Flesh of My Flesh: Responding to Anthony Esolen on the Boy Scouts

Editor’s note:  I am publishing this reflection by Emily Alianello & Eve Marie Barner Gleason because I think this is an important issue and important to frame appropriately. I am grateful for their investment in thinking through this issue carefully. 

In a recent essay, Anthony Esolen crafts a gentle gender manifesto against the backdrop of a recent announcement by the Boy Scouts of America. His appealing prose creates an idealized picture of boyhood, joyfully celebrating the identity of a young boy in a caring, functional family. But the lines of this image are etched in the ink of separation. In contrast to cultural confusion about the meaning of gender, Esolen claims certainty about the natural identity of every male, an identity that his description seems to indicate is based in difference from females.

While some of Esolen’s statements would profit from greater nuance, many of them are just common sense (“A boy is not a girl. A boy grows up to be a man”). We share with Esolen both his Christian faith and his delight in the beauty of creation. But Esolen conflates generally accepted and scientifically affirmed common sense about sex differences with deeply troubling metaphysical theories of his own, which veils the sweeping nature of his argument. These claims represent one approach to the complicated question of how Christians ought to understand identity and gender in a secular culture that tells them everything is choice, and all sexual differences are learned patterns. While Esolen’s article is appealing in its vision of simplicity, that appeal smuggles in some worrisome distortions and half-truths about human identity that have deep implications for how we talk about being human, and live in community as men and women. Our ends may be the same, but the words we use to get there are deeply significant.

Esolen describes the habits, mannerisms and body of Luke, a ten-year old boy, and the father who guides him. He presents these as incontrovertible proof of Luke’s essential boy-ness and the continuity this establishes with the men in his life. He writes, “None of this should be controversial.” And in many individual instances it is not. Of course boys model themselves after their fathers and fathers see themselves in their sons. Many boys also behave in ways similar to the ways other boys behave now and have behaved throughout history. There are also proven dissimilarities in the hormones that predominantly influence the development of the male and female brain—dissimilarities which result in observable differences between most men and women.  We agree with Esolen where he draws attention to the continuity between fathers and sons, the value of men, and the unique strengths that men, on average, possess. These things are not controversial.

What is controversial, or rather what is faulty, is his untroubled equation of “It’s a boy!” with a full statement of the nature of male being. Esolen’s ontological argument that identity and purpose of males is rooted in sexual differentiation lacks appreciation for both the essential unity of humankind and the full scope of human diversity. The latent premises behind many of Esolen’s assertions are: first, that what is most important about a man is the way in which he differs from a woman; second, that these differences define his purpose; and third, that the healthiest families and societies structure themselves around affirming and encouraging these differences above all else. Although Esolen is right that fathers and mothers transfer their understanding of their purpose as men and women to their sons, assumptions such as these lead to a deeply problematic understanding of what it is to be not only human, but a man.

Original Boy Scouts of America emblem

Original Boy Scouts of America emblem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is the commonalities, rather than the differences, between men and women that are the ground of our identity. Our differences, while real, are not fundamental. Men and women do indeed have different chests and different average heights, but we both have souls. While certain virtues or traits may be, depending on circumstance, inflected toward men or women, the most central ones are not. As Christ followers, both men and women are called to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control. Both ought to love God with all their heart and mind and strength, and love their neighbor too.

Esolen makes the divide of difference much more complete than either Christian Scripture or our own experience teach us. He says only in married love “does one give of oneself, forever, to someone who stands across a divide in being: the one who begets, the one who bears” (emphasis ours). Here we strongly disagree. Sperm and egg, penis & vagina, these do not represent a divide in being. The anatomy of men and women are different and yet wonderfully similar. We aren’t simply begetters and bearers. We are co-laborers in the forming of our offspring. The paradox and complexity of love making is part of its wonder. Women are not, as the ancients sometimes postulated, mere earth into which the man plants miniature humans. Male sperm is not complete in itself like the seed of a plant. Down to the cellular level, human reproduction is so much more gloriously complex and beautifully complementary. While the sperm determines the gender of the new person, the egg selects the sperm. As when he calls the man the sower and the woman the field, Esolen is wrong—very wrong. It is not necessary, and ultimately counter-productive, to claim this divide in being in order to establish the reality of male and femaleness.

