One of the things that we are REALLY good at doing in our culture, unfortunately, is being polarized on one side or another of an issue without much nuance. As Josh Harris, author of 90’s bestseller, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” is in the news for renouncing both his book and his faith, it’s easy to slam “purity culture” and all it stands for.
I would like to slam “purity culture” too, in a lot of ways. But I want to do it with nuance, not with a broad brush. I recently got married at age 42, and while I do think purity culture had a very negative influence on my life in a variety of ways, I am not at all unhappy that I went to my wedding as a, yes, 42-year-old virgin.
I wish I had been younger — getting married, that is. I’ve written elsewhere about the damage done by purity culture and an apathetic church culture on extending, or at least not helping, with the plight of singles getting older without marriage (for those who desire marriage) here and here.
But one thing I actually WORRY about in the current climate of a no-holds-barred bashing of purity culture is that singles are losing the ground upon which prospective mates will respect a desire to remain celibate until marriage. While this applies to all singles broadly, women more specifically often get pressured by men to have sex before marriage, and the more that progressive christians specifically start to label saving sex for marriage as a detrimental outcome of “purity culture”, the more sex becomes EXPECTED without any commitment from the party expecting it. (Or demanded, as in, “I understand that’s your conviction, but I need to move on to someone who will have sex with me before we get married.” ) This is a situation where what gets promoted as “sex-positive” actually demotes it into something which can be demanded, or else, singles lose even more opportunities to find people to date them.
That said, here are a few things I do believe purity culture gets wrong about sex:
Bad teaching #1. If you’ve had sex before marriage, you’re ruining your ability to have a healthy marriage.
This is a false teaching of the purity movement. How do I know it’s not true? Because even in the purity movement, no one has any issue or concerns with widows or widowers remarrying. If sex before a marriage permanently destroyed one’s ability to have a healthy marital sex life or healthy marital bond with anyone from that point forward, widows and widowers should be writing books about how they overcame the memories of their wonderful sexual histories with their prior deceased spouses to go on to have a good relationship with their present spouse. I know of no such books.
Now I’m sure that people do have a huge transition to go through in going from their life with one spouse to another spouse after the first one dies, I’m not discounting that there must be all sorts of emotional and human issues that go on with that, from adjusting to a new person’s eating habits to how they roll the toothpaste to yes, even to having sex with a new love. But while adjustments to new seasons and new circumstances are to be expected, no one expects that a widow or widower is going to have too much “sexual baggage” to be able to enjoy intercourse with their new spouse.
In fact, adulterers and adulteresses don’t seem to have much trouble bonding with a new person despite having sex with their legitimate spouses first before being unfaithful. I’d hate to use this as an example, but it does make a point: humans seem to be actually very flexible with being able to go from one partner to the next. This isn’t ideal, for a whole lot of reasons, nor do I encourage it: but I’m just saying, I think the purity movement gets this one completely wrong.
What the REAL result of this teaching in fact ends up being is that thousands of Christians who slipped up and had sex with someone before being married, end up getting a complex over it where once they finally find themselves in a fulfilling marital relationship, they yet believe that they somehow always carry part of the person or persons they had sex with before marriage with them into their marital bed. This is somewhat a uniquely Christian problem, in my experience — reports from nonbelievers I know who view having serial sexual partners before marriage as part of normal dating life often do not develop a hang-up on feeling unable to shake feelings or memories of previous sexual partners during love-making with their spouses. Sadly, this is a sometimes self-fulfilling prophecy unfortunately where believing something is going to have a certain effect on you, can actually cause that effect.
The exception to this of course is if someone had a great experience with someone sexually and later goes on to marry someone who isn’t communicating well in bed and isn’t fulfilling someone’s sexual fantasies/needs/desires, but that is a slightly different problem, which is covered below.
Bad teaching #2: If you save sex for marriage, you’ll have a fantastic sex life once you are married.
If you save sex for marriage, you are almost guaranteed to have a totally lousy sex life when you first start having sex. Why? Sex is a learned skill, and virgins by definition have had virtually no chance to learn it.
Will your sex life eventually be turned into something awesome with, er, practice? That is entirely up to the couple — how well they love each other, how well they communicate with each other, how well they identify any issues that might get in the way (and this extends even to medical issues for which medical help might be warranted.). Saving sex for marriage doesn’t mean that two people will be kind to each other, or communicate well with each other, or be patient with each other, or experimental with each other, or any of the whole host of other things that make for both good relationships, and good sexual chemistry and sexual troubleshooting.
