On Men and Women with a little History Thrown In

Dan Trabue, liberal God-blogger at Payne Hollow, notes some Scriptural references on relations between the sexes. His conclusion:

Now, this is not a topic that I’ve studied a lot, but just from what I’ve read, I’m willing to accept that the Bible is a document of its patriarchal, pre-modern times and realize that, yes, back then, women weren’t treated right. But even in that context, we see hints of God’s more egalitarian ways shining through. In Christ, there is no “male” or “female,” we see Jesus talking to and treating women as equals, we see women leadership in OT and NT stories.

So, my answer to the larger question – is God sexist? – an absolute No. But the Bible does tell stories that reflect the mores of the day. As long as we don’t try to take those sexist/misogynistic attitudes as literally applying to how we interact as humans today (ie, women remain silent in church, the man is the “head” or master of women, selling our daughters, etc), and embrace the God-given liberty and equality for all, then I think we’re okay.

Now, I’m not going to jump on his “not a topic I’ve studied a lot, but …”  which should throw up red flags. It is a good question how the verses he quotes support his conclusions. However, it might be interesting to note some history.

Until about a century (or give or take a few decades) there was no argument about “differences” in between the sexes. Radical feminization of men has occurred with the advent of technology and other social trends. The sheer physical effort involved in every day life combined with the anabolic effects of testosterone as well as other gross physical differences between men and women led to far greater differences then than today between men and women. 1000 years ago, the question of fitness of women for given tasks versus men was not questioned like they are today. A strong woman today is stronger than many otherwise fit and healthy men. A strong women “back in the day” was stronger than far fewer men, and those men she was stronger than were obviously different, being scholars, monks, or crippled in some way. We are better fed and nourished today, but few men, products of modern comforts, could endure the physical labor casually required in every walk of life before the industrial revolution.

It is an assumption held by many, that the level of technology and comfort we sustain today is going to last indefinitely. That this technological shift in history will outlast those practices held earlier. Once before there was a highly technological civilization, that is Rome. It fell, and in falling much of its territory fell back to pre-Iron age practices, standards of living, and technological advancement.  Ceramics, for example, created by Roman craftsman in early to middle antiquity were not equalled in Europe until perhaps the 18th century.

So to the question, is God sexist? What does that mean? Does it mean that there are differences between the sexes. I absolutely hope so and would note that an recent arguument against Mr Trabue’s general point would be this essay by Mr Lewis:

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.

As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable”, equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

As is shown by the Trinity, equality does not abolish heirarchy but can co-exist.

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  1. I would say that there is hierarchy in the Trinity in one sense. You never see the Father submitting to the Son, but you do see the Son submitting to the Father. When all things are resolved, the Son will be exalted above all things (all things will be subjected to him), but he was still be subjected to the Father (I Cor 15:27-28). I suppose it depends on what you mean by hierarchy, though. Some things you might mean by it would surely count as heresy. I think the problem many egalitarians today have, though, is to treat those as the only ways something can be hierarchical. Otherwise, I think you adopt heresy in a different direction.