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The Christian Conscience, Pounded into Submission by Sentimentalism?

07 Feb

For Luther, “man can and does fight against his conscience and eventually, may even be able to subdue it so that it goes into a type of dormancy.” — Paul Strawn, in a paper here.

+++

Anyone who has truly known the tender heart of Christ has a heart that is tender. They know that:

  • Both men and women were created in the image of God
  • Slavery, though a perpetual human reality, was never intended by God
  • Children, always vulnerable, are beautiful pictures of what our trust in the Lord should look like
  • God loves His whole creation – all creatures – and the crown of His creation, man, above all.
  • This goes for all races and all classes of human beings. There is no favoritism with God.

I thought about these things as I read Sarah Hinlicky Wilson’s column, “Where Have All the Women Gone?” — particularly when I came across this quotation from one of the women she interviewed for that column:

“For me, the question is what is most important, rights or faith. The paganism that we are sinking into is brutal to women, which they don’t realize yet, but when polygamy starts they will find out.”[i]

I should note that this line, while it stood out to me, doesn’t really do justice to what Wilson’s article is about. Overall, it wants to bring to our attention the fact that “social and personal perceptions” play a role “in the theological convictions we hold” ; that forms of feminism and Christian orthodoxy can go together and have gone together ; and that, for reasons the article explores, it is hard to find “doctrinally orthodox and confessionally Lutheran” women among Lutheran theologians.

All this said though, the essay does – even if inadvertently? – draw one’s attention to the hard edges of life, particularly in that quote above (perhaps a deep interest in what Jordan Peterson has to say might not be far behind?)

And here are the questions that the column causes this particular “male defender[] of orthodoxy” to ask:

  • Have we in the Western world given into the kind of sentimentalism that only the presence of Christianity could have rendered possible?
  • Might this explain why so many are so ready to accept, for example, things like gay marriage and the transgender revolution?

 

Do we have any idea of what true love is? In the midst of His unquestionable gentleness and tenderness, have we forgotten the importance of the kind of no-nonsense love our Savior shows? And have we allowed sentimentality – mixed with a harder-edged quest for equality (!) in this or that sphere – to run the show, thereby allowing our consciences to be hardened?

Hinlicky Wilson says:

“It seems to me now that, when women distrust orthodox Christianity, it’s because something has happened in their lives to render it untrustworthy. The women I’ve known who are most alienated from Christian orthodoxy are the ones whose humanity has been most called into question. The church was somehow either responsible (and there’s no dodging it: sometimes the church really is responsible) or unwittingly identified with the perpetrators. The trust had been so fatally damaged that anything offered as the teaching of the church was automatically suspect, even if irrelevant to women’s questions otherwise.”

Earlier in the same essay, she writes this:

“At first my fellow female students’ generally positive disposition toward feminist theology and negative attitude toward classical orthodoxy perplexed me. But I gradually came to realize that (theological) feminism held no attraction for me because nothing had ever been taken away from me—and that itself was because I was already enjoying so many of (social and political) feminism’s fruits.”

I think I get that. I think I can begin to understand and even appreciate that (Christianity, does, after all, elevate women unlike other world religions and philosophies, and so it is perhaps easy to see why some Christians believe that some forms of feminism are compatible with, or even go hand-in-hand with Christian orthodoxy[ii]).

In short, I hope that it is clear that I want to take what Hinlicky Wilson writes here very seriously. There is no doubt in my mind that she is making an exceedingly important point. At the same time, I confess that I don’t want to elevate her too much as a voice to listen to. She is after all, a vigorous and articulate advocate of ordaining women into the pastoral office.

Lutheran Forum editor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, pictured with Beesson Divinity school president Timothy George.

 

I’ve heard those arguments, and I think in every case they are either wrong or misleading. I also confess that I don’t think that this is an issue that, ideally, is approached as an “open question” (even as there are those who are certainly eager to spend time on, and vigorously engaging, the issue).

Of course this stance is going to make a lot of women angry (though not the four strong women who scolded me twenty years ago for considering women’s ordination). No doubt about this.

There is much that I agree with Hinlicky Wilson about, for example when she says there is a “vice of valuing the fact of making assertions over the content of the assertions.” And yet, ultimately, I believe in submitting to the Lord’s Apostle when he tells us that:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (italics mine).

