Sunday, July 17, 2016

Complementarian Issues of Nomenclature and Doctrine

1) Nomenclature

To quote Shakespeare, "What's in a name?" Many evangelicals claim the name complementarian. I have myself identified that way since the time I first became aware of the term about fifteen or so years ago. For many who identify as complementarian, they use it simply to mean that they are not egalitarian. They believe that Paul's instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and on male-only elders in I Timothy 3 transcend time or culture and remain relevant for today. However, I have come to realize that the term complementarian was coined by a group of people with a very specific agenda related to evangelical feminism. The outworking of some of their agenda has been seen in the recent debate on the Eternal Submission of the Son. I personally have some big differences with those who founded the conservative complementarian movement and would love for there to be a different word to identify non-egalitarians.

Except that I believe in complementary genders in the image of God.

I did some research on the term complementarian, and I was fascinated to note that while the term complementarian was coined by those who founded the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the concept of complementary genders had a long history of being used and valued by egalitarians long before the Danvers Statement.

One of Giles’ observations is that what we now have — in the reality of this debate — is hierarchical-complementarians (those who use the term “complementarian” today) and egalitarian-complementarians (those who are called “egalitarians” today).  Both believe in complentarity of the sexes: 
Because God made humankind man and woman (Gen 1:27-28), virtually all theologians agree that man and woman complete what it means to be human; the two sexes are complementary. Man alone or woman alone is not humanity in its completeness. Since the earliest descriptions of the evangelical egalitarian position in the mid-1970s, egalitarians have unambiguously affirmed the complementarity of the sexes. … 
Grudem, in his 2006 book, Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism, tells us how his side came to use the words, “complementary” and “complementarian.” He says the first time those arguing for a hierarchal relationship between men and often used the word “complementary” was on November 17,1988, in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s founding document, the Danvers Statement. He says, that as far as he knows, “it had not been previously used in this controversy.” It had indeed, as I will show below. In the Danvers Statement, the stance taken is not called the “complementarian” position. Grudem tells us that he and John Piper, in editing the 1991 symposium, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, “coined” the term “complementarian” as a self-designation of their position. In other words, they invented it. In this book, the editors admit that, in designating their understanding of what the Bible teaches on the sexes the “complementarian” position, they were seeking to establish a new term for what had hitherto been called the “traditional” or “hierarchical” position. From this point on, virtually every book written by an evangelical in support of the creation based subordination of women has designated the stance taken as the “complementarian” position and constantly spoken of the man-woman relationship as “complementary.”
I find this history interesting and validating. For I have long resonated with the idea of complementary genders while being subsequently uncomfortable with how that vision has played out practically through the writings of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It is good to know that historically, the discussion wasn't between one group who thought there was 100% parity between men and woman and another who believed God created complementary genders. You can believe in complementary genders without identifying fully with the group who claims to be the "flagship organization for the complementation movement", the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

2) Doctrine

The other concerning thing for me has long been the manipulation (in my humble opinion) of Scripture and theology to fit the perceived ills of evangelical feminism by those who coined the term complementarian. Now, don't get me wrong. I have been clear on my strong belief that we can not write off large swaths of New Testament teaching on gender just because we feel like it limits us as women, which I believe many evangelicals do. I have strong push back for evangelical feminists who would deny the importance of Paul's epistles in particular. But God forbid I manipulate Scripture to validate my concerns with the more liberal position. And, frankly, that is exactly what happened, starting with Susan Foh's admitted reinterpretation of Genesis 3:16 in 1975.
“THE current issue of feminism in the church has provoked the reexamination of the scriptural passages that deal with the relationship of the man and the woman. A proper understanding of Genesis 3:16 is crucial to this reconsideration of the Biblical view of the woman.” Susan Foh, The Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75) 376-83
Reexamination. Reconsidering. Prior to Foh's concerns with evangelical feminism, Genesis 3:16 was never interpreted to mean a woman would have a desire against her husband to manipulate or rule over him. It makes no sense that God would speak something to Adam and Eve at the Fall that the Church would not understand until the problem of modern evangelical feminism, almost like the curse was non-existent for women before we suddenly came to understand the real problem during 2nd wave feminism.  That is, frankly, ludicrous.  I've written a long article here about why I think Foh was wrong in her interpretation of Genesis 3:16 and how it has harmed women in the Church.