When it comes to sex, no one can give anyone any guarantees – whether two people refrain from sex before marriage or not. But, sex is something that is meant, I believe, to be *developed* between two people, so having sex ahead of time to figure out if one is “compatible” I personally think is also a bad strategy. But that’s just me. I think, perhaps erroneously, that one is marrying another person’s entire personality and character, and those things carry over to what one can expect in the bedroom.
I think in both these wrong teachings of the purity movement, the error is in trying to EXPLAIN why saving sex for marriage makes good emotional sense and will result in a good relationship. But sexual abstinence does not need to be justified; it is enough to value one’s deepest physical intimacy and one’s body as something to be shared with another person only when the other person shows themselves worthy of such a sharing, by honoring the giver with a lifelong commitment before God and others, which is then also reciprocated. And even if that were too much of a justification, even if there were no reason whatsoever that waiting until marriage for sex made sense, one who believes that God desires the intimate sharing of sex to be only unleashed inside of a marriage covenant should not need to justify their belief as anything other than to simply to obey God.
So a word to those who bash the purity movement: I hear you, and in many ways I agree with you. But please be careful not to run roughshod over those who either because of spiritual conviction or personal desire, wish to be celibate until marriage. I am that person, and I am very happy with my decision.
I suffered from infertility for a long time. It was an infertility that the church most easily ignores; an infertility that comes with very little sympathy from others and yet is one of the most common forms of infertility suffered by women in body of Christ in the West. My infertility had nothing to do with anything wrong with my womb or my body or anything medical; it was the infertility of being a woman who was being a “good girl” and obeying the Christian edict to wait to get married to have sexual intercourse, and yet, who was unable to find a suitable Christian husband.
For years and years, I would be in churches or get togethers and see couples share that they were struggling to conceive a child; and they would be invited to come forward and have hands laid on them and get prayer while the church shared in their grief and struggle; while I and many other women who were single past their prime were invited to do nothing but go home and cry on our pillows at night, alone. Married infertility is seen and recognized, but singles facing impending lifelong infertility are considered unworthy of corporate support.
I and my fellow single sisters have had difficult decisions to make. A friend of mine recently asked her parents to help her financially with the very expensive process of freezing eggs; her Christian parents told her they wouldn’t help her because, “If God wanted you to have children, He would have brought you a spouse already.” Not only did this comment make my friend angry at God as to why He supposedly had assigned her this unique grief, misplacing the problem off of a messed up dating culture and the unwillingness of the body of Christ to help singles find matches in the same way other groups (such as Orthodox Jews) take very seriously the need to preserve their legacy by helping singles find spouses, but by blaming people’s deepest griefs on Divine Providence, we alienate people from God.
During my singlehood journey, I struggled with the idea of getting sperm donation and having artificial insemination. Single parenthood seemed too scary to me, I didn’t have a support network where I could even count on having a babysitter, I wanted to be able to breast-feed a child and wouldn’t be able to take off work to do so in a country that offers little to no maternal leave, and I couldn’t shake the stigma that I knew evangelicals would have towards me for bringing a “fatherless child” into the world. Yet I thought often about how the God of the Old Testament seemed to want to make sure that a woman who was left single and childless because her husband had died still had a chance at becoming a mother through the whole kinsmen-redeemer thing. It seemed that God had more concern over people being left without children than my evangelical subculture would allow for.
If I shared all this with others, I had to suffer through person after person telling me that “You don’t have to get married and have children to be a complete woman.” They seemed to believe that I had bought into some cultural lie that feminism would deliver me from. The problem was, I was already a feminist — I knew that I didn’t have to have children to fulfill some “womanhood” edict. But that wasn’t why I wanted children — it had nothing whatsoever to do with being a “woman” as much as the existential human desire to pass on what and who one is to survive into future generations through reproduction. I wanted a child maybe on some level because God spoke into all humanity the words, “Be fruitful and multiply,” because it just was something intrinsic to the deepest parts of my soul with a strength of divine edict, and while I have no problem with people who feel this isn’t for them, to the depths of my heart I knew this was something I couldn’t live without doing. Rachel’s cry, “Give me children lest I die”, was my unbidden heart cry, and no platitudes about being complete whether or not I have children could satisfy that yearning.
The painful thing too that most singles in my shoes have dealt with is that most of the people who give us platitudes and share comments with us that ultimately are basically micro-aggressions towards our grief about singlehood and its associated infertility, are usually people who themselves are married and who have their own flesh and blood children as well. These are also the people holding up adoption as the highest ideal, most often people who have never adopted children press on singles and even childless couples that they ought to adopt, even criticizing us for trying to have children by other means because, “there are so many children out there that nobody wants.” I don’t know why people with natural children think there is a moral obligation for those struggling with infertility to find and adopt the world’s unwanted children, while those who have children easily and without trouble often seem to feel excused from having any need to do so, but this is probably the greatest microagression that singles and infertile couples face from other believers on a regular basis.
