Tuesday, September 28, 2010

on scripture

Imagine with me, for a moment:

You're in church, on a Sunday morning, a little rumpled but not late--a sincere Bible major about to graduate from one of our "brotherhood's" institutions of higher ed, and you're listening closely to the sermon, which is on the parable of the talents. You've heard this story since the womb, practically, maybe (who knows) even a couple times in utero--after all, it preaches pretty well. But this Sunday, you hear it differently. This Sunday, like you are all the time these days, you're wondering just what exactly you're going to do with your life, constantly barraged by the question from well-meaning friends and relatives "so what are you going to do when you graduate?" You're not ready to answer that question, despite four years of college nearly completed and a steady, unwavering conviction that majoring in Bible has been the right thing to do. You don't feel ready for a pulpit--not by a long shot. You're not even sure you're up for youth ministry. You certainly don't feel equipped for mission work in some faraway place. So this Sunday, you hear that parable differently. Rather than shake your head in pity for the fool who didn't have the sense God gave a (capitalistic-minded) goat and at least invest in a bank and draw interest, for the first time, you're afraid that might be you. This time, you hear in that story a challenge: what are you going to do with your talent? And you sit there, listening to the familiar text, the familiar sermon theme, and you think--no. No, that's not me. I'm not going to bury my talent. And I'm not going halfway, either. I'm going all the way, because that's what God asks of me.

Now, imagine that that's you, and you're a girl.

Or is that bit just for the boys?


James Hooten said...

Girls don't have the required anatomy for "headship." Duh.

Personal experience is a non-issue for those who exclude it a priori from their hermeneutical tool-kit vis-a-vis what Scripture means today, right now, particularly for that girl in the pew. We can ignore it since it should not and does not factor in. Unless personal experience does factor in how we find meaning in Scripture for our lives. Then it's a matter of being consistent, isn't it?

But assume personal experience really doesn't factor in. There are further assumptions built-in to factoring personal experience right out of hermeneutics. And I think those assumptions have a lot to do with Trinitarian theology. I'll let you and whoever else reads your blog think about that.

Steve said...

Crossroads. Our daughter is there. And we've spent her entire lifetime convincing her that she must never accept the boundaries that someone else might try to impose upon her. She gets it.

JJT said...

Yeah, I know...my first rather glum comment over at preachermike was to the effect that we hear back in response to our narratives, "it doesn't matter"--because it's about scripture, not about women or how our practices affect women.

I'm not sure I followed your lightning-leap to the Trinity, though, so unless someone else jumps in to connect the dots for me you'll have to come back and do it yourself. :)

(Though, I continue to muse, the way I see it, trinity ought to help with the whole material-reality/experience factor. I mean, for me, that's one way of getting at what the incarnation is--God's refusal to stay out of human experience. If text was enough, what was the need for the embodied experience of the incarnation?)

James Hooten said...

OK, so on personal experience and the Trinity. Let's say you don't think personal experience has anything whatever to do with how we read Scripture. It seems you're committed to an extra-biblical belief that what the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Christ is only true for the New Testament--a claim Scripture never actually makes. But it's a convenient way to say personal experiences don't matter when we try to understand Scripture's contemporary meaning.

Incarnation is one aspect. I think the entire Trinitarian life of God is caught up in human experience (not in some process or open theism crap way either). Scripture testifies to the experiences of human beings in the drama of God's creating, sustaining and redeeming everything.

I think what it boils down to, for me at least, is not how you read Scripture (though that is important and worth discussing with people). And it's not about the extent to which or what kinds of personal experiences are valid for theological reflection and biblical interpretation (though again that is worth discussing and figuring out). For me, when we talk about what Christians do and how communities of faith behave it comes back to what those people and those congregations believe about God. So much stock has been put into the evangelical notion of a personal relationship with Jesus/God. But nothing substitutes for some good old-fashioned Trinitarian God-talk. And especially the implications of a Trinitarian God who became incarnate in human being for us and everyone else.

The girl in the pew is motivated by something more than just some idle fancy. And you won't understand what it is or how to make sense of what to do about it unless you are willing to engage in some serious, soul-searching conversations about God. Table the Bible and arguments from silence (and about silence). Instead, I think we need to take a page right out of Augustine and Aquinas--Trinitarian theology as a spiritual exercise. I think that's where we who feel strongly about the potential and unjustly stymied leadership of women in our churches should take our fellow believers conversationally.

