Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sorry, John: It's not exactly a rant.

Any time a privileged group claims a moral right to that privilege, it raises questions. I remember a mission trip to Peru. It turned out to be my last “mission trip” because of disillusionment surrounding the affair. At one point, the leader of the group said, “They’ll believe you, because you’re American.” This was to be used to evangelize, get out of scrapes, whatever (scrapes? I was raised reading Hardy Boys from the 60’s, folks). The worst of these, for me, was using a false prestige to “evangelize.” Every single one of us was white, in a country of brown. Why should our privileged position overrule their life experiences, free will, and freedom of choice? It perpetuated our agenda, our prerogative, and further devalued and demeaned the people we expected to value us based on our color and citizenship. Disgusting.

I think that the same questions need to be asked of those perpetuating the complementarian and biblical roles viewpoints. Men necessarily benefit from a system that puts them at the top of the heap morally, and authoritatively. The staunchest supporters brook no question on the part of talented women as to why these limitations exist. A handful of verses, out of some 31000, provide all these fellas need to know this system, which incidentally privileges them, is comprehensive.

I went to a seminary that is fostering the “biblical roles” mentality wholeheartedly. My first alumni magazine focused entirely on this topic, with recommendations for making boys into MEN. (With a capital M. E. N.) My first semester, I quickly stopped enjoying meeting new guys when one by one, they each broached the subject of my view on women’s role in the first conversation. Guh. I thought I’d left at least some of that with fundamentalism. But in the Southern Baptist world (where I found myself getting my graduate degree), gender roles are HOT. Even the hip young rebels of the SB world, Reformers, get off on this. Want some blood boiling good times? Let’s have an example from the hipsters and the fundies, shall we?

Less than a minute (:58) and already, if a man is not a “biblical man” he’s worse than an unbeliever. (If Mark Driscoll is the best example of this type of thinking… I don’t even know how to pithily finish this sentence.)

Jason limits how much time I can spend on my favorite fundy awareness sites, since watching me have a major stroke during a Schaap video. I'm still having residual weakness to my right side. Always leaning lefter (oh boy, that was terrible, it didn't even get a satisfactory sympathy chuckle from J.).

These men use the word “biblical” to shut down all conversation and dialogue. End of subject: God wills for me to be in authority over you, you are wrong and guilty for questioning this, submit. It’s not an adjective, it’s an imperative to quit yer’ whinin’ and conform! Seriously, I had a guy tell me he was praying for me, and asked the seminary president to pray for me because I did not conform to biblical womanhood ideals. One man spent several weeks of my first archaeological trip to Israel, attempting to convert me to his views of womanhood, and my true responsibilities as a young wife.

Here’s what I think; several things about my life give me a position of privilege. I am white. I am American. I am well-educated. My middle-class upbringing eliminated many obstacles to pursuing my goals. I try to be aware of the privileges in my life, and avoid confusing privileges with rights. Slave-owners over slaves. Light over dark. Male over female. Wealth over poverty. Youth over age. Strong over weak. Straight over gay. Majority over minority. Are we, as Christians, guilty of unquestioningly perpetuating the systems that keep power isolated with privilege?

And can I just say something? I have heard men and women (why, ladies, why?) in those movements say something like this: “Every woman is longing for a man who can lead her spiritually, and be the head of the home.” BS (if we were having this conversation at a coffee shop, I’d have said the real word, but I feel weird putting it in permanent print).  My best friend/husband and I are just best friends. Period. He says it was never his goal to become my leader, but my partner (just in case any of you are out there feeling sorry for my poor husband with his opinionated wife).


  1. I'm digging into this subject a bit too. I go to a church that supports women as equals and "allows" them to preach/lead, but I have friends who support the viewpoint you are discussing. That has me interested in the whole "why" question... what was Paul saying, who was his audience... for example Paul tells the Ephesian women to submit to their husbands... well, I read that in Ephesis goddess (Artemis) worship was hot and it was popular practice for women to act as leaders, dominating men... so Paul was addressing this imbalance; not speaking for all women/all time/everywhere... not sure how much truth there is in that but I want to research it more.

  2. I actually wrote a paper about that for one of my theology classes, making the case that Paul's message is culturally specific in the details. Kinda proud of doing that, considering my school. But not nearly so proud as when my husband wrote a similar paper for HIS theology class. Double win for a woman, in that environment.

    Anyway, the argument is not baseless, in my opinion. Hm, I'm going to have to look up those old research materials, and see if I can find the paper...

  3. Speaking as a "dude" the last thing I want is a woman who has been convinced that she requires a man to lead her. I've witnessed first-hand the dating culture that this kind of thinking breeds.. it's ugly.

    Lovers both lead and submit to each other, one does not lead the other. It sounds difficult, because it is. But it's better.

  4. Love this!! Especially how you related it to privilege. I think I nearly became comatose during that video - I can see how he could be stroke inducing. WOW. So I need to know - what are you favorite fundie-information sites???

  5. Hello Rachel!

    I read stufffundieslike.com every day. Also read jesusneedsnewpr.net, and theamericanjesus.net. christiannightmares.tumblr.com keeps me entertained and infuriated, simultaneously. I've also followed ex-quiverfull sites. What are your resources?

  6. Michelle,

    Speaking very generally, from an archeology/ancient history background - It is common nature to understand a historical document, like the Bible, through the experiences, understandings, expectations, and norms (ie CULTURE) that we are accustomed to. While I believe the Bible is every bit as relevant today, we often forget that it was written over a period of time well removed from our own by people whose understanding of the world was colored by their own world - both spatially and temporally. If we remove the bible from the cultural and historical background in which it was written – the events, the beliefs, the understandings, the issues that were relevant at the time of its writing – we leave gaps that are easily filled in by our own imaginations, which are invariably guided by our cultural understandings.

    The original authors had reasons for writing what they did – sometimes general, sometimes specific, often both. The book of Daniel was (probably/possibly depending on who you talk to) written during the exile to Babylon and has a clear, immediate relevance to preservation of Jewish values and faith, liberation from Babylon, and a return to Israel. But there are also elements of messianic prophesy relevant to the Jewish people post-exile (and eventually to Christians). Likewise, Paul’s writings are wonderfully relevant to us, even though we live just under 2000 years later (most of my favorite scriptures are written by or at least attributed to Paul). However, he often had specific circumstances he was responding to, the memory of which has not lasted as long as his written words.

    It makes perfect sense that someone with the frame of reference for chauvinism (a cultural norm in the West for hundreds of years, as elsewhere) would approach a passage with such a gap and plug in what he expected (especially with a passage that seems so clear-cut at the surface); and that someone else would immediately see what appears to be a statement contradictory to other messages in the very same Bible. We are physically removed from the world(s) of the Biblical authors. The Bible is certainly still relevant and has myriads to offer without unrestricted access to a time machine, but we Christians should be aware of what gaps may exist in our understanding before we plug in an answer. If not, we do ourselves a disservice, as we do to the message of Christ, and the hearts of the people He loves.

  7. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: my brilliant husband. Love what you said Jason (is it gauche to call someone 'babe' in this setting?), and the way you said it. You, uh, Babe, should check out this blog post from Michelle. Sensitively thought, about sensitive subjects. http://christianheresy.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-initial-take-on-homosexuality.html