Social Justice: Not Compatible with Christianity?

If you’ve been paying any attention to American Christianity lately, you’ve probably heard of the “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel“.  If you’ve taken the time to read it, chances are you’ve found at least part of it to be confused and/or concerning, and when you consider that thousands of prominent Evangelical (in this post Evangelical means any Christian group who affirms any form of Biblical-Inerrancy, which yes, still refers to a broad range of viewpoints, but at least narrows it down a little) it becomes especially alarming.  If you still haven’t read it and would like to, you can find it here.

While it is well-organized and not particularly dense, “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” is somewhat lengthy so I’m not going to over the entire thing today.  I will look at a few highlights and compare them with the Bible (which they claim to have based it on) and reality.  I’ll then briefly summarize why Social Justice is integral to the Gospel and the ministry of Jesus, the principles on which Christians supposedly follow.

  • (Stated Purpose): “We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement.” So far nothing inherently wrong, but as we’ll see their purpose comes to clash with the content of their statement.
  • “We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” Well, it appears we’re running into problems right on the first page.  First, let’s take a moment with what each of these ideologies actually is.
    • Intersectionality: “An analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Wikipedia)  It appears that intersectionality is not a set ideology, but rather a problem-solving method for discerning how aspects of society can oppress the marginalized in society.  Saying this contradicts scriptures is like saying using a calculator or psychology contradicts it, far too generalized too actually mean anything.  In addition, we can consistently find in both the New and Old Testaments teachings and commandments to lift up the marginalized in society, specifically forming a key part of Jesus’ ministry.
    • Radical feminism: “A perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts.” (Wikipedia)  First of all, it’s important to note that no perspective within feminism believes or calls for women ruling over or being treated “more equal” than men.  If someone believes and/or acts upon that, they are no longer a feminist.  Throughout most of Church history, we have seen Christians striving to change society (and often succeeding) for better or worse.  And hopefully, now we all view men and women as equal and believe they should be treated as such.  Again, nothing un-Christian here, though you are welcome to disagree with this approach to feminism personally (I myself tend to lean more towards traditional Liberal feminism with a tinge of Black and Marxist feminism).
    • Critical race theory: “A theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power.” (Wikipedia)  This denial just has some nasty racial subtext.  It’s essentially calling for freedom from accountability of Christianity’s racist past.  No, not all Christians supported slavery, and while they were also at the forefront of the abolition movement, just as many if not arguably more supported it.  The problem is Scripture can be twisted to mean almost anything you want, often leading to oppression/exclusion.  So denying a research method that seeks to examine racism in society betrays underlying beliefs of the documents’ creators.
  • “WE AFFIRM that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection.”  No complaints here, I actually like this one.
  • “We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness.”  There’s a difference between literal biblical and Christian righteousness.  One often calls for violence and oppression, the other will always call for peace.  Once again, the problem with following a “biblical” model of righteousness is that the Bible can be twisted into almost whatever you want, evidenced best in the slavery/abolition debate.  Both justified themselves with Scripture, but clearly only one was Christian.
  • “WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living.”  Unfortunately, the Abrahamic law does not cover all possible legal or moral issues, and some of it clearly very wrong (as Jesus himself taught).  There are many things that nearly all Christians (and people in general) consider wrong, but are not explicitly covered in the Bible.  Once again, this denial is an attempt to escape accountability, because “if it’s not explicitly there they should not be bound legally by it.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that all people are connected to Adam both naturally and federally.” Please define and justify the statement “connected to Adam…federally”.
  • “WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”  Yes, the gospel books are themselves complete.  However, the Gospel itself is the Good News, which can be summed by both the Great Commandment (Love God, Love others) and the Great Commission (Go forth and spread the Good News).  I would think the Great Commandment includes Social Justice, and the Great Commission is not really directly related to, being in itself concerned with evangelism.
  • “Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ.”  While noticeably lacking in a few demographics, I have not contention with this statement.
  • “We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.” Technically true but laws and regulations can reduce sinful behavior, especially that which bring harm to others.
  • WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith.”  I really don’t see what this section is doing in a statement on Social Justice.  The only reason I could think of is the authors are basically saying “If you don’t agree with us, you’re not a real Christian”.  So to the other 40,000+ Christian denominations out there, many of whom view Social Justice as a positive force or for some even an integral part of Christianity, sorry.  I guess according to these guys your fake.
  • Most of the “Sexuality and Marriage” section Regardless of what you think about subjects such as gay marriage, we really need to stop saying sexual orientation is a choice (because it’s not).  In addition, their statements on gender expression are wrong, because “male” and “female” does not mean the same thing in every part of the world.  Western gender norms are quite different than those we would see in biblical times, as well.  And conversion therapy?  Just no.
  •  The entire “Complementarianism” section: Separate but equal is not equal.
  • “All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.” Fair enough. It’s an old concept, but it checks out.  Move along.
  • “WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin” I hope so.
  • “We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions.” Here it is, literal, explicit, they’re saying it themselves, no subtext required denial of Christianity’s role in racism.  No, racism is not Christian, and no, not all Christians back then were racist but racism and slavery were most definitely convictions of not just evangelical Christianity but other groups as well for hundreds of years.  This is an explicit denial, not an apology or even an explanation!
  • “Historically, such things [Discussions of Racism] tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.” So the church discussing racism will ultimately lead to departure from the good news…not sure I follow.