Quiara said...

Jen, how do you (personally) counter what Anon4 is proposing in his latest comment? I have the hardest time getting people to understand the implicit fault of hierarchical complementarianism, even the soft sort, that I just get frustrated.

Sorry to bring that over here; just wanted to know and you are more articulate than most.

Anonymous said...

@Quiara, I'm Anon4... my name is Andy and Jen and I have talked considerably about this and other issues. You may think that as a man, it is easy for me to settle on man being the head. Trust me, it is not easy. But I can honestly say, I have no preference. My hands are open. I, as clay, cannot say to the potter, why have you made me this way? I refuse to dictate to God my will in any area.

Let me give you an example that I'm faced with:
Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

There are times that my will crosses the will of leaders within the local church I'm part of. I must submit. Does it sting? It has at times. But it is right.

So my question is still on the table, regardless of any scripture or theological standpoint or the abuses of the past: is the IDEA of submission abhorrent to you? Because if the idea itself is abhorrent, then I would suggest you have an issue related to your flesh and it's preferences rather than a true theological concern.

What is lost is submission?

The sheep hear the shepherd's voice. Sometimes my wife and I are at a decision-making impasse. I hear her reasons, I give her mine. She says, "Let me say one more thing..." I hear her out and in my heart, it is like Cinderella's slipper... yes, that is the course we need to take. So I heard her out and what she thought is what we went forward with. But the decision was still mine to make and if I made the wrong one, because she wants me to grow and hear the Spirit, she may say, "You know, if you had listened to my input, this bad fruit may not have happened." It isn't, "I told you so." It is her helping me HEAR the Shepherd's voice and together we work it out. Was that moment of submission hard for her. You bet. But it is right and it brings harmony and not oppression.

Of course this is Jen's blog and I know she totally disagrees with where I end up, but the question still begs to be answered: are you truly neutral about submission in the sense that you would accept it if God Himself sent you a personal message that said that is what He wants from you?

Even as a male, I have to submit to governmental authorities, to my boss, to church leaders. Submission is part of life. Galatians 3:28 doesn't allow me to go to my church leaders and say, "We're equal in Christ, so I'm going to do what what I want." That verse didn't remove the authority that God has established.

On the other hand, handcuffing the gifts of women because they are women is wrong, wrong, wrong and the men who've abused their headship by suppressing these women will give an account for the loss that happened under their watch. Their judgement will be harsh.

JJT said...

Andy, thanks for clarifying here.

Quiara--I think one of the things that's very clear in Andy's above comment is that scripture trumps lived experience. Lived experience is not trustworthy as a source of theological knowledge, because 1) humans are sinful and flawed and 2) the world which we experience is sinful and flawed. And so, when it comes down to it, if your experience (of yourself, of the world) contradicts your current best understanding of scripture, rather than seeking to somehow reconcile that the better choice is to reject your experience and cleave to scripture.

This is one of the major points of theological divergence that Andy & I have identified in our own discussion. I tend to think that rather, and again I'll quote Wentzel, "everyone's experience is rationally compelling," and so to require people to reject their experiences in order to be faithful, righteous, or Christian, is actually to require people to be by definition irrational. I don't think that this is realistic, successful, good for people, or what God really intends. So, in contrast to Andy, I tend to think that a disjunction between lived experience and received interpretations of scripture can cut both ways. Yes, the world sucks and so do human beings (I just know Andy's wincing at this language here, sorry), but the world is also God's creation and the site of God's presence and activity, so I find it impossible to assume that we would never need to go back and re-work our received interpretations of scripture. Sometimes lived experience gives us the wake-up call we need to do exactly that.

Which brings us back to podcast--the goal of which, as I see it, is to try to provide glimpses of the lived experiences of these women (and by extension, others) that provided them with just such a wake-up call.

