Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gender Roles In Marriage

Men and women are different by nature, not just physically, but psychologically as well. That is a generalization, of course, and lots of folk will not fall precisely in any definition highlighting said differences. Nonetheless, I know countless women who find themselves torn when it comes to leaving their infant in the care of others when it's time to return to their work: I know of no men experiencing the same or similar consternation. Does this imply anything about gender roles in marriage? Well, yes and no.

Men do not bear children in the womb, almost never develop working breasts, and do not face the same hormonal swings as do females. They are not designed by nature to nurture infants at anywhere near the level that females are. It's not that men cannot be wonderful, caring fathers (certainly, it doesn't take genes to change diapers, give baths, or rock a cranky baby), but I have yet to see the same natural care, connection and ease of relating exist between father and infant that seems effortless between mother and her baby.

I think common sense would lead one to the conclusion that women will tend to be more domestically oriented in Christian marriage than men, but the Bible removes all doubt. I understand that some of the specifics of these passages are culturally bound, but I think the general message is unmistakable. In our day and age, we have been blessed to be much further removed from subsistence than were the original audiences of these passages. Our application of the principles will look different than theirs, but it will still result, generally, in mothers of young children being more oriented to their care and nurture than their fathers.

Fighting against the physical nature one has been made with is never anything but abominable before God, but that doesn't mean that KP is a woman's realm and bringing in the doggies is man's. Specifically, a husband and wife will have to agree together as to how this looks for them. I think what's important to remember in defining Christian marriage in this regard, is that neither spouse can enforce such decisions on the other. You're partners in the grace of God, get over yourself and figure it out together.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Overcoming the Gender Effect of the Fall II

Just because the gender curse wasn't spoken directly to Adam, doesn't mean men weren't cursed along with women. Their side of the equation was to rule over their wives and face their insurgency. I can understand why any women (and some small-minded men) would wonder where the curse was in that, but it is in fact the source of men's alienation from the fairer sex. In their finer moments men seek companionship, partnership, intimacy with their mates, but the curse has them thinking in most moments of dominance, possession, and detachment.

Clearly, the creation account makes no distinction between the humanity of men and women. They are all man-- male and female he created them. The wonder that is a human, built in the image of God, is indistinguishable between genders. When Eve was fashioned from Adam's rib it was as a corresponding companion in mission (a help meet) without any reference to any differential in authority. They were partners in the grace of God. That changed with the curse, and has been the unpleasant reality of life since.

Adam was cursed directly as well as Eve. He was a gardener: it was an expression of his God-given authority over land and animal. Now, thorns and thistles would battle his efforts at making a living, and in the new curse economy if he didn't work, he wouldn't eat. Eve was made to stand beside him in that authority, but now she became part of what he had authority over but which resisted him. She who had been made a partner for him, now took on some of the same characteristics of the parasites that plagued him. But Jesus changes all that.

Nature and the curse may have given men the opportunity to domineer women-- they're bigger and stronger, and in most societies still have the imprimatur to do so. But that is not Christ-like and its bondage is a two-way street. Who would want to use such a framework as a basis for Christian marriage? God says to men, "put aside your crown and your glory, step into your wife's world and lay down your life for her. Make it your mission to help her be all she can be." The trump card of decisive authority is one gender effect of the Fall that must be sloughed off.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Overcoming the Gender Effect of the Fall I

Complementarians cite numerous NT Bible verses (like this, this, this and this) for their approach to male domination in Christian marriage. Is that what's really intended by those scriptures? I don't believe it is, and I think, generally, that kind of thinking is based on a faulty understanding of gender, it's place in God's plan, and the far reaching implications of our redemption in Christ Jesus (see the link in the title).

That the scriptures command wives to submit to their husbands is beyond doubt. That, however, is not the same as saying to husbands, "rule over your wives." That is the assumption (and it most certainly is an assumption) I see in the complementarian approach to Christian marriage. It leads to the unfortunate and faulty conclusion that Jesus' passion and resurrection may have cured many of the ills of the Fall in the here and now, but it didn't get near the gender consequences of it.

Eve, and all women through her were cursed to live in this natural world under the physical and societal domination of their husbands, though they would have an inward desire to master those men. Since the Fall, it has been natural for women to desire to maneuver, manipulate, and manage their dominant husbands. Even in the church world, this reality has been the fodder of the humor mill, as attested in old jokes like Aisle, Altar, Hymn. But Jesus changes all that!

