I met Randy a little over 4 years ago. He was living down the road from my church and started coming in every Sunday morning for the service. Every once in a while he would ask for help with something – a ride, or a little bit of food. One day he came in and told me that he was getting kicked out of his house and would be homeless by the end of the day. Randy had a pretty rough go of things as an adult. After a stint in the Army he found himself a drifter, moving from shelter to shelter across the country trying to find a home. He worked along the way and picked up skills in construction. He ended up back in Indiana because both his parents lived there, within an hour of each other.

A few years before I met him he was living in a homeless shelter in Grant County. He would pick up odd jobs during the day, sometimes just volunteering his time and talents. One day he was helping another resident move a refrigerator up some stairs for an elderly lady. The stairs gave out from under Randy and he fell through with the fridge on top of him. He broke his back. He mounted up somewhere between $30k-$60k in medical bills and went through multiple surgeries. Randy couldn’t afford medical insurance so these bills just mounted. He found a free clinic that would see him and prescribe pain meds but he soon became addicted to the pills. It was his addiction that led him to me. He was being accused of stealing pills. I don’t doubt that he stole them. When Randy was high he didn’t have much awareness of his actions. Without the pills he lived in severe pain, but with them he was a mess.

Had Randy been able to afford a primary care physician he may have had the chance to try other medicines that could control his pain without the addictive side-effects. He might have had regular checkups that would put him on a path towards healing rather than towards a destructive cycle of addiction and homelessness. Because he was poor his primary care was the emergency room. With each painful visit his bills mounted. I worked with Randy for a number of years. I took him to disability trials, doctor appointments, and helped him find a place to live. He found odd jobs to pay his rent but they always landed him in the hospital. He was disabled, plain and simple, rendering his manual labor skills moot. Through a program at a local social service agency he was able to find permanent housing and after years of waiting finally started receiving SSI so he could afford it. He even got his meds mostly under control.

Randy’s girlfriend came to my office this morning. She can be pretty dramatic so I wasn’t surprised to see her a bit flustered. She was looking at me through her periphery. Her voice was quick and desperate when she told me, “This isn’t good. Randy died last night.” She thinks he may have died because of a tumor he had on his head, but she wasn’t sure.

This morning the United States Supreme Court heard arguments against the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010. Though this is a complicated issue the basic question is whether or not Congress has the power to require people to buy insurance. The counter is that everybody participates in the healthcare system at some point. If a person without insurance has to access healthcare and cannot afford it those costs get passed on to others through rising healthcare costs and through taxes. The Affordable Care Act also expands coverage for low-income folks. As I mentioned earlier, Randy’s primary care was the emergency room. In 2009 the average cost for a visit to the ER was $1,318 (Medical Expenditure Panel Survey). When folks like Randy can’t pay their bills these costs get passed on to others, which doesn’t make the bill go away. An average visit to my doctor costs me $167. One 2010 study shows that ¼ of all regular doctor visits (non-emergency) are made in the ER rather than with a primary care physician (http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/29/9/1620.abstract). That’s 88,500,000 ER visits a year. Of those, more than half are made by patients who have no insurance. That’s over 44,250,000 visits a year, with an average cost of $1,318 per visit, that gets passed on to other people and to our government amounting to a total cost of around $58,321,500,000 a year to care for the uninsured. These numbers are a gross simplification but demonstrate the cost of health care in our current system. And none of these costs go to preventative measures which would keep people healthy, ultimately saving more money.

But right now, these numbers mean squat to me. A friend of mine died because our society didn’t take care of him. He wasn’t deemed worthy of having adequate health care in a society that thrives on gluttonous consumption. We failed Randy and, I’m afraid, millions of people like him. This isn’t about conservative vs liberal. This isn’t about ousting a president or towing a party-line. This is about human dignity. What will history say of a society that has more money and resources than any society before it but who won’t feed, clothe, and protect the most vulnerable of its citizens? It will say that we failed. I’m sorry, Randy.

After reading a few reviews of James and the Drifter’s new EP TRAIN! I thought I’d try to contribute something to the conversation.  I need to say a few things that are true about me in order to lay out my thoughts about this album.  First, I grew up having no small fascination with trains.  My father was a railroader, just like his father before him.  There is something deeply nostalgic and romantic about trains to me, so I was happy to see the title of this EP.  Second, I think it is disrespectful to sandwich critical statements between compliments.  If something needs to be said that is critical, I plan to be respectful enough to be forthcoming about it.

