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To John Piper

July 11, 2012

I have edited the title of this post, but the post itself remains intact.

I have been thinking a lot about why it bothers me so much that the interpretation of the bible has so much variation on the subject of women and homosexuals. There is more than one way to respond to this. Here are a few possible positions.

1) The Bible consistently restricts the agency of women and gays, and we accept this as universal moral law.

2) The The Bible consistently restricts the agency of women and gays, and we don’t accept this as universal moral law.

3) The Bible does not restrict the agency of women  and we accept this as universal moral law.

4) The Bible does not restrict the agency of women and gays, and we accept this as universal moral law.

I actually can’t accept any of these positions. In fact, probably few people do in reality. Surely most people, everyone, sees the differences between the status of women in different parts of the text. But this is often explained away.

However, the problem that I have been profoundly affected by is that some leaders alter the interpretation of certain passages in order to amplify restrictions on women and gays. Changing Junia to Junias is one example, but trivial in comparison to the interpretation of the expression “other flesh” σαρκὸς ἑτέρας in Jude verse 7. This is often translated as “unatural desire” and interpreted as refering to homosexual relations. But, of course, it has no relation to that, but refers to intercourse with angels or demons or some such thing.

The entire association between Sodom and homosexuality is bizarre, as if God only punishes cities that rape men, and not those tribes like Benjamin that kidnap and rape women. As if we want a God who detests the rape of men but does not destest the rape of women. Don’t get me started!

No the destruction of Sodom was about something else altogether, about a culture foreign to us, where offering virgins to strangers is no big deal, but attacking guests is not to be tolerated. Especially if they are angels.

So, the problem is, one the one hand there are, in my view, passages which restrict the activity of women and homosexuals. On the other hand, there are people today who take passages which do not restrict women and gays, and change the interpretation of those texts to the detriment of women and gays. Then all the protests about how this is what the bible teaches becomes hollow. We know the desire to restrict others is human generated.

In my view, the bible is inconsistent – it is a collection of writings from different ages and by different people, and each and every book has been edited to a certain extent. There are  some passages where women are told to marry and others where they are told to remain celibate. Some passages where the purpose of women is procreation, and other passages where Jesus denies this.

And there are certain passages whose meaning is obscure, and some take those passages and turn them into amunition to further restrict women and gays. So, this is my question – if God did not inspire these passages with the intent of restricting women or gays (the meaning is unrelated to these topics), but the passages  have been altered by humans in order to do this, what does this tell us about the intent of some teachers and leaders towards women and gays? These additonal restrictions are NOT inspired by God – they are the product of human heterophobia. People dislike, distrust and seek to restrict those who are not like themselves. And then they blame God for it. And this is really painful for some of us. I live with the knowledge that all those teachers and leaders altered the interpretation of the bible in order to pile up restrictions on women that aren’t there. They were not content with the ones that were there.

I was particularly dismayed by this comment by John Piper, “Pretending that [marriage] can exist between people of the same sex will send ripple effects of dysfunction and destruction in every direction, most of which are now unforeseen,” and there follows as story about a photographer who refused to photograph a same sex marriage.

Let me recount my perspective. I believe that the “vow to obey” on the part of a wife creates an untenable marriage. First it promotes sex in a hierachical relationship, which our contemporary society highly discourages, for example between professor and student, doctor and patient, employer and employee, or across the ranks of an army. But with the vow to obey, sex and hierarchy are integral, not happenstance – it seems really, truly warped to me. Next, a woman in our society is equally responsible under the law for children, debts, investments, and property about which she has limited decision-making authority. Now I accept that most complementarian marriages are for the most part pragmatically egalitarian, so it usually works out. But the vow to obey, if taken seriously, makes a mockery of women and the law, as well as the concept of consensual sex.