I have to ask the following in light of her article: Is that “dramatically inhospitable to women” or not? Are we seeing here in Paul simple fear, worrying that “all faith will be lost ‘if x creeps onto the scene’”? Are statements like these simply “cultural controls” only dressed up as “fidelity?” Is Paul perfectly exemplifying “the culture of orthodoxy [more] than orthodoxy itself”?

“And if my conscience tried to reproach me, saying, ‘You take a good deal of liberty with your interpretation, Sir Martin, but—but—’ etc., I would press until I became red in the face, and say, ‘Keep quiet, you traitor with your “but,” I don’t want the people to notice that I have such a bad conscience!’” More (see this also).

 

And am I failing, even here and now, to realize the “impact of [my] style[] and actions?”

Where can a person go from here? Well, here is where Hinlicky Wilson, evidently in a sincere effort to “restart this conversation with more charity and patience,” goes:

I wasn’t there for the first wave of women entering theology and ministry, so I can’t speak from firsthand experience. But I gather that the resistance many men showed to the female infiltration of church leadership and theology had a hardening and radicalizing effect on the women. Many churchmen, incapable of hearing the critiques from or repenting of real sins against the female half of the body of Christ—probably shocked by the suddenness of it, and thinking that they had been doing right by their women all along—turned off their ears and in the process created the kind of women they feared most. Man’s orthodoxy begets woman’s heresy. And then the men who weren’t hostile to women heard the accusations made against their sex, resented being lumped together with the bad guys, and began to lose their sympathy for feminist concerns, which only reinforced the women’s suspicion.

What a catastrophe! Radical feminists don’t arise in a vacuum. They are made, not born, by a hostile male culture.

So what if, in response to this, I lay out the full range of emotions I have experienced regarding this issue, talking about how I’ve felt “torn” about this when I hear women’s stories? Even as I simply don’t “feel comfortable” dismissing Paul’s words in case they really are more than just his contextually-influenced preferences?

Right – it is not only men who think that kind of sentimentality and wishy-washiness is pathetic. Nobody, women included, really want men to be like that! Heck, no one wants women to be like that!

[Adam] would have, in the face of the serpent’s temptation, have crushed the serpent saying “Shut up! The Lord’s command was different.” — Luther

.

No doubt about it: men can not only be hard and blunt – “the reasons that Paul gives appear to have nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the order of creation and that fact that Eve, and not Adam, fell and fall for the serpent’s lie”[iii] — they can also, no doubt, go bad in a myriad of ways. The answer, however, is not to villainize them and harp on “toxic masculinity” – either in direct or more subtle ways. The answer is to rightly channel that masculinity; to put it at the feet of Jesus.

It is only as we are handled by the Truth that we can handle the truth…

The truth about what is… and what the Lord expects of us regarding one another.

FIN

 

Images:

Hinlicky Wilson pic: https://www.beesondivinity.com/deans-blog/beeson-divinity-school-hosts-annual-reformation-heritage-lectures-with-dr-sarah-hinlicky-wilson

Notes:

[i] Hinlicky Wilson responds this way: “a serious alternative to a brutal future is going to require an honest reckoning with the brutality of the past that the church allowed and sometimes even encouraged.” Given that both polygamy and slavery have been the norm throughout human history I am not entirely sure how to take this. The Apostle Paul clearly allowed the slavery of his day. Was he wrong to do so?

[ii] Here is a bit of Hinlicky Wilson’s own take on the situation from the same article:

“Most male theologians in the American Lutheran world today are to some extent positively influenced by feminism, of the social, political, and even theological type (there are really not many anymore who would argue that men have to be the mediators between women and God). But quite a lot of these men would deny the influence or refuse to acknowledge that feminism itself helped them along to their current views regarding women. It is taken by them to be simply obvious that women are equal in their humanity with men, intellectually capable, not solely responsible for sexual sin, not required to be only stay-at-home wives and mothers—and that all of these things can be found in the Bible and classical Christian teaching without any recourse to such a tainted discipline as “feminism.” But the fact is that no end of male church leaders and Bible readers through church history have come to quite different conclusions. It isn’t honest to dissociate feminism from changed-for-the-better attitudes toward women, or to define feminism always by its negative features or excesses, an all too common strategy. The most frequent version I hear of this is “feminism is trying to turn women into men.” The ignorance of the history of feminist thought is the only truth on display here.” (italics mine)

[iii] Early in his Genesis commentary, Luther also states that man, with a nature that “somewhat excelled the female” would have, in the face of the serpent’s temptation, have crushed the serpent saying “Shut up! The Lord’s command was different.” He goes on: “Satan… directs his attack on Eve as the weaker part…” (151). Here, there is certain a focus on an aggressively active will in Adam, motivated entirely on the basis of God’s word.

