Wednesday, January 24, 2007

slippery slopes etc.

A friend sent me this book review from Books and Culture, complimented my intelligence, and suggested I blog about it. For future reference, that’s always a good strategy to get people to do things. But I really decided to write about it because I found her argument so perplexing. Bauer, the writer, finds herself in the position Christianity Today is often in: too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for, well, me anyway. Bauer points to the extreme reactions she got for recommending a book called Finally Feminist on her blog, and raises the question: why do people hold so strongly to their views of gender?

She continues in a review of Stackhouse’s argument in the book which she calls (and I agree, from her summary) “extremely convincing to all those who are already egalitarians.” She defends the egalitarian view of gender, I’m quietly nodding along. She returns to the suggestion that the tight hold evangelicals have on their view of gender is curious:

“As a defense of the Bible, this is very peculiar. If allowing women to be ordained will destroy the authority of Scripture, why doesn't the slippery slope argument go, "Ordain women, and Christ's bodily resurrection will be the next thing to go," or, "Ordain women, and we may have to relinquish our belief in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of the sins, and the life everlasting"?”

Right on! Why is the negative result from respecting women as equals also respecting homosexuals as equals? How did evangelicals become so dogmatic about their views about sexuality that even questioning them – questioning an issue related to them – is heresy? Bauer goes the other direction with this argument, however, suggesting that perhaps this is a slope that is not so slippery. Just because gay rights are closely linked with women’s rights in secular politics doesn’t mean it has to be in Christianity.

“To those who argue that, in some denominations, the ordination of women has led to the open acceptance of homosexuality, I would agree that this is indeed a real phenomenon. It has occurred because, in those denominations, the church has completely lost sight of the fact that it is supposed to be the gathered people of God, a counterculture which lives apart from the power-structures of the world.”

This baffles me. I don’t understand how her questioning of the protection of gender norms does not lead also to questioning of evangelical terror over “deviant” sexualities. Why doesn't the reading of the bible that leads to an egalitarian view of gender necessarily lead us to re-read the bible with an eye toward accepting those of other sexual orientations? The passages that reference that are even more difficult than those about women. Bauer also points out that “The theologians who insist that the commands restricting women are obvious and universal—and if you don't think so, that's your problem—have to do some fancy footwork if they're going to assert that the equally "clear" passages on slavery suddenly became no longer applicable sometime in the 19th century.” I find it curious that she is willing to take a step toward gender equality, based on this reasoning, and not continue this reasoning to include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Her earlier suggestion that questions why accepting gay and lesbian persons is such a horrible outcome, I believe, is a saner way.


Cindy said...

I want to preface this post by saying I'm a liberal Christian with an open mind and heart. For now, though, this is my udnerstanding.

As Bauer indicated, the Bible does not ever link the role of women and homosexuality, or slavery and homosexuality. They are completely separate issues.

Homosexuality is a behavior choice and is listed as an abomination to God, among a host of others of which all of us are guilty.

Regardless of whether your were born the wrong sex (which I believe is true in many cases) or you simply choose a gay lifestyle, sexual relations with a same-gender partner is a choice. I'm not saying abstinence is an easy choice, but it is a choice and the power to obey God comes from God and is freely poured out on a repentant heart.

It's impossible to have perfect leadership in the church because we are all sinners. However, the church should take steps to ensure that its leaders are not openly and blatantly living in disobedience.


bethany said...

cindy - thanks for the explanation. That helps me understand the perspective better, but I still disagree. 1) we do a lot of the other things "listed as an abomination" like eat shellfish and wear mixed fabrics. I suspect that holding onto this social norm has more to do with gender norms than biblical exegesis.
2) it still doesn't explain why not allowing gays and lesbians in our congregations or leadership is such an important dogma to evangelicals. There are plenty of usurers (bankers) and gluttons (overweight people. and really all of us.) that we allow, and their disobedience is just as blatant.

jimmy said...


I don't buy it. I don't. I simply can't get behind the argument that whatever Biblical witness against homosexual activity exists* is so strong that one can tell another to give up the prospect of ever being sexually fulfilled. I have no problem with people of any orientation who choose celibacy for themselves if God tells them to, but there are enormous ethical and ministerial difficulties associated with telling someone else that he or she must remain celibate, and has no chance of expressing him or herself sexually that is acceptable to God.

Also, as my oh-so-significant other explained in a much more concise way, even if one accepts that the Biblical prohibitions against their cultures' same-sex sexual activities apply to contemporary homosexuality, the fact is that the Bible is much, much harder on the greedy, the rich, and religious hypocrites - and if we kicked all of those people out of the leadership of the church, we'd hardly have any leaders left. Bethany brought my attention to usurers - flouting the laws of Scripture in a way that actually does harm people - who are allowed to continue in church leadership at the highest of levels not only without condemnation but with broad approval for their activities; they're pronounced "pillars of the community" or "leaders of business" while screwing the least of these out of all they have. But because they're in three-piece suits and drop some cash in the offering bucket every week, their life of sin is completely okay, and a gay man's isn't?

If anything is clear to me, it's that Scripture really isn't all that clear on a lot of the so-called "culture war" issues we face today. Why, then, are so many in the church - even self-pronounced "liberals" - so eager to pronounce clear what Scripture leaves vague?

* I would argue that there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that has anything to do with our contemporary understanding of homosexual activity.

Angela, MotherCrone said...

I enjoy the direction you are taking this, and it is indeed logical. So much of biblical writing is taken out of context in current culture. In context, much of the writing about homosexuality references the use of slaves for sex alone, whether they were willingly homosexual or unwillingly heterosexual, or some combination. In the same book, adolescent daughters were traded off for livestock as general practice, and the BIble discusses guidelines for that. Why does the church hold so strongly to some mandates while easily tossing aside others? The whole argument about homosexuals being condemned to celibacy is not logical. Christ did not judge and condemn those different from him, but supported and loved them. Great thinking!