What is at stake in the “Gender Roles” debate?

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My previous post seemed to prompt a myriad of other questions from readers and from my own ruminations.  There can be little argument that gender roles have been and will continue to be an issue for much of the Christian church for many years (perhaps generations) to come.  This all prompts the beginning of what has become an important exercise for me.  Whenever I get into the middle of a polemical debate, eventually I want to know what people are protecting; and, so, I begin deconstructing the various arguments trying to find out what is at stake for each group in the argument.  Unfortunately, sometimes the breadth of the issue extends beyond my personal expertise.  The argument over gender roles  is quickly turning into one of those discussions that obviously has pertinence in a variety of fields – effectively dismantling my ability to efficiently tease out the prominent theological issues.  There seems to me to be clear interference in identifying theologically sound gender roles coming from cultural narratives.  Even the soft sciences point to the fact that much of our gender identity comes from environment.  Consequently, the loop I get stuck in comes, in part, from the fact that those soft sciences identify religion as one of the environmental factors that produce sexism (here is an example of what I mean).  So, what are the questions that best identify what is at stake when we discuss gender roles and their practical impact on Christian theology?  Here are a few of the things that I have been thinking about and researching as I try to identify some of the root issues.

1.  To what extent, if any, does the biological function of gender play?  Namely, there are some writing from the Christian perspective that seem invested in framing gender roles within the confines of anatomical differences, why?  There are, of course, a series of questions that follow – and this will require the most exploration, because I know the least about it.  Does your reproductive function (your maleness or femaleness) actually have bearing on anything outside of, well, reproduction?  In other words, does having a certain anatomical characteristic extend beyond the anatomy’s actual function?  In an entirely biological sense, I am a male because my body produces “small, typically motile gametes, esp. spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.”  Is that the end of gender distinction?  Do the hormones that cause my body to serve a certain reproductive function also program my personality to only serve a certain social function?  Does that programmed social function constitute the will of God for my life?  In fact, by the 1990’s we have an interdisciplinary field trying to explain how these questions get answered – sociobiology.

2.  Are some Christians trying to prop up their bibliology?  Here, I must confess a personal bias.  I have read many evangelical scholars that essentially paint themselves into a corner on this issue.  Many have attempted to defend certain notions of inerrancy and infallibility in our modern translations only to retreat to defending them in the manuscripts, only to retreat to defending them in autographs, only to defending them in “essential” New Testament material (see this text by G.K. Beale for a discussion of the “erosion” as he calls it

3.  Are some Christians trying to prop up their ecclesiology?  Let’s be honest, the huge ordination debate centers on the fact that traditionalist understandings of gender roles prevail in most churches. A few articles that interact with some different nuances of the issue are here, herehere, and here.

4.  Are some Christian men trying to prop up their patriarchy?  Here is an even-handed text that addresses these (and other) kinds of questions.

5.  What is the real (if any) significance that Jesus was male, and how is that significance offset by a robust Mariology in the Church?

6.  How much of Scripture’s account regarding this material is meant to be prescriptive; and how much is, by virtue of context, only descriptive?

I don’t currently belive that there is a clear-cut answer to all of these types of questions.  I think gender and gender identity is created by a variety of things, but I can assert with certainty at least one thing: whatever differences gender identity and roles introduce, there is no value difference between men and women and to the extent that our theology allows men to be held above women our theology is wrong.

So, what do you think is really at stake in the debate over gender roles?  What do you think people are protecting?


Thoughts, Anglo-Catholic: On ‘Traditionalists’ or “You Can’t Handle the Oxford Movement”

Tony SigAs a movement, as a theologically ‘centered’ or ‘coherent’ vein of Anglicanism, at least in my experience, and in the West, traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism is dead.  There are of course many Anglo-Catholics, many of whom drive the theological wheels.  I’d say in fact that the theological heavyweights in Anglicanism are in fact predominately though not exclusively ‘Anglo-Catholic.’  Long-lasting effects of Anglo-Catholicism can be felt in our revived Prayer Books; they can be seen in various liturgical performances; we like to recount the Oxford Movement and the (poorly understood and barely read) ‘Liberal Catholics’ in our histories; but if we are to take it as a continuing theological presence, and if we are to take the Oxford Movement and the Liberal Catholics as paradigms, then I personally don’t see many indicators that ACism sustains a theological vein apart from certain British movements of recent memory.

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.  I’ve gotten into not a few conversations about this with people who mostly disagree with me and/or disagree with how I define ‘Catholic.’  But as an example lets look at the possible move of some traditionalist AC clergy from the Church of England on account of the likely move to allow women to be bishops.

Without a ‘conscience clause’ these clergy would have to accept the sacramental and pastoral oversight of a woman if such a thing came to pass.  For these people, this would amount to an abandonment of true sacramentality; a transgressing of the apostolic office and the foundation that Christ himself laid and set out for eternity:  If you have a mitre, you must have XY chromosomes and a penis.

Let us assume for the sake of the argument that the Oxford Movement (OM) and probably even the Liberal Catholics (LCs) would disagree with both womens ordination and especially women bishops.  Current traditionalist ACs until this point have suffered their conscience on the matter of women clergy in the C of E so long as it didn’t happen in their parish.  Indeed, if a ‘conscience clause’ had not been rejected as it seems it will be, even still, so long as they themselves were able to practice their piety in good conscience, then it seems few if any would have been tempted to leave the C of E.

Enter a proposition: AC clergy (in the C of E) will not leave the church even if there are women clergy and bishops in the church so long as they are able to maintain their own practice.

That is, they can suffer a diversity on this issue in their wider fellowship, both in the C of E and in the wider Communion.

Proposition II – AC clergy are in Eucharistic (that is, the highest level of) fellowship with women clergy and bishops and parishoners ‘under’ them.

If we are to assume that a ‘true’ traditionalist AC does not ‘recognize’ the sacramental validity of women clergy, then:

Proposition III – ACs are able to abide ‘invalid’ sacraments in part of their church.

If these three propositions are true, and broadly of traditionalist ACs they are, then:

Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics are in fact high-church Congregationalists.

The OM and even the LCs were very concerned with authority.  Indeed, many in the OM were not even thurible swingin’ high-churchers.  No.  Time and again when you read the Tracts for the Times, you realize that the OM was concerned to establish that the C of E sat in proper sacramental, that is episcopal continuity with the church of the apostles and that it wouldn’t have mattered if they had been allowed a thousand parishes to fill with chant and incense.  What mattered was whether or not they were practicing in the same church and with the same authority as the apostles.  Additionally, this would have had to have been true of the entire C of E, and indeed when Newman and many others deemed that it wasn’t, they left for Roman Catholicism.

Similarly Bishop Gore spent an awful lot of time defending the catholicity of the C of E.  Indeed he wrote an impressive and persuasive book on just that topic. (cf. Order and Unity)

Now, I usually situate myself within Anglo-Catholicism seeing a clear line from ABC Michael Ramsey to Rowan Williams to RadOx.  I would then consider myself a “liberal (charismatic and evangelical) catholic” though not in the way that term is generally used today.

But my point isn’t really in this essay to establish my own perfect catholicity (I’m pretty sure there isn’t such a thing) but rather to show that if traditionalist ACs have so far suffered sacramental invalidity in their church they should never have been in the C of E to begin with.  I wonder if they simply don’t get what it means to be ‘Catholics;’ whatever the case they have a long way to go before they can legitimately say that they stand in continuity with Anglo-Catholicism.