Gloria (Secular Feminist)
Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)
Moderator: The last time we gathered, Abraham began explaining his viewpoint, which he calls neo-patriarchy. Through no fault of his own, he was unable to finish his presentation on that occasion. So, I’ve asked him to continue this evening. If you were not present last time, may I suggest that you read his talk (“Abraham Speaks…In Defense of Neo-Patriarchy”), which I have placed on Ron Highfield’s blog, ifaqtheology.
Abraham: Thank you Moderator for allowing me to continue explaining neo-patriarchy to our audience. By way of review, Christian neo-patriarchs believe that each person possesses infinite worth in God’s eyes and that we ought to love each other in a way modeled on God’s love for us. To love others is to seek what is best for them individually, given their natural and historical circumstances. As a matter of natural fact, men are on average much stronger physically and more aggressive in temperament than women. Hence men must make a decision about how to use this advantage. They can protect or exploit women. Christian neo-patriarchs believe they ought to view women as mothers, wives, sisters or daughters and adopt a loving and protective attitude toward all women. Not a condescending attitude, for we know that women are just as intelligent and wise as men and that women possess infinite worth to God.
Moderator: What are your sources of authority that ground and justify your viewpoint?
Abraham: I was just about to turn to that subject. In fact, it’s already been implicit in what I’ve said so far. Like Gloria, I appeal to reason and nature, and like Sarah, I appeal to the Christian Scriptures to support my position. I shall question Gloria’s use of reason and Sarah’s use of Scripture in latter addresses. But I will delay that critique for now and explain my view of these two authorities. When it comes to moral issues, I believe Christian thinkers like Sarah and I should attempt strenuously to harmonize Scripture, reason and experience. Any theory of the ethics of the relationship between men and women in society, church and home, must take into account the natural and historical conditions of men and women. Men and women are not equal in every respect. This is a fact of nature. To deny or ignore it is irresponsible and will harm women in the long run. And, as I argued in my previous presentation, egalitarianism ignores the ethical significance of this fact.
Until the resurrection of the dead, where, as Jesus said, people “will neither marry nor be given in marriage; [but] they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25; Matthew 22:30), women will live in a world where there are good, weak and bad men . (There are good, weak and bad women too, but that is another story.) Any ethical theory of male/female relationships that ignores this reality will inevitably be bad for women. There are a few good men. Good men are aware of their greater physical strength, but they refuse to use it to exploit or harm women.
Bad men despise women for being physically weaker and resent them when they excel intellectually. They view women as sex objects to be exploited and weaklings to be bullied. They seduce, intimidate, abuse, rape and murder women. Weak men lack self-control. They cheat on their wives and refuse to take care of their families; they are lazy, whiny and resent successful women. Good men use their strength to protect women from bad and weak men. And because their self-worth is based on God’s judgment, they rejoice in academic and professional and other life successes of their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters.
Christian neo-patriarchs appeal to the Scriptures also. As I argued in the previous session, the Scriptures assert that God created men and women in God’s image and that God loves men and women beyond reckoning. The infinite dignity of women is grounded in God’s love. And the glorious eschatological destiny of men and women transcends mortal bodily life and the conditions necessary to sustain it. Neo-patriarchs believe Galatians 3:26-29 just as strongly as evangelical egalitarians do! Verse 28 asserts, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.” Being male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile is not what counts toward being acceptable to God. What counts is “faith” (v. 26), being “clothed with Christ” (v. 27) and “belonging to Christ” (v. 29). The one thing all Christians have in common is the one thing that matters in relation to God and it’s the one thing that makes us one! This text grounds neo-patriarchs’ commitment never to treat a sister (or brother) as an inferior.
But Scripture does not draw from this truth the practical conclusion evangelical egalitarians draw, that is, that society, church and home must create one set of rules that applies to men and women equally. Jesus did not appoint six women and six men to be apostles. When the apostles lost Judas, they selected a replacement from a pool of men only (Acts 1:21-26). The seven “deacons” appointed by the apostles to take care of the Jerusalem church were all men (Acts 6:1-6). Paul gave different instructions for how women and men were to behave in public gatherings of the church. In certain settings, women could “pray and prophesy” as long as they wore a head covering as sign of respect for their husbands (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). In other settings, perhaps in view of some abuse of speech, women are told to be completely “silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:34-38).