We must think carefully about how we characterize the divide between men and women. We are the same substance: bone of bone, flesh of flesh, as our first father poetically declared. When Esolen claims that men and women are divided in their very being, that they are reflections of the “wholly other,” he stands outside the Scriptural testimony about men and women as common bearers of the imago dei in creation and joint heirs in redemption.

A focus on the totality and primacy of difference risks reducing manhood to ‘being different from women.’ While we are certain that Esolen is aware of the range of wonderful differences among men, we suggest that his argument would benefit from celebrating these differences as well. A man is not most fully a man when he is as completely different from any woman as possible. Rather he is most fully a man as he most accurately reflects the image of God. And women have this same high calling. This change in emphasis does not negate the reality of difference, but it does place commonality and difference in their proper order. As Christian men and women are transformed into the image of Christ, each of us will find that we have become as uniquely masculine and feminine as we are supposed to be – and yet have more in common with each other than we ever imagined.

The reason we as male and female, single and married, old and young, ought to appreciate and honor and serve each other is not because we are wholly other, but because we recognize the ways our diverse giftings strengthen our entire community. The Apostle Paul refers to diverse spiritual giftings as being for the “common good.” Yet, in Esolen’s articulation of gender, there is little sense of men and women collaborating as partners—what Carolyn James has called the blessed alliance. All humans are image bearers—and to whom do we bear the divine image? To each other, of course. In that sense, we are all what Esolen might call alter egos—the joy of our relatedness is in finding in each other a reflection of the same image we ourselves bear. It is difference mingled with similarity, not difference alone that is so joyful, so communicative.

This leads to our second point: there is in this equation of gender and purpose a willingness to find ultimate ends in the differences of gender.  When Esolen says that the sexual form of a boy is a clear indication of his goal and purpose, i.e. for a women, for a family, he is speaking a partial truth that misses a more essential truth. For if sexual union with a woman in order to father children is what a man was made for, then what shall we say of the men who do not father children, or who live a life of celibacy? We must find the telos of both men and women in something other than beautiful diversity of sexual difference or the good of sexual union between a husband and a wife. Esolen suggests this himself when he says that the “essense of manhood and womanhood” is godliness. In shared humanity we find the realest purpose of both men and women, to rightly image and worship the God who made them. Any attempt to rescue a healthy view of sexual order must not lose sight of these ultimate ends.

Finally, Esolen casts a vision of family and society where the healthiest families are those that do most to recognize and encourage sexual difference. Again, there are some truths to this. We agree with Esolen that it is foolish for families to ignore differences between their sons and daughters. But a vision for family that over-emphasizes sexual traits runs the risk of missing that each child is a unique person, a combination of father and mother (and their fathers and mothers) in both physical traits and personality. Sons model themselves after their fathers… and also their mothers. Fathers see themselves in their sons… and also their daughters.

A wise family recognizes the particular strengths and weaknesses of its members, molding training and instruction and praise to suit the needs of each child. Emily’s mother recognizes and cultivates her youngest son’s artistic talent, which is like her own. Emily’s own life has taken the path it did in part because her father recognized and provoked her intellectual curiosity. Eve’s husband has eagerly learned wisdom and compassion from his mother, enriching their marriage in many ways. Likewise, society as a whole is stronger for valuing the diversity of its members’ gifts and offering corresponding opportunities.

We realize that the core of Esolen’s argument occurs in a specific context and is devoted to a defense of gender that is very much centered on the question of sexual purpose. But this is all the more reason to be very careful with words, and to craft a celebration of boy and girl, man and woman that avoids overly broad categories. These oversimplifications threaten to exclude boys whose experiences differ from Luke’s. Further, they diminish the full potential of relationship not only between husbands and wives, but also between brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, friends and neighbors. Western culture swings between extremes of a genderless world and a pornified one; it embraces gay marriage on the one hand and sells endless princess toys on the other. Both GQ and Cosmopolitan are best sellers in the magazine racks. This cultural incoherence is not best responded to with a Christian version of sexual extremes, reducing the end of God’s chief creation to affirming sexual difference. For what is most important about a man is that he is the creation and image of God. It is in this he finds his purpose. So then, as families and as a community, we have an amazing opportunity to raise Luke and Lucy to recognize and rejoice in difference without making it an end in itself, to pursue virtue in themselves and encourage its development in each other, and to love God and their neighbor. If they do this, they will be fortified against the extremes of any culture.

