Friday, 17 December 2010

Take me to your leader

So, the next question prompted in my mind, by the Gunn Bros film The Monstrous Regiment of Women, was:

Do I think men and women are created equal, and if so what do I mean by that?

Yes and no.

I don’t believe that all women are the same as each other, or that all men are the same as each other. So, for example, when it comes to caring for little children, I think in general women are better at it than men, but I also think that some men are much better at it than some women.

And I think things go better when people do what they’re good at. In an earlier blog where I mentioned that England has a queen, and she does a great job, a sister who commented on the post reminded me that however good a job she is doing, the queen is biblically out of order. I remember the scriptural texts that led my sister to that belief, but I am baffled by the concept of a God who would prefer a man doing something badly over a woman doing it well just because the man is a man and the woman is a woman. I have no clear opinion about this; it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Where this is an issue, I prefer the route of simply deleting the hierarchical status. Let's not have monarchs, then.  Same I feel about bishops, and indeed any ordained clergy.  If there's going to be a row about whether women are allowed to be bishops or priests, let's not have them.  Jesus wasn't a bishop or a priest, and He had no kingdom of this world.

Other kinds of equality?  Are women and men equal in the sense of being basically the same - interchangeable?  Despite the neurologists' findings that there is very little difference between the male and femael brains, I personally believe that, even factoring in the great variety among human beings in either gender, men and women are so startlingly different from each other they sometimes seem to come from different species if not actually different planets. I know marriage must be God’s idea because I can’t imagine that any other than a transcendent and all-wise being could possibly have come up with so laughably crazy an idea as a woman and a man trying to set up house together, and still have it work OK.

Are men and women equal in importance then – that is, do they have equal eminence, equal status, equal prestige? Yes, they do. They are both infinitely valuable to God – and there is no relative quantification of ‘infinite’ – and apart from that, neither man nor woman has any importance at all; no eminence, status or prestige whatsoever, outside of their own imagination. Neither man nor woman is more valuable than the other to God, and neither has any other value at all.

So should men rule over women? This is an unnecessary question, for God has already told us they always will (here), and that He regards it as a curse.  She was looking for a connection, a linking of soul-to-soul (her desire is for her husband); instead she found herself a link in a chain of command (he shall lord it over you).

But it seems to me that there is a way round this whole equality question that makes it completely irrelevant.  Because this whole thing is about who's the boss, who's in charge, isn't it?

Here are some things Jesus said that blow it right out of the water:

Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3 KJV)

And he said here (Luke 22:24-27 KJV) that the greater person should be like the junior person, and the boss should be like the go-fer.

And Jesus said: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:29 KJV)

And here is something from one of the New Testament epistles (Ephesians 5:18-33 KJV) saying that a wife should reverence and respect her husband as deeply as the church reverences Jesus, and that the husband should love his wife with as tender and self-sacrificial love as Jesus loves his people in the church.  "They two shall be one flesh."  One flesh.  How can you have a hierarchical relationship in one flesh?  Hierarchy requires different ranks, different strata of status; one flesh is indivisible.

I have read Christian writers saying that in any relationship there is a conflict of interests, and when that occurs there has to be a hierarchical relationship, or there will be a stalemate.  So one partner must have the casting vote and that should be the husband, because he's the head.  That's logic, but it still isn't what Jesus said.  When Jesus came upon his disciples arguing about which of them was the greatest, He said "except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."  So you can set up an arrangement where the husband is in charge and the wife has to do as he says, but that still leaves them both outside the kingdom of heaven, because Jesus said that's not the way they do it there.  To even enter it, you have to go the way of simplicity - stoop down, and be humble enough to get in.  You don't stride into heaven, the lintel is low.  You crawl in on your hands and knees.

It seems to me that all we have to do is put these teachings into practice and the whole problem just goes away. All you get left with is faithfulness, humility and love.


Julie B. said...

Faithfulness, humility and love. The needed balms for every ill.....

Steve & Paula said...

I think the struggle here is that you are trying to marry positional and relational authority.


Ember said...

@ Julie - Aye and amen!

