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Jesus Creed


Are Women Human? 1 (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

We’ve had extensive conversations on this blog on the issue of women in
ministry. The topic comprises the last third of Scot’s book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible
, and is at the root of many of the contemporary conflicts within our church, including those over tribal translations.  I generally stay on the periphery of these discussion because they always leave me feeling sick – and just a little dirty.

But this is an issue that we cannot avoid – not in the context of “Christian Virtue”: and not in the context of “Missional Campus Ministry.” One of the most potent criticisms of the church within the academy is directed at the view of women presented by some who purpose to speak for the church – for God – on this matter. As a Christian, a scientist, an academic, and a woman – I find this conflict particularly troubling.  I have been asked how I can be a thinking woman and a Christian much more often than I have been asked how I can be a scientist and a Christian.

Sayers.jpg

A few weeks ago Scot posted a series in Chris Armstrong’s book  Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future.  The final “saint” Armstrong highlighted was Dorothy Sayers, a woman many know as the author of the still popular Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels … but who also translated Dante and wrote on theology. Dorothy Sayers was an amazing woman, a trailblazer, and a great thinker. She was far from perfect – but that only makes her human.  Or does it? 

There is a short volume Are Women Human? containing two essays by Sayers on this very topic.  Anyone who reads both this book and her novel Gaudy Night will immediately recognize the coherence of her overall view.

I am going to put up a few posts on this book over the next week or so, focused on some of  Sayers’ key points. Today  I would like to put forward a brief excerpt from this book and open the floor for discussion.

We are all human. The first premise of Dorothy Sayers in these essays is quite simple. We are all human first  and deserve to be taken first and foremost as individual human beings.  Depending on context male or female may, or may not, be the most important secondary descriptor. Sayers’ view is grounded in her self understanding, her experience, and her view of both Jesus and God.

Toward the end of her essay The Human-Not-Quite-Human Sayers gives an interesting view of Jesus (and a quite harsh view of the Church).  This is where I would like to start the discussion.

God, of course, may have his own opinion, but the Church is reluctant to endorse it. I think that I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Martha and Mary that did not attempt, somehow, somewhere, to explain away its text. Mary’s of course was the better part – the Lord said so and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt He approved of her too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God’s opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her. For Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple, male or female; and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Perhaps it is no wonder that women were the first at the Cradle and the last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words or deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.

But we might easily deduce it from his contemporaries, and from His prophets before Him, and from His Church to this day. Women are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human; let them say what they like, we will not believe it, though One rose from the dead. (p. 46-47 from 1981 printing)

Wow – quite a no-holds-barred statement. As Sayers sees it the Jesus of the gospels, the divine Son of God, treats women as first, foremost, and solely human. No qualifiers, no caveats. The Church got it wrong.

What do you think of Sayers’ description of Jesus and his view of and approach toward women?  Does she get it right?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Ed Gentry

posted October 15, 2009 at 7:30 am


I know these are all well rehearsed but suffer a replay.
In John 20 Mary Magdalene is the very first witness of the risen Christ, she is therefore in some senses the first apostle?
Beyond debate the first and only (known) authorized interpreter of Romans was Phoebe.



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David Zimmerman

posted October 15, 2009 at 7:59 am


I continue to marvel that this is an issue . . .
It strikes me that this is another example of privileging the abstract in scripture over the concrete, that statements were more normative than conduct. So regardless of how many women Paul allowed to speak in church, his comment “I do not allow women to speak in church” gets taken as the final word.



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rebeccat

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:05 am


I wrote some stuff about women and the bible on my blog a year or two ago. Some of the feedback I got was just heartbreaking. I had a couple of young, Christian women who wrote to me saying that they felt so demeaned and boxed into someplace they weren’t made to fit by the church and it’s teachings on women that it was affecting their faith. I don’t think that men who insist on these sorts of views have any real idea what it is like to be a woman on the receiving end of a complimentarian perspective. It really does make one feel less than fully human. I and many other women have struggled with deep anger at God for putting us into these less than human bodies which relegate us to subordination and the limiting of our full capabilities in church and family settings. Fortunately, with deep study of scriptures I discovered that the female inferior, subordinate view I had been taught was not the only possible interpretation of the word.
The thing that I have often wondered at is that there is clearly the possibility of faithful interpretations of scripture which allow for full personhood and equality of women. Yes, there is also the possibility of a faithful interpretation which limits women and their role in life and church. However, given that there are legitimate arguments to be made from both sides, what compels people to look at the two arguments and insist that the only correct one is the one which limits women? What is so important about the subordination of women that even when given a solid, faithful out there are many who will not or cannot let go of the female subordinate interpretation? This I cannot understand.
And I think that Ms. Sayers is correct in her view of Jesus’ interactions with women. In the context of the culture, they were radical and shocking. They do not betray the “good women know their place” attitude that many in the church insist is scriptural. I would go so far as to say that they weren’t a quirk of his ministry, but part and parcel of his ministry to bring God’s redemption to creation.



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Diane

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:07 am


Ed,
Having written about Mary Magdalene and her supporters frequently as a religion reporter, I would say the evidence is quite strong that she was the first apostle; the RC church itself calls her “the apostle to the apostles.” those who are against giving women a stronger role in the church go to great lengths, however, to undermine her status. Two arguments used against her: being a “deaonness” was not the same as being a deacon: in its female incarnation it was merely another word for a servant or helpmeet. Second, the fact that she went back and reported to the other disciples that the tomb was empty shows she acted in the proper deferential role: she saw and reported (good female!) and let the men interpret. The first contention I don’t know enough to argue, the second makes no sense to me: Was she supposed to take to the streets immediately and proclaim a message? I can’t imagine how a man would have acted differently.
The following resonates powerfully, and I am saddened that all these years later it still rings so true to me about how women are treated in the church with subtle put downs–RJS, could we get a publication date on this essay?–
“[Jesus} never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us?” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words or deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”



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Steve S

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:30 am


Wouldn’t asking them to ‘take an out’ be asking them to violate their conscience?
Godly men and women disagree with your exegesis.
Should we disparage them as we differ with their interpretation?
I would hope the fact that I have wrestled with this issue before coming to a conclusion would not be grounds for labeling me an ape? Isn’t it a virtue to allow scripture to define beliefs, rather than the opposite?