According to CBMW's history page, Foh went on to have a crucial founding role in CBMW, and her new interpretation fit nicely with their agenda. The thing is that she didn't need to reinterpret Genesis 3:16 to support Paul's writings as constraining the Church for today. She found a convenient way to pin the issue of evangelical feminism on a woman's rebellious heart but at the expense of the perspicuity of Scripture and a historic understanding of the passage.

I'm deeply disturbed and have been for some time with conservatives employing liberal methods of coming up with new interpretations to fit a modern cultural issue. This has been brought to light again with current debate on the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This doctrine too was not on the radar of 20th or 21st century theologians until Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem, also both founders of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, brought attention to it in … you guessed it … response to evangelical feminism. I'm not sure exactly when Ware and Grudem began to focus on Eternal Subordination of the Son. Grudem wrote about it in his Systematic Theology in the mid 90's, While there seemed to be theologians talking about this doctrine in history, Ware and Grudem are the first (that I can find) who highlight it in conjunction with gender roles in the Church.

Ware and Grudem seem the first to popularize this doctrine linked to gender (as early as Grudem's 1994 Systematic Theology). And, again, their discussion of this doctrine is a RESPONSE to evangelical feminism.
Ware, like Grudem a past President of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, has contributed numerous journal articles and book chapters to scholarly complementarianism. His book on the Trinity entitled Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Crossway, 2005) shows the necessary linkage between authority-submission relationships in the Godhead and authority-submission relationships in the church. https://9marks.org/article/a-brief-history-of-complementarian-literature/
Grudem and Ware have unapologetically set gender relationships as the frame for their handling of ESS. In the book, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (co-edited by Ware with essays by both Ware and Grudem), Grudem introduces the topic with the essay: “Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity.” In Grudem's book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (2004), his first chapter in response to evangelical feminism teaches that the “equality and differences between men and women reflect the equality and differences in the Trinity.” Ware, Grudem, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on which they sit fundamentally link their understanding of ESS and Trinitarian relationships to gender.  http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2016/06/the-eternal-subordination-of-son-and.html
In conclusion, the nomenclature issue isn't really an issue in my opinion. But it does help to understand why so many more people resonate with the idea of complementary genders than with the specifics of complementarian application that the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood supports. But the reinterpretations of Scripture, in my opinion, are a massive issue. They reframe the spectrum of debate on women's issues in the Church from liberal and conservative to liberal and another kind of liberal. We can't play lose and fast with Scripture to fit our agenda. Liberals can't. But conservatives can't either.  This is clearly the case with the reinterpretation of Genesis 3:16, and I'm concerned it may also be the case with linking ESS to gender (and not just marriage) as well.

I don't know what this means for the future, but I will say these things again and again here on this blog because I think the clarity of Scripture is a precious thing and the old doctrines are still worth fighting for. “There is nothing new under the sun,” the author of Proverbs wisely instructs us. And we don't have to manipulate Scripture when we think we are facing some new issue in our culture. The Church for the most part has been there and done that. And the Bible is sufficient at each recurrence of old problems.  We could have had the same reclamation of orthodox doctrine around gender in our denominations without the doctrinal/hermeneutical gymnastics some have used to make their point.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Gay Gospel and Hope for Hard Things

As I watched the gay pride festivities over social media and my Facebook stream, I thought (as I have a thousand times before) the pressure on gay, Bible-believing Christians to go against their conscience and write off God's sexual ethics as harmful. Many Christians have changed their views about the Bible's teaching on homosexual sex. The ones that I can most closely identify with are those who believe that the New Testament word Paul uses against homosexual sex is referring to pedophilia. I disagree with that interpretation, but I appreciate that it stays engaged with the text of Scripture. But if that's the case and Paul was condemning pedophilia, there is still a larger theme in Scripture that can't be written off without writing off the entire Bible—that promiscuity in general, heterosexual or homosexual, is anathema to God. He is a God of faithfulness, and He created His children to be faithful in their relationships as well. In that sense, I think Christians misapplied their moral outrage to the gay marriage debate. Of all the things that downgrade society, gay fidelity doesn't seem to be it (spoken by someone who lived for years in a community full of faithful gay couples raising respectful, responsible children). Heterosexual infidelity seems a way bigger issue in harming larger society than gay fidelity. Seems is a gentle word for that – I should say that I know many, many people harmed by both gay and straight infidelity. I wish our Christian culture had harped on all forms of infidelity with the same vigor they did against gay marriage.

