Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Goodbye to Patriarchy despite the fact that it is endemic in the Bible!

And welcome to Egalitarianism because this is the will of Godself!

There is no doubt whatsoever that when the New Testament is read carefully and, as far as possible, within its own terms of reference that it is presents patriarchy as the norm in family and in church, as it was in the synagogue. The headship of the male, guided by the love of Christ, is declared. However, the patriarchy assumed and commended is a generous and compassionate patriarchy not oppressive and harsh (as patriarchy has often been in human society over the centuries).

The fact that the New Testament, and the Bible as a whole assumes that God’s will is patriarchy, is once again being recognized by biblical scholars. This comes after a long period in which all kinds of sophisticated attempts have been made to seek to show that there are within the Scriptures principles – even clear texts (e.g. Galatians 3:28) – which in fact not only allow but actually require equality of the sexes, and thus equality of entrance by women into the pastoral office and sharing in the headship of a family. Of course, there are still many around who have not caught up with the changing scene and think that the New Testament when read by sophisticated moderns does allow for women in pastoral and family headship. Eventually, however, these people (and they are a majority amongst the so-called “orthodox” in the C of E and in the ECUSA, for example) will have to face up to the fact that the only way to maintain the ordination of women is through a theology that actually removes or discounts the clear content of the Bible.

This said we now need to state that the fact that some biblical scholars and theologians are recognizing that what is taught and assumed in the Scriptures with respect to patriarchy is actually what traditional reading has long seen and recognized, does not mean that they, and those whom they represent and serve, are ceasing to believe in the right of a woman to be ordained as a pastor (deacon, priest or bishop). To avoid having to follow the obvious and literal, biblical requirement today, they have adopted simple ways around it. In doing so, it may be noted, they have totally changed the way in which the Scriptures can be considered as authoritative for faith and conduct in the Churches. Here are two ways:

(1) It is stated that the Bible is the human record of the first two phases of the experience of God and revelation, and that this recording in the 66 books is obviously affected by the cultural, social and linguistic context of those who did the writing. But God was not idle or absent after the death of the apostles. People over the centuries have continued to experience the divine in all kinds of different situations and contexts. And thus the books of God have continued to be written. Today, we do not experience God in the West from within a patriarchal family structure and thus we do not understand the divine word to be in favor of patriarchy at all. In fact, we experience God’s involvement with us in the progress of human rights, dignity, and self-worth in our society and so for us the entrance of qualified women into the ordained ministry is normal. And the fact that the Bible is patriarchal should not bother us at all, for we have been moved on away from any sense of guilt by the action of God in history and experience. (Something like this is taught in many of the seminaries of the mainline denominations.)

(2) It is claimed that God (not as we may think of Deity from within the “lens” of any culture or context; but God as the real Godself true to Godself) is in his/her nature and in relation to humankind not patriarchal at all, but wonderfully and luminously egalitarian. And we are witnessing this truth being revealed, grasped and put into operation more and more in our own post-modern times. There are hints of this egalitarianism in the (admittedly patriarchal) Bible; and what is discovered there (only in embryo and promise), now in the third millennium God is actually bringing into reality more and more as the years go by. We are in the “already present in part” but “not yet fully present in whole” of this Gospel egalitarianism; thus we can see the will of Godself being realized slowly in our midst. In saying this we should recognize that the temporary will of Godself has been to allow patriarchy – thus it is writ large in the Bible – until the time was ripe for the revelation of the fullness of truth, Gospel egalitarianism and equality. (Something like this is taught by John G. Stackhouse,Jr., who succeeded Dr J.I. Packer at Regent College - see his Finally Feminist ,Baker, 2005.)

I can see down the road the situation where all who take the Bible seriously as the Word of God written (be they Orthodox, RC, Anglican or whatever) will accept that male headship and generous and gracious patriarchy are God’s will for the church and family. At the same time, those who decide to hold on to the right of women to exercise headship will more and more begin to see the Bible as only the first part of a long and continuing self-Revelation by Godself and they will want to follow the teaching in the latest chapters rather than the first two or so (that is they will see God as speaking to them through modern experience, especially in the enlightened West)!

Certainly little seems to stand still these days!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

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