Having said that, if there is something worth critiquing about this EP, and it has been said by quite a few reviewers so far, it is that the album seems disjointed.  I’d like to respond to that critique because I think it misses some thematic nuance that seems quite evident to me.

As a child I was fascinated, mainly, by two parts of the train; the engine, and the caboose.  The former tears through empty track with a mighty roar, disrupting communities and driving plans, while the latter seems to bring a sense of, almost celebratory, completion.  Tucked in between these two stalwarts, though, is a seemingly endless hodgepodge of cars, stories, and places; a rhythmic, yet driven, hum of wheels and gears rushing through town like a Bat Out of Hell (thanks Meatloaf). In tougher times these cars were called home to ramblers and vagrants, some looking for hope, some having already given up on it.   Trains not only carry freight, they carry stories and history and it seems that James and the Drifters have captured something of this sense.

TRAIN! begins with a raucous track, aptly titled Train.  Like a distant whistle this song starts as a driven yet quiet beat but it quickly picks up a steady roar as if announcing the EP’s presence. As we settle into track 2, Fugitive, and beyond, we’re drawn into story after story, none really relating to the others.  But there is something comforting about this collection of stories, something reminiscent of times past, romanticized in westerns, books and folk tales.  We’re met with analogous love stories (Pretty Israel), sojourners finding liberation (Bones), tales of forgiveness and redemption (I Will Overcome), and a hopeful lament (Till I Believe).  Listening to TRAIN! reminds me of sitting submissively at the tracks, letting go of my hurry and meandering into the depths of my mind only to be interrupted by the end of the train rushing past.  Notably, the last track, and my least favorite, Tempest comes in quickly, frustrating any state in which the previous five tracks had placed your mind.  It disrupts your contemplative and peaceful place, slaps you in the face and leaves you there.  The only thing left to do is put your car in gear and move on.

As a work, I really appreciate the structure of the EP.  The songs are well written and, if you allow them, incite the imagination.  And, if I haven’t beaten the allegory to death (sorry!), like a train it’s a collection much deeper than its contents.  Song after song rushes by, each one steeped in stories we usually never get to hear.  I’d like to thank James and the Drifters for letting us hear.

If you’d like to hear or buy the album you can do that here.

Why I’m Reading This Book

John Howard Yoder is a name I’ve seen a lot in the past eight years as I’ve waded into theological waters from the shores of more than a few theological islands.  And I’ve read a little of his work, but not his most famous book The Politics of Jesus.  I’ve always appreciated the Anabaptist approach to both biblical interpretation and ethics so I guess it seems fitting to finally read the preeminent Anabaptist study on these two disciplines.

While I do not plan to agree, or for that matter understand, everything Yoder says I will approach this read through intent on learning.  And, of course, I am really reading this book because it supports my preexisting biases and I hope to sharpen them.   If you read my chapter reviews and wish to challenge ideas, thoughts, or beliefs please feel free to do so respectively.  I plan to read through this book at whatever rate suites me so if there are long breaks between posts don’t be surprised.  In the end, I am writing here hoping that the process will help me better understand this important theological work.

Chapter 1: The Possibility of a Messianic Ethic

Yoder begins his work begging for critique as he explains that what he is trying to do is best done through an amateur approach to two disciplines: biblical exegesis and ethics.  He reasons that because such a large chasm exists between these two disciplines getting bogged down in either would do a disservice to the thrust of his argument.

And the thrust of his argument is this:  Jesus’ life and work has significant implications on social ethics and that when understood He is, “not only relevant but also normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic.”  In other words, although Jesus came for reasons that have spiritual significance, He also came to show us what a standard Christian life should look like in regards to politics and society.  So far this seems to be a book written against Protestantism’s tendency to understand Jesus’ teaching and actions as only having spiritual significance rather than concrete human significance.  This, he argues, is to emphasize the divinity of Jesus while ignoring His humanity.