 

Ok, so maybe I looked at more than a few points, but it was kinda’ hard not to.

Is an interest in Social Justice actually newfound in Christianity?  If you know your history (or have access to Google), it appears not: “The Gospel,” preached abolitionist Gilbert Haven in 1863, “is not confined to a repentance and faith that have no connection with social or civil duties. The Evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme.” (https://www.dallasnews.com)

A recurring theme in many Biblical teachings is caring for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and lifting them out these situations.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mathew 25:40, NRSV)

A significant part of Jesus’ ministry involved social justice.  His teachings were radical and viewed as “heresy” by many of the leading religious leaders at the time.  I truly hope this document represents a minority belief in American Christianity, but it’s over 8,000 signers (at the time of this writing) suggest otherwise.  To reject social justice is to reject the Gospel itself.

 

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Why I Support Female Pastors: Or, That Feminism Post: Part Two

When I decided to write a post about Feminism, I decided to write it through a lens that many of readers would easily recognize, and maybe even find relevant to their own experiences.  Few issues within the Church today face as much contention as female authority, and by examining God’s timeless word and pulling His teachings out of it, I hope to clarify what is really a simple quandary with a simple truth.  If you didn’t read last week’s post, I strongly suggest you read it before continuing here, because it lays the groundwork for what I’ll be discussing here.  You can read it here or by scrolling down on my homepage.

My last post focused on the Old Testament, and honestly, I probably could’ve written a whole series on that alone just because of how much material is in there.  This week’s post will focus on the New Testament,  which is thankfully slimmer and a bit more straight-forward to read.  That being said, I still probably won’t address every applicable verse and/or passage, but I do hope to look into some of the most relevant and contested ones.  If there are any verses you think I left out that should have been included, or if you have a different interpretation of them, feel free to comment at the bottom of the page and I’d be to address/discuss them with you.

First, I’d like to point out the fact that yes, there are no female pastors in the Bible.  I’d also like to point out the fact there are no male pastors either, except Jesus.  The Greek word we get pastor from, poimēn, means Shephard.  Only once in the entire New Testament is this word ever used as a noun to describe someone, and that one time is to describe Jesus.  So in reality, the Bible did not have today’s current concept of pastor we have.  That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with today’s concept of a pastor, though.  In fact, I think it’s great, and it’s merely an evolution of the ministerial role to fit today’s needs.  So while you can argue that there were no female pastors in the Bible, you do have to acknowledge that there were no male as well.

Some of you may be wondering if there were no pastors in the Bible, then where on earth did we even get the idea from?  Well, for those of you who were thinking that; that’s a very good question!   For those of you who weren’t thinking that, are you sure you’re not just skimming this blog post?  In the New Testament, we see two early church leadership roles described by Paul: The Minister, and the Deacon.  The Minister is fairly similar to the current concept of a Pastor, they would teach their congregation.  The Deacon was a delegate who the Minister would assign various tasks two to lighten their load.  Parallels to this structure can be seen in the Old Testament, with Moses and the Levites.