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Your Name

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:32 am


These kinds of speculations of course are expected in a post-modern urban society with low birth-rates.
God has knit maleness and femaleness into creation and is in the process of redeeming it through the power of the age to come. Of course these academic women feel constrained by the complimentarian perspective. They would be constrained raising eight children on the frontier in 1800 too.
And Jesus would be just as liberating, probably more so.



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karen

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:54 am


My first reaction to Sayers is as a writer. Her prose is witty, poetic and sharp. My next thought is that forget how the church treats women — look at the world treats us. I’m much more comfortable dealing with the knuckleheads within the church than I am dealing with the kind of inane notions of women portrayed by Hollywood and oh say, Ralph Lauren.
That said, I’ve always suspected God had a grudge against his mama. Now that I’m in menopause, I know he does.
I wish He’d just gotten therapy instead of taking it out on all us human women.



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Kate

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:04 am


I live in a culture not dissimilar to 1st century Palastine. It gives me a whole new perspective on Mary. If this story happened here, Martha would not just be upset that Mary was “shirking the work”, she would be shocked, mortified that Mary was acting shamelessly in entering the male part of the house and putting herself in a strictly male role, “sitting at the feet of” (studying under)a respected teacher. This brought shame on Mary, and shamed the teacher, who should have been grateful for Martha’s euphemistic “tell her to help me!” to rid himself of this embarrassing upstart woman. To reaffirm proper gender boundaries. He didn’t. He affirmed Mary’s discipleship.



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rebeccat

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:09 am


Steve S, when I say, “take an out”, I don’t mean compromise faithfulness to scripture. I mean that when one has an opportunity to let go of an interpretation which is demeaning to half of God’s human creation WITHOUT compromising faithfulness to scriptures, why wouldn’t that be something people would jump at?
The way I see it, the very least we can say is that there are strong arguments on both sides of the issue. No honest, thinking person can claim that one position is clearly supported by scriptures and the other is not. Both have a good amount of weight to them, so it is impossible not to add in one’s own presumptions, desires, cultural influences, etc in order to decide which argument is correct. My challenge is to stop claiming that it is simply faithfulness to scripture which drives the female subordinate position. Faithfulness to scripture can also give rise to the opposite position. Therefore, let’s look at the presumptions, desires, cultural influences, etc which lead people to prefer the female subordinate argument.
As to women who accept complimentarian perspectives, that’s not in the least bit surprising or unusual. In any culture where women are subjected to practices which leave them inferior, it is usually older women who are the strongest proponents of those practices. I homeschool and know many women who hold these sorts of view. And despite the fact that I am a stay-at-home wife who takes care of the home, kids and husband, just like they do, they cannot stand me. From the outside, the boundaries of my life look just like theirs. However, they restrain themselves in their speech and manners and dress as is proper for women to do. They struggle to sit under men who are often dysfunctional at best and must shove those part of themselves that protest deeper and deeper. It took me a long time and some deep conversations with these women to learn that the freedom I have is threatening to many of them and that’s why they can’t stand me. Without even bringing up the topic of female subordination, they are threatened by the free way I speak, the free back and forth between my husband and I which is apparent to anyone who sees us together. They don’t know what to make of the lack of constraint that I operate with. It’s almost like they are making themselves smaller and smaller in order to be who they have been told they must be and they don’t know what to do with someone whose family life and relationships make them bigger and bigger. I have often felt like I while I am busy discovering and becoming who I am in Christ they are busy trying to shape themselves into who they have been told they are, whether it actually fits or not. Any part of themselves that doesn’t neatly comply with who they have been told women are is seen as pride or worldly or false aspirations – even if it is a gift God has given them to be developed! Now, any one of these women would argue passionately for a complimentarian perspective, and would insist that they do not feel demeaned, but cared for. They frequently talk about recognizing and respecting their own limitations as part of this world view. But no woman who knew true freedom in Christ to serve and be served and to be neither over or under anyone would trade places with a one of them. So, yes I know that there are women who push this POV as well, but I don’t put too much stock in that.



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JudyP

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:31 am


Rebeccat – Thank you for so eloquently stating my view. Although I am not in a relationship, I aspire to be part of a couple that GROWS together, not one where one party must shrink to fit the definition of a woman as defined by a man who may or may not be interpreting scripture purely…more likely, is filtering that interpretation through dysfunctional cultural norms and his own insecurities. To allow any human to impose their definition of God onto another is antithetical to Jesus’ intent for us to follow Him (not ‘him’).



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Travis Greene

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:40 am


That is a powerful quote.
I would be comforted by the idea that once a generation or two dies off, this won’t be an issue, but I know in many segments of the church that isn’t true.



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RJS

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:04 am


Diane,
The book contains two essays – the first a lecture delivered in 1938, the second has no date given but from context (it refers to bombardments and war work) I think it was during WWII. It was certainly prior to 1947 when it first appeared in a larger collection of Sayers’ essays. The quote in the post today is the conclusion of the second essay.