But what is a gay person to do if they believe, as I do, that Scripture can be taken at face value and that the church hasn't misread or mistranslated the Bible around the issue of gay sex for the last two thousand years? In a word, they are to endure. But here too, our evangelical church hasn't been fair to gay Christians. We ask them to endure when we look away from heterosexuals who don't. We ask them to endure when our theology of general perseverance in suffering is weak and anemic. The prosperity gospel is alive and well in the evangelical church. And it forces evangelicals' hand around the issue of gay Christianity. Of course instructions against gay sex are archaic if the end goal of the gospel is to make us happy and fulfilled by earthly standards. I've said it often that this type of thinking has no room for Christian martyrs. It has no room for even the Apostles or early Church.
Hebrews 11 35 … Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
I want to write a word of encouragement to gay Christians who share the conviction that gay sex is a sin before God. First, I acknowledge that this is a heavy, heavy burden. You know the hard road that lies ahead if you choose faith in the Bible. But my second thought is that there is beauty in suffering for all of us, whatever our personal long-term burden. Persevere, friends. Embrace the hard road. And have hope. God works through hard things, and you are not alone on the road you walk. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Henry Nouwen, Wesley Hill, and countless other unnamed male and female believers have walked this less-traveled road before you. And they stand cheering you on as the cloud of witnesses Hebrews 11 speaks of. They are witnesses to God's faithfulness on the journey and the goodness of His instructions for us. They witness too to His grace to bear up under what at first seems an impossible and unfair burden.

I encourage you too to find the fellowship of suffering. Find others, be they heterosexual or homosexual, who are enduring in their own suffering. Some are infertile. Some have lost living children. Some have chronic illnesses. Some have family who have rejected them. The list goes on and on. You know the ones who make the best friends on this journey, the ones who face their suffering holding both the rawness of the pain and the hope of their faith hand in hand. Find them, and don't quit on them in faith.  The good news of Christ never sounds more beautiful than when heard hand in hand with the hardest of suffering.

Finally, I highly recommend Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting. Wesley comes to see his homosexuality as a gift from God to push him toward Christ. I'll end with words from his final chapter of the book.
In Peter Jackson’s wonderful film version of The Two Towers, Sam says: 
By rights we shouldn’t even be here [on this quest]. But we are.… I wonder if people will ever say, “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.” And they’ll say, “Yes, that’s one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad.” “Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.” 
Many times in my experience with homosexuality I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear— anything but this one. But I have also felt that if Someone is watching— taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress— then the burden may be bearable. When the road is long and the loneliness and sheer longing threaten to extinguish hope, it helps to remember that, like Frodo and Sam, I, too, am in a grand tale, with an all-seeing, all-caring Reader or Listener who also happens to be in some mysterious way the Author. Sam of The Lord of the Rings trilogy believed there would be listeners and readers who would want to know the story of this struggle. I believe that in my case, too, there is Someone who cares about my story.
… Homosexuality calls us to consider our own lives and to trust in the mystery of God’s providence and his gift of redemption through Christ. With patience and openness to the good that may come even from evil, we can learn to “hear” the voice of our sexuality, to listen to its call. We can learn to “appreciate the value of our story and the stories of others, because God is the ‘potter’ or ‘storyteller’.” Slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning to do this. I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the Lord Christ will say. “Enter into the joy of your master.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Eternal Subordination of the Son (and Women)

There is a debate right now over the implications of a teaching called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS), which explores the intra-Trinatarian relationship between God the Son to God the Father. Here are two summary articles that will bring you up to speed if you are unfamiliar with this discussion and would like to learn more.