Emily Alianello is a PhD Candidate in English at the Catholic University of America. She teaches writing to undergraduates, tries to write a dissertation, and drinks a lot of coffee.

Eve Marie Barner Gleason is a nonprofit communications professional with a background in public policy. She and her husband are active in their Northern Virginia community and love laughing at the antics of their dog, Coco.

 

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A(nother) Review

Editor’s note:  My friend Jake Meador wrote this right around the same time I wrote my thoughts.  We don’t often post multiple entries on books, but Jake’s thoughts are worth considering and well stated. –MLA 

biblical womanhoodThere are two common literary tropes Rachel Held Evans is playing with in her latest book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The more obvious and less fortunate of the two is the satirical reductio ad absurdum. Tired of hearing evangelicals speak about a narrow, moralistic brand of womanhood as “biblical,” Evans decided to show how unhelpful the label is by being completely “biblical” and following every scriptural admonition given to women. She’s wanting to use the complementarians own logic to undermine their unhelpful, confining ideas about gender. Indeed, that’s a large part of why she wrote the book in the first place according to her comments in the book’s introduction.

The trouble with a reductio is that for it to be effective, you need to be describing your opponent’s logic accurately. Otherwise, you’re running to absurd ends with a logic that isn’t valid. Ultimately, all you end up doing is setting fire to a straw man. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Evans did. The complementarian argument is much more complex than mindlessly repeating “1 Timothy 2,” over and over like a horde of young, restless, reformed zombies hungry for egalitarian brains. But you wouldn’t know that if your only exposure to complementarians is Evans’ book. This is unfortunate because the complementarian case is far better than “it’s biblical.”

Having come to complementarianism very reluctantly and over a long period of time, I’ve heard the argument for it given many times and in many different ways. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with mentions the Pauline texts on women, but hardly any one applies them in the flat, simplistic way implied by Evans’ reductio. I know there are people out there who still use the “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” line on these issues, but in my experience they are not nearly as prominent as they once were. More importantly, the major figureheads of the complementarian movement generally avoid this unfortunate and unhelpful line. What’s far more common is to find people trying to honestly wrestle with uncomfortable biblical texts in a way that assumes we are accountable to the text and bound by it as Christians. So we wrestle with issues like creation order and how that informs Paul’s argument for distinct gender-based roles. We also struggle to understand how issues of submission and self-sacrificing authority are central to understanding the Gospel. Most complementarians I know are not complementarian because the position is come by easily. In fact, most of us would say that we’d love to not be complementarian because it’d make our lives considerably easier. But after long, careful study of scripture (ironically, the very sort of study Evans’ endorses so enthusiastically in the book and on her blog), we’ve come to conclusions that can generally be associated with the label “complementarian.” Acting as if our position is adopted out of lazy assumptions and a lack of reflection about the word “biblical” simply isn’t honest.

Another point that is worth raising briefly: It should be a rule in Christian circles that when you argue against a theological view, you need to argue against the most capable, reasoned articulation of that view. If you’re looking to debunk complementarianism, don’t do it by telling us Debi Pearl is an abusive troll – we already knew that. Do it by taking on the careful exegetical arguments made by our most capable thinkers. That will earn a hearing. But misrepresenting our position and acting as if fringe extremists like Debi Pearl represent us is really dishonest and irresponsible. Having said all that, I’m happy to report that the reductio isn’t the sum total of the book. There’s far more going on here than just a poorly-constructed critique of complementarianism. It turns out that when Evans isn’t engaging in a polemic against complementarians, her book is actually quite good. Continue reading

The Christian Post and Sojourners

Apologies for returning to this theme yet again, but this is what happens when discussions occur and I have words to say.

At any rate, The Christian Post took a gander at Mere-O today and provided  a reasonably accurate overview of my position on the matter.  One quibble, though, with my friend Tim King’s statement:

However, [Anderson] warns that Christians must express this belief with caution.

“When speaking against the homelessness of young people who are at risk because of their sexual orientation, Christians must do so on grounds that do not rest upon and reinforce the problematic presuppositions that sometimes stand beneath the advocacy work,” Anderson cautioned.