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Mike

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:27 am


I just read part of that Sayers quote last week in studying this very issue. And I’m asking for grace as I respond from a complimentarian position which seems to be the minority here. And let me say I really appreciate this post and responses so far.
I struggle listening to the despairing description that a woman living in a complimentarian church/marriage is not free. That exact wording wasn’t used here, but the opposite was. That a woman didn’t experience freedom until coming out from under such oppressive views. The woman I know that hold to complimentarian views express great freedom in yielding such responsibility (described in this post as being subordinate). And the description given by rebeccat is one I see often, and is one that my wife and I speak against aften, it is not a Biblical complimentarian view.
Another point I’ll make is from Sayers view that Jesus treated woman as human. I get her point and accept it, but also drag my foot. I drag my foot because its impossible to separate my maleness from my humanity as much as its impossible to separate my wife’s femaleness from her humanity. I don’t believe Jesus can look at either of us and see us simply as human. That’s not how he created us.
Let me illustrate it this way. I heard a black man (he referred to himself as black) say he hates it when people look at him and say, “When I look at you, I don’t see a black man, I just see a man.” He responds, “That’s funny, because when I look in the mirror I see a black man!” His point was in an age of overcoming racial sins, we’ve gone so far as to ignore the very beauty that God has created in racial diversity. I think the same thing applies to the beauty of sexual diversity.
Thanks for the grace to listen.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:42 am


While raised with some fairly traditional values about family, I was never raised with the idea that women couldn’t or shouldn’t lead, or that women couldn’t be pastors or church leaders (though there weren’t many.) I’ve never been a part of congregation that did not at least say they were inclusive of women in leadership.
However, I’ve had multiple opportunities to be in Bible studies or other settings where women’s subordination was the strong norm. Not being a woman, I obviously can’t fully relate to what its like to be one but my experience is that this stuff takes a heavy toll on many men as well.
I realize there is a continuum of complementarianism from hard to soft. I know men who have grown up complementarian and no longer are. Those that come from hard comp. usually talk of being lifted from such a oppressive role, and those from a soft position usually comment that are finally able to see their theology come in line with what they were pragmatically living.
In short, I guess I’m saying that the question “Are women human?” isn’t just a women’s issue. :-)



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Ed Gentry

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:49 am


I always find it odd how the complimentarians create an entire theology of sexuality around a particular reading of *one single text*



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dopderbeck

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:49 am


I think this is at least partly and in some significant ways unfair, given the Church’s historic devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus. We low church evangelicals just don’t get the Catholic and Orthodox devotion to Mary. Obviously we can critique all sorts of ways in which Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology perhaps didn’t fully assimilate the implications of Mariology into their practices. But it’s impossible, it seems to me, to ascribe a “sub-human” view of women when Mary is so revered and adored.



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rebeccat

posted October 15, 2009 at 10:59 am


Mike,
trust me, I am fully female and have often railed against the view that gender is a social construct. I am NOT a male with alternate genitalia! The choice is not between pretending gender doesn’t exist and assigning gender roles. In truth, I doubt that we will ever see as many women in many leadership positions as men are, no matter how egalitarian we are if for no other reason than that the pull of motherhood on women is so powerful and time-consuming (I could be wrong, of course). However, knowing that I am female and that female is not the same as male is not in the least the same as saying that my place is to be uniquely subordinate to my husband or that I cannot be called by God to lead in a church setting.
Like your wife, I have put myself in a subordinate position by constructing a family where my husband earns money and I don’t (at least for now). However, my husband has put himself in a subordinate position by depending on me to be the primary caretaker of his children, home and money. He depends on me no less than I depend on him. As a matter of fact, when I began to come out from under a complimentarian pov, I found the idea of being subordinate or submissive repugnant because of all the baggage that had been piled onto it. However, as I watched my husband, I began to understand what Godly submission is. My husband submits to me by bringing home the money he works so hard to make and handing it over to me to manage. (A man who demanded that his wife work and give him her money to spend could well be seen as a tyrant.) My husband submits to me by letting me have my way on things that matter more to me than they do to him, even if they are not his preference. He submits to me by seeking my opinion and thoughts on things because he recognizes that in certain areas, my wisdom is usually greater than his. And he didn’t submit out of a sense of inferiority or because it was his role or job to. He didn’t do it as indulgences to me as if I were a child allowed to pick what we were having for dinner. He did it out of love, respect for the unique ways that God had equipped me and a desire to serve as a Christian ought to serve. In the end, I learned how to submit by watching my husband do it. Saying that it is uniquely the wife’s job to submit is like saying that only husbands have to love. Of course, wives need to love their husbands – just as any Christian needs to love others! So why when it comes to submission, is that the wife’s job even though we are all clearly called to submit to each other?
At any rate, one of my biggest problems with the complimentarian pov is that it presumes to know what sort of person God has made us and for what sort of work we are fit for not on the basis of who we actually are, but simply on the basis of gender. And this view holds even in the face of clear evidence that sometimes God does call women to lead and teach and sit at Jesus’ feet just like a man. If even God’s work cannot contradict what you already believe, then there is something seriously wrong.
The whole point of the Mary/Martha story from the gender relations perspective isn’t that Jesus saw Mary as human and therefor her femaleness went away. It was that he did not see her femaleness as being in conflict with taking on the fullness of being human – including being in those places which were supposed to belong to men. I think that the message isn’t that male and female don’t matter to who we are, but that male and female don’t determine where we find our place in the world.



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RJS

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:05 am


dopderbeck,
Yes, but… In the RCC and I expect in the EOC Mary is valued as “mother” and, in fact, is not allowed to “get her hands dirty.” Perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, glorious assumption, Protoevangelium of James, … all play into this. So she is certainly not “sub-human” but neither is she allowed to be human.
I think that Scot’s book “The Real Mary” makes her human. (I confess I have not read the book, I’ve only listened to talks about and participated in the blog discussions he held as he was writing it.)



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Scot McKnight

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:07 am


There is one text in the Bible that “describes” a marital relationship — Song of Songs. If that is “submission” fine. Until submission means what we read there it is not fine or biblical.



