Original Sin

(This is #9 in a series)

Barr helped us understand how hierarchical patriarchy was self-serving for the Greeks and Romans and perpetuated a culture of war where those who control the resources—money, power, violence, property—make rules that have historically served themselves. She showed us how the Catholic church and then the Protestant churches used—profited from?—supported?—patriarchy as a social structure to elevate their own power and interests, even to the point that these social structures were then read into the Bible, turned around and presented as God’s Truth. 

This is a product of dualistic thinking, where the world is black and white, win or lose, best or worst, rich or poor, healthy or sick, fed or hungry, etc. Franciscan Richard Rohr believes that the human propensity for dualistic thinking is driven by our ego, which he defines as “that part of the self that wants to be significant, central, and important by itself, apart from anybody else. It wants to be both separate and superior” (www.cac.org 7/12/16). It is  base human nature to assert our self over others. The Catholic Church calls this base nature “fallen”.

In fact, here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes Original Sin:

Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart, and abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command…in that sin, he preferred himself to God and by that very act, scorned him. He chose himself over and against God…Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God” but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God” (CCC 397-398).

Unhappy with being “less than” God, humankind reduced God to his possession of power, then lusted for that power, in violation of the three sins of which John warns us in 1 John 2:15-16:  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

The disobedience in the Adam and Eve story is also sin, but it is not the Original Sin. It is the effect of the desire to be greater than God. Hierarchy IS THE ORIGINAL SIN. It has manifested itself throughout history as war, genocide, racism, colonization, fascism, communism, totalitarianism, nationalism, and patriarchy. 

Since sometimes the concept of hierarchical patriarchy seems too liberal arts college for most Christians—and no surprise there is a strong anti-academic vein in evangelical congregations—it’s important to have personal examples. Barr shares hers in Chapter 8.

It begins with a name familiar to the secular world through a scandal related to the Duggar family. You may remember that when news of Josh Duggar’s sexual molestation of 5 young women (including his sisters) broke, the Duggars claimed that at the time they had sent Josh to the head of their evangelical congregation for “counseling”. That man’s name was Bill Gothard.

Barr tells us that she attended a sermon by Gothard with her then-boyfriend. She makes the point that they were not dating, but “courting”—which meant that “marriage was in (their) future”. She speak of her understanding of marriage which came from her Southern Baptist upbringing: “that women are weak while men are strong”. As their relationship progressed, her boyfriend became abusive, and Barr felt helpless to escape what within her community was considered a de facto engagement. It was her job to stand by him “hoping that what I experienced as anger would mature into strength and that all would become right with my world” (202).

It took the movie Sleeping With the Enemy—a Julia Roberts movie about a woman who goes to great lengths to escape her abusive husband—before Barr realized she was in significant danger.

No wonder—she was raised in a church where men like Paige Patterson were powerful and prominent leaders. In 2000, Patterson said this, as reported in The Denver Post (5/4/2018):

Last week, an audio recording surfaced on which Paige Patterson, a high-profile Southern Baptist leader, says abused wives should avoid divorce, pray for their violent husbands, and “be submissive in every way that you can.” Patterson is an ordained pastor, a former SBC president and the current president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree,” Patterson is heard saying on the 2000 tape. “I have never in my ministry counseled anybody to seek a divorce, and I do think that is always wrong counsel.” He adds, “On an occasion or two when the level of abuse was serious enough,” he has suggested a temporary separation.

This man was the president of a Baptist seminary. In 2018, when under fire for mishandling a rape allegation on SWBTS campus which would eventually lead to his downfall, when questioned by the victim’s mother about his decision making, “Patterson ‘lunged across the table, firmly pointed his finger in her face and threatened to ‘unleash’ lawyers on her if she dared question his leadership’” (baptistnews.com, 6/24/2019).

Barr knows now that there is a link between patriarchal complementarianism and abuse in evangelical churches. The data bears it out as do the myriad of sexual misconduct scandals of the last decades. Barr sums it up here: “Hierarchy gives birth to patriarchy and patriarchy gives birth to the abuse of sex and power” (207). I see this reflected in my own Catholic Church and the sex abuse scandals that continue to plague us. They are a result of the clericalism of a hierarchical church, the elevating and isolating of a group of men, empowered with almost unquestionable authority, backed by wealth and prestige.