Paul modifies but still uses the traditional Greco-Roman household code to urge women to submit to the rule of their husbands and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:21-31). Peter also adapts the traditional household code, telling women to remain submissive to their husbands and husbands to respect their wives as “the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In Titus and 1 Timothy, Paul lays down different rules for the behavior of men than those he gives to women. In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women are forbidden to “teach or assume authority over men.” Finally, the rulers of the church, elders and bishops, must be men (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).
I am sure Sarah will wish to challenge my use of these texts, and Gloria will view them as manifestations of patriarchal culture to be dismissed summarily. But neo-patriarchs do not believe these texts should be dismissed as benighted or interpreted in a way that makes them irrelevant to our contemporary setting. For sure, allowances must be made for our very different cultures, clothing styles, educational levels, the leveling effect of technology and more, but nature has not changed. The core insight of patriarchal ethics remains true, that is, since women cannot rule men (except by social convention, a subject for a later talk), the guidelines for the behavior of women must differ from those governing men. And in a Christian setting, the motivation for the restrictions on the behavior of women, however imperfectly embodied, is protective love, which seeks the best for each person, given their natural and historical circumstances.
What about the contemporary church? Should the church maintain the New Testament’s restrictions unchanged? Or should the church, as the evangelical egalitarians insist, erase traditional distinctions? Should it open all offices and functions to women? In contrast to all negative stereotypes, neo-patriarchs do not mindlessly wish to preserve specific role differentiations simply because they are traditional and made sense in the past. We believe Scripture’s restrictions were intended for the good of women and men and for welfare of the whole church. They were designed to affirm the goodness of the created differences between male and female, to protect women from bad men, and to keep the ecclesial order aligned with the natural family order. And we believe these truths and goals are just as important and obligatory today as they were in the First Century.
Women are not the natural rulers of men. Men know this, and women know it too. Hence the church must maintain some form of continued role differentiation to make sure that the church’s social order does not contradict the natural, created family order. To be specific, we don’t think women should be appointed to ruling offices, whatever those happen to be in your denomination, for example, preaching minister, priest, executive minister, bishop or elder. The church maintains these distinctions for the sake of true justice and enlightened love, for men and women. For nothing but sorrow and pain can come from fighting against the Creator and the created order. But the exact shape of the ecclesial order must work itself out over time. Some churches will move toward the egalitarian position and others will try to maintain the scriptural restrictions unchanged as if time and circumstances make no difference.
Egalitarians ignore nature and come close to denying the goodness of the Creator for the sake of their abstract principle of equality. Traditionalists mistake faithfulness to the past for faithfulness to God. Secular feminists attempt to replace the Creator with their own will to power. Nature will eventually recoil on those that deny or ignore its laws. And we believe that the church, even if she strays in the short term, will be granted the wisdom to return to a balanced position in the long run. The gentle but constant voices of Scripture, reason and nature will eventually be heard above the den of tortured, whimpering and demanding voices clamoring for versions of equality, justice and rights uprooted from nature and history, impractical and abstract.
Moderator: Thank you Abraham for this presentation. I am sure our audience found it challenging and a bit surprising. Now that we have all three views before us, we will allow each of our dialogue partners to respond to the others and in turn defend themselves from those critiques. In this way, we hope to clear the ground of all extraneous and superficial differences and get to the most fundamental disagreements, that is, to those places where our most basic values and beliefs tilt us in one direction or another.
Well done! This is about as sophisticated a presentation of Abraham’s position as could be desired, I believe. It is certainly true that Paul’s revolution statement of “no Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female” doesn’t immediately entail the overthrow of their respective social institutions. As has been well remarked upon by progressive critical scholars, Paul did not insist that Philemon free Onesimus nor bind up the early Christian movement in abolitionist causes. Now we shall have to see what interesting dialogue emerges in subsequent Q&A!
Thanks! I hope that by presenting clear, well-reasoned arguments from each of these three positions, I can help people to get to the bottom of the disagreements. From that foundation, perhaps people of good will, lovers of truth, can seek some sort of way forward.
I’m really enjoying the format. An excellent way to portray the approaches. Thank you.
“The gentle but constant voices of Scripture, reason and nature will eventually be heard above the den of tortured, whimpering and demanding voices clamoring for versions of equality, justice and rights uprooted from nature and history, impractical and abstract.”
My favorite of “Abraham’s” quotes. I echo the sentiments above–loving the format and clarity of this dialogue!
Thank you, Sara. Your assessment carries weight with me!
I passionately disagree with Abraham. I won’t try to hide that in my comments here.
