Sexual differences and biblical roles

(Phil) #1

I may be tempting fate here, as the topic is filled with emotional issues and hysterical responses, especially from the male contingent (That is supposed to be a little ironic humor but also a somewhat true statement) and risks going into political realms. However, the recent events in the SBC with the removal of Paige Patterson as president of Southwest Theological Seminary, has sparked a lot of good discussion, and bears on the biology and theology that we try to work on here. The story gets complicated, but you can google details of the saga. I do not want to bore you or get bogged down in denominational politics, but rather look at one blog addressing the issue for discussion, and see where it takes us.
Here is a link to the blog, brought to my attention through Scot McKnight’s meanderings:

It is a good read, top to bottom, but if you don’t want to read it all, I would like to quote Beck and focus a bit on this excerpt:

"Human beings are corrupted by power asymmetries. Based on his famous Stanford Prison Study, Philip Zimbardo has called this “the Lucifer Effect.” Psychologically, power has been shown to decrease inhibition, which means that when we have power we’re more prone to act out, sexually and/or aggressively.

Add to this the observation that psychological studies, along with criminal statistics, indicate that men are prone to aggression and violence, physical and sexual.

An irony here is that many evangelicals admit all this, that men have a natural, durable “nature” characterized by dominance and aggression, the characteristics that make men great leaders and warriors. That’s the positive spin on those traits. But the darker side of those traits are a proneness to violence and abuse.

I say this is an irony because evangelicals describe men as being “naturally” wired for dominance and aggression. And then they espouse a model of gender relations that gives power to the gender characterized by dominance and aggression. And then they express surprise that this arrangement didn’t work out so well."

Wow. What do you think? Was gender relations part of the curse of sin, and have we in the church fallen into the trap of institutionalizing it? How do we handle the very real differences in the sexes and maintain Godly respect for one another? What does that mean in our work, our politics, our churches? What other questions and observations does this bring to mind?

Is "Living Biblically" creating interest in the Bible or hurting it?
(Mark D.) #2

This thread is part of what I like about this site. Practical and critical. Even as a nonbeliever I certainly recognize the extent that we are all culturally Christians, often for the better but sometimes as regards this subject also for the worse.

My ten years younger brother was a slow starter where the opposite sex is concerned. As he neared the age of forty he finally looked abroad and imported a wife from the Philippines who was still twenty years younger than he. I remember him saying how he just felt it was necessary for one person in the marriage to have the final say, a sentiment -given the power differential in their relationship- which she shared. Like myself, my brother is not a believer but he did retain support for this feature from our parents marriage.

Now my youngest brother is a lovely person as well as kind and responsible. But I could never imagine being in a marriage structured this way myself. My wife and I are entirely egalitarian in our approach. Funny but both of them were cynical about the workability of marriage given what they see around them, but both cite our own as giving them hope. All my brothers have liked my wife and have complained that their own were childish by comparison. It is a tough conversation to have but I’ve tried to explain you can’t treat someone as a child and also respect them as an equal. If you want to respect your wife, you have to value that going in and make choices accordingly. You can never stop questioning your own motives and intentions, and humble pie deserves a place in every diet.

I don’t think we are any kind of roll model, personally. Like the painter, I tend to be aware of where there are flaws. We probably argue more than most married people we know (at least based on what we see) but we also laugh at ourselves on a regular basis. My wife is definitely my best friend, ever.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #3

I want to respond. But first I’m going to go look for my ten foot pole.

(Randy) #4

I’m going to wait and see what others say. I appreciate the above.

(Randy) #5

Very good role model!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

I hope that article is being widely read as a lot of excellent points are made in it. In one paragraph I respond not so much with push back as with push farther, and that is this one (Beck writing):

An irony here is that many evangelicals admit all this, that men have a natural, durable “nature” characterized by dominance and aggression, the characteristics that make men great leaders and warriors. That’s the positive spin on those traits. But the darker side of those traits are a proneness to violence and abuse.

[former rant deleted]

Suffice it to say, I thought this article was an excellent critique of complemenarianism, and I would just love to see somebody take more opportunity to critique further the implicit assumption over the last thousands of years that good models of “manhood” (personhood) involve aggression and domination.