From my particular egalitarian viewpoint the NT commands to wives to submit to their husbands actually prove the point: they merely say to Christian women, "don't do that kind of thing, you have been redeemed from the curse. Stop trying to master your husbands and submit to your partnership with them." The battle of wills in the Christian household is one gender effect of the the Fall that must be overcome!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Gender Consequences of the Fall

I've stated earlier that God knew marriage was temporary (see the link in the title). It will not be our state in eternity, and I am forced to believe that this must have been the case before the Fall, not only after it. Certainly, God not only knows what he's doing, he always knew it and always will (omniscience). If you follow this thought to its logical conclusion, it means that Adam and Eve may have been in good condition, but were not in their ultimate state before the Fall (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Created gender--male and female he created them-- was a purely functional, and merely temporary contrivance.

This fact is verified in the NT by Galatians 3:26-29, which teaches that in Christ (the eternal condition) there is neither male nor female, everyone is merely a son. Gender is not an eternal verity, it is just a passing means to an end; therefore, our born again approach to gender better not rely upon created order, nor current physical reality, or it will miss what is of eternal significance. Doubtless, those considerations have had some value in history, but they will have none in eternity.

Gender authority distinctions were introduced to the human race with the curse. After Adam and Eve were confronted by God for sin (willful independence in opposition to God) they were cursed as follows: the male would rule over the female though it would be her desire [to master him] (see Genesis 4:7 for the grammatical construction). The effect of sin upon the interaction of husband and wife would be the development of a hierarchical relationship which would result in a battle of wills rather than a partnership in mission. Such a structure is clearly the result of sin and the curse rather than the design of God.

So why is gender such a controversial issue in the church today? Egalitarians pay little heed to it, complementarians see it as determinative. I see that sin and the curse have been dealt with in Christ, and that faith embraces the eternal promise of God, even while we still waste away in a world that is still wasting away. For freedom we have been set free. Is it not well past time for the church, particularly her men, to rise up and set the captives free from the gender consequences of the Fall?

Addendum: Check out this post on women leaders in Wesleyan movements.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Shadow of His Wings? (Redux)

An interesting article, the subject of which is all over the news today. Interesting, don't you think, in light of all I've said about Turkey?

And it just gets more interesting and more interesting. Check this out from Andrew Jackson at SmartChristian.com.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ark of Safety

We like to cite widely occurring flood myths, complete with fortunate families escaping destruction in a boat, as evidence for Noah's flood. A common thread spread broadly across culture and race says something, after all. According to this article by Jonathan Cheng in the Wall Street Journal [HT: The Drudge Report], the idea is not confined to the ancient past. Is God still giving folk a vision to build an ark, or can it act as a bastion of safety, a charm, in troubled times like these? No, I don't think so, the only ark of safety any of us need today is the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection Day

Today is the anniversary of LIFE!
Enjoy the celebration of victory,
for he who was dead is alive
and we who believe in him live too.
Have a very happy

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dead Man Walking

Dead, yet still breathing: that's the condition of every human being at birth. We all exist in the inescapable shadow of an inevitable conclusion. It takes reality, on average, about 70 or so years to catch up with us, but catch up with us it does. We produce pills, manufacture equipment, and develop disciplines that attempt to extend our dance in the shadows, but the end comes, and its finality is undeniable.

I think death is unnatural. A bold claim, seeing that everything dies. Yet, my heart abhors the circumstance, and tells me it's not the way it is supposed to be. There are very few who can embrace those cold arms without a revulsive shudder. Maybe our collective gag reflex is meant to tell us something, could there be that much truth in our common experience? To the icy atheist, such a thought would be nothing but emotionalism, and he or she would have a case, except that... Jesus Christ overcame death!

Almost 2000 years ago, the unnatural (read: not in sinc with nature's creator) essence of death came into sharp relief. Death was shown to be an abnormal imposition upon the created, who had adopted the unnaturalness of opposition to and independence from the Creator. For those in sinc with God, life is the natural condition. Those who follow Christ, and who trust him as their shepherd and Lord, become the living transforming. No more can their journey be announced condemnedly by their tormentor with the wretched cry, "dead men walking."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dream a Little Dream

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness."
Romans 4:18-22 NIV

Arminians and Calvinists incessantly argue about the role of faith and why it is what it is. Calvinists (for the supposed glory of God) blame faith in its entirety on God, exchange election for faith as the issue of consequence in salvation (despite the entirety of both the Old and New Testament's testimony on the matter), all the while never truly admitting that if God is solely to blame for its appearance, than he's also fully to blame for its absence. Since I don't believe God is self-loathing in the least, what does that say about his scathing judgments on unbelief?