Yoder contends that in mainstream Christian ethics, Jesus is not the norm and gives six explanations that are used to excuse Jesus from being our ethical standard.  They are as follows:

1.  Jesus was not concerned with the “survival of the structures of a solid society” because he thought the world would end soon and as a result only a spiritual purpose and teaching had any pressing significance.

2. Jesus’ ethic was one that had only a rural village sociology and therefore had nothing to say about, “the problems of complex organization, of institutions and offices, cliques and power and crowds.”

3. “Jesus and his early followers lived in a world over which they had no control.”  As a result, the focus was on being a faithful minority whereas Christians today face questions that were inconceivable to Jesus so his teaching has nothing to say about our complex modern context.

4. Jesus was not interested in social change but in “a new self-understanding” and all of His ethical teachings were “the symbolic or mythical clothing of his spiritual message.”

5. Jesus pointed people away from finite values towards God’s infinite and sovereign values making anything here and now of little to no importance.

6. Jesus came only to give his life for the sins of the world, so how he died, what he did, and what he said before the crucifixion is “ethically immaterial.”  Only the dying for sins to bring eternal life matters.

As a result of these six reasons, says Yoder, any ethic we create is founded on common sense, responsibility, and reason.  If this is true then the way in which Christ followers live in the world today is determined more by culture and by preference than by a Jesus shaped ethic, provided that a focus on the eternal/spiritual significance of the crucifixion remains.  It is only the spiritual message of Jesus that matters.

Yoder explains that, in this line of reasoning, to create a social ethic one must cross a narrow bridge from Jesus’ context to our own:

“A certain very moderate amount of freight can be carried across this bridge: perhaps a concept of absolute love or humility or faith or freedom. But the substance of ethics must be reconstructed on our side of the bridge.”

In other words, we can take samples of Jesus’ ethic and apply them to our context but Jesus life and teachings are not the standard by which we form our own ethic.

This leads to a conundrum – mainly that Matthew wrote his gospel, it seems, intent on communicating a “simple kind of ethical catechism.”  For Matthew, Jesus was teaching a way to live.  If the line of reasoning is followed one must assume that Matthew misunderstood Jesus.  But for those who seem to think that he did, Paul comes to the rescue.  Paul, Yoder quips, “corrected the tendency to neo-Judaism or to early catholicism by an emphasis upon the priority of grace and the secondary significance of works, so that ethical matters could never be taken too seriously.”  Jesus did not come, as Matthew seems to suggest, in order to give us a social ethic, but to teach that works, and therefor ethics, are secondary at best to God’s grace.  Paul goes further by clarifying that Jesus actually has “positive respect for the institutions of society, even the subordination of woman and slavery; acceptance of the divinely sanctioned legitimacy of the Roman government…”  Once Paul is understood Matthew is then read and interpreted through a Pauline lens, rather than the other way around.

Yoder admits that the above rejection of Jesus as normative for our social ethic is “hastily sketched” but contends that this the common approach to Christian ethics.

He ends with the contention that Jesus can, in fact, be normative for a social ethic meaning that he came not only to save us from our sins, to die on the cross, but to be in the world in a particular way that has significance even today.

Because of the arduous task before him Yoder, admittedly, builds some arguments from generalizations and assumptions.  These might be worth identifying but that they are generalizations and assumptions probably does little to take away from his central argument.

Next, chapter two….

The Good Apologist

A group of young seminarians had come to the end of their ropes.  Time and time again they were challenged in public to defend the faith from heroes of the secular world but could not come out on top.   They had tried every trick ever taught them and every method at their disposal yet their atheist adversaries made far better arguments and won over crowds with ease.

But the seminarians had heard tales of an apologist from days past; rumors of a man who could take down the mightiest of opponent with his wit and intellect.  He was a man whom had fought the good fight through every secular idea his generation could throw at him: communism, evolution, and philosophy.  But they also knew that this man had not practiced his craft for years.  They weren’t even sure how to find him but they knew that it was only he who could defeat the secularism of their day and therefore spread the gospel of Jesus to those who were not yet convinced.

When a professor, who was once acquainted with the old man, told the seminarians how they could find him they jumped into action.  They approached the sage, explained their situation and asked if he would publicly defend the faith once more against a famous atheist whose work was gaining much ground.  After seeing the enthusiasm and hope of the young men the old apologist acquiesced and told them that he would do as they asked.