So, what about female pastors and deacons?  Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have several clear examples I’ve found in the Scriptures:

  1. Phoebe: In Romans 16, Paul commends to the Church in Rome “our sister Phoebe who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.”.  The word servant here is important, because in Greek it is the word Diakonos.  However, the fact that this word is translated to servant is a bit odd.  Diakonos is used in 23 other places throughout the New Testament, including by Paul to describe himself.  What is this word translated to?  Minister.  So why then, is it translated to “servant”, when in so many other places, in the same context, is used as Minister?  The answer is, translator’s bias.   Whether on purpose, or more likely just tradition, this keyword has been mistranslated, to much error.
  2. Priscilla: In the same passage, Paul addresses Priscilla and Aquila, who “held a church in their home”.  Aquila is a man’s name, while Priscilla is a woman’s name.  During this time period, in just about every culture, you listed a man’s name first in an address, because they were the head of their house.  However, here we see Paul address the women first, not just as the head of their house, but as the head of their church.  While both were Ministers in their church, we clearly see that Priscilla is the dominant one, at least in Paul’s opinion.  And again, only two chapters only, we see Priscilla and Aquila take Paul aside and address him on a theological issue.  Again, Priscilla is mentioned first in this passage, explicitly denoting a dominant role.  This is a powerful example of how God calls both Men and Women to leadership roles of all kinds, and of the difference between Christ and Culture.
  3. Junia: In verse seven of Chapter 16, Paul addresses Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles.  In the early Church, to be called an apostle was one of the highest honors, and reflected a great level of devotion to the Lord.  We see here that while not the greatest of the Apostles, Junia was of note among them.

Now, I will address a few “commandments” of Paul that at first glance seem to forbid women from leadership positions.  Firstly, 1 Corinthians 14:34 was probably not written by Paul.  This verse calls for women to be “silent and submissive” and not teach “in accordance with the law”.  While still included in some modern translations, this verse is widely regarded as a forgery by most Biblical scholars.  It does not appear in earlier manuscripts of the letter, differs in writing style from Paul, and seemingly contradicts his other teachings (we just got done talking about his praise for female pastors and deacons).  So this verse should not be used in arguments, and honestly shouldn’t even be in the bible, as it’s authenticity is sketchy at best.

Another letter (Timothy) by Paul calls for women to not teach men.  This letter is actually calling for women to not be in pastoral positions, but it is very important to understand the context.  Most of Paul’s letters were not originally intended to be shared, they were personal letters to certain people or to specific churches.  This is one of those examples.  In the city Timothy was in, women in leadership roles were often associated with cult priestesses, who engaged in bizarre and certainly not Christian teachings and rituals.  As Christianity was new and attempting to set itself apart from the pagan traditions and religions that coexisted alongside it, anything that could undermine this effort is moot.  Converts and people who heard of Christianity in this city would assume that it was no different.  That is why having a female pastor in this situation would serve as a distraction and detract from Christianity’s message.  It is also important to realize that Paul says he is not currently allowing women to be pastors in this location.  He fully intends to integrate this in the future, just not at the moment.  This is the same reason as to why Paul tells women to cover their hair in Timothy, because in the city he was in any women not wearing head coverings was pretty much assumed to be a cult prostitute.  Again, Christianity was meant to be set apart, they would not want it to be confused with other religions.

If you read last week’s post, then you might remember how I discussed that before the Fall men and women were equal to each other.  As any scholar of the Bible will tell you, God intends for humanity to be returned to the Eden model.  This isn’t just in terms of our relationship with God, but also with our relationship with each other.  Paul affirms this in Galatians:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond-servant nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. 

In Christ, we are all equal, not any higher or lower than each other.  We can also see this Jesus’s own teachings and actions, he treated men and women the same, talking to all in a similar manner.  Some of his most devoted followers were women, such as Mary and Mary-Magdalene.  So great was their faith that after Jesus’s resurrection they were first to be informed by the angel, not any of his male followers.  This is a strong statement, especially in the ancient world, because women were usually regarded as unreliable witnesses.  We can see clearly that Paul is trying to continue the good work started by Jesus, which is not just evangelism, but also positive social change.

Now that I’ve gone over what the bible has to say, I’m going to spend a little time here at the end to go over inconsistencies in the arguments and policies of those who are opposed to female pastors or women in other leadership roles.  Many churches, such as the Southern Baptist Convention (I only use them because they are the denomination I am most familiar with) allow women to have pastoral equivalent roles, such as Worship leader or Missionary, or even as a Children’s pastor.  They don’t however, allow for women to be head pastors.  This makes no logical sense, because assuming that Paul is against women in authority they shouldn’t have any of these roles, not just some of them.  Others may be fine with a woman being their boss at work but would be against a woman having equal or dominant authority in a family.  These policies and beliefs reek of hypocrisy and double standards and only cause harm.