So, all of the lies underneath why I disagree with the--to use a phrase I picked up from a CSC presentation last June--the "benevolent sexism" of complementarianism. If, like Andy, scripture always trumps lived experience, then you really can't just dump the language of headship no matter how much you finesse the notion of authority away of dominating hierarchicalism (and as an aside, I think Andy are pretty decently close in our notions of authority). So for Andy, this is a biblical issue. But for me, it's a philosophical and anthropological issue. That makes things hard to talk about, because we want to get at it in different sorts of ways.

JJT said...

So: the philosophical/anthropological issue here, for me, is, are men and women ontologically different kinds of creatures? I think that the logic of complementarianism--whether "relational" or hierarchical--depends on assuming that they are. This means seeing men and women not primarily as human beings, creatures of the same kind made by God, or (to borrow a somewhat problematic philosophical term) "persons," but primarily as male or female. If you're a man, you're one kind of human being with certain rights, privileges, responsibilities, capabilities, and obligations. If you're a woman, you're a different and totally separate kind of human being with a totally different corresponding set of rights, privileges, responsibilities, capabilities, and obligations. The notion of distinct, gender-specific "roles"--in the church or in society generally--is only coherent if its rests on an assumption that men and women are ontologically different kinds of beings.

Now, I think that this assumption is problematic in about a million and one different ways--one being, as a I noted way back when in the "did Jesus have a penis" post, that if we assume ontological difference between the sexes/genders then we actually have no defense against the Mary Daly/Daphne Hampson contention that women categorically cannot salvifically relate to a male Savior. (This follows from the patristic reasoning that "what is not assumed is not healed," which was an argument for Christ's full humanity--but if men are different than women in some essential way, then women need their own savior. Oops.)

But also, if you think about the kinds of "roles" reserved by men in the CofC practice--none of those things logically follow from anything that is distinctive about men in comparison to women. Preaching, praying, leading singing, you name it--these activities are all things that women actually have the same capacity to do--they engage the heart/soul/mind and sometimes mouth, but as far as I can tell, people don't pray in public using their penises. So what is it exactly about these "leadership roles" or positions of "authority" that require maleness? There's no logical connection there--nothing that obviously flows from "males do X but females demonstrably can't." So it seems to me just demonstrably absurd and arbitrary to insist that somehow males have a capacity for "male spiritual headship" or "authority" that females don't.

JJT said...

And this is the rub for me. I don't believe in an arbitrary God--a God who enjoys playing the "'cause I say so" trump card. (This brings in Jamie's observations about the relevance of theology proper and trinity.) And frankly, traditionally, the c'sofC don't either--we forcefully rejected that bit of Calvinism and constantly proclaim that we believe in a God of order and practice a highly rationalistic hermeneutic that optimistically presumes that we can at least partially understand God through the use of our human reasoning. Arbitrary deity is out! ...Except for when we need that trump card, and then it gets pulled out of the pocket and slammed on the table for us: well, it may not make sense and it may hurt and it may suck, but that is the message God has for you, girls, and you just have to make the best out of it. Don't worry, we'll be nice to you and in the end, you'll love it.

No. Just no. That is not the same gospel message as the one in which we are told we are made in the image, are children of God, are adopted sons and daughters, are joint-heirs with Christ. Joint-heirs! Wanna talk about egalitarianism? There it is. And I don't think Paul was just talking to the boys with that one. And I don't think Paul ever gave anyone permission to defer the reality of salvation to the other side of the eschaton. This is not just "spiritual"--this is the reality God is re-defining for us precisely so that we can live into it.

Okay, ridiculously long comment. Sorries all 'round.

Andy--not trying to hijack your voice, just trying to give a thumbnail sketch of what I think the bedrock difference is in our take on this. Feel free to quibble! But I hope you feel I did a decent job of representing.

JJT said...

hi Steve. :)

You know, I am constantly finding out how insidious the ideas of "girly" are with Clare. They soak it up, despite the best you can do. That to be a girl means being "nice" and pretty and kinda quiet and non-aggressive and always a little unsure of what you want and what you can do. I hate it that so many of us have had to fight these messages in order to become functional adult human beings, and that it's just not getting any better.

It's part of why I'm so vociferous on the CofC women thing--I think church should be a place that truly empowers everyone, and not another place in the world that teaches girls that they "can't"--and moreover, that they shouldn't.