Eternal Submission in the Trinity? A Quick Guid to the Current Debate 

A Different Way Forward 

Opponents of ESS like Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher believe that ESS represents a departure from long-held confessional statements of the Church. ESS advocates Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware have responded by saying that they keep the confessions, and their theological beliefs are not being accurately represented. To complicate matters, the debate is actually more than one debate, as Andrew Wilson helpfully points out in the above article by identifying 10 essential questions underneath it. ESS adherents respond to these questions differently which even further impedes dialogue. It is not sufficient to say “ESS proponents” believe XYZ without designating which proponents and which beliefs.

For some, the debate is primarily academic and is best left to those who have spent years reading Trinitarian theology. But for others, the debate has very practical implications. Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem in particular have cultivated the doctrine of ESS in direct response to modern evangelical feminism and use it to bolster their very real world views on gender, particularly submission of women. This teaching then filters down through books, conferences, and pulpits and has significant influence on how men and women are taught to relate to each other in their churches, marriages, and society at large.

Some scholars see the link between ESS and gender as unhelpful. But we would like to submit that the link is much worse than simply unhelpful. We believe it is actually corrupting and confusing the Trinitarian debate. ESS is being shaped by gender debates, not the other way around. And this, in our opinion, is precisely where the disconnect lies. This is why so many have pushback against the ESS presentation of submission in the Trinity.

Grudem and Ware have unapologetically set gender relationships as the frame for their handling of ESS. In the book, One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (co-edited by Ware with essays by both Ware and Grudem), Grudem introduces the topic with the essay: “Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity.” In Grudem's book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, his first chapter in response to evangelical feminism teaches that the “equality and differences between men and women reflect the equality and differences in the Trinity.” Ware, Grudem, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on which they sit fundamentally link their understanding of ESS and Trinitarian relationships to gender. 

In his Institutes, John Calvin famously wrote that without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self, and without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. While scholars are handling the question of “the knowledge of God” in this debate, we believe it’s essential to give attention also to “knowledge of self.” How has Ware and Grudem’s knowledge of human gender influenced their knowledge of God? Has the tail wagged the dog here? We think so.

In this sense, we are not offering solutions to the Trinitarian debate. We are instead suggesting that faulty anthropology has infiltrated it. We are suggesting that Ware and Grudem’s understanding of gender is the reason that their opponents believe their argument is ontological (essential to God the Son's very existence – the foundational topic of debate among the scholars) while Ware and Grudem insist that it is not. Their gender angst is importing faulty categories into the Trinitarian debate.

Consider Grudem's own words as he explains his understanding of Jesus' subordination to God the Father –
“In those relationships, Scripture speaks of the Father having a unique role of initiating, planning, directing, sending, and commanding; it speaks of the Son as having a role of joyfully agreeing with, supporting, carrying out, and obeying the Father; and it speaks of the Spirit as acting in joyful obedience to the leadership of both the Father and the Son.”
Now consider how The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood applies this to women – First, from their website Summary of the Complementarian Position:
A. Created Equality of Essence and Distinction of Role 
Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man. Gen. 1:26-27 makes clear that male and female are equally created as God’s image, and so are, by God’s created design, equally and fully human. But, as Gen. 2 bears out (as seen in its own context and as understood by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2), their humanity would find expression differently, in a relationship of complementarity, with the female functioning in a submissive role under the leadership and authority of the male.
And from another post on the cbmw.org website:
Given that gender identity will remain (in the New Creation), is there evidence that functional distinctions will likewise remain in the new creation? Will resurrected saints as male and female {emphasis added} have gender-specific roles? How will we relate to one another? Will male headship apply? … Complementarity is not just an accommodation to the less-than-perfect conditions that prevailed during the first century. Rather, it is a divine principle weaved into the fabric of God’s order for the universe.
Note the parallel language of the joyful agreement and support of the Son eternally to the leadership of the Father and the female's willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man. If we are reading Grudem, Ware, and The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's position correctly, Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father and woman will be eternally subordinate to man in the New Creation. 