Adoption is a beautiful choice, but it is only one of many choices that people ought to respect and admire. Those holding up adoption often don’t understand how difficult it is to adopt (one middle class couple in my church has been trying to adopt for years and years, and are consistently overlooked by birth parents choosing wealthier or younger parents, or have children placed with them for adoption only to have birth parents change their mind before the adoption is finalized. The experience has been nothing short of traumatic.).
Adoption is expensive, difficult, and in my husband’s case (that’s right, I’m married now, and I’ll discuss that and the next step of our journey with singlehood infertility in my next posting) he has already adopted a child only to have experienced corruption in the adoption industry that resulted in him raising a severely special-needs child that he loves dearly and would never trade for any other child, but is emblematic of the type of issues that even adoptive parents face.
And, to be honest, for single people even adoption is stigmatized still in the church. My friend Julia Duin has a blog site dedicated to promoting adoption among singles, because even that can be frowned upon by Christians.
At any rate, for years and years I asked my friends and church to help me find a husband. I was on every dating site I could afford. I went places, met people, and shared my story. Christians seem to despise people who seem “desperate” to meet a spouse. I was told over and over, well into my thirties, that “Sarah had a baby in her 90s so don’t worry,” as if Sarah’s story trumps all birth statistics and that I could count on God to make my fertile years an exception to the norm. One pastor, I was close to, in a weird twist on the whole “Jesus is your boyfriend” stuff, told me to “embrace Jesus as your son.” I was kicked out of a Facebook group for house churches for starting a thread in the group asking who in the group was single and looking for spouses — and told that in no way, shape or form was this group about something as lowly as “finding a mate.” I’ve seen leaders that I respect, chewing apart “Christian Mingle” advertisements as if the desire of single people to get married and have the family and kids that they happily enjoyed themselves was something to be despised when pitched to singles.
Christians generally recognize an idea that says they are commanded by God to forgive everyone who wrongs them, without any exceptions. I believe this creates a lot of theological gymnastics on ground level, where people end up with three choices of how to walk this out in difficult situations.
Let’s say Jenny’s husband Matt has brutally beaten her, and lied to everyone making Jenny look like the bad one, and Jenny had to get a restraining order and ultimately divorced him. This is unfortunately not as rare of a situation one might hope it to be…and thousands of other similarly horrendous situations (or even worse situations) which could be used as an example. Jenny now has a restraining order against her now ex-husband, for good reason, as he has often threatened her safety. But Jenny reads in her Bible that Jesus said if you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you.
There are actually three ways this could play out:
1) Take Jesus at face value of how He is usually interpreted as demanding forgiveness at all times, regardless of any extenuating circumstance, and completely forgive, no questions ask. (In this case, Jenny and her husband immediately make up and get back together.)
2) Pretend to take Jesus at face value, by changing the definition of forgiveness, and forgive only by using an altered, safer version of forgiveness which is completely inward, but has no practical effect on restoration of relationship with the person committing the crime, thus making one believe they have forgiven when actually they really haven’t. (In this case, Jenny says she has forgiven Matt but keeps her restraining order against him.)
3) Just simply refuse to forgive.
Christians may often be annoyed at the suggestion that they are doing option #2, or offended that anyone would say it is fake forgiveness, but be really horrified that anyone would suggest #3. I would propose however that option #3, “refusing to forgive”, is ACTUALLY the most honest, and also the most Biblically coherent option in many situations, even if most Christians squirm at the suggestion.
Just as James could say, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I’ll show you my faith BY my deeds,” forgiveness is one of those things we can also talk about as a merely inward, abstract thing (like faith) or something that has outward, immediate, solid ramifications.
The model of what forgiveness is or isn’t should be God. Whenever in the Bible someone was forgiven by God, they were immediately brought into a place of restored, or potentially restored, relationship with Him. We don’t ever see an example of God saying, “I forgive you, but we’re not going to have a relationship anymore.”
Forgiveness is restorative — it is the dropping of all walls in one’s heart in a way that is actually made visible and practical for the other person. Forgiveness is not about the person DOING the forgiving, it is about the person who is BEING forgiven. It is a gift to the person who is given a chance to be in a relationship they don’t deserve to be in, because they have formerly done damage to the other person — and yet, the debt is canceled, the offense is forgotten, and the way is clear again for the relationship to be restored.
