Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My hopes.

Yesterday, one of my closest friends asked me quite directly why I continue to care about what very conservative parts of evangelicalism have to say about women and gender roles. My friend wonders why I continue to read certain blogs and leading male evangelical figures who constantly offer a patriarchal understanding of the relationship between men and women within the family unit, the Church, and society at large. I often feel this implicit pressure to simply "give up" on more conservative sects of evangelicalism that are insistent upon proclaiming a complimentarian view of gender. Afterall, I'm a feminist now. Why should I waste my time on preaching to those who refuse to engage with any understanding of the Gospel that is not directly tied to previous commitments of Calvinism (read: limited atonement), complimentarianism, and biblical inerrancy? Don't I know that the fight is useless and I am better to not waste my time on those who think I'm wasting their time with my liberal feminist anti-biblical views?

I want to give up sometimes. I am often so discouraged that I forget why I started on this road from the beginning.

But my response to my friend was finally this: I can't ignore these movements because I once believed this stuff. If it wasn't for the various witnesses in my own life that didn't waiver in their commitment to serve those within these conservative populations, I would have never come to believe what I do. I would still believe that to be a "faithful biblical Christian", I must be a complimentarian regardless of how much I hated it. Even more, I wished so often as I began to study this stuff more deeply in graduate school that I had female leadership and role models inside evangelicalism to model myself after. To be honest, I never once found an evangelical female theologian, ethicist or systematician to follow after. They didn't exist for me. Don't misunderstand me - I am so grateful for the male leadership that I found within evangelicalism that encouraged me to realize the freedom of the Gospel from traditionally conceived (and socially constructed) gender roles - but I really wish I would have found a female role model. So I had to be creative. I found a refuge in women like Judith Butler, Sarah Coakley, and then other individuals from different disciplines like Kasemann, Gaventa, Martyn, etc. And of course, there was Barth as well. Ironically, even though Barth is a complimentarian, it was Barth's overall theological vision that enabled me to read Barth against Barth and have a specific view of the Gospel that allowed me to reject his specific gender views. Slowly, I began to construct my own views of gender with all of these sources that were largely a direct product of my understanding of the Gospel.  It is also important to note that while I want to study and do theology for the rest of my life, Lord-willing, I see this sort of feminism as sort of a consequence of my theology, rather than that which constitutes my theology. Because in the end, even the notion of feminism itself rendered in a specific way, is indebted to a sort of essentialism that I think can not be sustained in light of the Gospel. All that is to say, it took years to form my beliefs about these issues, and I'm still figuring it out, but there was a definitive break with previously held views. And this is due in large part because of theological mentors that refused to believe that individuals like myself were simply a waste of time and hopeless causes.

I guess I keep telling myself that if I can encourage one woman inside of evangelicalism to see that they do not have to believe that fidelity to the Gospel must necessarily mean a commitment to certain views of gender, I will feel like all of my education and work has been worthwhile. Said another way, I hope women don't believe that embracing "feminism" (whatever that means) and saying no to complimentarian is not necessarily a denial of the Gospel, a rejection of the biblical witness, and an abandonment of faith. Because let's be honest, most of these complimentarian circles tell men and women that in order to take the Gospel seriously and to understand the Bible as authoritative, we must render a sort of complimentarian account of gender.

My hope is that such fear-tactics can be dismantled and exposed for what they are. My hope is that women within evangelicalism will realize that the Gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures is a liberation from these sorts of identity-markers that seek to define and ultimately divide us. My hope is that more women within evangelicalism will be encouraged to become whatever the Lord might be calling them to be including a preacher of the Word of God and an administer of the sacrament regardless of their biological sex. My hope is that more women who come to disagree and break with conservative evangelical conceptions of gender will not give up on these circles in this respect, but will remain committed to these people in order to encourage more women to see the liberation that is offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all persons. I have so many hopes for evangelical women. And I refuse to allow the conservative evangelical male leaders who are yelling the loudest to silence me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Final Insecurity.

I decided to finally visit the Princeton public library this afternoon in order to look around. I figured I would definitely check out the movie section to see if I could rent any documentaries. I ended up picking up a few, and decided to watch one entitled Children Underground. This incredibly somber documentary follows a group of homeless children who live in the subways of Romania. Decades ago, the Romanian government was concerned about the population decline and the subsequent effects of this upon the work force. They decided to outlaw all methods of contraception, and countless unwanted children were abandoned and left in orphanages as a result.