Those problematic presuppositions would include any belief that the Bible, God, His son Jesus or the Christian Church sanction either homosexuality or gay marriage.

[Tim] King says he believes that Christians can stand up for the rights and protections of homosexual men, women and teens without compromising the Bible.

“I don’t think there is any contradiction with the Bible to say people deserve equal protection under the law. I think that is very consistent with our understanding of each individual being created in the image of God.”

This is framed as disagreeing with my position on the matter, and it’s easy to see why.  I’ve no interest in filling the dance card around this issue, so let me simply point out that “equal protection under the law” is indeed what all Christians can and should defend.  Tim and I can stand on the same ground and proclaim that message.

Where we differ, though, is which rights gays and lesbian couples should have, and hence what “equal protection” actually means.  No reason to hash that out here, of course.  We’ve done it before and will doubtlessly try again.  But just to point out that the quote is in the context of young people who are homeless, a problem that both Tim and I would agree is wrong, and would (I suspect) agree for the same reasons.

I have other thoughts on this and might make other attempts at clarification at some point as well, if there’s interest.  The distinctions I’m trying to draw are relatively fine, but that’s largely because I think the issue is extraordinarily complex.  These are, after all, people and their lives that we are discussing and interacting with, not even “communities” or “demographics.”

Sojourners and the Controversy that Will Not Go Away

Sojourners, the leading organization of the evangelical left, can’t seem to escape the controversy that erupted in March when it rejected an advertisement from Believe out Loud, an organization trying to “significantly increase the number of local churches and denominations that are fully-inclusive of LGBT individuals, both in practice and policy.”

The ad that is ostensibly in question is a relatively innocuous affirmation of hospitality toward a lesbian couple with a child.

“Ostensibly” is the key word, though, because unless Sojourners is lying on their website, they didn’t reject the video at all.

But they did turn down email and online advertisements aimed at getting people to “Join the Campaign” and directing people to the Believe Out Loud website. Sojourners’ argues the advertisement was designed to get people to ascribe to Believe Out Loud’s mission of full inclusion for gays and lesbians into the practices of the church (including, clearly, marriage and ordination), a stance that they are noncommittal on and have determined is outside their core issues of poverty, race, and social justice.

Yet the ongoing confusion over the events has enabled Believe Out Loud and a host of other writers within the gay community to unfairly portray Sojourners as hostile to gays and lesbians because of their alleged skittishness at the video’s contents.  In Sojourner’s defense, though, at the time of the controversy they embedded the video on their blog and Communications Director Tim King suggested that it makes a statement that “needs to be heard in more churches.”

GLAAD-SojournersNow Sojourners has accepted a print advertisement from GLAAD calling attention to the problem of homelessness among gay and lesbian youth, and has determined to run a series of blog posts on the issue as well.  Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith, and Values for GLADD described the moves as “wonderful steps forward for Sojourner’s Magazine,” while Daniel Villereal at Queerty suggested that Sojourners has “seen the light.”

Yet Joseph Ward, III, the Director of Communications for Believe Out Loud, wasn’t satisfied:

The rejected Believe Out Loud ad explicitly encouraged Christians to be welcoming of LGBT persons in their churches. The accepted homelessness ad is only tangentially related to the church.

No one is going to confuse me for a progressive Christian, which makes me an outsider to this conversation.

But as something of a vocal conservative who cares about preserving a civil and hopefully even charitable public dialogue about matters in the public interest, Believe Out Loud’s misrepresentation of Sojourner’s decision troubles me.  By conflating “welcome” with “affirmation” and implying that Sojourners is suspicious of both, Believe Out Loud’s rhetorical stance ends any discussion before it begins, rendering conservative readings of Scripture intrinsically unwelcoming and inevitably pushing them to the margins.

This, I submit, is bad for everyone.  If nothing else, it engenders a defensive posture among the very people that Believe Out Loud is (ostensibly) trying to reach with their message of inclusion.  I recognize that social movements of the sort they are trying to bring about are rarely attained through persuading the differently minded.  But the church is not a social movement like any other.  It is a community that bears witness to the love of Christ.  And as I point out in Earthen Vessels, how we discuss these issues within our community bears witness to that love as much as the conclusions we come to does.