(Phil) #7

Well, aggression can be of benefit in getting things done, but we are exhorted to submit to one another in Ephesians 5:21. The next verse is often quoted seperated from the context of the passage (regarding wives and husbands) when we are all called to have an attitude of submission one to another.
It does seem we are lulled into acceptance of evil, siting tradition and habit,or perhaps rationalizing it away. I think the latter is the excuse given in thechurch setting, saying we don’t want division or a “bad witness” and push things under the carpet rather than aggressively opposing miscarriages of justice. So, perhaps aggression and dominance can be used for good, though often it is the bad guys using it instead.

Mark, my marriage is very similar, with most decisions of importance are made by consensus. My two daughter’s marriages have a mixture of complementarian and egalitarian features with one being a bit more traditional, but both are in healthy places.

(Christy Hemphill) #8

A number of years ago I read thousands of pages on gender theology. (Patriarchy being the issue that precipitated a major shift in the way I approached Scripture, not science/origins)

One of the more fascinating books I read was called My Brother’s Keeper: What the social sciences do and don’t tell us about masculinity by Mary Stewart VanLeeuwen.

VanLeeuwen is a bit of an icon in the evangelical feminist world, but she is also a fairly conservative Calvinist married to Old Testament scholar Ray VanLeeuwen, so she comes at these issues from an interesting place.

One of her theses was that our culture’s (and many other culture’s) construction of masculinity is in opposition to Christ-likeness in many ways. Servanthood, caring for the weak/sick/old, patient suffering, compassion, peacemaking, turning the other cheek, humility, forgiveness, most of the fruit of the spirit, etc - these are qualities that are often considered feminine, at least to some degree. So when a man commits his life to Christ, he is emasculated in some ways in the eyes of his cultural peers.

For centuries, Christianity has been seen by outsiders as the religion of women, children, slaves, and poor people. The natural psychological response of men to their loss of masculinity points is to seek ways to gain masculinity points back somehow. So it’s not surprising at all that men in churches feel a psychological need to assert power over women and children and reclaim their lost masculinity in the context of their Christian male peers. But instead of constructing a counter-cultural model of Christian masculinity, they often just spiritualize and codify the culture’s masculine values as Christian values. Then you get John Piper and Paige Patterson and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This situation can go unquestioned in the church when the secular culture condones sexism, but when you have a situation, like we find ourselves in now, where the secular culture is actually more egalitarian than many churches, women have more trouble sticking with the submission program in church. We end up with a church culture where men are allowed to behave worse in some ways towards women than their secular cultural peers and push back hard against any calls for equality. You can see how far this went if you look at critiques of the men’s movement in evangelicalism that was so popular a few years back. But for the women, it causes a huge amount of cognitive dissonance when they get one message about what they are created to do and be from school and work and their non-believing relationships another message (a less affirming, more restrictive one) on Sunday.

Anyway, I liked VanLeuuwen’s take on the situation because it helped me respond more compassionately to the men pushing for staying steadfast in the complementarian position. I’m positive there is a lot more going on that just “faithfulness to Scripture” and a good deal of it needs to be called out and named for the sexism it is, but at least I have a sense now that it isn’t just women who are screwed up by how we are socialized. It reminds me to be kind, because everyone is fighting a hard battle.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #9

I hope Christians could all begin to think of it rather as a man finally coming into real manhood – when he learns gentleness, meekness, self-control, etc. A position of true strength is demonstrated by a person who has the power to give in and let another have their way (and by this I am decidedly NOT talking about a woman letting her abuser have his way – no such nonsense as that.) I like to explain it this way when it comes up: if a jogger approaches an older man walking with a cane on a narrow sidewalk, the jogger (if he/she is a decent person) will yield sidewalk to the other, not because the jogger is the weaker party, but precisely because they are not weaker. Those who are least able to let another have their way are demonstrating a weakness, not a strength (and that isn’t always a bad thing as in the example above.) If the stronger are doing their job, the weaker should never have to ask because it would have already been volunteered to them out of kindness. [and we will all be strong in some situations and weak in others … nobody always has only one of those hats on.] And this turns on its head the juvenile idiocy (that some men struggle to grow out of because our society perpetuates it) that strength is shown in dominance. Jesus permanently put the lie to that whole mistaken notion of power and he turned it on its head.

But we don’t easily let go of our enculturated and mistaken notions of “higher manhood” or “higher womanhood”, so your patient tones go a long way toward healing and learning. Thanks for that, Christy.