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Diane

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:25 am


Your name,
I think that regardless of whether your position is complementarian or equalitarian, respect to women is not strained. In other words, I would like to see fewer of the ministerial dudes making little jokes at the pulpit or on the stage, or snide remarks at the expense of women. From what I can see, there’s still a boys’ club atmosphere in some churches, including emerging. I’d rather deal with the sexism straight up. Sometimes I think the more conservative churches treat women with more respect than the newer churches. But fundamentally, the shift will come, when like Jesus,men get comfortable with women.



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Mike

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:49 am


Rebeccat,
Thanks for your response. I respond with trepidation because I think blog discussions/arguments miss the heart of the people speaking, which only face to face conversation holds for us. So I read you knowning that I’m missing some of the heart of yourself and I hope you read me the same way.
In response to your thoughts, “At any rate, one of my biggest problems with the complimentarian pov is that it presumes to know what sort of person God has made us and for what sort of work we are fit for not on the basis of who we actually are, but simply on the basis of gender.”
Can’t it be said of the egal pov just the opposite? I’m asking honestly here. Can’t I say (partly theoretically) that you as an egal. presume to know that God wouldn’t prescribe different roles on the basis of gender even if one was subordinate (your word not mine).
And also, “If even God’s work cannot contradict what you already believe, then there is something seriously wrong.” This is an assumption of yours that the sitting at Jesus’ feet is equal to teaching and that the exception (you used “sometimes”) is God’s normative rule or work. Our (including mine) assumptions are always landmines in reading God’s word.
Thanks for your gracious listening and response. In Christ.



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Your Name

posted October 15, 2009 at 11:59 am


I would caution those who use “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” as sticks with which to hit, impale, and magically demonize others, to use caution. There is especially a lot of misrepresentation of what complimentarian necessarily means in this thread (and I’ve seen egalitarianism misrepresented elsewhere). In truth, there is a continuum upon which good supportable arguments can be made is it relates to the ontological nature of manness and womanness and how that affects ecclesiology.
Scot,
Could you expand your idea a little better on what SoS says about submission and how that’s fine? I suspect in one sense you’re referring to the act of intercourse as submission, but I find SoS delightfully difficult to work through with a view towards the relationship model precisely beacuse they make mistakes towards each other. I’ve always found comfort in the idea of submission as presented in Ephesians, which is to say a complete and mutual submission, as being defensible and desirable.



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rebeccat

posted October 15, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Mike,
re: “Can’t it be said of the egal pov just the opposite? I’m asking honestly here. Can’t I say (partly theoretically) that you as an egal. presume to know that God wouldn’t prescribe different roles on the basis of gender even if one was subordinate (your word not mine).”
I don’t think the opposite works. If a complementarian says that God does put us into particular roles via our gender, I can point to people who are clearly called by God to do work that doesn’t fit into those roles. For you to say that I can’t accept that God assigns people to certain roles via gender, we would need to see almost uniform, happy conformity to those roles while I insisted that even though God hasn’t called people to behave otherwise, He can. (Not sure I just explained that right!) The point being that my statement that God calls people to work that doesn’t fit with gender roles the church has promoted is well supported by real life. The idea that God does expect us to fit into gender roles put forth by the church is in conflict with what we see around us, imo.
I think that there is a real problem with taking what is generally normative (say women showing more interest in childrearing than men or men working to support families, for example) and saying that these are God assigned roles, then burdening them with labels like “submissive” or “head”. First of all, these are obviously not anywhere near universal norms. What are people who are not called into these sorts of roles supposed to do in the Christian worldview? Secondly, by placing differing labels on male and female behaviors, even when they are largely just manifestations of the same things, there is a real tendency to skew the whole relationship. “Care-taking” or even “servant-leader” have very different connotations than “submission” or “subordinate”. And the placing of one human over another except very conditionally like in human governance, is just an invitation for all the worst of human sin to come out. It is not an accident that the leader/submissive pattern in families is so often abused and misused. It’s the normal result of putting such labels onto human relationships. So, yes, there are tendencies in male and female relationships which anyone can see. But making them universal, God decreed norms and then putting labels on them that carry power connotations is a recipe for ungodly disaster, imo.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm


The anonymous poster at #6 seems to think that this discussion is a modern phenomenon. If I have misunderstood the intention of that post, then I extend my apologies. In any event, this seems to be a popular misconception. In fact, there are been various debates about the proper role of women within Christianity for about as long as there have been Christians. One particular example that I’ve spent a lot of time with is a 1666 piece by Quaker Margaret Fell, commonly referred to as “Women’s Speaking Justified.” It can be found on the web, but if I may indulge in a little self-serving advertising, I’ve worked through the archaic English to put together a “Modern English” version which may be purchased at Lulu.com. (Here’s a direct link: http://twurl.nl/pyajjr)
Either way, I think it’s important to recognize that this conversation has been going on for a very long time.



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Travis Greene

posted October 15, 2009 at 12:56 pm


Michael @ 14,
Good point. I certainly don’t want to sidetrack this important discussion into whining about how tough men have it, but the complementarian view has negative consequences for men as well as women. For women, if you don’t submit, you are rebellious. For men, if you aren’t the alpha-dog, take-charge type, your masculinity is subtly or explicitly questioned, and you are seen as AWOL from your rightful post (martial imagery intended).



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rebeccat

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:05 pm


And for the record, I am aware that I am reacting to and writing to a form of complimentarianism which is not the very best that that belief system has to offer. However, it is the one that I see at work in practice most often. I know that there are other complimentarians who feel their perspective should be judged and dealt with according to a much more ideal working of things. However, if ideals cannot be translated into reality fairly consistently, then perhaps the ideals are off. I do know and understand that there are those people who because they are particularly Godly and good people can make the complimentarian perspective work in a way which isn’t particularly oppressive or demeaning. However, I also think that people who are particularly Godly and good can make almost any system, no matter how objectively wrong, work. It’s not an endorsement of the system, but of the good people involved in it. And since I also do not think that a complimentarian perspective has more support from scriptures, particularly the gospels and rest of the NT, than a more egalitarian one, I don’t feel bound to strive towards an “ideal” that I think is unworkable for most people in practice.
Also, please forgive me for not couching what I have to say with more caveats, grace and niceties. It’s not that I don’t intend them, but I’m writing things in between caring for kids, running errands, etc. Time kind of dictates that to participate in a conversation, I’ll have to strip it down to the essentials.