Both examples have one glaring fault in common—the absence of women in positions of equal power, resulting in a unnatural imbalance where men and the institutions they lead become extremely disordered.

We all—but women in particular—have an obligation to look at our churches through a new lens. How does our faith institution promote hierarchical thinking? How does it support patriarchy? How does it shield its male leaders when they become embroiled in scandals of sex and power? How does it make room for women and in what kind of roles?

How does it participate in politics and which candidates does it support? How successful has it been really in growing past Original Sin?

My Church doesn’t score well. Does yours?

I have one more topic next week, an extension of Barr’s conversation into our current social climate. Until then, I’ll leave you some of Barr’s final words:

Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus.

Jesus set women free a long time ago.

Go, be free!

(218)

Uniquely Biblical

(This is number 3 in a series)

CHAPTER 1: THE BEGINNING OF PATRIARCHY

In chapter 1, Barr tells a story that blew my mind.

First, some background:  complementarianism is a theological view from the Abrahamic religions that places men and women in different but complementary roles in marriage, family and religious life.  Specifically, in the evangelical and fundamentalist Christian faiths: Men lead; women follow. These roles are boundaried by the belief that Adam was created first and therefore possessed the New Testament headship to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 11: 3; in the “Wives be subordinate to your husbands” admonition from Ephesians 5; and also by the curse that God places upon Eve in Genesis 3:16.

Historians call this patriarchy, a system of social control that evolved in part from our hunter/gatherer roots. Historically, women were/are viewed as inferior beings in terms of intellect and strength; good for birthing babies and keeping hearth and home, but not much else. The social challenge to this construct is feminism, or the belief that men and women should be treated and valued equally.

I am greatly simplifying this part for the sake of space, but first wave feminism is dated to the 19th century, and closely linked to other social justice movements of the time (abolition, temperance, child labor). It’s been less than 200 years since the “ground-breaking” idea that no human should be the property of another—and the century long push towards welcoming oppressed minorities, women among them, into the educational and work worlds, and legislating agency over their own bodies, money and children.

Back to the story: In 2006 and 2007, Russel Moore (who was at one time the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), encouraged evangelicals to take back the word patriarchy, explaining that the term “complementarianism” had basically been a nod to political correctness. Patriarchy, said Moore, is a Biblical word.

This confused me. Patriarchy is in the Bible, but it’s not biblical. It’s historical. The Adam and Eve story doesn’t set social precedent; it explains reality for a primitive society. How else does early man process that women bleed, and have pain in childbirth? I used to tell my students “Wouldn’t you think she had made your God mad?” More critically: Eve is not the only female chaos agent enshrined in mythology. The ways of women were a mystery in the ancient world. 

Granted, my perspective is Catholic and we now recognize the first 16 chapters of Genesis as origin myth for the Hebrew people, a stance beautifully explained in our Catechism, 279-289. Barr had a more difficult mountain to climb as a literalist. Her faith requires her to accept Genesis as historical fact.  This created a dissonance between what she knew as a doctor of history, and what her church was asking her to believe: patriarchy is uniquely Biblical.

Uniquely biblical—and therefore ordained by God. This is the part that blew my mind. The Catholic church is no paragon of equality, and certainly complicit in tolerating and even extending oppressive patriarchy, but there has always been logic and sense in our theology. Women are welcome in ministry, if not on the altar. Women are doctors of the church. There is no pressure from the pulpit for women to be submissive, to stay home, to remain uneducated. I had no idea this was the doctrine in evangelical churches.

It’s an incorrect doctrine, of course. But is it wrong, or a lie? The first speaks to misinterpretation; the second to purposeful manipulation.

Barr spends the rest of the chapter explaining her path to understanding: from the Epic of Gilgamesh; to the male grad student who refused to acknowledge her authority over him in a classroom in an extension of his “headship”;  to Russel Moore’s laughable distinction between “pagan” and “Christian” patriarchy: “(W)omen should not submit to men in general (pagan patriarchy), but wives should submit to their husbands (Christian patriarchy)”; to wondering if–since patriarchy is clearly not biblically ordained but existed everywhere—patriarchal structures are actually a manifestation of human sin.

Oddly, Barr turns to the letters of St Paul for the answers.