Arminians believe faith rises out of the human in response to God's grace. It doesn't have to, some resist grace just like they do compassion as they swallow hard and whiz by the car on the shoulder, four way flashers broadcasting an urgent need for help. God's grace rustles up some awareness within the soul, that then can be followed through on or ignored. To call that response a work is like saying the PENNDOT crew leaning on shovels have honestly earned their wages. In this era of intellectual property one would think the distinction between inspiring impetus and actual production wouldn't be so hard to understand.

Positive Confessionists emphasize faith, but not in the pattern of Abraham. Abraham was a realist. He may have gazed at the stars on a chilly night and dreamed, but he never lied to himself about what he was experiencing or his current condition. He faced reality squarely, openly admitted the facts of it, but he did not let those facts dissuade him concerning God's impossible promise. Faith is never about how persistently we can mentally fixate on a fantasy, or vainly repeat it mantra like with our tongues; it's about our estimation of the character and power of God who's made some promises to us.

We change in so many ways as we age. Not just our bodies, but our hearts and minds, our thinking and attitudes. We get weary, we get jaded, the older one gets, the less likely that one is to still have dreams. Look at the stars tonight, my friend. They're not gaseous orbs hopelessly far away, they're signs and symbols that a mighty God has hung in the dark to inspire us. Though we may seem light years away from graping them, those promises are ours. God is able, which means we can face the facts of the present unshaken, and dream a little dream from him.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Duties of Matrimony

I have said before that marriage is more about what we give to it than what we get from it. That, of course, is a practical statement: for if we concentrate on what we're getting from it, we'll short shrift what we give to it and end up undermining it. Unfortunately, the sacrificial attitude necessary to maintain marriage is foreign to the narcissistic baby boom generation and all the alphabet generations that have followed. The result, the burgeoning divorce rate. One must give continuously, for a lifetime, to make marriage work.

Thankfully, there are plenty of happy marriages for us to learn from. There's a fair of amount of not so happy ones to take lessons from too. Those that I've come across that are happy and long lasting are those in which the spouses haven't saddled each other with the burden of making each other happy. Spouses can share our happiness, we can be happy to share life with them, but they cannot, in themselves, make us happy. Unhappy marriages are often laboring under that faulty assumption. It is the epitome of immaturity and folly to expect another human being to hold the key to our happiness.

We provide our spouses with fundamental emotional comfort, which (because of the gender effects of the Fall) takes different forms for husbands and wives. Natural women were cursed to live in a contest of wills with their husbands: redeemed women provide their husbands the comfort of knowing that their wives respect and submit to them. Natural men were cursed with ruling over their wives and the frustration of their toil (a source of preoccupation): redeemed men provide their wives the comfort of knowing that their husbands love them sacrificially (agapate) and will lay down their lives for them. A husband who has the respect of his wife is a man who has something to live for, and a wife loved like Christ loves the church is a woman who has something that makes life worth living.

When we see ourselves and yield ourselves as bound in oneness, providing our spouse that kind of comfort, we give our mates a sense of belonging and security that nothing else on earth can truly supply. My first pastor used to repeat over and over again for the sake of all of us coming into marriageable age, "love is not a feeling, it's a commitment." So true. I wish we all went into marriage buying into that. It is not just an emotional or relational dynamic, however. It translates into all those areas of a more tangible nature that mark our shared journeys.

Being a reliable source of provision and care is just part of the package. One area along that line that is getting a lot of pulpit attention these days is the marriage bed. I think that is more a reflection of our culture's fixation on sex than anything the word says on the subject. Short and sweet, it says nothing's wrong with sex in marriage, have as much as you like in whatever way you agree, and don't hold out on your spouse. Wow, I managed to say that in less than 12 weeks and without a single billboard!

Marriage will not work for the takers, nor the heart breakers, not for the jerks nor those who would shirk the obligations of love. Marriage is a picture of the love in the Godhead, and must be treated with the honor appropriate for such. Though we've managed to make it no more than a paper plate or plastic spoon, used for a moment than than tossed aside, there's always hope if we can but begin to dedicate ourselves to the duties of matrimony.