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.
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 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!.
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.
[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.