While I was busy with other things there was a dust-up on the web over men, women, sex, 50 shades of grey, speech, power, etc. Quite the blow up. I’ll post some links and comments.
- The Gospel Coalition post that started it. Jared Wilson writes comments on 50 shades of Grey
- Scott McKnight responds with a “take down” appeal.
- Rachel Held Evans has responses post 1 and post 2
- Jared Wilson Response
- Caryn Rivadeneira response on Her-meneutics
- Jared Wilson Apology and responses to that from McKnight and RHE
- Doug Wilson’s Response
- Kirk’s Response: Complete with this interesting historical footnote below
These are of course just a few. No time today to really dig into this. We’ll see if it has legs. A couple of comments.
1. Over-reaching on Meaning: I recall (wish I kept better notes) a comment by a lesbian that all hetersexual sex was by nature misogynistic and disempowering to women for the very same reason Doug Wilson makes in his book quoted by Jared Wilson. It’s always fun to mark these agreements. Sometimes we get a bit silly with our metaphorical applications.
Next we’ll suggest that nails, nuts and bolts, buttons and button holes, hooks and eyes, lightbulbs and sockets, electrical outlets and almost any type of unsymmetrical fasteners encourage violence, rape and evil against women. Do Velcro and the zipper encourage promiscuity?!
At the same time JRD Kirk’s historical footnote is relevant:
Historical footnote: the comparison between the conquering, piercing Roman and the conquered, pierced Christ is not mere poetic license, as often as I do riff on such language when it comes to the cross. Wilson’s description of power, penetration, and conquest is a conjunction of themes that the ancient Greco-Roman world used to depict power and social hierarchy. Conquered peoples were displayed as ravaged women in Roman art. Homosexual sex was ok, so long as you were “penetrating” someone of a lower social standing than you and not “being penetrated by” someone of such lower status.
2. Blogs vs. Books: There wasn’t much attention, much less outrage spent on what was published in a book, but once it gets on a blog, whoosh! The medium is part of the message and impacts the community. It’s a moment to ponder what books are, what blogs are, and how connectivity impacts impact.
3. Outrage, Power, Bullying and The Crowd: Perhaps this is simply what democracy is about, but “people power” is the new bomb. If you want to win, crowd-source your power. The Internet is the perfect tool for this method.
We just had a conversation about bullying. Bullying is employing the crowd (or their apathy) to use power to get your way. In our post-modern context we want to say “power is bad” but we quickly employ people power to under the bad power we disagree with. We are very sensitive to the needs of the disempowered and want to critique the use of power against them but then of course if we lack institutional power, or direct financial power we can now use electronic media to crowd source power to re-create institutional power in the way we find to be more just or at least more in line with our ideals. Because those without power have been silenced now with crowd sourcing we can shout down the silencers.
It’s of course not hard to see our critique staring back at us in the mirror.
The outrage machine is now a primary political tool. All American political parties use it. It was used in China, Iran, Egypt, Eastern Europe, everywhere. It works. It can do good. What it isn’t is new and what it isn’t is necessarily “safe”.
Christians of course can’t forget the crowd shouting down corrupt Pontius Pilate who was at least aspiring to do the right thing before he caved into popular pressure.
Jesus’ religious adversaries wished to arrest him earlier but he feared the crowd. There seems to be only one occasion in which Jesus invited the crowd, and that was the Triumphal Entry. Apart from that was quite critical of mass appeal, suggesting both in the Synoptics and the Gospel of John that the crowd was fickle, looking for handouts and shows, and that their adoration of Jesus was insufficient and their loyalty shallow.
Electronic media just allows us to conscript voluntary armies fueled by outrage who follow the image makers. It’s a frightening thing.
When power is brought against Jesus directly by both the arresting mob in the garden and Pilate Jesus suggests that he has armies of angels that would rescue him with a word. Jesus was making a point about power and its use.
4. The Thin Skin of Immaturity: My new favorite podcast is the Phil Vischer Podcast and along with Phil I’ve got a new appreciation for Skye Jethani. In a recent podcast Jethani quotes someone (again, bad note taking) as describing a mature Christian as someone impossible to offend. Now I want to be careful with this because we can get a bit too far in imagining God as zen and eliminating the notion of a wrathful God who rightly protests (through his prophets) the evil we do, but we should still see this man’s point.
Crowd Sourced Bully Power relies upon a community of outrage. We are hard wired to be communal beings and so, like pack animals, watch each other for the signals to emulate and perpetuate. Most of this is triggered by fear and instinctive self-preservation.
Christianity leads us into a unique kind of self-less-ness that is quite resistant to the communal outrage machinery. I am not my own. This world isn’t about me. A mature Christian is not easily offended and is not quick to take offense. A mature Christian is mastering love of enemy, not preservation of a thin skinned, shallow ego. A mature Christian is not an emotional burn victim that reacts to whatever comes close to perhaps hitting a nerve.
5. Heresy: One of the most helpful things in Alister McGrath’s wonderful book “Heresy” is the observation that over time the church rejects teaching that it finds to undermine the gospel. What is important to recognize is that this process is communal (it takes a lot of conversation) and generational (it can take hundreds of years).
Conservative Christians today indulge ourselves with the notion that all past, present and future heresy is obviously and directly discernible by some close, pure and immediate reading of the Bible. It’s a nice idea, but fails the test that Christian Smith lays out in his book on Biblicism. I’m sure I’ve got the right perspective, but I need to figure out how to disqualify my adversary so that I can crowd source my power and win the day over the other guy’s heresy.
Example? Centuries of failure to resolve infant vs. believer baptism.
Gender in the church is a discussion we’re clearly not finished with. From the looks of things we won’t be in my lifetime.
I had a conversation with a new friend yesterday who came out of two conservative Reformed denominations before he settled in the one he’s in. What the gender wars in church has produced in some of these denomination is getting a little bit crazy. Practices that were embraced 50 years ago without a thought are now angrily prohibited by gate keepers riddled with angst over the sex of the servant simply wanting to serve the church.
When you hear and see this kind of thing you see the process of heresy discovery at work. We are learning by trying things out and seeing if they, over a very long time, are fruitful or foolish.
My prediction? Neither side probably has it all right. We are mysterious creatures and sexuality is one of our mysterious gifts and we’re all learning as we go.
While we’re in a process of figuring out who is the heretic and who is the orthodox let’s keep talking. In time fruitless craziness that undermines the gospel will reveal itself for what it is.
Remember, Christianity is an optimistic religion where God, truth, justice, peace, goodness, generosity, beauty, love, and all that is good finally wins. We can trust Him and his process.