In our very individualistic, self-focused society, we have instead concocted a version of forgiveness that is not about extending an opportunity of restoration to another person, but is a matter of restoring oneself after being wounded. Over and over people will talk about how forgiveness is about letting go of inner turmoil (bitterness, obsessive rehashing of wrongs, etc) so that they themselves can move on to inner healing. While letting go of bitterness is a really great thing to do for oneself, this in and of itself does not constitute Biblical forgiveness. It IS indeed a great step towards inner healing, but it is a mistake I believe to call it forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just about what goes on in one person, but it extends to the other person as well. To tell another person, “I forgive you, but stay away from me” is to malign what true forgiveness is and to misrepresent the forgiveness that God showed us in Christ.
It is non-sensical and illogical to say, “I cancel your debt (forgiveness) but if you ever show up here again I’ll have you arrested (because of what you’ve done to me you still can’t be around me.) We’re speaking out two sides of our mouth to say “I release what you’ve done wrong to me, but you still can’t have a relationship with me because of what you’ve done to me.” When God forgave us our sins, he forgot what they were. He didn’t say, “I forgive you but you can’t be with me in my Kingdom ever again.”
It might make us feel better about ourselves to say we’ve forgiven but won’t restore a relationship, and in some religious way make us feel religiously righteous and make us believe we’ve obeyed the command to “forgive”, but it falls short of what true forgiveness is. Unfortunately, entire “inner healing” scripts in the christian community continue to reinforce that this version of forgiveness is true forgiveness. (Jewish definitions of forgiveness would not agree, however — as Jewish understanding are much more holistic.)
No, because there is option #3…Jenny can wisely choose to simply not forgive her ex-husband, while if it helps her heal, also doing the work of letting go of bitterness (which is a side issue and not really related to the subject of whether or not she has forgiven him.) This is actually Biblical. But it is important to call it what it truly is and to keep our definitions coherent.
It is always dangerous to make an entire doctrine out of one verse, removed from all context of other verses on the same subject in the Bible. While Jesus did say that if you don’t forgive others, your Father in Heaven will not forgive you, this is not the only time Jesus spoke on the matter. It’s also not the only thing that the Bible demonstrates overall on the matter.
For instance, there is the example of 70×7 — where Jesus told Peter that if his brother ASKS for his forgiveness 490 times, he should give it to him. Notice that Jesus didn’t say to Peter, “Your brother shouldn’t even have to ask forgiveness, Peter, you should forgive Him before he even asks.” No, Jesus made it clear that the “asking” was part of the key to forgiving the brother.
Should Jenny forgive her abusive, manipulative, ex-husband simply because he asks? Caution should be taken here. Part of the Christian inclination towards forgiveness is that no one should ever take the stance that no matter what, someone’s sins are so great that under no circumstance whatsoever would I ever be willing to forgive them. There should always be a willingness that somehow there is some way this person might one day be forgiven, if they have truly repented and changed.
However, Jesus also said we are to be wise as serpents, and I believe it is important to let that “serpent-wisdom” fit the crime that has been committed. Letting the wisdom fit the crime might not sound Biblical but there is an idea all over scripture of using “true weights and measurements.” We see this in the book of Genesis in how Joseph walked through the situation of forgiving his brothers, who had sold him into slavery with murder in their hearts towards him. He weighed them according to the measure of their wrong, and put them through a test that was appropriate to their crime (the cup placed in their sacks having them arrested) and waited until the Holy Spirit revealed that they were indeed truly repentant (when they gave him the reaction he was looking for.) Joseph wasn’t in a rush to judge them either way, he took his time, made them jump through his hoops (which is the right of the party being asked to forgive) and only when he was fully satisfied that their hearts were changed, did he forgive them.
Jenny, likewise, might require Matt to do some sort of treatment program. She might say something like, “You hurt me and broke my trust very badly, and if you ever want a chance to be back in a relationship with me again, you need to make restitution by taking steps to show me you understand the gravity of what you have done, the fact that you need serious help, and that you are laying down your pride and doing X, Y and Z programs for the next 3 years, twice, to show me you are doing everything you need to do to make good on all the harm you have caused. And then, and only then, will we talk about possibly trying to restore this marriage.”
When someone truly apologizes, they are saying they own what they have done wrong. Part of apologizing when one’s crimes have been particularly damaging is owning one’s responsibility for one’s actions truthfully. Matt’s apology in this case may need to be a whole lot of steps demonstrating he is bearing the weight of his own wrong. In a huge number of cases, people who have committed huge abusive sins against others will not be willing to truly own their responsibilities and thus make true (not fluffy, merely manipulative) apologies.