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dopderbeck

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:19 pm


Scot (#19) — true, and I’ve suggested to my wife that her “life verse” should be Song of Songs 8:10, but she prefers Prov. 31 because that gives her control over the checkbook. And we never, never bring up Prov. 27:15.



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Elizabeth Esther

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm


Rebeccat,
I agree. If the ideal cannot be translated into real-life practicalities, I reject it.
The funny thing is, my husband and I never have conversations about whether or not we’re complementarian, egalitarian, Master/Slave or whatever.
Our guiding principle is to treat each other with HONOR. That’s it.
I mean, isn’t that really what Jesus was getting at? Treating each other with honor?
Frankly, it’s why I DO appreciate the Catholic Church’s veneration of Mary. She’s considered Christ’s first disciple. Evangelicals (big E or little e) have a difficult time with Mary. I get this. I did, too.
Most Protestants just ignore her altogether.
But if we downplay Mary’s importance through indifference, wouldn’t it follow that we would downplay the importance of all women? If the very mother of Jesus Christ gets such short shrift in evangelical, emerging, non-denominational circles–how should ANY woman expect to be treated any better?
Lastly, I would agree with an earlier comment that pointed out that sometimes the worst oppressors of women are not men–but other women. This has truly been my own experience as well.
The harshest, most judgmental, most unkind words I ever received were not from a man.
But from an older woman. Men might hold a woman down physically. But a woman holds another woman down with her words. I think words are stronger chains than arms.



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Diane

posted October 15, 2009 at 3:01 pm


I want to reinforce that Mary can make life difficult for the rest of women, as she is the ultimate virgin AND mother, and also, in the RC trad., born of a virgin. She reinforces the virgin/whore dichotomy that is prevalent in our culture.



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RJS

posted October 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm


Mike,
I’ve read your comment several times (#13) – about separating maleness and femaleness from humanity – and that isn’t the point. None of us can be divided into separable compartments – we are united wholes. There are many aspects of you that cannot be separated from your humanity and maleness is one of those – but humanity transcends all of them. This is Sayers point and mine. (Of course we also need to realize that maleness and femaleness are not quite binary either – there are genetic and environmental factors that can place the identity of individuals ion a continuum. But all of these people are fully human.)
Taking a different tack – think about the traits that you consider masculine – and then how many of them are really “human” rather than “male” – characteristic of some subset of the population in general.
It is frequently pointed out that males are better at analytical abstract thinking, at math and physics, than females. It is also pointed out that women are more relational than men. Both of these statements may very well be true – but nonetheless these kinds of traits are “human” not “male” or “female”.
As it happens I am better at math than 99% of both males and females – I teach quantum theory, and would rather read about ancient Sumer, theology, (or even a book with equations!) than a romance novel. This doesn’t make me less female (or a defective female) – it is simply a reflection of my specific mix of humanity.
Human first – female yes, but this doesn’t define all and certainly doesn’t put me in a neat little box.



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dopderbeck

posted October 15, 2009 at 4:03 pm


RJS (#30) – I’d argue that there’s definitely something “inhuman” about scoring in the 99th percentile on math tests and teaching quantum physics, but that is because I have trouble even with long division. ;-)



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Peter

posted October 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm


I have watched a number of people wrestle with this issue and there is a pattern among some that must be noted. Typically, for example, evangelicals brought up with the understanding that a woman must submit to her husband in a way that is not reciprocal (complementarian?) I have seen come to the Scriptures, recognize what rebeccat has described as the possibility to support different interpretations based on that same Scripture and then make the decision (male or female) to choose the more conservative/traditional reading (complementarian) clearly with the motivation of fear of being wrong, fear of God being unhappy with them. This drawing of large boundaries around what we read in Scripture “to be safe” is a time-tested approach, for sure, but what does it say about one’s perception of the God you serve? I believe that I have seen this fear in many people when it comes to issues related to women’s roles at home and in the church and lots of other issues at well. It is important to recognize when that contributes to your decision-making.



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Dana Ames

posted October 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm


Diane @29,
Mary is *not* believed to have been born of a virgin in RC tradition.
If you are referencing “Immaculate Conception”, that is the belief that Mary was born without “original sin” (the guilt for Adam’s sin of disobedience at the fall), not about the condition of her own mother. In other words, Mary was “clean” by an act of God’s grace, so that Jesus would be able to be born of a woman whose human nature was not tainted, and therefore his human nature was not tainted with sin.
If you meant something else, please forgive me for assuming.
It’s true that an unbalanced view of Mary makes things hard for women. I appreciate Scot’s point about “What kind of woman would compose the Magnificat?”, and that she had to be very strong in her trust of God. Few people understand how much she suffered. Those who have lost beloved children come the closest, I think.
Dana



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Tami

posted October 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm


Does anyone have any thoughts about Bruce Ware’s comments (I don’t have links, but google or CMBW might be good places to look) about men and women and the imago dei. If I understand correctly, he believes and teaches that men are the direct, unmediated, image of God. However, as woman was made from man instead of dirt, she is a mediated image of God. The concepts of a reflection or the idea of the moon (reflected light rather than it’s own light) seem to be the closest I can come up with. But either way, it utterly flabergasts me that in 21st century America someone is suggesting that men and women are not made in the same image of God.



