Monday, October 28, 2013

Equality of roles in society?

My cousin is studying a couple of theology papers at uni this year and has posted up a couple of write ups on FB. They seem like really interesting topics, rather controversial.

I like the sound of studying contextual theology, but I am not so sure about the angle of the feminist theology. Sure, it is great to study the real meaning behind texts, but I find that there is too much of an appeal for "equality" today. Don't get me wrong, I believe in equality. But the equality I believe in is one of worth and status under God, not someone's role.
Just because someone has a different role under God to another person, does not mean that that role is lesser or greater in value, but is simply different in function. Just because John Key is prime minister of New Zealand does not mean that he is greater and of more value than I under God, but he simply holds a different role. He probably is able to do that role better than I, but that does not make him unequal to me. I don't get up in arms and claim "God has created me unequal, I am different from John Key, how dear he?!"

God has created us all to have a role and function in life, it is a matter of finding that best function that He has designed us for.


  1. Daniel,

    I agree with your assessment. There are roles that God created to let the universe run correctly. There is authority and there is submissiveness. The problem started when those with authority made submissiveness into oppression and now people automatically connect roles, especially gender roles, as a form of oppression by male-dominated society. My wife is my equal, period. But God put me "in charge of her". Not because she needs a man. But because she is my repsonsibility. God placed her into my hands. I do not rule over her with an iron fist but I will be held accountable for her feelings and emotions one day. My wife understands this role because she is a child of God and is a believer. She does not let the world dictate to her how she is supposed to act. Wokman was taken from the side to be there always. Not from the head to rule over man nor from his foot to be trampled upon.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    Good to have some discussion and extra thought around it.

    First I just want to say I'm writing these particular posts to prepare for my exam, where I will have to write an exposition of different contextual models. As I'm not writing them strictly as full articles, I'm not taking the time to theologically discuss the full debate around each topic. I'm trying to show I understand this point of view and the argument for it.

    However, I'm also supporting this view, and I think this may be due to me taking a slightly different understanding or angle of it. However, I also have to say I'm probably one of the more liberal people in the class.

    It's also important to keep in mind we're both writing from our own background (context), and here in NZ women's rights are pretty firmly entrenched in law and social values - so you could say some level of equality (in terms of treatment / fairness) is already inherent in our implicit theologies. It isn't always so in other societies.

    What I guess I could have expanded on were the readings that went alongside this model.

    One was mentioned from India. The article details the lives of many poor Indian women. The main woman in the article was working and raising a family, supporting an unemployed drunkard husband who abused her.

    Some people in NZ may argue she has chosen or accepted that role, but we do not fully understand their society and it is possible she has no choice or the alternatives are even worse.

    I think what the feminist model would say here is we cannot (or at least it's not a good idea) to define her experience for her*, but rather listen to her experience and how she thinks theologically around it. Contextual models are often used to do mission work in countries where they do not have the same equality as we do here in NZ, where people often are truly mistreated based on gender, caste, wealth etc.

    *(i.e. men saying that is the role God has given her, where it is more likely, in my opinion, that a patriarchal society has given her that role - this could obviously explode into another whole argument about determinism vs free will, e.g. whether God has intended or allows a society to take a certain shape)

    Within the feminist model, I don't think it necessarily argues for equality in terms of roles (some would argue it does), but equality in terms of agreeing to those roles. A woman could decide she wants a different role to her husband and follow his direction etc, but this model would stress the importance of listening to her whether it is something she believes in/wants etc, rather than the men stating that is their role, especially if it is against their wishes.

    I guess what I possibly didn't make clear is that it's more about equality in terms of valuing theological voices and gender input, rather than universally pursuing equal roles. It's about getting theological input from women too. The model stresses that theology isn't something for men only.

  3. Interesting discussion guys! I think Michael is bang on when he says that we cannot define roles for anyone, especially those with less power in any relationship (this obviously includes women in most societies). I haven't read your articles yet, but I plan to sometime in the next few days :)

    People are desperately fallible in so many areas relevant to this - one obvious weakness is we rarely understand a person's situation fully enough to be able to define an appropriate role, even if we listen well. Also, God has overarching priorities for all people to follow - love, humility, and ultimately submission to Him. We do not agree with forcing competent adults to follow every aspect of God's will perfectly (even if we could confidently define this for them) - why should we force gender roles on them then?

    But equality of choice does not mean equality of responsibility. We may all have equal choice to do various sinful and even illegal behaviour, but we have a responsibility to avoid it - except sometimes professionals are given the legal requirement to perform them, because they have different responsibilities due to their role (think police breaking into a stranger's house). God is not limited like people - He really knows what is ultimately best for every person, and every person was designed for a specific purpose. So He can (and does) describe gender roles. And we thus have a responsibility toward God and fellow men to align ourselves with it.

    Also, most people do not think of feminism in the light of equality of choice, but rather DO think in terms of equality of roles. And even those that accept equality of choice, end up placing enormous pressure on people to slot into a functional equality of roles. I would personally argue that popular 'feminism' surreptitious and subconsciously limits women's choice MORE than true Biblical gender roles. It can (unfortunately) make for a confusing discussion if we use words such as 'feminism' in a way which doesn't align with the popular definition of the term, taking into account emotional nuances and pressures.

