Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gospel and Gender Identity.

Despite the fact that I'm taking five classes in the fall and I will be busier than I prefer, I have been looking forward to this upcoming semester more than any other during my time as a graduate student. I am most excited about my New Testament course entitled "Paul and Karl" co-taught by Bruce McCormack and Beverly Gaventa, which is an in-depth study of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans and Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans. In attempting to read ahead and start thinking about my research paper for this class, I started reading Gaventa's work on the apocalyptic gospel and gender. Her work is both deeply fascinating and refreshingly accessible. I told my friend the other day when discussing Gaventa's work on gender that I have never read anyone who captures my own thoughts, concerns, and beliefs so well on the topic. Gaventa's writings give me hope for the rich conversation about gender that can occur when critically engaging the apocalyptic gospel found in Paul's letter to the Galatians. Here's one of my favorite excerpts:
"What the gospel invades is more than this world of our individual and collective striving for achievement, as becomes evident when we return to the famous line "you are all one in Christ"(3:28). Returning to the analogy from physical laws as a way of understanding this passage, Paul here insists that those who are "in Christ Jesus" are baptized "into" Christ and even "put on Christ" (see also 2:19-20), which means that they cannot simultaneously be "in" or "under" the power of the Law. One's identity—one's place of residence—is in the gospel, because God has made it so. Despite the frequent and common-sense reaction that Paul cannot possibly "really" mean that there is no longer male and female, since manifestly there are men and women in the world, that is exactly what he means: that being "in Christ" brings life in the identity-conferring realm of "male and female" to an end. Like the other pairs in the verse, "male and female" functions as a metonym for places in which we live, the spheres in which we name ourselves and find our identity. Those who are "in Christ" cannot also be in the identity business of being first of all female or male.

On that reading, rendering Gal 3:28 as a declaration of equality is not only too little, it is distinctly beside the point. Those who find themselves "in Christ" are not also "in" the power arena that makes questions of equality necessary. Equality is a concept or principle invoked in order to insist that individuals or groups be treated uniformly, that they have the same access to decision-making, and that they have the same privilege or status. All those who are "in Christ," however, know that they all have only what has been granted them by the Spirit, and all have exactly the same standing in that God rescued all from "the present evil age." To be sure, the pairs reflect not simply spheres of identity but the privilege assigned to one member of each pair: the Jew, the free person, the male. Yet what Paul declares is not simply that the gospel brings these privileges to an end, but that the pairs no longer exist. The best paraphrase comes in 6:15: "there is neither circumcision nor uncir-cumcision but new creation."

- Beverly Gaventa, "Is Galatians Just a 'Guy Thing'?", Interpretation, July 2000, 275-276.


Brad said...

Fantastic quote -- and goodness, that class sounds incredible. Thanks for sharing.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

While I realize this is only a small excerpt from a far larger body of work, I find Gaventa here resolving an inherent, and very real, tension between the old reality and new reality, the old Creation and new Creation, in a way that leaves as many questions still open as it does resolve some issues of Christian identity between the times.

If this new reality, the new Creation, is as Gaventa says; if, as you say, it lays to one side the protest against injustice that would emanate from incarnating the ministry of Christ in and for the world; if we are one in Christ, in the new Creation; if all this is so, then not only gender, but race, and religion, and all sorts of other markers of identity cease to function for those who have put on Christ in baptism.

Except, we know that is not . . . yet . . . the case. I am not suggesting St. Paul is wrong; I am suggesting his eschatological triumphalism is a tad early. In later epistles, he leaves that tension of identity intact precisely because it is the real experience of Christians. Not to say St. Paul is wrong. Rather, while celebrating the very real overcoming not only of sin, but all the markers of sin that separate us both from one another and from God that is ours in Christ, we should also confess that we have not . . . yet . . . reached that final destination. Which gives to this vision of St. Paul a far more powerful protest against the ways these markers are used by the powerful to divide and conquer.

Just a thought. Nice quote, and the class sounds awesome.

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