The event was scheduled.  In a public forum the atheist and the apologist would have a showdown.  Knowing the reputation of the old man, the atheist brought every weapon he had.  He was going to tear down the evangelical faith once and for all.  The old man was also ready.

The atheist stood before the crowd and with supreme eloquence he presented irrefutable evidence that evolution is true and that the Biblical account of creation in Genesis is archaic and erroneous.  The audience was mesmerized by his wit and charm.  When it was clear that everybody in the room was thoroughly convinced the atheist stepped aside and invited his opponent to respond.

The old apologist slowly rose from his seat, smiled at the atheist and nodded in thanks while walking to the podium.  He approached the microphone and with humble sincerity said, “I suppose you’re right, my dear friend.  Thank you for teaching us.”  He then turned and walked back to his seat.

Not quite sure what to do, the atheist hesitated but stood again to give his second exposition.  Again, with charisma and zeal, he tore apart the Christian faith.  In a matter of minutes he convinced the whole of the room that the Christian religion was philosophically untenable.  When he was satisfied he had done an adequate job he sat down.

The old apologist slowly rose from his seat, smiled at the atheist and nodded in thanks while walking to the podium.  He approached the microphone and with humble sincerity said, “That seems to make a lot of sense.  Perhaps you’re right.”  He turned again and walked back to his seat, smiling the whole way.

The atheist didn’t understand.  What could this old man be thinking?  What would make him give up his faith so easily?  He rose and asked, “Why won’t you defend the faith you’ve so ardently defended in the past?”

The young seminarians rose to listen, eager to hear the answer.

The old man smiled.  He stood up and said, “I searched for Christ in politics and I could not find him.  I searched for Christ in philosophy and theology but I could not find him.  I searched for Christ in the Christian religion but could not find him.  I determined that he must not be there.  But I found him.  He was on a cross letting the accusations of other’s destroy his reputation, his work, even his religion.  And because they destroyed all of these things, and because there was nothing left to take from him, folks were able to see what God gave us in their place.”

“And what was that?” inquired the atheist.

“A man who is for others,”[1] Said the apologist, “It seems the only real way to defend that is to emulate.”

So moved by his humility and unsure of how to respond the atheist took his seat.  But one of the young seminarians, disappointed in the exchange, marched to the stage and told the audience that they would continue the debate.  Taking things into his own hands he began to refute the atheist’s claims.  He pulled no punches and left no stone unturned.  He did a precise and flawless critique of the atheist’s logic rising to the occasion like the apologists of old.  He deconstructed every word, phrase, and thought the atheist had put forth with depth and insight.  Having thoroughly demonstrated the superiority of the Christian faith he turned to the atheist and said, “Now that you have something to respond to let’s see what you’ve got.”

With a look of uncertainty on his face he cautiously approached the podium.  He looked at the old man, who was sitting contended in his chair, and he looked at the young seminarian who had proudly stepped aside.  He shrugged his shoulders and with sincerity replied, “I suppose you’re right, my friend.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.”  With that he turned and walked off stage never to be heard from again in the public arena.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich.  Christ the Center and Papers and Letters From Prison.

Here was a recent story on NPR.

The short version is this: Atlanta’s largest homeless shelter, Peachtree-Pine, is more than likely going to be forced to shut down by the City of Atlanta.

Protests hoping to invoke the reversal of recent strong-armed decisions are in full force this week as Atlanta works to close this shelter down putting between 400-600 homeless men onto the streets.

Local neighborhood associations are blaming the shelter for an increase in petty crimes and even inhabitants say it is an unsafe place to live.  There is no hot water and no paid staff.  In many ways it is an ‘every man for himself’ environment.  Being that it is in the center of downtown Atlanta, it is also a deterrent to downtown commerce.  I’ve experienced the vast number of homeless men in this city first hand and it is difficult to go about your business while being approached for a hand out at every corner.

The shelter was foreclosed on last May and is now in the hands of a lender.  But the previous owners, Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, are fighting to regain possession claiming that Atlanta government and local businesses conspired against it by pressuring donors to pull funding for the shelter.  The previous owners went roughly $900,000 in debt before losing the property.

I have a lot of questions as I try to think through this issue.  Here are some issues that I think are worth exploring:

Is this shelter doing these men a service or a disservice?

