Monday, March 27, 2006

More Gender Essentialism from Conservative Christians

Oh man.  So I was looking at the website for the John Eldridge gender ridiculousness franchise today because I was talking about it with a friend.  And, of course, I started making fun of it.  So I thought I’d invite you along.

So they have retreats.  Retreats to discover together with others your gendered soul, primarily through watching movies, journaling, crying, etc.  If you’re a man you get dirty, if you’re a woman, it seems, you get pretty.  Check out the design on the site – it’s really polarizing.  Evidently women like flowers and men like D-day.  And here’s the funniest thing (well, in competition for it): the last paragraph on the women’s retreat description:

“Unfortunately this retreat is not designed to offer childcare and it is not able to provide for nursing moms. We do pray that God would supernaturally provide for your children while you are away and for nursing moms, we pray with all our heart that Jesus would make a way for you to participate in a future retreat.”

That’s right.  God is going to SUPERNATURALLY take care of your children!!!  Evidently their father will be too busy battling things or something.  Don’t worry.  Come discover your core desires for romance and to be a nurturer.  As your children get fed and washed by God’s hand.  Because, obviously, there’s no other way to deal with this problem.  Also, then men’s retreat says nothing about childcare at all.  It would be more funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Civil Religion

Kent’s post today about Christian America reminded me of some of the work I’m doing recently about civil religion in America.  Kent points to some rhetorical patterns in American Evangelicalism of talking about America as God’s Chosen people, a Christian nation that has been blessed because of our adherence to Christian moral principles etc, etc.  He rightly observes that saying America is “founded on Christian principles” is misleading.  However, there is a historical tradition of drawing on that idea rhetorically which makes many people continue to think that way.

American Rhetorical tradition, and American Civil religion, begins with the Puritans.  On the boat on the way to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop delivered his famous sermon “A model of Christian charity.”  In that sermon he talks about the new world and their new settlement as a City upon a Hill.  That was in 1630 and this kind of language continues in American oratory, in presidential address (all through history, and certainly in recent years) and patriotic sermons.  The idea of America as the chosen people and light to the world certainly lead to the idea that we must evangelize democracy, and to the idea that we could, like the ancient Israelites, exterminate the Native American people.  Kent is right in saying that this twisting of biblical allusion is not consonant with the real message of the Bible, or a gospel for all nations.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that I’m writing about a Martin Luther King Jr Speech – “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  King’s rhetoric uses that same language of God’s chosen people and biblical allusion, but he casts African Americans as Israel escaping slavery, and himself and other activists as prophets like Amos, calling out for justice.  My argument is that his interaction with the biblical and American epic traditions is why he is so well respected and effective as a speaker.

All of this leads me to a few questions.  What do we do, as Christians and Americans, in this centuries old rhetorical tradition?  This centuries-old myth is not going to disappear.  I think that Dr King had the right idea, to twist the chosen people myth toward social justice.  But there is only so much we can accomplish in light of American arrogance.  Another, related problem, is differentiating Religion from Patriotism and Christianity from the agenda of the religious right.  These things seem even more complex.  Jim Wallis tends to call upon the prophetic tradition and the person of Jesus to get at this idea.  As does John Howard Yoder in the The Politics of Jesus (summary of our discussion then here).  How can we use our language in church and activism to change the harmful attitudes civil religion has left us with?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sexism in Scholarship

Since blog against sexism day is actually TODAY, I’d like to extend some of my thoughts from yesterday. Yesterday I talked about the lack of women leadership in the emergent church (and really the Christian church in general, although the situation is improving). That thinking led me to some related thinking about women in the academy.

The situation here has definitely improved drastically, and especially in the humanities. Women undergraduates outnumber men in most colleges. Representation in graduate programs and publications seems to be relatively equal. The place where things seem a little less even, though, is in the realm of theory. Even when we are discussing contemporary theory, it seems male authors dominate. Of course, we can expect older theory to be male-dominated – women didn’t have the access. But how come the 20th century theorists we use are also almost exclusively men. Well, one reason is that women theorists tend to focus their theorizing efforts toward gender and feminist theory. This is certainly a worthy persuit and one that needs to catch up. But I think it leads to the unfortunate consequence that feminist theorists are ghettoized to their own courses or one week in a general course, and that women scholars feel almost expected to have an interest in gender theory. Not that this is bad – gender effects all of us and it’s important to have bright scholars working on these things. The question I want to raise, however, is when will we be able to move beyond identity politics and have scholars bring their varied perspectives to other problems, working together instead of in their own genderized realms? I think this is already starting to happen, and many of the really great women scholars in my field are great examples. I don’t think we will ever need to stop talking about gender issues, but hopefully more other things will also make it onto the radar from time to time.

friends blogging against sexism: Kristen, Matt, Jon

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

sexism in church

It’s blog against sexism day tomorrow, and I got a little carried away, so here is something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I’ve been doing research for a paper about the rhetoric of the Emerging Church, so I’ve been doing a bit of emergent web-surfing as well (this is even more valid here, since much of the emergent rhetoric resides on the web). One of many things I encountered was the wikipedia page about the emergent church. What concerns me about the list of leaders (which seems consonant with my other reading) is that it is all men save one. Why are such an overwhelming number of the leading voices in this movement male? This is particularly troubling because it is a movement that often presents itself as a new reformation, a voice for change and renewal, especially in American Evangelicalism. This is great. But I wonder, what is keeping women from joining in? Or, if they are joining, why don’t we hear as much from them?

A few thoughts that have come to mind to explain this phenomena: evangelical seminaries continue to be male dominated. This is a change that will take several generations to occur, and it just isn’t done yet. The emergent movement is lead primarily by pastors who were dissatisfied with the state of evangelicalism. There just are more male pastors in general, so of course more of them are disaffected. Also, women pastors are still viewed with suspicion in many of the communities that emergent seeks to reform (some of the more liberal churches, and the more liturgical ones, are already doing some of the things emergent considers groundbreaking). Because of this suspicion, trying to purport a change in the church’s understanding of its mission might be a bit too much for the authority evangelical women pastors hold. These are, of course, structural problems. And just as the majority of postmodern philosophers are men, so are the majority of theologians. Also, many of the women doing work of philosophy, criticism and theology in the past few decades are working on gender-related issues that have been ignored for so long. They are otherwise occupied.

Although this explains the lack of women’s voices in emergent discourse, it doesn’t excuse it. Perhaps there are more women like Karen Ward who need to publish their participation. Perhaps we need to afford greater attention to women who are already publishing. The men in the emergent movement have some interesting things to say, and I certainly do not want to silence them in favor of women, but I am wondering if there are women being silenced who also have good things to say. How are we to go about listening to them?