“We don’t think women should be appointed to ruling offices, whatever those happen to be in your denomination, for example, preaching minister, priest, executive minister, bishop or elder. The church maintains these distinctions for the sake of true justice and enlightened love, for men and women. For nothing but sorrow and pain can come from fighting against the Creator and the created order.” There are responsible, compassionate, resilient, and assertive women who might thrive in any leadership position, including those in ministry. Abraham wants to exclude them based on what? “Nature”? “The created order”? Abstractions! Human conceptions every bit as nebulous as our modern notions of equality.
Biology knows things like testosterone, the SRY gene, higher sex drives, territoriality, physical strength and competitive instincts. These things were preserved because they were advantageous to the flourishing of pre-civilized humans. They don’t come prepared with value judgments or tell us what would be best for a modern community. One may just as well argue that the Christian virtue of chastity is “contrary to nature” and that Iron Age Yahwists were more faithful to the natural order by allowing polygyny.
Why passionately? Against what moral truth has Abraham blasphemed? For the most part I will wait until Abraham gets another turn, to help him respond to such charges. Just a few indications of how he might respond.
One of Abraham’s major points is that the ethics of male/female relationships that societies developed over the millennia cannot be merely dismissed as irrational and evil or judged wholly by what modern people desire. Social structures have root in the natural condition of human beings. How could they ever escape it completely? These structures made some sense in the cultures in which they were developed. Now, if this point is granted, the debate is on about how much and in what ways the given, native condition of human beings–apart from technology, moral rules and social structures–still impact social arrangements. Abraham would count showing the necessity and rationality of this debate as an accomplishment of his argument.
Abraham recognizes the difference between the natural order and the social order. By the natural order he does not mean anything abstract. He means the empirical observable characteristics of human beings as biological beings nested in the reproductive order of male/female/child. This natural order underlies all social orders. We live within a highly rationalized and bureaucratized society. Abraham asserts that there is a difference between a natural ruler and a bureaucratic manager. Insofar as institutions are bureaucracies, managers become impersonal enforcers of rules. The personal qualities of the manager matter less. Other institutions remain closer to the natural family and tend to model its social order, which is based less on rules than on personal bonds.
Your point about biological characteristics not coming with “value judgments” is correct. Morality is not a biological category. But moral rules must deal with the real world and part of that world is biological. So, the debate returns to the point above. How to moralize the continuing differences? From where do moral principle come? Experience? Abraham would say that the experience of billions of people over tens of thousands of years about how to order human relationships should not be dismissed lightly…based on abstract principles like equality.
Abraham is more than willing to admit that modern technological culture has equalized men and women in many areas. But women don’t carry guns everywhere they go to protect themselves against rapists. Even if women can drive trucks, tanks, and other industrial machines as easily as men, they still go home at night to their boyfriends and husbands. Abraham wishes to affirm a society that takes into account that women are subjected more often and are more vulnerable to sexual violence than men, that women get pregnant, have babies and nurse them, that women (and men) need their privacy, and many more. A society that failed to take these differences into account but demanded one set of rules for everyone would not be a just society; it would be unjust.
There is a personal history behind the impassioned response (connected with my and others’ experiences in the Church of Christ tradition) and I consequently rushed out my comment. I am enjoying the series, though something about this character got under my skin. I suspect Gloria was the same way for some of your other readers. I want to give this issue the thoughtful response it deserves so I will be quiet and listen.
All I say for now is this: Any just society should take the increased physical vulnerability of women into account in its social rules. But I don’t see how we get from there to women being excluded as a whole from roles that have little to do with that characteristic (e.g. leadership).
I understand completely the seeming non sequitur from making some allowances for the differences between men and women and excluding women from offices simply because the officer supervises men. As I said in the previous comment, my minimum aim is to show that some differences in social rules for women and those for men have or could have a rational basis. Many critics of traditional culture dismiss everything about it as irrational, even at its origin. Once we find agreement that differences in roles could have a rational basis, we can have a rational discussion about which ones actually make sense today. And in different institutions, such as the church–which I understand you have no sympathy for. I get that–the rationality of the rules could be different given their constitutions and presuppositions. For example, Sarah and Abraham make theological assumptions that Gloria does not. Abraham and Sarah can have a rational discussion about whose viewpoint possesses the most inner coherence, given their common framework. Abraham and Sarah cannot use their theological presuppositions to criticize Gloria. They will have to find assumptions that Gloria shares with them and judge her by those.