  4. Hi again Michael :) I read your articles. Very good and very readable! I especially liked the one on contextual theology - Dan and I were talking recently about mission work and how contextualisation fits into that.

    Just a couple of points I'd like to comment on. Not necessarily due to disagreement, I just think they deserve more screen time :)

    Firstly, I agree 100% with the need to contextualise theology, in direct opposition to the methods employed and the mindset of the majority of 'imperialistic' missionaries. However I don't think this is in contrast to the idea of fixed dogma - rather I think contextualisation should be used to demonstrate the inherent true relevance of fixed truth, and remove any barriers to accessing it.

    Secondly, relevant to both your articles, I feel it is superficial to say that 'Christians' or 'Theology' or 'Scripture' have 'traditionally' been patriarchal. Actually most of the world - in the midst of whatever prevailing ideologies have been circulating at the time - has been patriarchal. And the issue isn't even gender, but rather the whole world has been discriminatory to the weak, and powerful people (often men) will use any ideology they can twist to justify their actions - just as you say in your article.

    To attribute this in any way to Christianity is like blaming the shark's behaviour on water. To say that Christianity supports patriarchal discrimination is like saying that water supports a shark's predatory movements. Christianity (in its broadest sense) just happened to be a prevailing 'worldview' at the time when history was being written and Western civilisation (the dominant world system, again based on individual success and power) was developing.

    In reality, the Scriptures have always stood in stark contrast to the context in which they were written, upholding and defending the rights of women and slaves and all who were powerless far more than any other system at the time of their writing. And they continue to do so when not being used by power-hungry people.

    As you say, although God is typically referred to as male (because He typically takes the masculine role in His relationship with us), there are essential and valuable aspects about Him and women that are comparable, and definitely uphold the value of the feminine role. Both men and women are to image Christ in different and valuable ways.

    Looking forward to reading the next few instalments!

  5. Enjoyed reading your other two articles again Michael :)

    Theology is very broad by your definition - not just a study of a particular aspect of reality (God). Its also a study of how everything else relates to God.
    This means there is scope for a lot of 'theology' to change even if God doesn't change - because the 'everything else' CAN change, and (potentially) the way it relates to God.

    I think this makes the praxis model EXTREMELY important for us as Christians. The Scriptures tell us to look for the Spirit behind the law, to understand and love the flexible expression of the character of God rather than subscribe to legalism. As new questions and contexts arise, the application of our knowledge of an unchanging God could well vary considerably.
    The Scripture also says to interpret holiness by the fruit it produces. We can interpret how well a person/process/system knows and interacts with our unchanging God, by how well it results in what God desires it to result in. 'Bad' results can alert us to faulty understandings of God and how we interact with Him. And changing contexts can expose previously hidden weaknesses.
    This is particularly important in missionary roles, and even increasingly in our rapidly changing secular Western society.

    But crucially, none of this necessarily means that GOD actually changes, or that his fundamental character or desires change, or that how He wants us to behave is entirely dictated by the results WE currently see or think are important.
    Unfortunately, this is how most people interpret the praxis model. Results are seen as paramount. God is seen as fundamentally plastic, submissive to our demand for results WE deem important in the moment.
    Scripture teaches that God's fundamental sovereign desires are unchanging and paramount, and that our primary reliance for interpreting God's character should be revelation, rather than our very fallible perception of 'results'.

    The anthropological model obviously takes these aspects so much further that its not worth me discussing it here :)

    Your pearl merchange / treasure hunter model is very useful, and I think there is a third option that fits well if you change it slightly. All three models of missionaries are treasure hunters, at different phases in their journeys.
    The anthropological missionary has arrived at where they think the treasure is, and is looking for it within current context. It encourages others to join it in its activity of seeking, but discourages them from feeling compelled to move.
    The traditional missionary has returned from where they think the treasure is, and is selling it. It encourages others to enjoy the morsel it has already obtained. It does not consider the need to evaluate its own treasure or to continue seeking the greater true treasure, to present its morsels in a culturally sensitive way, or to appreciate the efforts others are making to find the true treasure, digging up their own morsels in the process.
    The alternative model (which I think is Scriptural) does not think it has obtained the treasure in the same sense as the traditional model. It is still seeking the treasure, but does not believe it resides primarily in the current location. It encourages others to join it in seeking, utilising whatever unique strengths and perspectives they have. But it recognises the need for all seekers to move beyond their current position toward a common, singular, real, and universally relevant goal.

    That sums up my view of the benefits of properly applied contextual theology :)

    Keep posting the great stuff Michael! I'll read along when I have time.

  6. I agree with everything you have said here. The rules of equality are set by the world, not God, and usually involves competing instead of co-operating.

  7. Hey Mike, it is a bit of a late late reply, but I just want to say that I actually agree with a lot of what you said. What I actually value a lot is what you said about the importance of individuals accepting their role and not having it forced on them.
    Christianity should be like that. We as disciples need to be personal followers of Christ and not merely tagging along with a group. We need to value what roles Christ has placed us in.
    In saying that, I do believe that God does have intended roles that are different for woman and for men, but God wants those roles to be accepted by them. In other words, to a degree He gives us this freedom to choose whether we accept His role for us or not, but it does not mean that God agrees with all our choices in an ultimate sense.