So what about the person who is not ready to own their wrongs? Jesus makes allowance to NOT always forgive:
When He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” John 20:22-23 Berean Study Bible
He did not give us authority as the church to “retain” sins for no reason, as if this power was never to be used (because after all, if we are to forgive everyone, all the time, what’s the point of this authority?) But we are given this power to be used with discernment of men’s hearts. It also makes no sense to apply the verse, “If you don’t forgive, your Father won’t forgive you” to every situation, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense that Jesus gave the authority to the church to NOT forgive sins.
Yes, we should always be WILLING to forgive others — I hope my words are never used as an excuse to be hard-hearted people who refuse to restore relationships no matter how contrite and how much restitution the other party is willing to give. And yes, it doesn’t do us any good to walk around with bitterness in our souls, and we should always pray for our enemies partially as a discipline in order to keep ourselves free from bitterness, but also because we truly want to see God help our enemies, despite whatever things we still hold to their account! But forgiveness is not a mere release from our own inner turmoil as it if it is just a self-help therapy; forgiveness has teeth on it and is the power to extend true restoration, forgiveness turns enemies into friends.
We need to start being honest about what step in the process we are on, with no condemnation and all the freedom given to us in Christ to exercise our own discernment in these matters, owning it for what it is. It is part of wisdom, and getting real, that we keep our definitions coherent.
For further reading, please see this excellent article HERE about forgiveness as well.
Also, for a commentary on the therapeutic culture that says healing requires someone to let go of bitterness, read here.
David Schell wrote this positively brilliant post that I just had to reblog — here’s an excerpt:
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling like the lone righteous person, or small group of people, standing strong and brave against a powerful evil. That narrative is basically the Western Meta-narrative. Consider:
Look at Jesus Christ himself, the stone that the builders rejected. I Timothy 3:12says all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution, and look at Elijah. Finally, look at the biggest archetype of ’em all: a little shepherd boy standing strong with just a sling and five smooth stones against a giant clad in armor with a heavy sword: David and Goliath.
These stories are our stories. They allow us to transform our wounded sense of exclusion and isolation into a sort of vindication and righteousness, into something we can draw strength and hope from. They’re a Psalm: God how many are my foes, but I trust that you will conquer them. The persecuted few may even be defeated, as in the story of the Alamo, but if they are, they will be vindicated even after their death.
But what happens when everybody wants to claim David and Goliath for themselves?
Read more over at http://davidmschell.com/im-david-youre-goliath/
I have been asked many times to explain how so called “macro-evolution” works. There are of course many excellent books and articles online and off that cover this, but I thought it might be a good idea to have a blog post that explains it quickly and simply that I can refer to when asked. The following is adapted from a book manuscript (which might get published some day).
To see how macroevolution (the origin of new species) works, we can use a hypothetical animal, maybe one in the cat family. Let’s call it a lipard. And let’s say that there is a population of these large cat-like carnivores living on a large plain with plenty of prey animals. The lipards have gotten better and better at hunting thanks to several improvements (microevolution) in vision, muscle strength, digestion of meat, and other traits. And all of these positive changes eventually…
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One of the things I endeavor to do on this blog at times is to dismantle bad apologetics for my own cause. Today is one of those posts. When it comes to my understanding and leaning on gender roles, I fall somewhere between soft complementarianism and out-and-out full on egalitarianism. And let’s face it, most of us approach scripture on the topic of gender LOOKING for our particular ideal about gender to be justified. If we want to see women have equality and opportunity in the church and other spheres, we are constantly hoping someone will give us a Biblical interpretation that allows us to justify those viewpoints. I also know folks that have a romanticized view of complementarian or even far right patriarchical gender roles; and they also look to scripture in ways to find reinforcement for those viewpoints.
(And to be fair, there are also those noble people, few though they may be, who approach scripture ready to lay aside every preference and bias they can identify and just do whatever they believe the most honest and plain interpretation is that they can identify; the problem is, this may not be quite as safe or noble of a course of action as these folks may initially think it to be. But that’s a topic for another blog post.)
But as I said before, I’m on team egalitarian, for the most part (except when I play for team soft complementarian, which is rare but sometimes happens.) Which means I also need to stick to my usual disposition to point out where my own team (in this case, either one) seems to be getting it wrong.
Oh yes, I did, I went there. Junia is the darling poster girl of the internet and books on Christian gender equality. Yet we might really need to stop holding Junia up as the ultimate “proof” that in the first century church, women were equal with men, or at least stop pretending that Junia is even any type of settled argument for the cause.