I am so happy Clare gets to see and hear Mary read the gospel, baptize, preach, pray--and that she does those things with the same authority and wearing the same symbols of her calling as her daddy does.

Anonymous said...

To quote the chicken farmer from Napoleon Dynamite (I own an edited version :) )

"I don't understand a word you just said."

Speaking of personal experience... In my personal experience, the model of authority and headship I've tried to articulate works. My wife and the women I know, glow and bask in fruitfulness and freedom.

I'm simply asking what is lost if man is the head of women? Where are you injured as a result in your soul?

JJT said...

What is lost if in order to submit to Christ first I have to submit to someone else on the arbitrary basis that he has a penis and I don't?

A lot, frankly.

You know that you & I actually agree (more or less) on "authority" and therefore how to construe what "submission" ought to mean in a Christian context. It's not a problem with that concept. It's a problem with the (non)reason given for why this is demanded of me, not in respect to God, but in respect to another human being who is not God nor any "closer" to God than I am--and which might in fact result in something very spiritually unhealthy for everyone, because this person is not necessarily better suited for "spiritual headship" by way of having a penis.

I don't know how to be more blunt than that.

Anonymous said...

You write (emphasis mine):
which MIGHT in fact result in something very spiritually unhealthy for everyone, because this person is not necessarily better suited for "spiritual headship"

What MIGHT happen could be said about nearly every spiritual truth?

Jesus says, "Turn the other cheek." Well what if the second blow hurts worst than the first?

Jesus says, "Don't lay up for yourselves treasures on earth." But what if a recession comes?

Truth is not dependent on worst case scenario. We entrust ourselves to a faithful creator.

I'm telling you that I have lived this way for 20 years and there has been no abuse of headship. Within a true church, headship is not oppression or slavery. It is orderly and peaceful.

I knew a little boy one time who didn't like living under the authority of his parents. Even at a young age, he was defiant and willful. Someone asked him one time, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" His response? "I want to be the one who gets to make the decisions."

I'm afraid that what is really at stake here isn't whether a sister should be able to use her gifts in a public or leadership capacity. I think it isn't much more complicated than what that little boy said.

As I said to JTB already... nobody like submission. Submission is the position that satan hated. We all must learn submission and it hurts. But Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered. So if I need to submit to my boss or to spiritual leadership, or if my wife needs to submit to me, submission is not a curse. It is a beautiful thing that Jesus himself surrendered Himself to.

JJT said...

I think we have to make a firm distinction here between "submission" the theological way you're defining it, and "subordination."

Submission can be mutual.

Subordination is not.

Quiara said...

By the way, Jen: have I mentioned lately how much you rock?

Anonymous said...

I believe in mutual submission. At the end of the day, someone is responsible for a final decision. In the one to one relationship between males and females, sometimes there is stalemate. God's order says, that not only does that decision fall to the male, but that male will also give an account for that decision. Male headship is accountable to his own head, Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Like a previous blogger on Dr. Beck's site said: "It can be soul numbing and spirit crushing to experience one's religion this way." Soul numbing, yes. Spirit crushing, absolutely...especially when one's God-given talents are public in nature and there is simply no place for them to be exercised and/or utilized in one's home congregation. That is why our young women are leaving the church of Christ in droves...some perhaps to go to other denominations but others simply leave church altogether, confused and frustrated by our (wrong) presentation of a God who first gives gifts and then forbids their use. And when these women leave, to the loss of our fellowship and to the detriment of God’s kingdom agenda, their voices are not quite missed at all because, in the words of minister Katie Hays, “The majority of our voices were never heard anyway." Talented leader? You can be President of the U.S., but not a church of Christ preacher. Gifted as a public speaker? Speak at the ladies retreat once a year and be content. Talented singer/songwriter? Go sing in a bar and we'll all come hear you, but don't dare ascend the pulpit to lead a praise hymn that you've written in Jesus' name (if you are female and c of C), for that would be sinful. Indeed we are conditioned to hide our lights in and under various bushels, or (in my case) the darkness of the secular music industry where no one cares what gender you are. "And I was afraid, and went and *hid* your talent in the earth..." Matt 25:25. I went and hid my talent in the service of various Music Row publishers and producers and wasted a good 12 years or more doing so, all the while silently sitting on my God-given worship-leadership abilities in church. JTB, once I began to recognize myself as the spiritually unprofitable servant in Matthew 25, who was not being faithful with her gift/talent, who *buried* her gift in the earth (read: world), my silence then became sin for me personally. That's when I decided to get up off the pew.