What I mean is, does this shelter provide opportunities for these men to grow or advance in their personal or professional lives?

Does it provide resources for help with mental health issues, education, or social skill development?  Or is this a bare-bones operation that provides a roof over their head an nothing else?

I’m going to go ahead and say that as it stands this shelter, though well-intentioned, is doing a disservice to both these men and to the city of Atlanta.  I know that sounds horrible because it is providing shelter for the most vulnerable, which is favorable, but it isn’t treating these men as if they have anything to offer the world.  As it stands it is a system resting on it’s laurels.  The MATFH, though, has a dream that moves far beyond laurel resting into the world of responsible charity.  Here is their vision:

The vision for our building is to create a sustainable, inclusive community
within a smart, green building, including homeless, formerly homeless,
and never-been homeless people living, working, playing, learning and
helping each other. This inclusive, celebratory and creative community is
important because Peachtree-Pine sits in the middle of downtown Atlanta,
demonstrating the possibilities of an alternative community that ends
homelessness and serves as a model for re-including excluded people in
our buildings, on our blocks, in our neighborhoods, and in our cities.

That’s an outstanding vision.  In a world where social service programs are spread so thin that their only hope is to mechanize personal and social development and government funding is fickle at best a vision rooted in an interdependent community that is racially, socially, and economically diverse might be one of the greatest dreams to grace the city of Atlanta.

So I ask, if the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless were given the proper funding and support would they and could they pull this vision off?  Why was this community not developed when the shelter had proper funding?  Who are these “never been homeless” people that are willing to sacrifice the American Dream for this sort of intentional community?

Also, why is it so important that this building be in downtown Atlanta?  Is there a location where this shelter could move that is close to downtown but that doesn’t disrupt local economic development or commerce that might be more suitable for a massive amount of otherwise homeless people?

I don’t want to advocate for placing these men on the streets, which is the most likely outcome of shutting this shelter down.  From the NPR article:

Protip Biswas heads the Regional Commission on Homelessness for Atlanta’s United Way. His agency is pushing what’s known as case management. It’s a national trend in fighting homelessness and ties a shelter bed to social services. He says large shelters like this one are old-fashioned and make being homeless easy.

Mr. PROTIP BISWAS (Executive Director, Regional Commission on Homelessness, United Way): The philosophy of holding on to these men, sort of warehousing them, not letting the community come in and work with these men is not an approach that I agree with.

Mr. Biswas makes an interesting point but I’m not convinced the social services in Atlanta are prepared to step up and receive this many homeless people at once and many of them are likely to fall through the cracks.  In fact, these are the men who have fallen through the cracks so what proof is there that disbanding this shelter would ultimately be a better option for these men?

So there’s the dream.  What if these men were allowed to stay.  And more, what if other people decided to leave their homes and move into community with these folks?  What if downtown Atlanta became an archetype for Christian community, in the tradition of the early church in Acts?

Could Atlanta look like this?:

Acts 2:44-47

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;  and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

“All will grow great and powerful again:

the seas be wrinkled and the land be plain,

the trees gigantic and the walls be low;

and in the valleys, strong and multiform,

a race of herdsmen and of farmers grow.


No churches to encircle God as though

he were a fugitive, and then bewail him

as if he were a captured wounded creature, –

all houses will prove friendly, there will be

a sense of boundless sacrifice prevailing

in dealings between men, in you, in me.


No waiting beyond, no peering toward it,

but longing to degrade not even death;

we shall learn earthliness, and serve its ends,

to feel its hands about us like a friend’s.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke-

Full disclosure, I’m an egalitarian.  I believe that men and women, though biologically unique from one another, are not required by the Bible to be relegated to specific roles within the church or in the home.  The church for which I work comes from the Church of God, Anderson movement and is also egalitarian in its approach to ministry.  Women may be lead pastors in a congregation.  I have, though, some wonderful and faithful friends who are complimentarians.   A complimentarian holds that the Bible teaches that men and women are relegated to different God ordained roles within the church and, for some, within the home.  The spectrum within this camp ranges from those who believe that women should be silent in church, submissive to their husbands, and relegated to western traditional roles within the home to those who believe that women and men are to be mutually submissive with men as the head (as Christ is the head of the Church), women may participate actively in ministry under the authority of a male pastor, and there is a great deal of mutual respect for both genders and their gifting.  Thankfully most of my friends approach complimentarianism from this second, very respectful, camp.