Why I have decided to leave the Bible behind... for now
(Mark D.) #10

I wonder if you’ve ever envied those who take a simpler approach. There have been times when I’ve been jealous of couples with a clear division of labor. Where my wife and I have had to make so many decisions her mother and father seemingly had it simple. If it involved food prep, child care or matters inside the home, it was her mother’s domain. Anything outside was his domain, including the bulk of the bread winning. Anything that broke he fixed, inside or out.

Her mother suffered as a stay at home mother or four back in the 50’s. She had degrees in social work and art. My wife remembers her locking herself in the bathroom to read (and escape). Later she became an elementary school teacher and was much happier. But I didn’t meet her until she had retired.

Over the years my wife and I have pretty much settled on domains but it just strikes me that we had so many decisions to make to get there. I’m the cook. She pays the bills and manages most of our finances. We each do our own laundry, The dogs and garden are my responsibility. We’re both retired from teaching but she still works hard on her art career.

(Phil) #11

While our personal life is where we are most responsible, it seems we fail more in our corporate responsibilities in opposing organizational wrongs. It seems that is where many of these situations come to rest. Whether it be Paige Patterson, Joe Paterno, or Baylor football players, we seen hesitant to expose evil. Most likely, it is the usual selfish behavior in that we do not want to suffer the consequences that might befall us if we rock the boat.

(Robin) #12

I just googled an article re this situation. Sounds like an ongoing investigation still?? Why so quick to judge here??? Maybe I will find other articles but still seems like whole story not out yet… so hold off!! And what did Scot McKnight say???

(Robin) #13

The questions at the end of the final paragraph in your writing are good ones. How do BioLogos people who deny existence of Adam and/or concept of the Fall and original sin handle situations like this?? Not all do this, but there is challenge for a number of “ways of thinking” in all of this.

Since all I can see (so far) is that there is a set of accusations that are serious and ongoing (re the seminary allegations), I “suppose” we should wait till things are settled before pointing fingers. But – gender politics in the church? Being naturally “wired” for something does not justify the abuse of a “wiring” — that calls for an electrician’s services (LOL) . Godly respect — this takes intention. It does not come naturally to us humans. The evidence of that can be found in any workplace.

(Phil) #14

I am not sure exactly what you are asking, but if referring to the abuse of power related to gender, I do not think I handle it any differently. Even though I do not think there was a literal Adam or a literal fall from eating from a forbidden literal tree, I believe all are fallen and all are sinful. In fact, I wonder how literalists can accept their fallen status when they tend to blame Adam, much as Adam blamed Eve. It seems a very shaky theological construction unless taken as an archetype or in symbolic terms.
In any case, it is that sinful nature that we we all share as humans which leads to abuses of power, regardless of your view on Eden.

(Jay Johnson) #15

I ignored this thread as long as I could, because it would be tempting fate for me to reply without anger or reference to politics. But your list sends me over the edge, so buckle up and hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Let’s start with the leaders of the 1980s conservative takeover of the SBC: Paige Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler, who was honored with a stained glass window in the chapel on the Southwestern Baptist Seminary campus:

  • Pressler now faces multiple accusations of molesting young boys for decades.
  • Paige Patterson is accused of ignoring and/or covering up reports of rape and abuse at two separate seminaries, in addition to counseling women to remain in abusive relationships and speaking about teenage girls as nothing more than sexual objects.
  • Albert Mohler, for all his hand-wringing now, was the hand-picked choice of Patterson/Pressler to take over Southern seminary in Louisville. He carried their water and did their dirty work for decades. Perhaps his introspection now is real, but perhaps it is posturing to distance himself from the stench of his former allies? Time will tell.

Maybe things got better in the 90s?

  • Ken Starr – covered up and justified his role in the Baylor rape scandal.
  • Tom DeLay – convicted of money laundering and conspiracy.
  • Newt Gingrich – I won’t detail his marital escapades.

Hmmm. Not so good. How about the wonderful men’s movement of the 2000s?

  • Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch, the one who said the church projects a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ” that “is no one to live for [and] is no one to die for” – Accused of creating a culture of fear, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it became difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him.

His Mars Hill church is now shuttered and bankrupt, but he is starting over in Phoenix. He also apparently owns a piece of Patheos, which recently kicked off whistleblower Warren Throckmorton, who detailed many of the abuses of Driscoll and Gospel for Asia. (He moved to, for anyone interested.)