I originally voiced support for Sojourners on precisely these grounds, and would reiterate that support, albeit with some qualifications.  In searching for common ground within the domain of common grace, we Christians might find ourselves allied with the most surprising of allies.  And speaking out against homeless young people who are gay or lesbian is one such realm.

Yet at the same time, it is nearly impossible to neatly isolate issues from each other (as Sojourners is no doubt being reminded of).  When speaking against the homelessness of young people who are at risk because of their sexual orientation, Christians must do so on grounds that do not rest upon and reinforce the problematic presuppositions that sometimes stand beneath the advocacy work.  We speak out precisely because they are fully humans, made in the image of God, and who are meant to be welcome within the unconditional love of the family–regardless of their sexual orientation.

Whether GLAAD’s advertisement meets that standard is, to me, an open question.  It was consciously submitted as a test case and so came loaded with political presuppositions, and has been heralded as an incremental step toward gaining Sojourner’s support for full equality.  Both the motivation of the ad and the response are unfortunate, as they potentially reduce the issue under discussion to the question of whether they move the chains in the political football game of gay marriage.  And GLAAD’s explicitly stated intention to pressure Sojourners to work on other issues that are more narrowly defined along sexual-orientation lines means that the challenge of avoiding an explicit statement on gay marriage, one way or the other, is only going to get more difficult.

Such is, however, the closed discussion world in which we live and which Sojourners is trying to navigate.  Decisions like this one are hedged in by a broader discourse that makes moderate positions nearly impossible. And that is why, despite my reservations, I respect the line Sojourners is trying to take.  It may not be ultimately be tenable, and they will doubtlessly have their critics from every side, but in the meantime their struggle keeps open the possibility of a position on homosexuality that is welcoming without sanctioning within the church.  And for that, this conservative is grateful.

One more on Challies/Evans-Gate

The first go-around was here.  Now Tim Ricchuiti has chimed in with some smart thoughts:

Zoom out a bit further: why would the husband have say in how his wife presents herself? Typically, we think of our “rights” (that is, what we have a say in) with things that affect us directly. And therein lies the first “sinister” assumption: that what a woman wears affects her husband. That it can make him do something. The chain going something like this: “If my wife doesn’t take care of herself, that makes me less interested in her. Since I have to be interested in someone (or something), what my wife wears can make me lose interest in her and gain interest in someone (or something) else. When I express that interest intimately, I’ve cheated on my wife, and therefore, how my wife takes care of herself and what she wears makes me cheat on her.”

If you think that line of reasoning is over-wrought, I want you to go back up a couple paragraphs and ask yourself, if how a wife takes care of herself isn’t capable of making the husband do anything, why would he (and by extension, Challies) have any say in it at all? If he does have a say, he must be assuming that, somewhere down the line, how his wife takes care of herself is capable of making him do something or act a certain way.

The short response is that not everything that affects us determines our responses.  We  don’t have to descend into the vagaries of free will to see that when the wife says something nice to me I have a range of options before me.  I can play the curmudgeon and shoo her off or accept the affection happily.  That’s not clothing, of course, but the parallels seem pretty clear.

What’s more, Tim’s critique unfortunately reduces Challies’ position to the language of “rights,” language which should be the last resort in a relationship constituted by love.  Forget what I said about the context into which the advice was given for a second and presume the woman has the right to wear burlap sacks and ashes.  The better way of framing Challies’ position is as a prudential admonition grounded in the mutual self-giving of love, rather than as a defense against immorality.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that men get to dictate to women precisely what they should look like.  That’s an unhealthy attitude, if ever.  And men bear the responsibility of reforming our aesthetic judgments with respect to women such that they fit our wives, rather than the other way ’round.  But the possibility of prudential advice about clothing rests on the reality that in marriage, neither our lives nor our bodies are our own, and what we do in them and to them inevitably affects (without determining) the life of the other.

(Someone oughta write a book on this stuff!)

An Imperfect Beauty

Tim Challies:

Does a woman need to remain beautiful to her husband? Yes, she does! But this does not mean that she needs to remain beautiful in the way society understands beauty. She does not need to mimic the Hollywood starlets of years gone by who seek to look young and sexy even in their seventies. We cannot confuse beauty with sexiness. But she ought to seek to remain attractive to her husband, to allow the outer to reflect the inner. Her outer beauty, though it is diminishing by worldly standards, will be a reflection of her increasing inner beauty as she becomes increasingly conformed to the image of the Savior. Many a man will tell you that his wife is more beautiful on their 50th anniversary than on their 1st. And he is speaking the truth.