In a blog that I frequent from time to time a discussion on gender roles caught my attention.  In the comments I asked the question:

If male headship is a result of the fall (Genesis 3:16) then why wouldn’t the liberation of Christ require us to move away from those categories?

The reply from the article’s author, Tamie, offered some great categories to explore but the comments ended there.  I would like to explore these categories here.  She said:

I think the two big questions in the debate are:
1. Is male headship a result of the fall or does the fall distort good male headship?
2. If it is, does the NT move away from it and towards liberation of Christ or does it seek to restore male headship, but in the image of Christ?

My goal here is not to debate the Pauline passages on women.  That is for another post.  I would like, instead, to focus on Genesis in relation to Christ’s work on the cross.  Let’s first take a look at the passage in question (emphasis mine):

Genesis 3:16-20 16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.  18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field;  19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”  20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

My first temptation after reading this passage is to classify male headship as a result of the fall.  This, in my mind, puts it in the same category as sin.  Is this a fair assessment of male headship?  Of course, one could also say that this puts male headship in the same category as clothes but I’m not so quick to say that as a result of the freedom Christ brings we should all become nudists.  Clothes aren’t explicitly defined as something that are brought into the equation as a punishment for sin so I think we can safely assume that wearing clothes does not fit into the same category as male headship or sin.

Now there are three caveats to this issue that need to be explored: 1, Is male headship a God ordained and timeless instruction for all believers for all time?  Or 2, is male headship primarily a cultural institution and therefore not binding in every culture?   Or 3, does male headship come from both a combination of culture and providential ordination?  After these three questions are explored we can address the two questions asked by Tamie, which get to the heart of the issue.

Let’s start with question 1.  Is male headship God ordained and timeless?  What can we learn from the Genesis passage?  Well, I feel comfortable saying that male headship is a consequence of the decisions made by Eve but I could be misreading the text.  In God’s comments to the serpent he states a cause – “Because you have done this.”  In God’s comments to the man he also states a cause – “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.”  However, to the woman he does not say “because.”  I tend to assume from the text that there is a cause which is stated earlier – “because” the woman was deceived and ate.  Is this a fair assumption?  Or am I implying too much?  Maybe the fact that there is no “because” means that it is a simple reality of life from here on out.  Maybe a break in communion with God cannot happen without an increase in the pain of childbearing and the institution of male headship.  Which one seems most faithful to the text?  Is there a third way to understand the lack of explicit causation?

By asking if male headship is timeless I mean, is headship something that exists in the original order of creation to be applied for all of time?  We’ll explore that later.

Question 2: Is male headship primarily a cultural institution?  As an egalitarian my short answer is yes, of course, but I recognize that this doesn’t further the conversation.  What does male headship look like?  For some it means a world of very specific gender roles and responsibilities.  I was once turned away when I offered to help clean up after dinner at a Southern Baptists pastor’s home deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  A few seconds later a female associate of mine offered the same help and was welcomed into the kitchen.  It was culturally insensitive of me to even offer the help but it was culturally expected that she would participate in clean up and all because when these people read the words of Paul and the Genesis 3 passage they projected their traditional gender roles onto the text.

When we examine gender through fields like psychology, anthropology, human development, and even missiology (my field of study) we find reason to examine all of our previous assumptions about gender roles.  Although I have explored the idea that gender is cultural nothing I have written proves that it is primarily cultural. I’m not certain I would defend gender as solely cultural but I think it is an important element.  Here is how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Gender:

“the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex”

Psychologists now categorically define sex (biology) and gender (cultural/psychological) differently.  Of course it is not possible to completely distinguish between the body and the mind because they are two parts of the same whole, but we can distinguish between human beings and culture.  In Australian culture, for instance, it is less acceptable for a male to be openly sensitive (unless of course it has to do with sport) than it is in America.  This is not a biological phenomenon but a cultural one that is deeply rooted in what it means to be a male in Australia (Though there are exceptions and I found many Christian males to be more open to their sensitivities than their not-yet-Christian friends).  Not being a psychologist I can only examine this anecdotally rather than in-depth but I imagine that we all agree there is a great deal of what we consider “gender” that has been shaped by our culture, if not all of what we consider gender.  Our biology deeply affects our gender as well though.  Men and women have different amounts of different hormones that affect how we think, behave, and experience.