However, and this is what I want to say to John Piper and the photographer. While I believe the vow to obey is immoral, I attended a wedding with such a vow last weekend. I bought a dress, high heels, helped prepare the rehearsal dinner, went, sat, smiled, hugged, and gave a wedding present. I did not create an awful fuss. So, if I can play nice for the sake of loving friendship and community, for the sake of civility and polite society, so can others. Don’t cry persecution when you are asked to behave in a civil manner with those who disagree with the way you interpret the bible to suit your own set of tastes.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 7:51 am

    Suzanne,

    What a thoughtful, beautiful and very personal post!

    John Piper – it also has to be said – has actually preached on human slavery. He actually blogs against it, despite all the Bible says in favor of it. He actually listens to the life of another, actually takes time to the listen to the lives of otherS, other humans so very different from himself, in order to blog sympathetically with them and to blog, then, against “own[ing] a human being” and against “Slave-Holding as Christians.” Piper, neither a slave nor a human master of one, preaches against “how slavery injures not only the slave, but the master.” He actually sees in the narrative of another, an African American man, narrating about the life of another, a Euro American woman who owned the black man, well, Piper is actually struck himself by Slavery, despite how the Bible allows it and regulates it, and John Piper preaches, preaches on slavery, preaches against slavery: “It destroys life in both directions, but in different ways.” To the master, to the one who does not preach against slavery but who participates in the owning of another human being exactly because of what the Bible teaches so clearly in certain places, to these people nonetheless, “slavery is suicide.” That’s what John Piper preaches. And that is a good thing!

    But another preacher has said that John Piper shouldn’t do it. John Piper has preached too soon, she says. John Piper has preached too soon because, while has listened to other human beings to develop his distaste for what the Bible teaches so clearly in places in favor of slavery, he has still not listened enough to others.

    For example, he has not listened to women enough who are enslaved by the “vow to obey” their husbands. And he has not listened to these women enough to hear how they also sympathize with the plight of their husbands, having their lives also destroyed by the hierarchy, by the destruction of lives, in both directions, but in different directions, destruction in complementary ways. He has not listened yet, for example, to my own mother, who took the vow and who now tells her story but also the story of her late husband, who grieved in his last days, dying of cancer, about how he just did what the Bible taught so clearly in places, like masters of human slaves did and have done through the centuries and still on this planet do today. My father grieved his patriarchy, grieved the many days when he treated my mother as his complement, as his biblical “helpmeet,” and not many days, yes, just only a few sweet days, when he learned not to participate in his own suicide of taking the position over. Yes, that’s right, in his last sweet days with my mother, my father called her his best friend, his soul mate, God’s greatest gift to him, and he made amends as much as possible, and he let her drive the car, allowed her to handle the finances, encouraged her to make decisions for them and for him as he depended on her. John Piper preaches clearly on human slavery. But he has preached too soon.

    The other preacher I am talking about is Valerie Bridgeman. “Just don’t do it,” she preaches. Just don’t preach on homosexuality, Valerie Bridgeman advises her follow preacher John Piper. Just don’t preach on homosexuality yet, not until you have the sort of human compassion for gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transexuals as you have learned to have for human slaves and for their human masters despite the clear teachings of the Bible in places. Just don’t preach on homosexuality until you really understand exactly all the various “ripple effects of dysfunction and destruction in every direction, most of which are now unforesen” that your preaching might cause. Here is preacher Bridgeman’s sermon on sermons, as personal as your post here (thanks Suzanne!) —

    http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/pdf/dialogue/JustDontDoItUntil_ValerieBridgeman.pdf

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 11, 2012 1:10 pm

    Kurk,

    Thank you. I cried – first for your recounting of your parents journey, and then reading Bridgman’s essay. She is an amazing thinker and writer. I love the way she accepts and deals with the scriptures on slavery. Women have to do this as well – we have to admit that the text is patriarchal in character, even if in many narratives women have full agency. Women are never going to fit the stereotype of each epistle. So why brandish the bible against others, when we don’t want it brandished against ourselves?

  3. July 13, 2012 11:16 am

    I agree with your argument on women. But not with the one on homosexuals.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 14, 2012 3:10 am

    Hi Jerry,

    I hope you read Valerie Bridgeman’s essay that Kurk lined to. I enjoyed it.

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