Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why is the church attractive to women?

Last December I wrote a blog post on this same topic titled, Why is the church not attractive to men? The only reason I'm writing another post is I listened to another podcast yesterday wherein the male preacher was complaining about the feminization of the church. He rattled off a few statistics that seemed bad to him, but sounded good to me. One such statistic is Christianity is the only world religion that attracts more women than men. His other remark is feminism started in the church then spread to the culture, not the other way around. Men don't like all this female stuff, including feelings for God, non-Biblical language about having a personal relationship with Jesus, and popular worship music today sounding like Jesus-my-prom-date ballads.

If Christianity is indeed the only world religion that has more women adherents than men, and I have no idea if that's true or not, could it be from the New Testament's own subversive assertion that our gender and class and ethnicity fade away when our identity is in Christ, see Galatians 3:28? Could it be that the New Testament church was subverting the patriarchy from the beginning when one it's apostles was a woman named Junia, Romans 16:7? Could it be that Jesus's message to the oppressed, the weak and the downtrodden would have less support among the privileged? Could it be the result of the church's outreach to the weak and needy, women and children, widows and orphans?

Certainly the Bible has it's share of passages of patriarchy, but they exist alongside of, and in dialogue with passages that subvert the patriarchy. The church definitely has its problems with patriarchy as well. However, where there are strong branches of patriarchy they often coexist in the same neighborhoods with branches that reject patriarchy. For every Catholic church on the street, throughout the world, there are a couple Pentecostal storefronts, half of which are started by and led by women.

I can't speak to why other world religions attract more men, if they really do. Nevertheless, for all it's problems, there are so many, Christianity may be like democracy as described by Sir Winston Churchill, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Is all religion the source of all the world's evils? That depends on whether materialism is acknowledged as a religion. Christianity evolves which is it's strength. What is orthodox today was liberal or intolerable in the church's past. The early church did not baptize soldiers until they quit. The American church defended the ownership of slaves. Much of the church does not officially accept homosexuals into full communion unless they are celibate today.

This brings up the touchy feely complaint against the church. Jesus was totally fine with the adolescent apostle John cuddling with him.
23 Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved . 24 Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake . 25 He then lying on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it ? John 13 
Personally, I have never had dinner with one of my guy friends and snuggled up with him. Maybe this level of physical intimacy is normal or acceptable in Jesus and John's culture. Maybe this did not actually happen, but written by John for allegorical purposes. Some think John was gay. Whatever it is, it's not the celebrated American masculinity. Has the critic read David's Psalms? Quite a few of them sound like God-my-prom-date ballads. The things criticized by those who are alarmed by the femininity of the church, which is frequently referred to as Christ's bride, are things found in the Bible itself. If the consequence of that is privileged men are not interested, that is not a problem to be solved by hiding these passages from them, nor by promoting violent patriarchal passages against these.

Remember, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, Luke 19:10. Jesus is for losers.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

St. Paul says we should put passion to death. Really?

Some months I pick a short passage from the Bible to meditate on every morning. Last month I tried to marinate in Colossians 3:5-15. Verse 12 is a beautiful call to a life of love.
12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Paul sets up this idea of putting on a new life with a putting off, a putting to death of a different life, which begins in verse 5.
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
The first few weeks of reading this passage, I focused on the positives in this passage, but towards the end of the month I noticed the third thing Paul asks me to put off, passion. In my culture, passion is esteemed. We are encouraged throughout our lives to find our passion and make a career for them. In church we sing songs encouraging our passion for God. There are even annual evangelical conferences named Passion. Is Paul really saying passion is ungodly?

Before I survey how the Bible translators have responded, I think it's important to zoom out of my American, western culture. In Asian cultures, passion is not a good thing. The Buddha has had tremendous influence on the East. He would have no disagreement with Paul's statement. In fact it is attributed to him this saying, The hunger of passions is the greatest disease. Paul, writes as a Middle Easterner, someone who grew up in the intersection between East and West. It's not a surprise then that after Paul, many Christians took this admonition literally. Justin Martyr wrote, "To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty." The Catholic Church teaching on marriage teaches that sexual passion in marriage is something that is out of place when separated from fecundity, making babies.
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
One sect of the church, the Waldensians, thought intercourse in marriage without the hope of pregnancy was wrong. The Roman Catholic church opposed this teaching. The early church, and the church sects with direct ties to the early church, the Catholic and Orthodox churches still highly value virginity, taking Paul's admonition in his first letter to Corinth that not touching a woman is better. Like Paul, they also recognize not everyone has this gift of celibacy, and marriage is better than burning with passion. (1 Cor. 7). Passion - there's that word again.

Hopefully, my readers will see that some cultures and churches and sects can fully embrace Paul's command to put to death passion. One of Paul's own solutions for that is to get married. Now I want to show how English Bible translators have handled Paul's command. Here is a link to a big list.

Instead of passion some Bibles say, lust, evil passions, inordinate affection, lustful passion, vile passions, inordinate affection, unnatural lust, unholy desire, and lechery. Paul uses a simple and common greek word, pathos. It's not the word used by him in 1 Cor.7:9 either. His greek word is just about burning. Translators add "passion" for their readers. Although it's a common word, it only appears three times in the Greek New Testament. The context of the passages may justify words other than "passion" by itself, but what is "plain reader" of the Bible supposed to do? How is Colossians 3:5 to be literally read? As I tried to show above, it can be and has been literally read differently across eras and cultures. My American evangelical culture values passion. We are encouraged to be passionate in our vocations, in our worship of God and in our marriages. I am perfectly fine with that.

Does our culture and era affect how we read scripture? That should be obvious. Is there only one way to read the Bible? I think certain parts have much less wiggle room than others. The ecumenical councils of the early church locked down a couple things. The three person of the Trinity. The full divinity and humanity of Jesus. Salvation by grace. Despite the firmness of the worldwide and faithful church on these topics, the space for vigorous discussion and debate is still plenty large. Yet we still manage to have huge fights about things other than these topics.

I am guilty of doing this as well. I'm trying to do better. Let love be a uniter instead of looking for what divides us.

At one time, the church felt the earth's center in the universe was not negotiable. Some still think the Catholic church compromised when they admitted Galileo was right. If these groups still exist, I don't think Darwin's theory will ever be received by all of the church. The influential early American philosopher/theologian, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves till the day he died without any sense of guilt thrown his way by abolitionists. Some well-known Christians today defend American slavery since the Bible permitted it! The offices in church allowed to women is still an issue of serious contention, though not pertaining to the main creeds of the church. Have these people faithfully read the Bible? I can't judge their faithfulness. I think their interpretations are wrong though. They think I'm wrong. Can I fellowship with them though? I have. I will, in heaven. When I commune with the church, our agreement is on Jesus, God and Savior. Everything else is gravy, some of it is chaff. Some churches focus much more on the gravy than on the meal. Some gravy varieties are more appealing to me than others.

I hold some inclusive interpretations of the Bible because I am trying to read the Bible with a hermeneutic of love because God is love because Jesus changes everything. I seek to be open-handed and generous. I can think of many worse things to be known for. I'd like to be known as someone passionate for a culture of love.