Tuesday, October 25, 2011

WOMEN AND THE BIBLE.. October 22, 2006..note to Edward Fudge..edited May 15, 2012

I am unable to find Edward Fudge's (edward@edwardfudge.com) original article to which I was responding.But I think the reader will capture the gist of Edward's essay.

Hi Edward. I appreciate how you have shown that we are not, even by Paul's statements, to any longer live in hierarchical relationships but in mutual ones. And I can appreciate Paul and you recognizing that there are some cultural social norms and human needs that bring a 'difference' to some of the roles we are in as men and women. Certainly a parent would be irresponsible to live in all ways 'mutually' to his/her children, even though there should be a keen spiritual awareness that our children are not ours, are each their and God's very own person with a path that we as parents are not to interfere with. I can grant to  some extent being 'husband' and 'wife' may have some similar kind of cultural role appropriateness that is seen by both as healthy and respectful to each. I see your answer to him covering these realities and I thank you for not going where you know he wants you to go and where he determines to stay.

That all being said, it is a misrepresentation to indicate that scripture is not understandably   filled with sexist views and admonitions that relegate women to a second class status and to being regarded as property of men. This is the obvious history of  the Biblical Hebrew religious tradition , of Western Civilization and the church for more than 2000 years. Just a few passing examples: Genesis 3:16 “And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”  1 Timothy 2:12 says a woman must not teach, remain silent and must be subjugated to her man.  1 Corinthians 14:34 & 1 Peter 3:6 both say that women have limited rights and are under control of their men. Some of Paul's, and most certainly some of the letters attributed to him traditionally, have long been the foundation to support sexism in the church and Western culture. 

There are exceptions but these stand in contrast to the Biblical norm. Judges 4:4, 14-15, 5:7, Acts 2:18 & 21:9 all tell of powerful women who were not subjugated by men and  escaped  being  punished or discredited  for their authority of men. Also the Song Of Solomon at the very center of the Bible is a sound and beautiful description of  fully mutual male/female lovers. But such positive  texts have been generally abandoned, even  by the church, for building up strong cultural images of  the equality and mutuality of the sexes. 
Much Biblical Law/Story Makes Woman Inferior To Man.
 Eventually, to be honest to this kind of inquirer, these archaic and culture bound statements and admonitions have to be directly faced  and not interpreted as having meant something different by their writers and those who first read them. The OT is nearly totally and brutally sexist in its descriptions of women and there is much of it in the new testament as well. I think the gospels point to a Jesus who, far beyond his time and culture, was not sexist. But his impact in this area was quickly lost as can be seen in so many of the epistles of the New Testament. To me it seems most reasonable that the actual life, words and attitudes of Jesus of Nazareth regarding sexual equality and mutuality  did not hold up in the very early church. Only the past 75 years have great strides been made in the West in the  equality and mutuality of the sexes. 

We just have to face that reality, understand it and  not excuse Biblical sexism as being less than it actually is.  And confess that  Biblical sexism  has been the primary support of  sexism and the disenfranchising  of women in Western and American cultures. Christianity loses credibility, and it has greatly in our day, when it fails to take this honest view of our heritage. To force that these texts be correct in every issue is to ask too much of these sincere ancient writers. 

The new testament does show in numerous ways in the Gospels and in Paul that the ultimate spiritual design is for total equality and  mutuality among all persons including male and female and between wife and husband. Also, the Song Of Solomon at the very center of the Bible is a sound and beautiful description of  fully equal and mutual  lovers. But to imply to any inquirer that all or most Biblical statements regarding gender mutuality  are true to the ethical standards and justice of Jesus is to not deal honestly with these ancient texts.  It also greatly diminishes the high standard that Jesus set for  human value and dignity. That is why, in my view, it is essential if Christian teaching is to acquire and maintain integrity, the Biblical texts have to be taken and interpreted in accordance with their actual nature- creative sincere human attempts to relate a developing religious community's  experience that is beyond being fully captured by human words of any culture or time. We must give up the convenient fantasy of our Biblical texts as being  'inspired'  in the sense of being all consistent with each other, and speaking directly to all future world views and situations, and as being the result of a more or less special dictation from God. This is a great disservice to the image of the ultimate God.
This inquirer no doubt is not at all ready to face and benefit from these things. He is still seeking to use scripture to support his sexist views. I am not comfortable about the enduring quality and success of marriage where these non-mutual views of male/female are embraced and acted out. The recently renewed national debate, much of it among men, regarding woman not having the right to control  her own body' reproduction processes indicates just how easily the hard fought battles for  women's equality can be ignored and time turned back against her. So sexist   views, in varying measure,  are still very  alive in American Christianity and secular culture. Human sexuality is unable to be the blessing it is intended to be until the sexes are fully mutual and equal. And I am convinced  the average educated and aware person, who has not been indoctrinated in unfounded assumptions about the Bible, in our culture will not seriously  listen to the Bible until such claims and untruths are acknowledged and explained by those who teach the Bible. By insisting on an inerrant kind of inspiration we reduce the likelihood that general people of our day will see a conscientious way to the truly timeless element and application of the love story of Jesus Christ. This is what I see as a Crisis of Christianity which both conservative and progressive need to bring into clear focus to itself in order for the Christ story to survive and be a source of human transformation  for future generations.
Cordially, Jim H.

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