Herein lies the problem. Grudem and Ware argue for submission of the Son on the basis of role. So far, so orthodox. But when they apply ESS to gender, they have tied submission to the essence of femaleness and not simply the role of being a wife. By necessity then, when they talk about the Son’s submission to the Father, it is almost impossible not to hear it as an ontological argument. Why? Because Bible-believing Christians know gender (more accurately, biological sex) to be an ontological category. We know that being female is an identity given by God and intrinsically bound up in the imago Dei. This is the fundamental argument against transgender positions: “So God made man[kind] in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.” '

When these leaders emphasize female submission instead of wifely submission, they are speaking of submission as if it were an ontological characteristic. Consider how John Piper answered a question on whether a woman should be a police officer.
“At the heart of mature manhood is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. … At the heart of mature womanhood is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships. … it would be hard for me to see how a woman could be a drill sergeant … over men without violating their sense of manhood and her sense of womanhood.”
These leaders of The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood believe that this benevolent responsibility of man and joyful receiving from woman is the heart of mature manhood and womanhood – not roles for husbands and wives but the essence of the two genders, and they believe it holds still in the New Creation. So when these same men start talking about submission in the Trinity, it makes sense to import the categories they have already established back into the discussion. And they, not any of their detractors, have set this frame. If a woman is not fully female without submissiveness, how is Jesus fully God's Son without it as well? That, friends, is by definition ontology.

Being a wife is a role; being a husband is a role; being a servant is a role; being a citizen is a role. Being male and female are not roles. While our biological sex necessarily shapes the roles we hold (in marriage, a woman will be a wife and not a husband), submission does not stem directly from gender but from a role that exists in the context of relationship. A wife submits to her husband not because he is a “man” but because he is her husband and has committed himself to certain vows and duties in the context of their marriage. The same is true of a servant and master, a congregant and elder, and a citizen and his government. Submission happens in context of specific privileges and responsibilities found in specific relationships bound by specific covenants.

In contrast to the belief that women are ontologically (and therefore eternally) subordinated to men, we believe with Paul in I Corinthians 11:3 that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” See these posts for clarification of what “head” means in Scripture.

Thomas Jefferson and Headship 
Male Privilege 
The Missing Head 

If we then let the Bible give commentary on itself, we see that in the New Creation, that middle category of I Corinthians 11:3 does not endure for humans in eternity. Jesus said it Himself in Matthew 28:29-30,
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
This is foundational to this discussion. While the categories of male and female endure into the New Creation, the earthly roles of being husbands and wives do not. Or to be more eschatologically accurate, these earthly roles are finally fulfilled. Our earthly marriages—and the submission that happens within them—are but mere shadows of the one great marriage between Christ and His bride that will exist for all eternity. As our roles shift from being individual husbands and wives so too will the submission that flows from our individual relationships. As the collective Bride of Christ, we will all submit to Jesus as our Bridegroom. Christ remains the head of both man and woman. His supremacy (which Philippians 2 tells us is the direct result of his obedience to the Father) will govern our relationships with each other, male and female alike.

In this life now, husbands and wives have an opportunity to give testimony, not to the subordination of women to men, but to the eternal truth that Jesus is a Bridegroom who loved His wife enough to leave His glory, descend to the earth, and fulfill His Father’s plan of Redemption. And this is what we celebrate when we celebrate the subordination of the Son. We do not celebrate authority. We celebrate sacrifice. We do not celebrate control. We celebrate the submission of our wills. It is this beautiful dynamic between the Father and Son, and eventually between the Bridegroom and Bride, that will set the world right.

Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Missing Head

In my post on Thomas Jefferson and headship (which a commenter rightly pointed out is NOT a word that the Bible uses), I briefly mentioned addressing in the future women operating in the kingdom with an absentee head (a word the Bible does use). I've been slow to address that, but it is certainly worth exploring. If you haven't read the other article, this one won't make much sense.

I know many men whom I respect as kephale cornerstones in their homes and churches. Christ is the chief cornerstone in the household of faith, but these men image Christ out in their little households within the Big Household. They are load bearing men, who leverage their privilege to provide support and direction to those in their care. I love and admire these men. I won't walk up to them and say anything, because that would be weird. But I note it from afar, and I thank God for what they bring to the household of faith. 