You see, even if you truly do believe in traditional gender roles, you actually do your church and Christianity a disservice.  There are many talented women out there, just as there are talented men, and by not allowing them to have leadership roles, you hurt your church and thus the Church by wasting that skill.  And think of the hurt you cause these women, as many feel called to ministry and other leadership roles by the Lord, but are in turn spurned (rhyme completely unintended) from their calling.  The sheer unjustness and travesty of these types of situations just appall me, and it has to stop.  We wonder why people today are leaving Christianity in great numbers, especially in areas like Europe.  Look no further than issues like this, for while hardly the sole reason why they are certainly a part of the problem.

Now, a moment of clarification.  I’m all for empowering women, but there’s also nothing wrong with men in authority.  Men are equally skilled and competent, and most male pastors and deacons I’ve met actively strive to follow the Word and live a Godly life.  There’s nothing wrong with men being in the dominant role in a family or workplace either, all I mean to say is that this is not the only way and is not explicitly or implicitly called for by God, and the best way would be in equal authority.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this two-part post, and even if I didn’t change your mind, I hope at least it made you think.  And to the non-Christians reading this, I hope you realize that not all Christians are sexist, nor are the teachings of the Bible.  Instead, we see that sexism is wrong, and comes from sin.  My hope is that someday all Christians and all other people as well can agree on this.

 

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Why I Support Female Pastors: Or, That Feminism Post: Part One

Growing up in several evangelical churches, a phrase I have often heard is “Christ and Culture”.   This phrase generally refers to the difference (real or imagined) between biblical values/lifestyle and those of a secular or atheistic lifestyle.  While “Christ and Culture” is not a phrase you often see applied to the church itself, that is exactly what I intend to do today.

If by chance you have not picked up on it yet, today (or whatever day you happen to be reading this) I plan on talking about the ordination of women and in extension supposed “gender” roles assigned or intended for men and women.  Before I go further, I have a few things to clarify.  While the topics discussed in this post are going to focus primarily on the teachings of evangelical Christianity, I am by no means saying that all evangelical denominations and Christians are opposed to the ordination of women (The Lutheran church and most United European churches do for example).  Likewise, not all mainline denominations and Christians support the ordination of women (such as the Catholic church and Edit: I was informed the United Methodist Church does ordain women and always has.  My apologies for this error.most United Methodist churches).  There is a great variation of beliefs in denominations (and nondenominational churches), however, the general consensus of evangelical churches is that women should not be head pastors and that God instructs men and women to follow strict roles.  With that clarification set aside, I will now move on.

In the beginning….well, a lot of stuff happened, but arguably one of the most important things was the creation of humanity.  Living, breathing, completely self-aware and sentient creatures who were capable of having a relationship with God.  And at first, there was just one, man.  The first man’s name was Adam, and God tasked him with the upkeep of the garden (of Eden) and with naming all the creatures that resided in it.  After this was done, God saw that man was lonely, and thus enacted the next part of his plan.  It was not good for man to be alone, so he created a “helper” (more on that word in a minute) for him.

A bit of a side note, but I’ve always found this interesting: God didn’t necessarily make women from Adam’s rib.  In fact, the word used in Genesis refers to any biopsy, or more literally “section of flesh”.  While it’s quite possible women was made from one of Adam’s ribs, this is one of those things like the forbidden fruit being an apple, we really just don’t know.

Anyways, time to get back on topic.  The word most often translated as “helper” has raised a lot contention.  Often used to justify a complementary (but not inherently diminutive) role for women, “helper” is interpreted as an assisting role.  However, when we examine the actual word in question we see this is not the case.  The word most commonly translated as helper is ēzer k’negdô which literally means “help-meet”.  Again, in a literal context, this would refer to someone who met you where you were and lifted you out of your troubles through, well, help.  Literally, it refers to an equal role.  However, when we actually examine the context and parallel uses of ēzer things get even more interesting.  The word ēzer k’negdô is used many other times throughout the Bible, but never in a diminutive sense.  Elsewhere it is translated as “rescuer” and “savior” within similar contexts.  God himself is referred to as ēzer (salvation) several times.  So why then, is women referred to as the diminutive “helper”?   All evidence points to a cultural bias in the original English translators (*cough* *cough*, KJV, literally one of the word Bible translations available) that has been inadvertently emulated to this day.