Here’s the verse in question: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7 KJV
First, it is highly likely, but not by any means settled that Junia was actually a female. The later one goes in history, the louder the voices become that declare her to be a woman; and there are reasons to think this probably is the case. But it’s not SETTLED, not by a longshot.
But more importantly (as if anything can be more important than that) the claim that Junia was an apostle is overblown. The best that we can safely assert is that he or she was “well-known” or even “well-respected” by the apostles….AKA, known “among” them….but some translations have worded this ambiguously enough to make it seem like Junia actually IS an apostle, which, while possible, isn’t really likely from the actual wording.
The final analysis? There’s nothing certain about Junia (or Junias.) It’s highly likely Junia was a woman, but not completely definite, and it’s highly probably that he or she was highly honored among the apostles, but not an apostle his or herself.
Again, it all could be just as everyone says it, but there’s no way to be certain. And that’s the problem: taking something that could be looked at as “hey, that’s an interesting possibility” and magically transforming it to a proven certainty that we use to assert Biblical egalitarianism is just downright dishonest.
My other pet peeve is that the women of Corinth have become legendary, mythological even, and not in a good way. Somewhere along the line people started hypothesizing about the “situation that existed in Corinth” among women as a rationale for Paul saying in Chapter 14 that women needed to be silent – and these theories got repeated so often that most of the evangelical church seems to now accepts these ideas as substantiated fact – when they are anything but that.
When I talked about this on my Facebook wall, comments came in from all over the spectrum of this speculative narrative, while not a single commentator seemed to be able to acknowledge that there wasn’t any historical evidence that this narrative was in fact, true, or historically based in any explicit way anywhere, and moreover these narratives remain at best inherently illogical and yet at worst still extremely derogatory to the female gender. It seems that the evangelical church’s attempt to create explanations for why Paul instructed what he did about women being silent in Corinth has resulted in a sort of corporate-level inability to remember that these explanations were “created” rather than attested in some historical source. There isn’t just one narrative, either, but the main ones I am talking about and view as mostly Christian urban legend are as follows:
a) Women in Corinth were unlearned, aggressive, “out-of-order” women who needed to be silenced from asking all sorts of unlearned questions.
b) Corinth had a female diety and temple prostitutes and because of this, the women in Corinth had to be silent because if they spoke, it might lead people falling back into goddess worship or somehow associate Christian meetings with idolatry.
c) The first century Corinthian church meetings were based on the format of the synagogue, and as such women sat divided from men on an opposite side of the room, and thus asking questions had the women yelling across an aisle at the men which was very unseemly and disorderly and needed to be stopped.
At any rate, there is always this attempt to make it sound as if there was a particular “issue” in Corinth that necessitated the silencing of women on a level that would not be viewed as normative to the body of Christ as a whole, and certainly not today, but was an isolated issue for Corinth in view of the particular crisis being created there.
Here are some of the very real problems with this:
— Many of the first believers in any city in the Roman Empire were slaves. Even among those who weren’t, there would be little to no reason to assume average men in the church had any higher level of education than women, so the “unlearned women” argument falls flat. Moreover, if the issue is discussing the Hebrew Scriptures, gentile men could be expected to be just as ignorant as gentile women about matters of Hebrew scripture.
— There is no basis, either in the Biblical text of 1 Corinthians, or in any other testimony of history, to think that women in Corinth had any “aggressive demeanor” that needed aggressive remedy. Paul does not say that the women of Corinth were unruly, aggressive, or in any way out of order other than implying that their mere voice qualified as such. Paul in fact writes simply that women speaking in church, irrespective of any other explanation, is “shameful” or “disgraceful” assumeably merely because it is a woman who is speaking. (See 1 Cor 14:35)
— Meetings in Corinth, based on chapters 11 through 14, were entirely different from synagogue meetings. For one, they were home meetings, structured around a shared meal (see 1 Cor 11.) It is hard to imagine that an “aisle” was present in a home going through the dinner table. The meetings also allowed women to speak if the woman was “praying” or “prophesying” so, for some reason this was not an issue to the orderliness of the meeting despite whatever setup was present — but a woman “speaking [on a topic]” or “asking questions” was suddenly going to create a problem of order in the room?
— Many other cities were much more known for their temples and female deities than Corinth. (See this excellent write-up on temple prostitution in Ephesus and Corinth here.) Ephesus is one; yet Paul does not include instructions for women to be silent in Ephesus. Moreover, many cities in the Roman empire had temples to male deities, and where temple prostitution did exist (however rarely), prostitutes sometimes were male as well. Yet there is never a “situation” conjectured about a city that Paul needed to silence the men in order to protect from the appearance of pagan worship practices.