Rachel Held Evans, whose original post spurred Tim’s reflections, responds with lots of bold type:

At the root of the problem is the fact that we have grown accustomed to using the word “biblical” prescriptively (to mean, “what God wants”) rather than descriptively (to mean, “that which is found in the Bible”). We have forgotten that behind every claim to a biblical lifestyle or ideology lies a complex set of assumptions regarding interpretation and application.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick in front of another loaded word (like “womanhood,” “politics,” “economics,” and “marriage”) more often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Well yes, that does happen.  But to limit “Biblical” to “what is found in the Bible” is simply to assume a different sort of complex assumptions, and it’s not clear from Rachel’s post why the adjective leads to projection.  The “abusus” card is a handy one in this spot, I think.

But if that’s really the route that Rachel wants to take, then it seems to me Scripture’s moral guidance has been reduced to only those issues which are explicit in the text, once we unweave the cultural knot.  For everything else,  extra-biblical resources will have to do.  Therein lies Biblicism down the one path and an incipient secularism on the other.  And if you want to know why evangelicals are constantly oscillating between the two, look no further.  And just when evangelicals have been making progress on unpacking the term, too.

Of course, that avoids the substance of the dispute.  And there I find myself agreeing with the broad strokes of Rachel’s position.  These things are matters of degrees and tone, of the edges and the emphases.

The actual pastoral advice may be rather benign in itself.  But look to the backdrop in which it’s given:  we live in a world where the concept of (physical) beauty has been emptied and replaced by a standard of sexual perfection, and where the decline of marriage has exacerbated anxieties about infidelity.  When presented as a remedy to the latter, the counsel inevitably takes on the world of the former, and what might be offered as a bit of prudential  advice instead contributes to the already unreasonable burden on women.

The place to start, then, is where Challies ends.  While I’ve never been terribly satisfied with “inner beauty” language (though never quite sure why), he’s pointing in the right direction.   Rehabilitate “beauty” in such a way that it admits of imperfections and of the aged.  The softness of youth will always have its own charm, but the beauty of the body need not end once the wrinkles or the cellulite comes.

PS.  A not so subtle hint that the forthcoming book deals with this and more.  In fact, the “more” meant I dealt with beauty less than I had hoped.  Other books, perhaps.

Gender and the Body – How did we get here?

One of my old professors was fond of saying that in his class we take the first several weeks to chuck a whole bunch of balls in the air and we then spend the rest of the semester learning to juggle them. This is an attempt at juggling. I’m throwing 20 different ideas in the air and am desperately hoping to catch two or three. So you’re warned in advance if this feels a bit ambitious/excessive. Also, cross posted at Notes from a Small Place.

Last week I referenced Foucault’s argument in the opening chapter of Discipline and Punish in which he says that the western mind has shifted in recent centuries away from an emphasis on the physical body and toward the question of ideals, privileging what Foucault terms “the abstract conscious” over the much more physical human body.

One point that especially interests me in all of this is how this privileging of the abstract conscious over the body manifests itself in the way we view gender and body image. Here’s my intuition: In the pre-modern mind the body and the senses played a radically different role than they do the modern. But it’s not simply an issue of body and soul, but of physical and abstract.

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Gender, the home, and how we define “work”

Cross posted at Notes from a Small Place. This post is part of an ongoing series of posts I’m doing regarding issues related to the body, gender, sexuality, and self identity. It will be going online later this week at Notes… but if you’re interested in the conversation, you’re welcome to stop by and join us. It’s still pretty early so you haven’t missed much!

One of the main arguments made by both Naomi Wolfe and Luce Irigaray is that a major area in which women are oppressed in our culture is that of work. In the past 50 years many women have joined the workforce, but their work load around the house has not lessened in any way. As a result women are now doing twice as much work as men (at least) while receiving payment for only half of that work. And the payment they do get is considerably lower than the wage a man would get for the same work.

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The Incarnation and Male/Female Mutuality

One of the distinctive aspects of the Theology of the Body is its beautiful expression of the mutual relations of men and women, a mutuality that originates in and is best expressed by a sexual act which is constituted by self-giving.