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is as you say: People are corrupted by power imbalances. Institutionalizing it in a “complementarian” view of male and female roles is an error.

The image of God is an egalitarian image. That is God’s ultimate purpose for mankind, male and female. Paul points in the same direction when he says in Galatians 3, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The bottom line for me is illustrated by two simple questions: 1) Do we expect women to be submissive to men in the kingdom of God? 2) If men and women are equal in the kingdom, why do we settle for less now?

God has always had to accommodate his communication to our cultural development. That is why we must work so hard nowadays to properly understand the message given to Israel thousands of years ago. But despite the accommodations to time and place, God’s appointed messengers always pointed unerringly in one direction, which is unity and equality of all mankind. We should follow the direction that the messengers pointed. That is the way forward.

(Robin) #16

Thanks Phil. I appreciate your response and also your views. I have read a couple online articles regarding this situation. I like Mohler’s commentary overall. In another article, it sounded as though the whole situation was still in flux and who knows what the whole story is?

I was responding initially to the questions in your final paragraph — “was gender relations part of the curse of sin…what does it mean in our work, our politics, our churches?” etc.

I think those ARE all good questions. And the answer is yes — gender relations was part of the curse…and it takes a lot of awareness, determination, repentance and willingness to change (hard for all of us) to make a difference…

As I read one of the articles on the situation – or as to how this other individual allegedly (mis)handlied things, I saw something about advise given (to a woman in an abusive situation) that I personally would not have given. But then calling something “abusive” is a loaded term and neither you nor I know the details (of what sort of situation he may have been counselling) here. I am sensitive to making too many judgments til you have “walked a mile in my moccasins” (so the saying goes) and seen both sides of things. I have experienced that sort of " misinformed judgment" in my own life and know how it looks. And that could go both ways.

But the comment on “the Lucifer Effect” is a good one — and that prompted other thoughts about how people who may not believe in a Fall (Adam & co) would explain (to themselves) the sort of conduct described.

As for me — I am not young earth. Whether Adam was the first and only — or one of a group long ago — not sure of all that. But something twisted humanity long ago. That seems self-evident to me. … call it whatever you will.

But thanks for your comments

(Phil) #17

It is tough to discuss the issues without getting into the church politics, but I think we are fine here, and there are significant issues to be discussed. (as an aside, as a Baptist, the stained glass window thing makes me sick. Where were we, where was the oversight when they did that? Even Catholics wait until you die and are sainted to put up stained glass windows of you…)

Anyway, there are still a lot of folks out there who are complementarian, and lot of us who are probably somewhere in the middle, seeing different qualities in the sexes, but having equality not only in the eyes of God, but in the life of the church and our personal walk. How do we handle those differences? My first thought is that we see and value each person as an individual rather than lump them into a catagory. I think that also is a Biblical way to deal with people in general as well. Any thoughts?

(Jay Johnson) #18

Sorry I dropped the ball again. Jumping back into the article that prompted your OP, the author said, “Evangelicals obsess over establishing ‘God’s plan’ over the genders and routinely fail to attend to the raw material they are plugging into that plan.”

Think about how many books, seminars, and retreats you see that do just what he says, i.e. try to identify and define the “biblical pattern” for manhood, womanhood, and marriage. It is a whole cottage industry. But does it make sense? Is the Proverbs 31 woman the only kind God approves? Is the leader/warrior the only kind of man God approves? Are there no women who exhibit leadership, or men who prefer nurturing to fighting? As you asked, is it truly biblical to create these categories and then tell people that this is “God’s plan” for their lives, regardless of their own talents, abilities, and inclinations? I suspect that many lives (and marriages) have been ruined by forcing individuals who are square pegs to fit into the “biblical” round holes that evangelicals have fabricated.

(Phil) #19

Jay, we love you and have a wonderful plan for your life.:wink:
Good points. I even question the common interpretation of the proverbs 31 woman, as in context, it is advice given to a son regarding a future wife, and not necessarily a God prescribed ideal of what a wife should be ( or what the son should be, hanging around the gate whittling and spitting with the guys while his wife works.
Society and the church culture as you describe does put pressure on us to conform to those norms,and as a result, men are not active in teaching children, singles are marginalized, etc.

(Laura) #20

Yep – and in the women’s realm, I often see it taken as an endorsement of mere domesticity (staying at home and making all your own clothes, for example), while verse 10 references character, which seems to imply something other than simply a list of things to do.