Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gender Hierarchy Part 5 - Gender and the Heart of the Gospel

Suggesting (as I did here) that we may move beyond the gender hierarchy presupposed in Scripture makes me uncomfortable because it seems to make life easier, when Jesus, according to Matthew 5:21-48, made it harder. The folks at CBMW can claim the rhetorical high ground because they stand fast against society's pressure, while the rest of us are left to slither through the garden asking, "Did God really say...?"

To be clear: I have no desire to make the gospel easy or to evade the force of its demands. As one who wishes to remain under Scripture's authority, I am not free to discard bits and pieces I don't like, or to say without further ado "We don't have to bother with that anymore." If there is a movement "beyond" Scripture--to adopt I. Howard Marshall's provocative and problematic expression--it can only be in order to be more faithful to Scripture and, more importantly, to the God of Scripture.

So how can one "move beyond" gender hierarchy while remaining faithful to Scripture?

Richard Hays proposes that we look at Biblical passages on ethical issues through the focal images of community, cross, and new creation. Whether or not one agrees with Hays's overall approach (summarized here), it is interesting that all three images are expressed in Galatians 3:27-29:
For as many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Judaean or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are of Christ, then you are seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.
Those who were baptized have experienced new creation through the cross (implied in baptism) and are part of the community of those who are one in Christ. Whatever its social implications--and here Paul is only concerned with the first pair of binary oppositions--this passage lies at the heart of Paul's gospel.

As far as I can tell, Paul didn't see Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11 as being in conflict with his command for women to be subject to their husbands "as is fitting in the Lord" (Col 3:18). Nor does he state explicitly that slavery is wrong. However, he does relativize slavery in Col 3:23-24 by making it clear that both slaves and masters serve one Master--the Lord. And after arguing that women "ought to have authority on their heads because of the angels" (1 Cor 11:10) on the one hand, and because woman was created because of man (11:9) on the other, Paul adds "nor is man apart from woman in the Lord...but everything is from God" (11:11-12). Here again, being "in the Lord" affects gender relations. It is because of statements like these that are tied to the heart of the gospel message, that I think we are justified in taking the implications of NT teaching farther than the NT writers themselves took them.

Of course, to do this we must recognize that we do not encounter Scripture as a book of Law. And, as one of my colleagues once remarked, we need still to appreciate the hierarchical pattern lying behind Eph 5:25-33 in order to grasp its subversiveness. For, as Suzanne McCarthy commented on an earlier post: When "the wife submits and the husband sacrifices, this is not a hierarchical relationship but describes the nature of the egalitarian reciprocity."

I'm not convinced I'm making sense anymore, so I'll stop here.

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