It’s a position that I am sympathetic to.  But Francis Watson’s takes dead aim in Agape, Eros, Gender at attempts to establish the sexual act as the grounds for the differences between men and women.  He writes:

The belonging together of woman and man is not confined to the sexual relationship, nor is that even its primary expression.  The veil is interposed in order to confine eros to his limits, excluding him from the ekklesia, the place in which the belonging-together of man and woman is disclosed, and differentiating him from the agape which is the mode of that belonging together.

As he puts it later, “On what authority is it asserted that man and woman become two and one primarily, or even exclusively, in the sexual act?”  The “two and one” refers to their differences, male and female, within the structure of the ‘one flesh’ union.

We might answer, “On the authority of the created order, which seems to locate the differences between male and female specifically within the marital covenant.  “Bone of my bone” is both an assertion of identity and an expression of solidarity.

But Watson anticipates the move, pointing out that inasmuch Jesus is a male, he is so not by virtue of his sexual relations with women (revisionist theories of Mary Magdalene notwithstanding), but by virtue of his relationship with his mother.  Writes Watson:

It is true of [Jesus] as of all other males that ‘man is now born of woman’ (1 Cor. 11.12) and that the belonging-together of man and woman must initially take the form of mother and son.  ‘Did it ever occur to him to say “yes” to her?’  His birth was his ‘yes’ to Mary, who became his mother as he became her son.  His ‘yes’ to his mother is constitutive of his human existence.  To reject this form of the belonging-together of man and woman, to wish to replace it with a relationship centered on sexual union, is indeed to go ‘beyond Christianity’.  Eros demands the movement ‘beyond Christianity’ because he cannot endure the limit imposed on him by the divine-human agape.

Which is to say, if you wish to be fully human, men, be nice to your mothers.

Jesus is a Warrior, but not a Cagefighter

Son of God. Prince of Peace. Son of Man. Cagefighter? While the first three masculine titles given to our Lord Jesus are biblical and sufficient enough to express the wonder of Jesus, the last title seems to be ever-more increasingly projected onto Jesus by evangelical churches which have long struggled with the over-feminization of the church. Any brief inspection of some of evangelicalism’s top blogs seem to tout Mixed Martial Arts as the next great out-reach strategy for men. Forget Promise-Keepers, let’s have a fist, iron, and blood.

On the Sojourners blog, a blog I disagree with 99% politically and theologically, Eugene Cho draws our attention to an article written in the New York Times over the growing popularity of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) or more commonly known as Ultimate Fighting Championship and various other leagues. Like myself, he condemns the sport.

Now, permit me to speak on this topic. In a former life, I was a proud and militant pacifist. I would have argued that to equate Jesus with any type of struggle or legitimating of defense would have been heretical. I was wrong. And so is this position casting Jesus into a male-affirming machismo injecting repressed masculinity with capricious sport.

It has been suggested that evangelical male fascination with cagefighting is simply allowing men to tap into their inner masculinity and thus celebrated as a recovery of biblical manhood. While gender distinction and masculinity are to be applauded and upheld as biblical statutes, current attitudes amongst evangelical men suggest that men have taken their divine mandate to protect and twisted it into a carnality salivating with brutality. Cagefighting and warring are not synonymous. Cagefighting is sport, drawing upon the unbridled angst of man which seeks to overwhelm his opponent through unhealthy submission (or unconsciousness). Warring is the act of protection and defense and entails, in its proper execution, honor and restraint.

Jesus was fully man and fully God. The Chalcedonian definition is two natures, one person. Let that be sufficient in all its simplicities and complexities. To propose, as one very popular evangelical preacher has done, that he could not worship a Jesus he could beat up is pure nonsense. The vision of Jesus presented as a warrior in Revelation is not sufficient evidence to base one’s desire for a combative life. Yes, Jesus was no doubt a rugged man well acquainted with the difficulties of nomadic life, but this same individual wept (John 11:35). Jesus never waged malevolent war over the grounds of blood-lust with earthly enemies; instead, he rose to challenge and combat far superior Powers which rage against each of us in constant tumult to devour (1 Peter 5:8). This enemy, interestingly, is not of flesh (Ephesians 6:12).

Am I making too much of this sport? Perhaps. But, I cannot understand the virtue of a sport which images the graphic and brutal aspects of human behavior.