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Darren King

posted October 15, 2009 at 8:45 pm


RJS, the fact that this issue even has to be debated in the 21st century leads me to the title for your next post:
“Are Christians humane?”
I’m with rebeccat. Why do people cling to old, worn ideas when better, scripturally supported positions exist? And yes, I do think calling women equal is “better”. Call me an absolutist in that regard.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:11 pm


Tammy #34
Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
I don’t know what Ware’s take is but this surely seems to indicate that female is not some derivative image.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted October 15, 2009 at 9:35 pm


“Equal” is an adjective that needs a noun. Some complementarians accuse egalitarians of wanting to eliminate all distinction because nouns are not given, which I think is sometimes a deliberate misrepresentation of what they know egalitarians mean, but we would do well to be clear about what we mean be equal.
My understanding is that we are equal in those aspects that make us distinctly human … those aspects we have in common with God and set us apart from everything else: Reason, discernment, love, empathy, volition, dominion … to lead and to be led be others. Whatever differences there are, they are equally a result of being in the image of God and meant for the shalom of humanity in all these areas … including leading.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:05 am


I’ve debated through most of the day (and through an evening playing WoW with my younger son — though I guess at almost 18, that’s a relative phrase) whether I wanted to comment at all on this thread or not. Reading the post and the comments, I have had so many thoughts and things I would say if I were sitting and talking with friends. But that doesn’t translate well to this medium and I’ve wondered if I could say anything without mis-speaking. I’ve finally decided to try to summarize a few of my thoughts in separate comments at the tail end of the thread. If anyone is still interested and wants to engage them, that’s fine. If not, then my thoughts probably don’t fit the thread very well.
My first thought was historical and drew from this statement in RJS’ post. “The Church got it wrong.” Well … sometimes? Sure. But the reality is much more complicated and messy than that. I came to Christianity with a fair amount of knowledge about ancient Greece, ancient Rome, medieval Europe, and other historical periods. It’s always been one of my interests. Most ancient and medieval cultures (and some even in the present day) were, by our standards, utterly brutal in their treatment of women. They were, in some cases, less valued than prized animals. Even in the better situations, they were still pretty much property.
You cannot study history without recognizing that in those cultures, the Church most often stood against the culture and for the women. Oh, I can come up with plenty of anecdotes when they didn’t. The Church, after all, is made up of broken people shaped within particular cultures. But more often, even when they did not reach what we would consider “equal” treatment, they were a haven for women and they did stand against the cultural norms.
So I would tend to say that, much of the time, the Church was moving in the right direction. It really does stand out.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:18 am


My next reaction was to rebeccat. Even if you have not experienced the “best” the Protestant “complimentarian” world has to offer, I don’t believe you have any caveats or apologies to offer. For the past decade and a half my wife and I have been serious participants in a particular SBC Church that probably is among the best that perspective has to offer. Certainly (as I have discovered from others) it is very different from the “typical” SBC Church. And, in truth, had they been like what I have since learned is more normal for SBC Churches in general, certainly within complementarianism, and definitely within that Protestant oddity called “patriarchy”, my wife and I would have been gone in months. This was “soft” enough that we didn’t even notice it at first and when we gradually did we could just ignore it with little more than mild annoyance.
We assumed that what we taught and modeled for our children is what they would absorb, especially since they were with us much more than they were involved in explicit church activities. Gradually we came to realize that, for whatever reason, religious communities in which they are placed by their family seem to have a greater influence on the formation of children than a simple calculation of time. Our kids were absorbing perceptions of the reality of men and women that we considered toxic. Neither my wife nor I tend to rush into change, so we didn’t do anything in time for our older children. Hopefully we’ve removed that influence in time for our younger children, especially our youngest daughter. Both our boys and girls absorbed what my wife and I consider to be some pretty negative things from that community. We should have acted sooner.
So no apologies. Even the “best” face is a pretty ugly one.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:40 am


My last comment begins with RJS’ caricature of the devotion to Mary in the only parts of the Christian Church that have any historical roots whatsoever. I’ll start with my mother. She came to Roman Catholicism fairly late in life as such things go, and after a highly diverse journey, but she is definitely devout. And she turns mostly to Mary. This is not a weak woman. My mother has had many problems and issues, but a lack of a strong will and aggressive personality is not one of them. And even before her conversion, she turned that energy most often to the weak and the downtrodden. Since her conversion, even more so. Almost by force of will, she established a foundation and a hotline for abused women in a particularly under-served part of the Ozarks. She has worked with abused children. She is currently the principal of a mission Catholic school serving mostly non-Catholics in a crime-ridden, poverty-stricken area. The school is probably only still open because of her efforts.
Similarly, my aunt (my Mom’s deceased brother’s wife) has been a life-long Catholic (my uncle converted) and a strong one. My uncle became a strong Catholic as well.
In fact, as I survey the Catholic and Orthodox families I have known, the Protestant disease of complimentarianism and/or patriarchy has infected none of them.
Devotion to Mary does not make her somehow less than human or woman. In fact, with all due respect to Scot, there is simply no historical evidence to back up the idea in the last few hundred years that she did not remain a virgin after the birth of Christ. Not only is the virginity of Mary a belief throughout the Church at every point in history until the last few hundred years, but the historic teaching of the Church is utterly consistent with middle-eastern culture, especially in that era. Within that context, it is actually much more reasonable to believe that Joseph, out of honor, would have refrained from intercourse with the one who had miraculously borne the anointed of God. We don’t understand that sort of culture today in America. But that is more reasonable than the idea that after Jesus was born, Joseph would have acted like nothing significant had happened.
Moreover, there’s simply no historical evidence or reason for disputing the tradition of the Church. It simply became distasteful, so the interpretation was changed with no justification whatsoever.
Devotion to Mary is not to some non-woman. Everyone woman I’ve known in either tradition relates to her very well.
Of course, the only thing that is actually dogma in the Orthodox Church (as opposed to the Roman Catholic Church) is that Mary must be considered “theotokos” (mother of God) and not merely “christokos” as Nestorius considered her. For the same theological reasons that the 3rd ecumenical council gave, I assume most Protestants would also affirm that dogma.
However, the EO and Roman Catholics do not stop with Mary. They give veneration to myriad women who are saints, apostles, deacons, equal to the apostles, and so on and so forth. Women are the focus of major services in the liturgical year. It’s not just Mary. Women fill the devotion of those traditions in ways they are not venerated in Protestant traditions.
So considering the people I know and those I’ve read and listened to, I’m not sure that the EO and Roman Catholic have this specific problem regarding women today. At this time, it strikes me as a peculiarly Protestant issue.