Another interesting thing we see here early in Genesis is that both man and women are created in the image of God (tzelem Elohim).  It is not “man is created in the image of God” and then “woman is created in the image of man”.  No, both are created in the image of God!  To suggest that one is greater or more fit than the other borders on blasphemy in light of this.

So, I’ve examined the Biblical creation account to show that man and women were created equally and one is not created to be in subjugation to the other.  Now, I will examine the Fall and Original Sin to show where traditional gender roles came from.  While very few would say that sin was Eve’s fault, I would like to refute that argument nevertheless.  God has told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit and had commanded him to relay this to Eve as well.  Which he never did!  In addition, we see in Genesis 3:6 that Adam was right with her when she ate the fruit “….She took of its fruit and ate, and also gave some to her husband who was with her” (ESV).

Now, on to the consequences, or results of sin.  Also in Genesis 3, we see God tell Adam and Eve what the results of their sin would be.  For clarity’s sake, I’ve listed them out for you (though you’re welcome to pull out your own Bible if you’d like):

  1. Raising children would be tiresome work
  2. The Husband Will Rule Over the Wife
  3. As they are cast out of the Garden, they will now have to work for sustenance
  4. As they are sinners, spiritual death is now a threat

All four of these are important, but for the purpose of this post the first two I will focus on.  Often translated as “childbirth will be painful”, verse 18 is better translated as “rearing children will be toil”.  This is another example of weird translations of words in spite of context.  And next, “The Husband Will Rule Over the Wife”.  Neither of these consequences existed before the fall.  As I previously mentioned, both were created in the image of God.  So does this mean that this is what God wants?  No!  Look back at consequence number 4, does God want us to suffer permanent Spiritual death?  Of course not!  That’s why he sent his son.  To suggest that God wants us to participate in sin is silly, and glamorizes sin itself.  In the early chapters of Genesis, we are slowly introduced to various types of sin (such as murder with Cain and Abel), and patriarchy is one of them.

Well, it only took a thousand words to get through Genesis, so now we’re finally going to move on to another: Job.  Now wait, what does Job have to do with feminism?  Isn’t that the poem about the guy who had a really bad day?  Well, you’re certainly not wrong about that last point.  Historians believe that Job is the earliest written book in the Bible.  So, a reading of Job offers us a unique perspective into the early(ish) history and culture of mankind.  It is especially helpful in examining God’s intent, as Job is one of the godliest men in the Bible.  In chapter 42, after God blesses Job once again, he distributes his inheritance among his children.  But interestingly enough, he gives an equal share to his daughters!  This flies in the face of old world tradition.  You never gave your daughters our inheritance, you gave it to your sons! And while his sons also received an equal share in the inheritance, they are never even mentioned by name, in contrast to his daughters.  This also flies in the face of traditional Hebrew chronology, which at this time was based on of important men only (as the family name was passed down through men).  So the fact that the earliest-written Biblical account primarily mentions a man’s daughters as his successors is a pretty big deal. 

Finally, we will examine female prophets in the old testament.  The bible, especially the old testament, did not have the current concept of a pastor or priest that we have today.  The new testament has ministers, but the old testament had prophets.  Prophets took on many forms and spoke many messages.  But their primary purpose was to speak God’s will to his often-disobedient people.  And interestingly, there were exactly seven female prophets in the old testament (for those of you who have never attended church or studied the Bible, the number seven is kinda’ a big deal).  These prophets were: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Isaiah’s wife (we don’t know her name), Huldah,  Noadiah, Esther.  (There were other women who could have fit the prophetic role, but they are not explicitly referred to as prophetesses).  Now, I would love to talk about each of these individuals but for time’s sake, I will focus on one: Deborah (who is conveniently pictured above).

For those who may be a bit rusty on their bible stories, Deborah was a Judge, which was basically a Warrior-Priest that settled disputes in the time before Israel’s kings.  They could preach God’s Word and kick-butt.  So not only did Deborah teach mean, preach to men, she also led men.  In a time of war, the current commander of Israel’s rather ragtag army did not feel confident he could lead them to victory.  So Deborah agrees to help him command the army but tells him a woman will claim the victory because of this.  Indeed this was the case, as the women Jael ends up killing the enemy leader.

So that’s it for the old testament.  While I have not written up a comprehensive examination of God’s will for “gender roles” in the old testament (that would be a book, not a blog), I hope I have at least written a thorough summary.  Next week I will continue my study into the New Testament, especially the oft-misinterpreted letters of Paul.  Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to comment!

 

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