I didn't know how to process everything that I saw in this film. Your sorrow for these children feels meaningless as their lives are deemed utterly worthless by society. People pass them by like they are invisible. Few give them money if they choose to beg. They spend their days hooked on inhaling glue in order to fight off the pains of hunger. I even watched one girl get beaten by a total stranger because she wouldn't stop crying in the subway from being so hungry. Two of the children were taken back to their home and were reunited with their mother and stepfather. The parents were almost shocked that their children had returned and acted as though the fact that they were still alive was a burden too great to bear. They preferred their kids to stay in the country's capital so they had a greater chance of making money on the streets and getting food since the parents were laid off from their jobs.

These sorts of films are so raw with human suffering and hopelessness that you aren't quite sure how to react or what to think. It is this sort of senseless suffering that makes me ask countless questions about the Gospel and the Christian faith. Where is God in the lives of these children? What would it mean to tell these children that there is a God who exists who loves them? Would it even mean anything to them? Should it? Why do I get to sit here and view this film passively as these children are probably sleeping right now on cardboard boxes?

The questions keep coming with no answers. This sort of suffering makes you question if you can even discern in this life where God intentionally provides and where God does not. This film reminded me once again of the radical insecurity that comes at the heart of the Gospel. And it reminded me that the only place where the Christian can have faith that God can be found is in the event of the cross and the resurrection. I can't be certain or have faith that God moves anywhere else, though I hope God does and will work. And I think this lack of certainty and security is what it means to be a disciple and long for the Kingdom come that is not of this world. We don't hope for a renewal or restoration of this world. No, we hope for an entirely new world. A new creation.

I think Barth preached it best with this sermon he delivered on April 4th, 1920:
"Jesus places us in a final insecurity, not only in our relationship to ourselves and other people, but also in our relationship to the world and all that is. What is the world? What is nature? history? fate? What is the space in which we exist, and what is the time in which we live? What do we really know? What does it mean that we know only what we are able to know? As long as this final insecurity is not disclosed in us, we are still sleeping. But in Jesus we awaken. The insecurity is disclosed. The sure ground of our understanding begins to quake and sway beneath our feet. We may relate to Jesus as we wish, but this is completely clear; Jesus counts on God, and that means on an existence, a being, a power that is in no place and at no time. He stands in the service of a power that breaks through fate. He knows a history, and he himself is the hero of this history, but it is not world history. There flashes like lightning in him a nature that is on the verge of blowing away what we call nature, as dynamite blows away rock. He lives in a world that is not our world. "Heaven and earth will pass away!" [Mark 13:31 par.]. And even if the whole New Testament were a fable, this fable would have the highly remarkable meaning that in it a certainty emerges that makes everything else uncertain. "I saw a new heaven and a new earth" [Rev. 21:1]. That is Jesus. He is victor. And that is Easter."

- Karl Barth, The Early Preaching of Karl Barth, 135.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Cross Always Remains Scandal.

Photo Credit: http://tiny.cc/7cvmlw
"The cross also shows us that from the aspect of the question of salvation, true man is always the sinner who is fundamentally unable to help himself, who cannot by his own action bridge the endless distance to God, and who is hence a member of the lost, chaotic, futile world, which at best waits for the resurrection of the dead. Morality and religion do not alter this at all: they only intensify the forlornness by arrogantly or despairingly permitting attempts at the impossible - attempts, that is to say, to achieve salvation and transcend the world. The cross always remains scandal and foolishness for Jew and Gentile, inasmuch as it exposes man's illusion that he can transcend himself and effect his own salvation, that he can all by himself maintain his own strength, his own wisdom, his own piety and his own self-praise even towards God. In light of the cross God shows all this, and ourselves as well, to be foolish, vain and godless. For everyone is foolish, vain and godless who wants to do, without God and contrary to God, what only God himself can do. Whether it is the devout man who makes the attempt or whether it is the criminal is in the last resort unimportant. Only the creator can be the creature's salvation, not his own works. Salvation always means resurrection from the dead, because that is what God effects in all of his acts and gifts to us."

- Ernst Käsemann, "The Saving Significance of Jesus' Death", 40-41.

I wonder what it would look like if we really took seriously the notion that our own morality and religion did not alter the utter helplessness of humanity in terms of their own salvation and ability to transcend the reality of this world. Perhaps the problem is that we do not despair enough of our own helplessness and our existence in this world and therefore think that our morality and religion can achieve the impossible. I'm beginning to think that it is only in total despair of this world and all human possibilities that the Gospel can be heard.