@ Paula - good point, yes I see what you mean. I do see relationship and position as being married. An example that comes to mind is of a woman I knew who was employed in a responsible job as a senior secretary when I was still a small child. Legislation in England was influenced by biblical principle, so it used once to be the case that a married woman, or a widow with a son, could not own estate in her own right, it belonged to her male relatives. Only an unmarried woman with no male heirs could own her home. That had changed by the time the lady I knew worked as a secretary, but women were still not allowed to take out a mortgage. As she had a good job, wanted to buy her own place, and had elderly parents needing care and living in rented accommodation, the best thing seemed to her to take out a mortgage and buy a house for the three of them. As a single lady and an only child, she had no male relatives who could act for her in this regard, so had to enter a complicated arrangement with her employer. These paternalistic arrangements are certainly the logical outcome of biblical teaching, and she was a Christian lady who did not resent the system - she was just determined to get her own place. But I think it would be naive to suppose the positional facts of the matter did not affect the relational realities.
Similarly in the Bible is the injunction of St Paul, "Slaves, obey your masters". He asks slaves to regard their subordination to their masters as loving obedience unto the Lord. There is no doubt in my mind that if some like (in England) William Wilberforce had not struggled and fought to bring an end to slavery, there would be many good Christians today commenting on blogs that slavery is biblical and the World of God makes it clear that the correct attitude of a slave is submissive and loving obedience, and that the position of being a slave is no impediment to the formation of a relationship of love - which is indeed the case, as the documentation of freed slaves marrying their masters or being otherwise incorporated into their families makes clear.
What interests me in regard to these issues is the glimpse we get in the letter to Philemon of how Paul handled these matters. He says nothing to challenge the institution of slavery, though he hints strongly that he hopes Philemon will set Onesimus free. What he asks for is an attitude in Philemon towards Onesimus that will make their slave-master rank irrelevant.
He asks that the nature of the relationship will so strengthen as to make the nature of their positions immaterial.
I believe the same can be true of marriage. I would not wish to undermine the teaching of the Bible in any way. I believe that if both husband and wife lay fast hold on the texts that call us to mutual submission, humility, gentleness and love, then questions of position are subsumed into the relationship of loving-kindness. There is no need to insist on position where each of us gives willing service with a loving heart.
As Paul says of the fruit of the Spirit, 'for such there is no Law'.

Gerry Snape said...

I like this treatise today Ember.
Thankyou for taling the time to think this through. A lot of my own feelings and beliefs here.

"Tis the gift to be simple" said...

Good morning Ember..

Thank you for posting this..

For what I gather.. much like you its an yes and no answer..

Yes I am equal to a man.. but God created man and woman with two very different jobs to do .. in so we have different ways to getting to the same goal ..
Hope that made as much sense on the screen as it did in my head lol .
There is so much more to this than I can post right now..

Hope y'all are doing well in the snow!

Denise in TN

Ember said...

Hi Gerry! Hi Denise! Waving! :0)

Flo Fflach said...

delete the heirachies.... I've never thought equal meant the same, there is wonderful amazing difference all around us. Learning to be reconciled with difference seems important to me.
all are equal under god.

Ember said...

Hi Flo! :0)

seekingmyLord said...

So many avenues to explore and so little time to do some serious research, but it seems to me there is hierarchy even in heaven.

There is never equality. If we are to be truly honest, we do not mind if people are lower than we are. In fact, equality is not really something people want, rather we want no one to be higher than ourselves or to be no lower than anyone, whichever description suits you.

As to men and women, they are so very different, thankfully. For there to be a good marriage, you need to have some things in common, but it is in the differences that we truly meld together as one flesh.

Is my husband the one who rules over me? Yes, but I rarely notice it. He needed to make a final decision the few times we did not fully agree, but in that he should (and thankfully does) consider not what he wants but what is the best decision, after considering my thoughts on the matter. A very good leader is not one who seeks, takes, or even has to have the leadership role, but to whom the leadership role is given out of trust and respect.

Ember said...

Thank you seekingmylord. What a beautiful tribute to your husband. I hope you showed him what you wrote.

My husband is the same kind of man. He is suited to leadership by his profound kindness and innate humility.