All of this is a side issue to the main reason I’m writing this blog post anyway. That is, that, if women are to be silenced for any of the many varied reasons above – whether it be because they are considered “unlearned” or because there was female prostitution in their city or because there was an aisle that separated them from the men or they were considered in some other way “out of order”— if the answer is to silence an entire gender for one of these supposed justifications, we really haven’t gotten around the basic gender inequality we’re trying to rationalize Paul out of to begin with.
You can’t justify Paul’s instructions with any of these explanations and still come out of it considering yourself to have upheld women as equal to men. Instead, you’ve simply participated in some more complex version of sidelining women, a more smooth and supposedly palatable version of gender disempowerment and disgrace, so why not just skip the gymnastics and simply agreeing with Paul on face value that women are a disgrace when they speak in church to begin with? After all, not one of these explanations keeps us from getting back to that same basic level of inequality by the time we’re really done defending one of them.
Real egalitarianism just can’t support any reasoning Paul might have had here to tell women to go “ask their husbands at home.” And it can’t justify his solution to whatever Corinth’s “problem” was — if indeed Corinth even had a problem specifically about women to begin with — other than to say that Paul might be excused as a product not of whatever issues one might find in Corinthian culture, but as a product of his own patriarchical Jewish culture or even his culture as a Roman citizen. After all, Paul does fall back on what the “law” also says, appealing to the basic code of some culture of his (whether he is talking about Jewish law or maybe even Roman law, no one seems to definitively know.) One can scour the entire corpus of the Jewish Bible and never find a law that forbids women from speaking, but rabbinical law written down a few centuries later is full of that mindset. So what gives, what exactly was Paul falling back on anyway?
Maybe it’s not Paul at all. Adding this to equalize the “unproven but possible” theories on this matter, there is a lot of discussion to be had about Paul’s silencing verses in 1 Corinthians 14 and whether or not they belong where they are positioned in the text (thus slightly changing the overall meaning) or whether they are original to the text at all. (Start your research here.) This would help make sense out of how Paul could give instructions for women praying and prophesying (which, after all, is a form of speaking) in 1 Corinthians 11 and then suddenly be commanding total silence three chapters later.
My final conclusion? Surprise! — I don’t know! I lean this way or that, expressing my sentiments almost as a statistician in terms of probabilities and possibilities, and heck, potentialities. But I’d rather admit I don’t know than make up an explanation with little to no actual historical basis or something that just sinks women in a backhanded way anyway. It’s ok not to be certain of everything or have an answer to everything. It’s enough for me to know that both the Old and the New Testaments have examples (Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, the women at the tomb) that women can minister in the Spirit and minister to men. My egalitarianism hangs out there. And of course, in Christ there is no male nor female.
But as long as I’m rooting any of my justifications on Biblical text, I must grapple one way or another with the honest fact that in both 1 Corinthians and 2nd Timothy, women are placed subserviently to men — and for me this also means that I’m not completely certain of egalitarianism in all ways at all times. If anything seems reasonable to me, it is that there is a rich symbolism in the dance of male and female motifs and figures in scripture and if nothing else, there are spiritual counterparts (such as the subservience of the Bride of Christ to her Head, Jesus) that need some sort of enacting at times. Thus my sometimes “soft complementarianism”.
But a nice, neat, dismissable, “wrapping it all up with an easy explanation” I can not give you or myself. I don’t need others to manufacture weird explanations justification to give me that either. Let’s be honest scholars friends.
–Heather, All Things Are Yours
As a Jew, I love Israel. There’s no way around that. In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about. With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag. Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.
Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites. And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank. As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be. My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews.
It would be so neat and tidy if it were like this. Dare I admit that while I wouldn’t have let myself think such a thought with conscious intentionality — I started having a secret wish that the whole thing would blow up, and that Israel would have an excuse to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and that some war would break out allowing armies to wipe away the Palestinians by the millions, allowing there to finally be peace in the region because, well, there’d only be Israel and no more Palestine to wrangle with.
Of course, the Palestinians have their own fantasy that works a lot like this, but in reverse. In their daydream, they rise up and push Israel into the sea. Thus there is peace in the region because there’d be no more Israel. It’s funny how dreams for peace tend to take on a tone of ethnic cleansing and ethnic Utopianism.
Of course all of this comes from a dream of what once was – the dream of returning to a time when one ethnic group had a golden era in the land. I want to have my peoples’ golden era back. I want to walk into the pages of my ancient storybook and have that world again. The Palestinians are an uncomfortable inconvenience.
