Saturday Night Theologian
8 October 2006

Genesis 2:18-24

Whenever we talk about the Genesis creation stories in the classes I teach, the issue of the order in which the man and the woman were created in Genesis 2 always comes up. Does the fact that man was created first, and woman from man, mean that men are inherently superior? Or, in contrast, does the fact that the woman was created last mean that Adam was just the prototype, while Eve was the finished product? I think it's kind of funny to consider the two possibilities, but since I don't take the story literally, neither possibility affects my understanding of the place that men and women have before God. Some people, however--men particularly but sometimes women as well--buy into the notion that men have inherent authority over women because of the order in which they were created (they have other arguments as well, such as Eve succumbing to the serpent's temptation). Such a reading, or I should say misreading, of the Bible, stresses the importance of having a proper hermeneutical approach to interpretation. It is true that the man in the story gives names to the animals, as well as to the woman, and in this way demonstrates his authority over them. However, it is also true that the story reflects the patriarchal culture that lies behind the book. Just as we wouldn't use the numerous sayings about slavery in the Old Testament, or even New Testament, to justify the practice of slavery today, so we shouldn't use the attitude that men are inherently superior to women that we frequently find in the biblical text as prescriptive for how men should think about women, or women should think about themselves, today. When we look again at the Genesis 2 creation story, we can see subtle indications, at least, of the concept of gender equality. The woman is created as a helper (literally, "help") to the man, but does that term imply any kind of inferiority of status? No, because God is also called humanity's "help," especially in the Psalms (e.g., Psalm 33:20; 70:5). The NRSV translates the Hebrew phrase "corresponding to the man" as "as his partner." The translation is not literal, but it gets at the main point. The man is incomplete without the woman, as the woman would be without the man. Men and women are designed to work with one another in all areas of life, and of course in the important role of reproduction, both are necessary. However, it is important to note that one is not thereby inherently subordinate to the other. Men have gifts and talents, and women have gifts and talents. Both can recognize God's call to any number of pursuits, including ministry. The message we need to take from this story in Genesis 2 is not that women are in any way secondary to men, but that both men and women are called to work together to accomplish God's will in the world.

Psalm 26

After the scandal concerning former Representative Mark Foley broke late last week, members of Congress and staffers scrambled to deny any knowledge of, or culpability for, Foley's inappropriate behavior with House pages. No sooner had the House leadership denied any knowledge of Foley's behavior, than reports began circulating that several people had, in fact, known of some of Foley's actions. Soon there were more denials, finger pointing, and attempts to avoid blame, particularly among the house leadership, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. In the meantime, Foley first blamed alcoholism, then his own experience of being molested by a clergyman, for his actions. Some right-wing commentators, on cue, tried to associate Foley's bad behavior with Bill Clinton's cavorting with a White House intern, apparently not understanding the legal concept of "age of consent." What hs been strikingly missing throughout most of this circus is the concept of integrity. The psalmist says, "Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity." Integrity implies living in a manner consistent with one's stated beliefs. The fact that Rep. Foley was the co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children makes his inappropriate e-mails and IMs to teenaged pages especially egregious, because he was not practicing what he preached. Similarly, if investigations show that House leaders were aware of at least some of Foley's contact with pages--and it appears that they will--then those leaders will deserve to be publicly chastised by their colleagues and constituents for a lack of integrity: while claiming to uphold the moral values of the nation, they looked the other way while one of their own sexually exploited underage pages. No one is suggesting that House leaders knew everything that Foley was up to or that they saw no problem with his behavior, nor are most people suggesting that this is an exclusively, or even predominantly, Republican problem. However, the Republicans are in charge of the House, and have been the entire time that Foley was in Congress, so they and they alone are liable to blame for whatever failures and cover-ups there may have been. Americans need leaders--Republican, Democrat, and Independent alike--who are people of integrity. We need leaders who don't just talk about family values, they live them as well. We need leaders whose word we can trust, who won't sell out to the highest bidder, and who won't sell their souls just to hang onto power. That's the meaning of integrity.

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

One of the problems I have with the dispensationalist approach to scripture is that it supposes that faithful Christians will be taken up to heaven in the Rapture, avoiding the suffering of the so-called Great Tribulation. If it were up for a vote, I'd certainly vote to be removed from the world prior to a period of intense suffering, but I just don't think that the Bible teaches anything about either the Rapture or the privilege of avoiding suffering. Christians have always been called to suffer, if need be, for their faith. Jesus admonished his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, and church tradition says that they did just that, with all but one of the original twelve disciples suffering martyrdom for their faith. If the traditions are true, they were simply following in the footsteps of Jesus, whom the author of Hebrews says was made perfect through suffering. By describing Jesus as the pioneer of our salvation, the author implies that Christians should expect to suffer for our faith just as Jesus did. Of course, the world most Christians live in is quite different from the world of the first century, since Christianity is the majority of religion in many countries. Most Christians today don't expect to suffer much for their faith, and in fact they may never suffer more than an occasional, mild joke about their faith. I wonder, though, whether Christians shouldn't be suffering a little more, even--perhaps especially--in the industrialized West. The Amish have reminded Christians this week that Christ calls us to different lives and different attitudes than those that prevail in society as a whole. After a deranged gunman entered a school and killed five innocent schoolgirls, the family and friends of the girls were understandably distraught. In the midst of their grief, however, they took time to think about the family of the man who shot the girls, then turned the gun on himself. They knew that his family would be suffering, too, so the Amish community took the time to bring food to them. Christians might face ridicule for showing compassion for the families of those who have committed horrendous crimes, but it's the Christian thing to do. Christians might also be condemned as being soft on crime for reaching out to perpetrators of crime as well as victims of crime, but again, since Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, his followers have the same call. It's all too easy to go along with the crowd and hate our nation's enemies, but Jesus calls us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, even if it means that our neighbors will hurl abuse at us because of our positions on the issues. When you can't tell committed Christians apart from those who have no faith commitment, maybe it means that we so-called committed Christians aren't as committed as we'd like to think. Suffering isn't something that Christians should seek as though it were an avenue to righteousness, but neither is it something to avoid just so that we don't stand out in the crowd. Our first duty as Christians is to Christ, not to our nation, our church, or even our families.

Mark 10:2-16

One of the tragedies of the Mark Foley incident in Congress is the loss of innocence that the young people involved might have experienced. Even greater is the loss that young children who are abused suffer. As far as I can make out from news reports, and contrary to some statements made about him in the press, Foley is not a pedophile. Pedophilia is defined on the WebMD Web site as an adult's sexual attraction to prepubescent children. If all of Foley's victims were House pages, then he is guilty of lewdness with a minor and perhaps statutory rape (though the latter allegation has yet to be supported by credible evidence), crimes which are quite serious as well. Nevertheless, one naturally feels an inner tugging at our hearts when we hear about young children who have undergone unspeakable evils at the hands of adults. Jesus said that the kingdom of God belongs to little children because of their innocence. Someone who steals that innocence is guilty of a great offence against God, the victim, the victim's family, and the community. Churches need to be safe havens for children, places where they can come and play and learn and worship. Unfortunately, churches are occasionally the source not of safety but of abuse. Christians, especially those who are parents of young children, must lead the way in providing help for those children who need someone to talk to or an environment in which it is safe to be a child. Jesus said that children can teach adults how to enter the kingdom of God. In order to do so, we must provide them with a safe, nurturing environment.