Thursday, August 31, 2006

Feminism and Orthodoxy

I am a feminist. In fact, I am, as Andrea Dworkin might say, a "...radical feminist, not the fun kind.". My committment to what I believe to be the best interests of women is absolute: I filter my politics, my worldview, my ethics, and my lifestyle through my feminism.

And this is why I stopped being an evangelical.

I am aware of good organizations such as Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE)who, IMHO, are fighting a losing battle in their efforts to advocate for women's rights and dignity within evangelicalism. They have some great people asking some important questions. The trouble is that they want to make the Bible out to be a poorly understood women's liberation tract, and for this they are being perpetually mocked and condemned by anti-feminist evangelicals.

Frankly, I think the anti-feminists, despicable though they are, have a point.

CBE's main problem is that they focus on the "problem passages" of scripture which seem to suggest a permanent, God-ordained subordination of women in all things. There are a few of these, though not as many as the gender hierarchalists over at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) would like for everyone to believe. (In fact, I'd argue that CBMW is being profoundly silly in their assertion that there even is such a thing as "Biblical Manhood/Womanhood".) The gender debates (i.e. over whether women are really supposed to submit to and obey their husbands, whether husbands are really an authoritative "head" over their wives and children, whether women should be ordained or allowed to teach authoritatively within a mixed gender setting, etc) are never going to end, because even the best Bible scholars are going to have a hard time getting the already-persuaded to agree with their interpretations. Evangelicals will continue in these debates, though, because Evangelicals have no recourse to tradition, progressive revelation, or a magisterium. What the Bible says goes: There is no other authority for evangelicals.

As I noted earlier, the Bible does not offer a detailed theology of gender. There are no long philosophical passages that explain the "true nature" of men and women. (Indeed, I think that Christians tend to make themselves look very silly when they attempt to make the Bible do this.) Women are women and men are men in the Bible, and Biblical characters tend to express their natures in a variety of ways: The Bible paints pictures of women who are fierce and submissive, sensual and chaste, maternal and murderous. Male Biblical characters also boast a full range of personality flaws, quirks, and traits. While the Bible encourages all believers to exhibit the fruit of the spirit, it does not hold up a prototype "man" or "woman" to which males and females must conform.

But it is also important to consider that while the Bible doesn't offer clear cut instruction as to how to be "male" or "female", it is hardly a textbook of feminism. Women do not fare well in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, where rape is a sactioned warfare tactic, rape victims are put to death for being too frightened to scream, women and girls born without hymens (or who are married to men with small penises) risk being stoned, and "godly" men offer up their daughters and concubines to violent mobs to ensure the safety of their male guests. Ignoring these "Texts of Terror" as Phyllis Trible called them, undermines the assertions of both CBE and CBMW in their attempts to assure women that they are valued by God and that God has placed his calling on their lives. The God depicted in the the Bible doesn't value women (much). In fact, I would call into question the notion that such a God is in any way holy or deserving our worship.

It is because of the way the Bible depicts God's attitude towards women that I have, for the past several years, essentially denied that I am a Christian. "Not a Christian" is probably not an accurate description of one who affirms the Apostle's Creed, but it was the best I could during this time. Now that I am willing to re-consider orthodox Christianity, I am still faced with the same problem: What do I, as a feminist, do with the fact that the Biblical (and historical) record show God to be something of a misogynist?

Returning to Evangelicalism isn't an option: Evangelicals of all stripes will deny God's misogyny, because to not do so would undermine their own theology. Admitting that God is a misogynist would mean either denying the holiness of God or the accuracy of the Bible. Evangelicals won't make this choice.

But those of us who don't accept the Evangelical doctrine of Biblical inerrancy have a little more wiggle room, but few satisfactory answers. Theological modernists/liberals, of course, will simply argue that the Bible reflects the biases of its authors: Yes, the Bible is sexist because the men who wrote it were sexists. Therefore, women (and men ,for that matter) can blythely ignore everything the Bible has to say about women, and, for that matter, anything else we don't like. A viable approach, of course, but not one that is particularly consistent with a religion that is supposed to have at its center the worship of a decidedly anti-modern, contradictory God: Grace/judgement, King/Servant, Incarnate/Transcendent. In fact, I strongly believe that a God who makes sense is most likely not a god at all.

I am instead choosing to believe that the Bible contains the story of God and God's people (in this age, on this Earth, at least). I choose to believe that the God depicted in the Bible is holy, but that those men who composed the Bible were not always so. I choose to believe that a holy God wept as women were raped in his name. I choose to believe that as each Biblical writer joins the communion of saints he is made aware of his bias and his folly, and that he weeps with God as women suffer because of his words. I also choose to believe that it is the responsibility of the Church on earth to carefully consider that which they consider to be "inerrant", lest they undermine the holiness of the God that they worship.

2 comments:

JM said...

Last year I attended a short course offered to the public by a local synagogue, "Judaism 101." It is a conservative (i.e. not orthodox or reformed but moderate) synagogue (though certainly does not even express the views of all middle-ground Jews, so that's my disclaimer.)

The rabbi explained that Jews look at the Bible as the family's photo album. Their people's interactions with God throughout history, as told by men. Infallibility isn't even relevant. I really liked that point of view; it made sense. I've always (even as an active evangelical) had a really hard time with the idea of inerrancy (or even a great deal of inspiration for that matter).

Actually, researching for a paper I wrote recently, I learned that inerrancy, though not completely un-considered, was not really an issue until the 19th century when higher criticism of the Bible and Darwinism threatened the foundations of evangelicalism--the defense of inerrancy, bringing it to the forefront, was a reaction to this.

One of my beefs with the Bible, along the lines of yours, is that it does not say nearly enough about rape and sexual (and physical) abuse. There are far, far, far more verses about handling money than handling women. Yet these issues are in my opinion the most damaging, most prevalent issues regarding women (and not just nowadays). Surely God would have expressed more outrage. He/she damn well should have!

Thanks for your blog post.

JM said...

Last year I attended a short course offered to the public by a local synagogue, "Judaism 101." It is a conservative (i.e. not orthodox or reformed but moderate) synagogue (though certainly does not even express the views of all middle-ground Jews, so that's my disclaimer.)

The rabbi explained that Jews look at the Bible as the family's photo album. Their people's interactions with God throughout history, as told by men. Infallibility isn't even relevant. I really liked that point of view; it made sense. I've always (even as an active evangelical) had a really hard time with the idea of inerrancy (or even a great deal of inspiration for that matter).

Actually, researching for a paper I wrote recently, I learned that inerrancy, though not completely un-considered, was not really an issue until the 19th century when higher criticism of the Bible and Darwinism threatened the foundations of evangelicalism--the defense of inerrancy, bringing it to the forefront, was a reaction to this.

One of my beefs with the Bible, along the lines of yours, is that it does not say nearly enough about rape and sexual (and physical) abuse. There are far, far, far more verses about handling money than handling women. Yet these issues are in my opinion the most damaging, most prevalent issues regarding women (and not just nowadays). Surely God would have expressed more outrage. He/she damn well should have!

Thanks for your blog post.