Saturday, November 18, 2006

Feminist theology and social justice priorities

This continues a series on what I hope is constructive criticism for feminist theology. By now I'm eager to move along to more edifying subjects, and have only two posts remaining (this and one more, as I start typing the current post).

I think one of the more obvious ways in which feminist theology has neglected the concerns of average women has been in the area of priorities. Given that social justice is a concern, is the ordination and promotion of women really the highest priority among theological issues? I'm not saying that to discourage conversation on that subject; it's a topic of the day and let's have the conversation. Instead, I mention priorities by way of a perspective-check.

Social Justice Top Priority: Commitment to Marriage
Let's talk about social justice. One of the leading causes of poverty in this nation -- surely a social justice issue -- is single motherhood. I expect that working marriages would do far more to reduce poverty than increasing the minimum wage. Yet people see the minimum wage as a worthwhile social justice issue, but do not see strengthening the family as a social justice issue. However, it is a social justice issue.

I think we sweep problems like that under the rug because they are messy and embarrassing. It sounds much nicer to talk about whether we have enough women who are pastors and bishops. But in the meantime we have too many women who are living in poverty because their boyfriends pressured them into sex and then abandoned them when they wouldn't have an abortion, or whose husbands walked out rather than invest the work needed to sustain a marriage. The good we do in the average woman's life -- and child's life -- by creating a two-parent, stable, just and merciful Christian home far outweighs the good done to that same woman by having a woman bishop who won't address those concerns either. Home life is sometimes dirty and ugly; Christianity is at its strongest with love, redemption, justice, and mercy. But these things don't happen by themselves. What happens by itself, in our hearts and lives, is increasing sin, dismay, and disorder. The spiritual neglect of a home long-untended makes itself felt in too many lives. The leaders have to lead and make points of these things with their people.

Social Justice Priority: No Pressure to Abort
How many pastors use abortion as an example of evil in our culture? Now, how many of those pastors actually say, from the pulpit, that a man should never ask his wife or girlfriend to abort their child? They also say that, these days, one of the leading causes of death in pregnant women is being attacked by the father of the child. Have we mentioned to our people that these are horrific things, that a man should never attack his wife or girlfriend with the intent to induce a miscarriage? A friend of mine from church is raising a profoundly retarded and disabled child because her husband attacked her while she was pregnant. Rather than inducing a miscarriage, he induced a very premature delivery. It may seem too horrific to say or consider, but it happens around us, and even in our churches, because we are sinners too. Just as "do not murder" and "do not commit adultery" are obvious but are written in the Ten Commandments all the same, we need church leaders who are willing to address the obvious and ugly problems around us.

Social Justice Priority: Justice and Mercy in Courtship
Dating is often an exercise in the man trying to press the woman as far as she will go towards sexual intercourse. I'll take the traditional women's complaints against the men first, then look at the other side of the coin.

When it comes to pre-marital sex, even men who are Christians often show no signs of self-restraint, placing the burden of guilt or pressure of rejection on the woman. Teaching men to be self-controlled, to hold themselves accountable for how far they go, would greatly ease the burden on women. When was the last time anyone heard church leaders address that it is wrong to use high-pressure tactics, to use emotional blackmail, or to take advantage of emotional insecurity in order to gain sexual concessions? The next generation approaching puberty includes my own daughter. I can explain all this to her, but it would help if I had the church's support. For a Christian man it should be unconscionable to make an inappropriate advance in the first place. We need to re-set our expectations there.

Enough picking on the men, though. Women also must be taught those same standards of accountability, responsibility, kindness and justice. Not only are women perfectly capable of pressuring men unduly, there is also the temptation to blame it on the man, which may seem plausible because of traditional expectations. Christian women should know that it is ungodly to take advantage of men, and that it is especially repugnant to blame men for our own moral shortcomings. Blaming other people for our own faults is the height of injustice. It kills love, rejects mercy, and ignores kindness. It stunts spiritual growth, cutting us off from repentance and forgiveness. I hope it doesn't seem strange to you that I hold women accountable and hope other women will take the lead in holding ourselves accountable. Both egalitarians and complementarians will notice that Paul's instructions to Titus to have older women teaching younger women about the realitiies of building loving families. It seems odd, if not worse, that the one area on which complementarians and egalitarians should have full agreement is the one thing that I can't see either camp doing.

Quality of Life and Quality of Culture: Peace with Men
Strife between men and women is nothing new. Peace between men and women, and goodwill, is a worthy goal. But a certain strain of feminism tries to score political points by grievance-mongering. I'm not saying there are never grievances, I'm saying the approach being used is sometimes more likely to aggravate the grievances than resolve them. In this way, the feminist movement has at times had a negative effect on male/female relations. If the Christian feminists or Christian feminist theologians are to have a positive impact on this, some more constructive approaches would be welcome.

The Point?
Our Lord called down blessings for the peacemakers, for the merciful, for those who longed for righteousness, and for the pure in heart. All of Christ's brothers and sisters are called to be channels of blessing in the world. When feminist theology is genuinely Christ-like, it promises to be a blessing to the world.

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