I also know a number of men who have walked away from their load-bearing responsibilities. Some call it mid-life crisis. I think many men, including Christian men, reach a fork in the road a few years into the load-bearing responsibility of family and ministry. The naivety has worn off, and the responsibility is hard. And they must choose. Do they lean into their head, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:3), for the strength to persevere under the weight of responsibility, or do they extricate themselves from the household altogether? Many men choose the latter.

When a man removes himself from the weight of responsibility for his home and family, what happens? He was a load-bearing cornerstone, and the house sags in his absence. It will fall to pieces if not for a woman of courage and virtue to bear up in his absence. We see in Scripture such women of virtue bearing up in the absence or abdication of the men who should have been bearing the weight with and for them. Hagar. Abigail. Ruth. Esther. Lois. Eunace. These are the main ones from Scripture who come to mind. But they are joined in my head by the many women I know here on earth who bear up similarly. Felicia, Beth, Christine, Katherine, Louise, Tracy. Women who initiate devotions with their children when no one initiates with them. Women who must figure out how to earn an income after taking years off of their career path to have children. Women who tirelessly rally themselves and their children to church week after week with no reward or pat on the back. Women who spend their Mother's Day serving others because no one is left to serve them.

The Bible calls these ladies women of virtue or capable women. The Bible looks at their role in their homes and praises it. In Proverbs 31, the woman of virtue bears her weight within the context of a marriage in which her husband bears his as well. Scripture implies that he is well respected in the community. This is a man who is a kephale cornerstone, levering his privilege as a load-bearing foundational element of the household. But Ruth was also known as a woman of virtue. Her reputation as a capable woman of strength preceded her (Ruth 3:11) when the kephale stones in her household of husband and father-in-law had died. Ruth was a load-bearing wall, a necessary cross-beam, in Naomi's life. She couldn't replace her father-in-law, yet she carried much of the weight that he would have been bearing if he had still been alive. Yet we see clearly from Ruth and Naomi's life the profound loss in their lives from the death of their heads. Ruth in particular persevered and brought comfort to Naomi, but that did not make the sense of profound loss go away. In fact, it was a new head in the form of Boaz that helped restore Ruth and Naomi's household and family.

Now, depending on our backgrounds and doctrinal inclinations, we are often offended by one or the other of Ruth's states. Some are offended by her persevering independence when widowed. She did it on her own, providing for her family, even leading her mother in law in perseverance and hope. Some would say her independence would make her a bad future wife. On the flip side, some are offended by Ruth's rescue by Boaz. Did she really need a white knight riding in to save her? Could she have not persevered on her own? A woman doesn't have to have a man, right?

We might recognize this tension better in a modern situation. Consider the divorced woman in your church, a divorce not of her own choice, who rises from the ashes to make something of her life. Is she too independent? Is she perceived as unwilling to submit to another man? Maybe other church members think she brought this all on herself and no godly man would have her. Or, on the flip side, is she too interested in finding a new husband? Is she needy and unable to care for herself? Would you tell her she doesn't need a man? That she can do this on her own? That's she's better off not dependent on some other man who can hurt her?

We don't need to pit the two stages of Ruth's life against each other. We don't need to pit the overcoming single woman without a man against the woman who has a husband who is bearing the keystone weight of his household. One does not undermine the value of the other. Both stages of Ruth's life pictured overcoming gospel hope, Ruth as a widow bearing undue weight as she persevered caring for Naomi, and Ruth and Boaz as a couple who picture the coming kinsman-redeemer. At neither stage of life was Ruth without the consequences of the fall. Not only did Ruth's first husband die, her second did eventually as well. She very likely was a widow on the back end of life as well as the front end. And at neither stage was Ruth without hope from her newfound God. These two stages don't need to be pitted against each other to recognize the great help and structure that Boaz brought to both Ruth and Naomi as Ruth's head. He provided a foundational fix to the household structure Ruth had been valiantly holding up on her own. We can both honor the kephale cornerstone that Boaz was and say with profound conviction that the house would fall without the woman standing alongside the man, and sometimes standing without him when he defaults on his responsibilities.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

On Male Privilege

With a title referencing male privilege, this surely must be another article bashing evangelical men, right? Absolutely not! Though the mere mention of the term privilege causes some folks to bristle, I don't want to talk about male privilege as something to bash men about but as something that is a gift to the entire Body of Christ, particularly the most vulnerable in it, when used as God intended.