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5 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

5 responses to “The Christian Conscience, Pounded into Submission by Sentimentalism?

  1. Sarah

    February 7, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Dear Nathan, I thank you for taking the time to read and struggle with my essay. “Struggle” does appear to be the key term here. I hear your intention to take what I say seriously, although at the same time you make a point of discounting me as a voice to listen to on account of my being a “vigorous and articulate advocate” of the ordination of women.

    I wish you could have listened a little more closely. I’m frankly perplexed where you got the idea that I somehow support “sentimentalism,” wishy-washiness, implicitly also things like gay marriage and the “transgender revolution” (I don’t, on all counts). I’m not convinced that when I call out “toxic masculinity” you have actually grasped that I am talking about the huge, horrifying prevalence of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, pornography, prostitution, and the like. I’m sure you oppose these whole-heartedly too, but I’m not sure you’ve really grasped how much these things define and limit the existence of so many women, including women in the church. If *you* don’t take the lead in villainizing and harping on these issues, you can hardly be surprised if many women don’t think you’ve really paid attention to their reality and theefore decide to take matters into their own hands. Yes, by all means, lay your masculinity at Jesus’ feet: but surely that includes reckoning with the sins and evils specific to the male half of the human race.

    However, I would challenge you even more to listen more closely to Scripture. (Assuming you can accept such a challenge from a woman like me.) Not surprisingly, you quote I Timothy. I acknowledge that it’s there, too, and at one time, you may be surprised to hear, I thought it was a conclusive argument. That’s because I did not pay attention to the full range of both Old Testament and New Testament voices. For example, you identify Eve as the one to be blamed for sin in I Timothy 2, but why do you say nothing of Romans 5, where it is Adam who is the primal sinner with no mention of Eve at all (“sin came into the world through one man,” 5:12)? Also, I wonder what you make of the claim in I Timothy that women are saved through “childbearing,” which can hardly be synthesized easily into a profoundly biblical, Lutheran understanding that we are saved by our Spirit-given faith in Jesus Christ, not by any work we undertake, procreative or otherwise! There are women leaders in both Testaments who are Spirit-moved and therefore listened to by men. What do you make of them? Are they not in contradiction to I Timothy, and how do you handle their equal scriptural status? There are male leaders who are betray God’s Word. Why does that never make it into discussions of what “men” are like or their qualifications for ministry? I notice even your selectivity in quoting from Luther’s Genesis commentary. As with the Scripture, you call out a single instance where Luther demotes women as compared to men, but you have omitted the many, many places where Luther makes women “equal” (to use our present-day term) or even elevates them over men. Another reader less familiar with these texts would think that you have been representative of Scripture and Luther, but you have not.

    Therefore, I’d encourage you to go back and read these texts more carefully so you can better grasp the whole story. I hope then that you will at least acknowledge that my intention as a theologian is to hear and give due to the whole range of our scriptural and theological inheritance, even if you are not persuaded by it. And I hope in the process that your own scriptural and theological range will be expanded.

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      February 7, 2018 at 3:40 pm

      Sarah,

      Thanks for the response. I really do appreciate that you took the time to interact with me here.

      “I wish you could have listened a little more closely. I’m frankly perplexed where you got the idea that I somehow support “sentimentalism,” wishy-washiness, implicitly also things like gay marriage and the “transgender revolution” (I don’t, on all counts).”

      I implied that you support sentimentalism — even if you think you don’t — and I will stand by that. Nowhere did I imply you support things like gay marriage and the transgender revolution. I am quite confident, in fact, that you do not.

      “I’m not convinced that when I call out ‘toxic masculinity’ you have actually grasped that I am talking about the huge, horrifying prevalence of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment, pornography, prostitution, and the like.”

