Sunday, April 27, 2014
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." (1 Timothy 2:12)
If we are honest, it's because we like the stuff about forgiveness, and don't like the stuff about telling women to shut up. We recognize that forgiveness is morally good, and that making women submit is morally problematic. The fact is, We aren't coming to the issue neutrally; we already have a problem with gender inequality, and when we hear that Paul may not have written 1 Timothy we are happy for an excuse to disregard it as "inauthentic."
We take a similar tactic with many verses that we find morally troubling. I'm sure you are familiar with many of these arguments. Let's take a look at one example:
"Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says... for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
Again, the point is not that this argument does not have validity. The point is that this is not where we actually begin. We actually begin by having a moral problem with this verse, and then use the scholarly argument (cultural context) to justify why we choose to see this verse as not being applicable to our lives, while we see other verses (like all that good stuff about "love is patient, love is kind" just one chapter earlier in 1 Corinthians 13) as being applicable for our lives, and not as merely cultural.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying we shouldn't question verses like these. I think we are right to question them. In fact, I would say that it is imperative that we question religious commands that we recognize as being hurtful. This is precisely how Jesus approached the Bible. To instead read it unquestioningly is what the Pharisees did, and what Jesus condemned.
So I think coming to the biblical text with such moral questions is vital to healthy Jesus-shaped faith. Because I believe that, where I do want to challenge my progressive sisters and brothers is with being honest about what we are doing. We need to own and embrace what we are doing. When we make the argument that "Paul did not write that" or "that's just cultural" the assumption is often that we are coming at this objectively and simply going with what scholars and "science" says.
That is disingenuous. The real reason is that we come to the text with a moral perspective that causes us to stumble over them in the first place. We need to admit that, and we need to validate it. The reason many of us hide behind scholarship here (especially those of us who come from a conservative background) is that there is an implication that it would be bad to come to the Bible with a moral perspective. If we admit that, we will quickly be accused of "imposing our liberal modern sensibilities onto God's Word." We aren't supposed to impose our morality on the Bible, we're supposed to let the Bible teach us about what's right. Right?
When we read the Bible in an unquestioning way we are reading like the Pharisees, and as Jesus says over and over again, the error they made was that in reading Scripture in this unquestioning way they actually missed the entire point of Scripture which is to lead us to love. Instead it became a weapon used to keep people away from love and from life. That still goes on among many modern day Christian Pharisees, and the gender equality debate is an example of this.
If we truly understand the reason Jesus was so adamantly opposed to how the Pharisees were (mis)reading Scripture, we need to recognize that Jesus came to the Bible with a set of moral assumptions intact and applied these as he read. This lead him to do things like healing on the Sabbath which was breaking the law from the perspective of the Pharisees, but was fulfilling it from the perspective of Jesus because he was loving and caring for people in need.
When we likewise come to the text with the values of Jesus in mind, with compassion for the marginalized on our hearts, we need to see that this is a good thing which we need to affirm, rather than deny or hide.
That means when we find ourselves questioning verses that seem hurtful to us, the first thing we need to do is recognize that those questions are a vital part of a healthy Jesus-shaped approach to faith and Scripture. So let's own and embrace these questions and the moral assumptions behind them. Let's recognize that it's good to read the Bible morally, and bad the read it amorally.
Once we can do that, once we can be honest about why we are really questioning certain verses (because they are morally troubling, and not because of some scholarly argument about their authenticity or cultural context) then the next step would be to explore those moral assumptions:
What are the values we are bringing to the text? Are they inline with the values of Jesus? How do we know? How can we develop and grow in these values as followers of Christ?
These are the kinds of questions we need to explore as we learn to think morally, and develop what Paul calls "the mind of Christ." Rather than keeping them hidden and thus unreflected (and perhaps as a result undeveloped), let's bring our questions and moral assumptions into the light.