated acknowledgement...I've been distracted with a sick kid and a lot of blog commenting these past couple days!