      Actually, the fact that you would talk about these things does not surprise me at all. And I do think these things should be talked about – not by relying on rhetoric like “toxic masculinity” though (and, btw, you did not use that rhetoric in your article, even if you do embrace it here).

      “I’m not sure you’ve really grasped how much these things define and limit the existence of so many women, including women in the church.”

      I’m sure I haven’t – and probably never will be able to satisfy many that I have — but that is really beside the point I’m making in this article.

      “However, I would challenge you even more to listen more closely to Scripture. (Assuming you can accept such a challenge from a woman like me.)”

      Sure. I’ll play the ball, not the (wo)man. : )

      “…why do you say nothing of Romans 5, where it is Adam who is the primal sinner with no mention of Eve at all (“sin came into the world through one man,” 5:12)?”
      Because while I Tim. 2 is a glaring problem for your position, it is not a problem for my position. Adam, being Eve’s spiritual head, should have known better.

      “I wonder what you make of the claim in I Timothy that women are saved through ‘childbearing,’ which can hardly be synthesized easily into a profoundly biblical, Lutheran understanding that we are saved by our Spirit-given faith in Jesus Christ, not by any work we undertake, procreative or otherwise!”

      I’m guessing my interpretation of this passage is the same as yours Sarah – this is about woman as the bearer of life, and most importantly, eternal life. It’s really a sign for us of the Mother of God, above all.

      “There are women leaders in both Testaments who are Spirit-moved and therefore listened to by men. What do you make of them?”

      I think it is fabulous. I think every Christian father should hope to have a daughter like Priscilla, for example. Women, whatever their vocations, should be top-notch theologians to! I also think that what Priscilla did with Apollos is inspiring although I note that this happened in a private and not public setting.

      “Are they not in contradiction to I Timothy, and how do you handle their equal scriptural status?”

      Not at all. See above. Again, none of the texts proponets of women’s ordination point to are a problem for those who want to adhere to the 2,000 year old tradition of the church.

      “There are male leaders who are betray God’s Word. Why does that never make it into discussions of what ‘men’ are like or their qualifications for ministry?”

      Although this is an important topic, it is simply not relevant to my post. Men who are in the ministry and come to not follow the qualifications put forth by Paul should be removed. For example, pastors who commit adultery or worse.

      “I notice even your selectivity in quoting from Luther’s Genesis commentary. As with the Scripture, you call out a single instance where Luther demotes women as compared to men, but you have omitted the many, many places where Luther makes women “equal” (to use our present-day term) or even elevates them over men.”

      Exactly. I don’t deny those passages, and glory in them. Paul does the same. Where you see conflict, I scratch my head. I’m quite familiar with AE/LW 1 and I appreciated the talk that you gave on this topic at CSP several months back (btw, I came up and talked to you personally after that, and thanked you for your informative talk).

      “Another reader less familiar with these texts would think that you have been representative of Scripture and Luther, but you have not.”

      Fair enough. It did not fit the rhetorical aim of this post. That said, again, I glory in those texts – again, in Paul as well — about women’s equality.

      “I hope then that you will at least acknowledge that my intention as a theologian is to hear and give due to the whole range of our scriptural and theological inheritance, even if you are not persuaded by it.”

      Thanks Sarah, but I will stand by the content of this post in its entirety.

      Pax Christi,

      +Nathan

       
  2. Sarah

    February 7, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    As I anticipated: a series of pat answers, delivered in the way I critiqued in my essay. I don’t think we’re going to get much further with each other, Nathan. Let us commend one another to God and leave it at that.

     
  3. Nathan A. Rinne

    February 8, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    Sarah,

    So be it. I’d encourage you to go back and read these texts more carefully so you can better grasp the whole story. I hope in the process that your own scriptural and theological range will be expanded.

    I’m saddened by your response (“delivered in the way I critiqued in my essay”), given that my intent was to give you a not only “to the point” but also encouraging answers.

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “pat answer”. One def. of this is “a quick, easy answer; a simplified or evasive answer.” (McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs, 2002).

    I am interested in knowing whether all the parts of that definition above describe what you meant to say and also whether you think you have, at times, received more than “pat answers” from those who disagree with you on this issue and have made the effort to engage you on it.

    Genuinely am curious to know.

    +Nathan

     

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