But this is my fourth grade Utopian dreamer self musing. My adult self can dream of peace that doesn’t put my collective ethnic self quite as much in the center of it all. My people don’t need to have a land that has the exact same borders they had 3000 years ago. I can dream of Isaac and Ishmael dwelling together again as one family, or at least learning how to have their respective tents side by side, even as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. could have a dream of black and white kids holding hands in America.
In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people,Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19, ESV
The first time I ever read Isaiah 19, tears went streaming unbidden down my face as I realized that God didn’t just love Israel and He didn’t just love Jews. He didn’t even always have Jews first – so much for all that I thought being the “chosen people” was about. It was not an affront to see this – it was a relief. It meant I could have new fantasies – fantasies where loving Palestinians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis – was somehow in the center of God’s plan, not peripheral to it. It meant I could care about what it meant to be a Palestinian, and what it meant to be Arab, and what it meant to be living as the unwanted party in the middle of the Jewish hopes for a restored homeland.
My adult fantasy might have about as much realism as my fourth grade Utopian fantasy. The Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jews might never get along, but at least this dream of finding a way to share the land doesn’t inflame tensions in the region and make things worse. My fourth grade ethnic pride admittedly got really excited to know that Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel; some part of me hoped as many of my evangelical friends proclaimed that, “God was working something out here despite how insane Trump is to do this.” It’s a dark fantasy – the fantasy that diplomacy is unneeded, that Jerusalem is the Jews’ merely by history and divine right, despite any developments or changes that may have occurred over the past 2000 years, and despite the history of any other people that could now also have a stake in the matter.
We can brush away those “other people” with a mere return to what once was, we wish inwardly. By reading history from 3 and 4 thousand years ago in a sacred book, we can brush those people away by pointing to prophesies about the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile and rework them so they are talking about today. We can brush away the Palestinians because there’s no room for them in our narrative, they aren’t in our Utopian dreams, they don’t get us excited about the Bible coming to life in front of us the way a conquering, abiding, reigning Jewish presence in the Holy land does. They don’t fit in our ideas of God’s covenant with Abraham, so we can brush these people away theologically. And if we brush them away enough in our fantasies and musings, we can brush them away in the types of political solutions we applaud and get excited about. To the point where our dark fantasy selves will even applaud at brutal, blood-filled military efforts to brush them away should any sort of provocation or incident give us room to happily justify it.
What then is eschatology? Eschatology becomes the working out of our Utopian desires to walk into the Biblical world from the past in some promise of the past becoming the future – but even better. In clinging to eschatology, we give ourselves permission to rejoice in other people being marginalized, removed, or destroyed for our personal fantasy of what the future should hold. It’s a glorious future, no doubt, one in which we imagine God and His Messiah receiving all sorts of glory for elevating people who come from the storybook fantasy and return it to that storybook ideal – while destroying all the people who weren’t written into the story we want to see enacted.
Or we can dream different dreams, and hold to different goals. If we want to walk into the pages of Scripture, we can dream of God once again showing up differently than religious expectations cast Him, as He always does when He shows up. We can dream of Arab muslims adoring Isa (their word for Jesus), of Jews being excited over Yeshua (Jesus again) and of the Christian Arabs who are already there (or need to be more) being reawakened – and supernatural love flowing among all of them – and all of us, whoever we are – in new, non-politically defined ways. We can even revisit our eschatology and see if there might be room in it for the past 2000 years of Palestinian history and life in the region to be included as a God-thing. Maybe.
All this to say – if your fantasy is for a perfect Israeli gestalt end to all this, I get it. I really do. I just know how dangerous it is for me to live in that mindset, and how impossible it is to be able to love this other tribe of Abraham and value them while my fantasies for a perfect Jewish world would be held out as some idyllic dream on God’s heart – and I hope to warn you too.
For further reading:
By: Emily Susanne. Originally published on fearfullywonderfullyme.com
Okay, normally I try not to rant on here, but I’ve recently read something that made me lose it.
It was midnight, and I was looking online for devotions for dating couples. And then somehow I stumbled upon some forum post from a Christian girl saying she refused to do devotionals with a boyfriend because she wanted to guard her heart.
Yup. She said even praying together was too intimate–more than sex!
I’m not trying to judge this person, as we all have different convictions. And she did have some good points about making sure people are solid in their faith personally before entering a relationship.
The real problem I’m having is that I see this type of thinking in a lot of Christian relationships.
Guard your heart. Protect yourself. No intimacy of any kind.
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