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RJS

posted October 16, 2009 at 7:26 am


Scott Morizot,
What got in to you with this rant on Mary? What I gave was not “a caricature.”
I’ve read much of the literature and I know something of the discussion that is recorded on Mary from the first couple of centuries – perpetual virginity developed as doctrine because, I think, of a conviction that it was the only proper course. It did not develop until well after “living memory” of Mary and family and is not attested in the early documents of the church. This is a good topic for the Bible and Authority discussion of last week asking about the role of tradition.
Yes it has been the traditional belief, yes Mary is viewed with reverence, and possessing almost “superhuman” purity.
I agree that in general RCC and EO has a better context in dealing with women and veneration beyond the question of Mary – but it is not perfect by any means either.



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joanne

posted October 16, 2009 at 7:54 am


I’ve had it… Whatever equal means… the bottom line is this:
I am capable whether i am woman or man to do that which God has called me to do…be it leader, pastor or mother. I think the discussion about who is equal is a stupid one…
The real matter is capability and the freedom to exercise our capacities.
Men and church leaders who say women are not capable are the real sexists. Enough…. now i am angry.



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Diane

posted October 16, 2009 at 8:04 am


Scott M,
“Within that context, it is actually much more reasonable to believe that Joseph, out of honor, would have refrained from intercourse with the one who had miraculously borne the anointed of God. We don’t understand that sort of culture today in America. But that is more reasonable than the idea that after Jesus was born, Joseph would have acted like nothing significant had happened.”
OK. See what happens. A week ago or so we discussed … now I’m blanking on names, the very famous medieval woman (saint) who had 12 children and then with her husband’s agreement they abstained from sex and she went on pilgrimages …
She was attacked for not servicing her husband sexually. Here, it’s OK for Mary to have remained a perpetual virgin because she had given birth to the son of God. Of course, this is explained as the “middle eastern” tradition whereas the above saint was in the Western European tradition. But since when–at least before Mary–has their been “middle eastern” tradition of separating the sacred and the sexual. Even in Judaism, notable for not promoting temple prostitution and etc, we have the aforementioned Song of Solomon.
Either Mary is a very special women–different from all other women!!!– or she’s not. What is it? I argue special. But if she’s special, to adore and venerate her is NOT the same as respecting Everywoman. Mary can’t slip and slide from one role to other at the convenience of people trying to make an argument. I have been to many EO and RC churches and my perception as a Protestant, is that Mary is very,very much venerated and mystically a representation of an ideal. I would also say, again, that I see much more respect in general for women in those two traditions than in evangelical traditions (though, obviously, there are some glaring isssues). However, I don’t think it’s possible to put Mary on a special “virgin and mother” pedestal that’s impossible for any other woman to achieve short of a miracle that apparently has not happened since and at the same time equate respect for Mary with treating all women as humans.
Men–scholarly men–can you weigh in?



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dopderbeck

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:02 am


I think I was the one who introduced Mary into this discussion. Whether or not Mary actually remained perpetually a virgin seems to me beside the point of this discussion. My point was simply that it’s hard of us “low church” evangelicals to understand whether or in what ways the “Church got it wrong” with respect to women because we don’t appreciate the depths of the traditional veneration of Mary. So, like everything else, it’s messy.
There are many ways, IMHO, in which the Mary tradition elevated women within Christendom above the cultural norm. Surely we can’t just write off the mystical tradition of great women such as St. Theresa of Avila, or the tireless work of the countless anonymous nuns who have cared for and educated the poor and sick over the millennia, or the multitudes of unnamed women who have tried to follow the example of Mary, Timothy’s grandmother, and other great women of scripture, as they’ve raised their families? If we suggest these women were simply victims of an unjust patriarchy, I think we don’t honor their service.
That said, has tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity also contributed to the unhealthy aspects of how Christianity has understood gender and sexuality over the years? Did Augustine’s link between original sin and concupiscence wreak all kinds of havoc? Did even the Apostle Paul say some strange, confusing things about the perpetuation of Eve’s sin in all women? Have men used all this to support social and ecclesiastical structures that have not honored women as equally created in God’s image? Yes, indeed. It’s messy.



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RJS

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:24 am


dopderbeck,
The issues with Mary and even with the rights and wrongs of the Church (and Sayers was primarily referring to the Church of England I believe) is a bit of a diversion from the point I really wanted to consider with this post.
I thought that Sayers view of the interaction of Jesus with people – especially women – was interesting. Clearly the significance that Sayers attached his treatment of people was a result of her context and culture – but the “bare facts” seem to support her interpretation.



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reJoyce

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:30 am


Off topic: The idea that being “virginal” is somehow better than being active sexually has always baffled me. Why is it that sex would somehow spoil/defile what Mary did in bearing Jesus? Sex is a gift from God. A good gift. So Mary does this great thing that God asks of her and then has to give up a healthy part of her marriage because of it? It doesn’t make much sense to me. (But, much in life doesn’t, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.)



