Sunday, May 20, 2007

Feminism and Mother's Day

It's been awhile since I posted on feminism. It's not really one of my favorite topics, as the whole atmosphere tends to be dry and strident, political in the bad sense, and divisive, without much edifying in the conversation. But in reading the latest Lutheran Carnival, two of the Mother's Day entries caught my eye. The first is from Rev. Cwirla:
Some today decry the "feminization" of the Church, but I beg to disagree. What is wrong with the Church is not its feminizing, but its neutering, in which there is neither male nor female but a gnostic, androgynous, politically-correct "it." I would argue instead that the Church is not nearly feminine enough, just as her ministry is not nearly masculine enough. As fatherhood goes, so goes motherhood. We have lost the motherly nurture and care of the congregation just as we have lost the firm, fatherly authority of the pastoral office. We have lost the proper place and dignity of our being male and female, and so we are confused about our respective roles.

Recovery and reform are not to be found in chest-thumping distortions of masculinity or in strange caricatures of femininity, but in brokenhearted repentance. Kyrie, eleison!
Myself, I particularly enjoyed that a complementarian has replied so graciously to the steady stream of derisive caricatures of the complementarian position. It's one thing to agree or disagree with a view and another to resort to mockery; but it takes incredible amounts of love and prayer to respond to mockery both boldly and graciously. Whether you agree with Rev. Cwirla or not, his contribution was well-done.

Next is from Emily Carder at Quicunque Vult as she reviews Elizabeth Cady Stanton's mixed legacy:
Her success in separating women from the Word of Life is so complete that feminists now celebrate women’s experience as a grace event. Can there even be need for a Savior now that the judgment upon mankind had been removed from the Bible according to Stanton? She taught that if there had actually been a fall in an actual Garden of Eden, then "when Eve took her destiny in her own hand and set minds spinning down through all the spheres of time, she declared humanity omnipotent..." (Gaylor 1997, 134). Ethics for feminism is now deemed as whatever validates the full humanity of the woman. Refusing a woman any freedom to act as she wills is denying her full humanity; therefore, abortion-on-demand must be among a woman’s most cherished prized possessions.

Stanton's is a much more complex life and legacy, with good and bad mixed together. If, as Carder argues, "ethics for feminism is ... whatever validates the full humanity of the woman", that validation is itself a good thing. Ethics can be seen as whatever validates the full humanity of all humans, and in that sense feminism is partisan and a little bit narrower than humanism. The narrowness of focus on women alone avoids the uncomfortable humanist question of the life of the next generation while still in its delicate dependence on the mother. From a Christian viewpoint, the irony and the shame is that someone had to voice teaching "the full humanity of the woman" as if it were an objection to the Bible instead of the teaching of the Bible, which teaches that male and female are both created in God's image. From this standpoint Christianity teaches a higher view of both men and women than humanism.

And it's fascinating to me to hear the comments on Adam and Eve: "when Eve took her destiny in her own hand and set minds spinning down through all the spheres of time, she declared humanity omnipotent..."

Theologians down the centuries have said much the same thing when reading the same passage: that our rebellion against God was an attempt to displace God and crown ourselves as gods instead. We really shouldn't be too surprised if someone reads the same passage and sees humanity's declaration of independence from God, a proclamation of ourselves as gods and goddesses with no authority but our own. Such is the power of that passage that this rallying cry of rebellion from God still resounds thousands of years after it was written with the voices of those who do not apologize for it; such is the power of that passage that even those who are fully convinced it never happened may claim it as their own.

But what about grace? "Feminists now celebrate women’s experience as a grace event." I think there is a sense in which conservative, complementarian theology still needs to ponder the matter of grace. Adam's curse included death; but death is abolished in the world to come. Eve's curse included "he shall rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). In the New Creation, will all the curses be undone? Is Eve's curse borne on the tree as well as Adam's? To what extent is subordination, like death, a matter of a cursed world? Death is the door to resurrection, of being restored. If submission is the death of pride, then is submission also a door to resurrection and restoration? If some part of Eve's sin was self-exaltation, then is "women, submit" similarly sinful if spoken in self-exaltation? Where is the line between submission and subordination? When subordination is taught as good, does it lead women to search elsewhere for grace and for recognition of full humanity?

I'm not suggesting that people stop wrestling with the passages or stop taking the Bible seriously. I'm suggesting that conservatives allow themselves to take a good hard look at the fact that the Bible here presents this particular subordination as a curse, that it is just as natural for women to see it as a curse as for men to see death as a curse, just as natural to hope for release and see it as a return to a more pure and wholesome state of things. Not every instance of a woman wishing for freedom from it is a matter of pride; some of it is a wish for redemption and the restoration of a non-cursed state. In this, the Church should be firmly on the side of redemption. This leaves plenty of room for discussion on exactly how that should take shape.


P.S. an after-thought said...

That is really an interesting and honest sermon reference.

Although my church has many active men, and these days, the middle aged men take truly active leadership roles, in the past the men were rather passive. But women still do the majority of the work in the church that is actually "ministry."

I do think we haven't brought the boys up to be men in ministry.
They don't have role models that are men.

We've lost something in families when we don't exhort the men to be spiritual leaders in the home. Luther promoted this. This doesn't mean that the mothers shouldn't do this; I think it comes more naturally to the moms. So the fathers have to have more instructions as to how to do this.

I read once that kids learn about God from their mothers; they learn about the importance (or not) of worship from their fathers.

Many of your comments are about a different level of feminism, which I haven't studied, so I won't comment on that.

Weekend Fisher said...

It's interesting how much that kind of thing varies from one church to another. In our congregation we have really good participation from both men and women in leadership. Some would say the price is too high (certain jobs are reserved for men). Every time there's been a discussion of whether we want to open up more jobs to women, the same things keep coming up: 1) women do at least as much as the men already; 2) if women started doing the other parts too, certain of the men would feel it wasn't really theirs anymore and would stop; there's a perceived risk that the division of labor would become lopsided. ... I've always been curious which of the men would stop doing what they did, but I've never asked. :)

Norman Teigen said...

My experience has been that the term 'feminism' means different things to different people. I consider myself a confessional Lutheran (ELS) but in some respects I am also a feminist. I am a feminist in that I believe in equal pay for equal work in the market place. I am not a feminist when a person says that men are the problem.

P.S. an after-thought said...

The only job that seems to be reserved for men in my church is ushering. Actually that isn't 100% true. But I think that when the Sunday School leaders are women and the Bible School leaders are women, etc. then they naturally ask other women "personally" to take part. General asking is always done, but I know from experience that it isn't as productive in getting volunteers.

Who puts the communion ware and elements out? Who decorates and undecorates the Christmas tree? Who does general cleaning? Who attends Bible Studies? Who helps in the nursery? Etc. Etc. Etc.

It is, somehow, easier to get women worship leaders, sermon givers, lectors, announcers, etc.

Church council ebs and flows, but overall stays about 50/50.

But the spiritual stuff...well, I think there needs to be more encouragement of the men.