Question 3:  does male headship come from both a combination of culture and providential ordination?

Here is where complimentarians and I part ways.  I believe that when we read Paul’s advice on women we are seeing culturally defined gender roles rather than timeless truths to which Christians should always submit.  I think back to my experience in Appalachian culture.  The director of our ministry site was a female.  She was not in charge of teaching or even involved in direct hands-on ministry but took care of the organizational side of the ministry (housing, finances, etc.).  We learned very quickly that when interacting with locals, and in particular Christians, with whom we hoped to partner we sent a male to do the talking.  Some people would not even consider talking to a female or working with a ministry that put a female in her position.  If I were to write a letter to the staff who would be taking our place the following summer it would not be beyond me to borrow a sentence from Paul: “But do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”  This is not because our director was incapable but because this was the most profitable approach to ministry in this community.  Again, this is anecdotal but demonstrates my point.  Even if Paul was a child of his culture and bought into the ideas of his culture that does not make them necessarily applicable to our own.  After all, even he admitted that there is no male or female when it comes to Jesus.

I promised this would be about Genesis 3 though and not about Paul so let’s continue down that path by asking Tamie’s questions:

  1. Is male headship a result of the fall or does the fall distort good male headship?

This is really two questions:  Is male headship a result of the fall? Or, does the fall distort good male headship?

The first question is what I asked originally.  When we read Genesis 3 does it teach us that male headship is a result of the fall?  The second question implies that male headship was in place (timeless) and that the fall reoriented, and therefore distorted, it.  So if male headship was not initiated at the fall from where does it come?  In her blog Women in Ministry, Cheryl Schatz covers common answers to this question.  Here are a few reasons she has discovered why people believe that male headship was in place before the fall:

  1. God’s design in Genesis 1
  2. Adam names Eve which implies authority (he calls her both woman and Eve)
  3. Eve usurped Adam’s authority (but this is only true if it is previously established that he has authority over her)

I’ll only address the first one as the other two seem to be dependent on a previously established authority.  God’s Design in Genesis 1:

Genesis 1:26-31 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.  28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;  30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.  31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

This is the key passage for this claim.  You can see though that there is no authority given that places the man above the woman here.  They are given mutual responsibilities.  One might claim that the Genesis 2 passage more clearly defines a hierarchy between the genders but it isn’t in the text.

Genesis 2:18 – 3:1 18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”  19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.  20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.  21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.  22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.  23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.”  24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.  25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Here we see that man had a relational need and the female was created to join him.  There is nothing that implies submission or hierarchy here.  In fact Adam’s own words imply mutuality.  He says she is of the same essence as he is, and that when they join together they will be one flesh.  You could, of course, retroactively interpret these texts by first reading Paul and then interpreting Genesis through his words but I think that would be putting the cart before the horse.  Paul isn’t reinterpreting Genesis he is writing letters to churches and church leaders.  If anything we should first work to understand what the relationship between genders was before the fall and then work to understand Paul.

  1. Does the NT move away from male headship and towards liberation of Christ or does it seek to restore male headship, but in the image of Christ?

I can’t express how well this question is worded because it is truly the heart of the issue.  As an egalitarian I hold that male headship is a result of the fall and that the work of Christ liberates us from these categories.  But Tamie’s question gives cause to stop and reflect.  Does the work of Christ restore male headship as it was intended to be?

As I see no evidence that male headship existed before the fall, I cannot adequately address this question.  I welcome my complimentarian friend’s insight here.  Please feel free to address the claims I have made in regards to there being, in my understanding, no pre-ordained/timeless hierarchy in gender relations.  For that matter please feel free to clarify, correct, or explore any of the ideas I’ve presented here.  My plan was not to write so much but as I’ve read through this I can’t think of anything to take out and wish that I could add more (sorry!)!  If I have misrepresented complimentarians please feel free to correct me.  I think this conversation is helpful for all of us even if it only serves to reinforce the stance of people from both parties!


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