First, is there such a thing as male privilege? It's important to define privilege. When I use the word, I mean an advantage available to a certain group of people. The entire male gender does enjoy some advantages over the female gender when statistical averages are compared. It's important to note that privilege refers to statistical averages more than individual comparisons. There will always be outliers, and any one individual man can easily find twenty women with more money or influence, even more physical strength. But averaged out by county, state, or nation, men consistently earn more than women working the same jobs. They average out as physically stronger than women. And in many nations, men still hold clear legal privilege over women by law. Averaged out through humanity, there is a clear advantage financially, physically, and often even legally to be being born a man.

Next, is privilege a bad thing? NO! It can be a very good thing. It's not a thing to be ashamed of, UNLESS you only use your privilege to serve yourself. Always in Scripture, those privileged by race, gender, or financial ability are called to steward that privilege to serve those around them in need. I don't write as a bitter old woman mad at all the men in my life who abused their privilege. In fact, quite the opposite. The majority of men in my life with God-given authority over me, particularly my dad and my pastors, have used their authority to bless me again and again. I have had really good examples of men in my life who leveraged their privilege for my benefit (even though they likely have never thought of it in those terms).

As I've been thinking through what headship should be in the Body of Christ, I can't get away from my dad's example. Each Father's Day, I stand in the aisle reading cards until one makes me cry. Then I know I've found the right card for Daddy. Yesterday, he gave my oldest son a farmer's cap as he took him to guitar lesson. When my son got out of the car and walked in the house with the cap turned sideways on his head, he told me, “Mom, you have a good dad.”

Daddy had three daughters and no sons (now he has six grandsons and no granddaughters, which I find funny). Daddy loves his daughters, and he worked hard as a farmer to provide for us. He did not personally start off in life with land or equity that he inherited from his parents. He didn't have a chance to get a college degree. But through hard work and a good business sense, he is leaving his daughters with financial security and peace of mind.

Daddy is an authority in my life. He doesn't request much, but whenever he does, my sisters and I drop everything we are doing to help him. But it's because we love him, and we know he would do anything he could to protect us and help us. Daddy saw that we were well educated, and he values our opinion and defers to us often. He is proud of his daughters' accomplishments. He respects our minds. But Daddy also knows stuff we don't know, and we need his knowledge.

Daddy is more financially secure than me. Daddy is stronger than me. Even with chronic heart failure at age 78, he can slice a piece of wood with a single swing of the ax (which I learned last year when he was trying to show me what I was doing wrong). But Daddy has never lorded that authority or strength over me. He instead has used it to bless and help me when I have been vulnerable or needy. He has used his strength to enable me to be strong.

A friend gave me feedback on my post on Thomas Jefferson, “Authority isn't missing from your expression of headship, but it's a means to an end; not an end in itself.” This is how my dad and the majority of pastors in my life have used their authority in my life. Their authority wasn't about their authority. Their authority wasn't the absolute thing to preserve. Their authority was a tool. They felt responsibility for those with whom they were called to relationship and they used their authority to bless those in their care.

There is beauty in this vision, which I argue is the Biblical model, for both men and women. For men, it addresses the angst we have seen over the last two decades over what it means to be a manly man. May my sons and nephews understand that being a manly man means above all else that you shoulder your responsibilities and leverage your gifts and privileges for those smaller or weaker or less secure than you. For women, this vision frees us to recognize godly men (men who don't protect their authority or privilege but use it for the good of others) and respond to them as is appropriate, to encourage them as needed. If God calls us into relationship with one, then we support them as they support us. We bear our responsibilities beside them, with them, be it in the church or home, as helpers strongly suited for just that kind of co-labor.  All in the image of God.