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reJoyce

posted October 16, 2009 at 11:41 am


On topic:
“There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words or deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”
I knew there was a reason I liked Jesus. ;-)



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Ken

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:02 pm


I think it is “complementarian”, not “complimentarian”. Twenty one commentators have used the latter, eleven the former.
From Dictinary.com
com?ple?men?ta?ry [kom-pluh-men-tuh-ree, -tree] Show IPA adjective, noun, plural -ries.
?adjective
1. forming a complement; completing.
2. complementing each other.
com?pli?men?ta?ry [kom-pluh-men-tuh-ree, -tree] Show IPA adjective, noun, plural -ries.
Use complimentary in a Sentence
?adjective
1. of the nature of, conveying, or expressing a compliment, often one that is politely flattering: a complimentary remark.
2. given free as a gift or courtesy: a complimentary ticket.
?noun
3. something given or supplied without charge, as lodging, transportation, or meals, esp. as an inducement to prospective customers.



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Ken

posted October 16, 2009 at 1:45 pm


If Mary was a perpetual virgin, what does that make James, the brother of Jesus? Was Mary not his mother?



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted October 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Ken,
Others can answer this better than I can, but with this thread getting to be old now (at least, in Jesus Creed lifespans, as I understand them), I’d better not assume that someone else will come along.
My understanding of the RC interpretation is that the word we translate as “brother” can also mean “cousin.” That is, James–and other “brothers and sisters” of Jesus alluded to in Scripture–are related, but not through Mary being their mother.



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James

posted October 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm


Right Mark. Other ideas that are floated are that James was a child of Joseph’s by a previous unmentioned wife.
Either one stretches the language and asks too much of silence, not to mention the first silence, that of her perpetual virginity.
Scott, I wonder that you say you’ve found the very best the complementarianism (thanks Ken) has to offer, yet call it both patriarchal and a disease. Is it not possible that you in fact have found nothing of the sort?



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dopderbeck

posted October 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm


In Pelikan’s commentary on Acts, he notes that the term “brother” could have been one of filial affection — e.g., the way we might say “our brother James says something interesting in comment #51…”. It seems implausible to me, but I understand the approach.



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joanne

posted October 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm


i think that the reason everyone is so hung up on gender is because if we define gender then “someone” gets to decide who gets to do what and who should rule whom.
Men and women are capable in doing many things. We adapt. We learn. We grow. the discussion on equality is irrelevant. The discussion on what a woman or a man is, is irrelevant.
We should have the freedom to do what we are able to do and what God calls us to do. The anxiety over it all is because the norms are ruffled.
Women are fully human, different but not incapable of leadership and a number of other vocations.



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Diane

posted October 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm


I too want to get back to the point that Jesus treated women not as something to label–is she a complementarian, is she an equalitarian, is she a virgin, is she a whore, is she the adored, is she the bad mother, does she have too much sex with or not enough and of course, the biggie, is she ugly or good looking–but as human beings. I wonder why it is so hard just to accept women as humans. It seems so simple. We’re more than a relationship to a man and we’re more than virginity/sex and we’re more than mothers and we’re more than looks. We are sacred beings with an intelligence and grace.



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Scott Morizot

posted October 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm


RJS, what “got into me” was probably the tone I “heard” in your response to dopderbeck that probably came more from all the things I have heard from other Protestants than from anything you intended. But what I did get from your comment was a rejection of dopderbeck’s point. And that bugged me because it was personal and his point was absolutely valid.
I was well into adulthood and a long distance from her when my mother converted to Catholicism. However, in combination with a lot of other things, my mother has found more healing and strength in her faith than she had found in her life before then. And her devotion to Mary and other female saints as well as the support that receives within the Church has been a huge part of that healing. There is something very real there. Mary is not a something other than fully human to my mother. Rather, Mary is a woman who understands the full depth of both the pain and the joy of women.
Yes, there are things that the Roman Catholic Church has made dogma that they should not have. But being ever-virgin is not one of them. Women (and men) throughout Church history through to the present have chosen such lives. Further, there is no historical basis for the low-church Protestant rejection of that belief. Not that low-church Protestants seem to require any sort of basis beyond their own inclinations to reject or accept any belief. There is no point I can find in Church history that Mary was not greatly honored and there is no place I’ve ever found her virginity questioned until the last couple of hundred years. And that was not on the basis of any new evidence, but simply because people didn’t like it. Period. So they decided to believe something different about Mary.
But being a woman is in no way tied to having sex or multiple children. Mary can be a virgin and still fully be a woman. Or do you not believe that? I do know the woman I’ve seen healed by Mary (at least in part) is the same woman that shaped me in the way that utterly rejects the patriarchal view of men and women — to the point that I’m appalled that I somehow let that perspective shape my own children in any way.
How is requiring a woman to have sex in order to relate to “real” women any different than requiring a woman to be virgin in order to be “pure”? Aren’t those two sides of the same coin? What, exactly, is wrong with accepting and honoring Mary as the Church has always done? (OK. We can leave off the relatively recently added dogmas of Immaculate Conception and Assumption. Those are specific (as dogmas) to the modern Roman Catholic Church.) Why do we need to change her story to make it more palatable to us? And does that really say something about Mary or about women in general? Or about us?



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RJS

posted October 16, 2009 at 10:35 pm


Scott Morizot,
Of course Mary, or any other woman, can be a virgin and still fully be a woman. This isn’t the issue.
My point isn’t that virginity is wrong but that the “church” assumed that Mary had to be virgin – and made it so. “Ideal woman” in Mary became defined by ideals of the day. And the ideal of the day was that virginity was pure and relations between man and wife were not.
Perpetual virginity was a “relatively” late invention – after the dating of the NT – with the earliest document attesting it the protoevangelium of James (ca. 150 or so). The protoevangelium is universally believed to be apochryphal and pseudographical. The style of the entire text is unbelievable – and completely different from the canonical books. The issue was still open for discussion through the first several centuries of the church. Tertullian (ca. 200) did not hold to Mary as ever-virgin and was used as an example by Helvidus when he argued against perpetual virginity in the middle to late 300’s. Jerome was vitriolic in his defense of perpetual virginity.
I don’t think that perpetual virginity is consistent with the text of scripture, such an assumption requires gymnastics with selected historical passages in the gospels, and was developed by the church for reasons other than historical fact.



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