JJT said...

I want to highlight one of the points in that last comment, because so far in all the discussions, a lot of cavalier talk--from both perspectives, the traditional CofC and some ex-CofC folk--has surrounded the "why don't these women just go somewhere else." A lot of women do--but anon (you're not "anon," I know who you are! ;) makes an excellent point that this isn't necessarily true for everyone. The spiritual malformation resulting from enforcing women's silence, implicit inequality, lack of full status, and powerlessness can be so damaging that women leave, not for another church, but for no place else in particular--disillusioned and heartbroken and without an alternative spiritual home. If we're not disposed to think of leaving the CofC for another denom as a tragedy (and it isn't), we are usually disposed to think of people abandoning Christianity altogether as one.

But frankly--and ooooh, this'll tear it--they might be better off choosing a principled atheism than continuing to swallow the limitations arbitrarily put on them, and I'm betting God understands and applauds that existential courage. Denying the old bearded bully in the sky who likes boys better is kind of a prerequisite for seeking a real God.

James Hooten said...

"Big bearded bully in the sky who likes boys."

Jen, that god sounds like a pedophile. A really creepy one.

So I'm using a bit of sarcasm to restate my point. Your conversation with our Anonymous person (Andy, is that it?) demonstrates for me Hauerwas' point in saying the Bible should be taken out of the hands of every North American Christian. We need to get a handle on what we're doing, as Christians, and why we're doing it. But more to the point, how faith is something more normative for Christians than Scripture. That sounds crazy, I know, but you can blame St. Augustine for that one. He looked at the desert mothers and fathers and illiterate Christians and decided that having the Bible wasn't as important as faith and love of God.

As long as your friend Andy (and many other people like him) clings to "the Bible says" to the detriment of "who God is" we're going to be stuck in a rut. But that's what happens when your tradition has declared "no creed but Christ", cutting off any other theological sources except a Scottish Enlightenment optimistic rationality and the Bible conceived as God's Word. It at once claims too much and too little of human reason, while at the same time turning the Bible into an idol that disparages the true Word of God.

Andy said...

James, as a kind reminder.... you really don't know anything about me and your opinions are without any context of who I am or what I believe. A little background... my C of C dad has flat out rejected me as a heretic because he actually thinks I hold what the Holy Spirit CURRENTLY speaks holds with greater weight than the scriptures. He believes that about me because that is what I believe. I believe the reference to "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" in Genesis wasn't just a weirdly named tree but is the root to the problem in all of Christendom today, figuring things out with our heads versus following "the tree of Life." God's Life produces GOOD fruit. I think the C of C and everything it believes and how it came to believe it is barking up the WRONG tree and has created the schismatic MONSTER we see today and on this particular issue has CRUSHED women and suffered irreparable loss because of it. God isn't a science project. So having a PhD OR having a traditionalist view that one learned from grandpa isn't going to solve the riddles. Having a genuine INTIMACY with the Godhead (John 17:3) is our only hope and paying attention to the FRUIT of our beliefs is our only recourse for knowing if we are on the right track. (Gal 5) He is my life and believe it or not, I do know Him a bit. And the context of my life over 20+ years has been an environment of love, peace and fruitfulness and flourishing for all the women I know (as well as the teens and men). So before you assume that I'm some fundamentalist with my fingers in my ears, please think again before you start taking my Bible away from me :) This is reason #1 why I don't prefer the blogosphere... too easy to make assumptions based on limited knowledge. I hope your own life is overflowing with fruit 30, 60 and 100 fold as well as everyone around you, because THAT (if I'm free to to quote a scripture) is what Jesus expects from His disciples.

Matthew 13:23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

Peace! -a

Anonymous said...

Thank you, JTB. Yes, that was me, the singer ;-) Yes, "Seek and you shall find." I did leave the C of C temporarily, sought wholeheartedly, and found ultimately a real relationship with a real God who is interested in the real me, all of me -- talents, gifts, and voice included. Like you, this God of blessing knows my name.