Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Apologetics of Gender Hierarchy

Among the many odd things that I have heard recently regarding the patriarchy lecture, I am confused by the comment that I’ve portrayed all complementarians as being in favor of slavery. ???
I find this both absurd and rather amusing; because I did not even state that a pro-slavery view was true of everyone in the patriarchy movement. I cited two book authors who have written in support of slavery but named no others as modern day slavery advocates. I did not imply that the quoting of the wise statements of a Confederate makes one pro-slavery either. I fully expect to be seated at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb one day with men like brilliant Robert Lewis Dabney, the profoundly humble Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the formidable soldier (not that I agree with them on all the issues of their day).

I did state that slavery supports the gender arguments of those in patriarchy in terms of the support of a general hierarchical view. I also referred to this section of Stan Gundry’s testimony wherein he states that the same Biblical arguments for hierarchy that were once used by the Confederates to support slavery are the same arguments that complementarian movement uses to support contemporary gender hierarchy. This IN NO WAY implies that complementarians are pro-slavery, nor should it mean so for all those who embrace patriarchy. It also does NOT mean that complementarians embrace the very diverse group of core beliefs and practices that comprise those associated with the larger patriarchy movement, just because the patriarchy movement cites complementarian literature. The beliefs and practices mentioned in the lecture are not even embraced consistently across patriarchy at large, a point that I clearly stated and reiterated. I find this all particularly odd, because I personally consider myself to be complementarian, though I am admittedly closer to the egalitarian end of the continuum between the extreme ends of the two views.

In order to further clarify my point about Biblical arguments for hierarchy in general, I offer this section of Dr. Stan Gundry’s testimony to which I referred in the lecture:

In early 1974 I was preparing for a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from some of the more important primary source documents representative of that history. When I came to the early and mid-nineteenth century, I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition. The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states were especially fascinating. Whether the men were from the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, or Roman Catholic traditions, the biblical and theological arguments in defense of slavery were essentially the same.
Abolitionism was said to be anti-Christian. Defenders of slavery claimed that abolitionists got their ideas from other sources and then went to the “Bible to confirm the crotchets of their vain philosophy.” Scripture, it was repeatedly argued, does not condemn slavery. In fact, scripture sanctions slavery. In his parables, Jesus refers to masters and slaves without condemning slavery as such. In the New Testament, pious and good men had slaves, and were not told to release them. The church was first organized in the home of a slaveholder. That slavery was divinely regulated throughout biblical history was evidence that the institution was divinely approved. When scripture, as in Galatians 4, uses illustrations from slavery to teach great truths, without censuring slavery, it was considered more evidence that the institution had divine approval. The Baptist Declaration of 1822 did accept that slaves had purely spiritual privileges [as Christians], but they remained slaves.
The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point and all developed their defense by appealing to scripture in much the fashion I have summarized above. With one voice southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God. (See footnote.) I had heard about this line of reasoning before, but to actually read it for myself was an eye-opening experience. I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority. How could churchmen and leading theologians have been so foolish and blind? I had been reflecting on these readings several days, then on one, cold, Chicago-gray wintry day as I crept home on that parking lot known as the Eisenhower Expressway, it slowly began to dawn on me that I had heard every one of those arguments before. In fact, at one time I had used them–to defend hierarchicalism and argue against egalitarianism. By this time I was close to home and I still remember the exact spot on Manchester Road just west of downtown Wheaton, Illinois where it hit me like a flash. Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defenses of slavery.

Footnote:Documents representative of the pro-slavery arguments as summarized here are contained in H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher, American Christianity, Volume II, 1820-1960 (New York: Scribner’s, 1963), pp. 177-210.