Explorations in Theology

The series explores a theology that is human friendly! Jesus as the true human shows us who God is, and because of his consideration for us ('who are we, that God should make note of us?') defines who humanity was created to be. The nature of sin is to fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God as revealed in the truly human one - 'we beheld his glory full of grace and truth'. This volume is a foundation for the other volumes. And there are ZOOM groups available...
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Slavery, women and…

(Second post on same-sex and the Bible.)

Thankfully the Christian tradition (now) is that slavery and the slave trade are incompatible with the Gospel message. Although there is still, in some quarters, a divide between male and female roles that is defended and as a result certain leadership roles are barred from women, there has been a great move toward a view advocating egalitarianism. With both examples of slavery and women there are ‘difficult Scriptures’ that anyone moving in an egalitarian direction faces. In the former situation (slavery) those Scriptures are effectively ignored;;1 and with the male / female situation there is such a strong internal critique and dialogue (disagreement?) that for writers, such as myself, there is an overwhelming movement toward an egalitarian position. Yes there are challenging Scriptures, ones that can be explained by the historical context and culture, but in reality those Scriptures are simply not relevant to us today. They were for ‘then’ and ‘there’ not ‘now’ and ‘here’. I am very happy to accept that the Bible is patriarchally biased, and that we do not need to submit to that bias, indeed we have to reject that bias… and do so to be faithful to the ‘story’ that is being told..2

Slavery → narratives that do not condemn slavery, laws that regulate but do not condemn etc… But: slave-traders critiqued; Onesimus to be viewed as a brother; and the overall message from Creation through Redemption was of the equal status of all human beings; ownership of another was not sustainable.

Women → many Scriptures place their position in society / home as being at a subservient level; Paul’s ‘household codes’ seemed to give ‘leadership’ priority to the husband. But: there was an underlying egalitarian basis to the Gospel (Gal. 3:28 being central to this); all the household codes can be seen as apologetic in nature rather than representing an eternal order; all of Paul / Pauline texts that seem to restrict women can be understood in a way that brings them into line with egalitarianism – by looking at the cultural background; and finally whatever might be claimed to be representing a subservience of women from creation becomes irrelevant as eschatological humanity in Christ (not humanity in Adam) has to be the basis for any understanding.

But same-sex relationships? The above two examples seek to track with a trajectory in Scripture and also seek to pick up on the intra-canonical debate / dialogue where there might be conflicting messages. Is that present in this third example? It seems not.

With respect to same-sex activity we do not have that same internal dialogue and that was a factor for me when I wrote that former paper. Without that internal dialogue / disagreement we accept the witness of Scripture as giving the final word, but… any final word also has to include a trajectory that would take us beyond the pages of Scripture. Any such trajectory would not be in disagreement to the story line, but could be seen to disagree with specific texts.3

1. With an effective response of ‘that was then in that culture, but we now know that there is something wrong at the core of slavery, of owning people’. Effectively those Scriptures are given no weight.

2. By accepting that the Scriptures have a patriarchal bias is not to take away its authority, but to push us beyond the various texts. The authority of Scripture is in the story being told, and in its unique witness to the revelation of God that was Personal in and through Jesus.

3. Beyond Scripture does not mean we can assume an authority to continue to add books to our canon, but that there is a very real sense in which the story being told is unfinished. There is a gap between the end of the New Testament and the parousia. We are not authorised to write what fits in this gap but it is important that the gap is filled through followers of Jesus who live out faithfully in line with what has gone before. Perhaps those Christian traditions that emphasise the tradition of the church have grasped something that those such as myself have not, but I note that too often the tradition does not simply inform but restrict any new path being discovered.

3 thoughts on “Slavery, women and…

  1. Thank you Martin for addressing this topic which is still so controversial in the church and body of Christ. I find that charismatic ministries either are doubling down on the whole same sex issue or ignoring it altogether. In fact the church generally does not have much to say that is redemptive on the topic! The thing is we are dealing with real people with real struggles and I know from my own gay friends and my daughters gay friends that it is not a choice. I have seen real distress and despair as my daughters friend grapples with the fact she is gay and her Dad will never accept it. She knows he will disown her which leads her into suicidal thoughts etc. If the church does the same and does not allow people to come to Jesus because of their sexuality it is a dangerous and damaging action. One that could potentially end in death or drive them into atheism as they cannot identify with church or Christians. Like the Pharisees whom Jesus rebukes we stop others entering the kingdom of heaven and therefore don’t go in ourselves!. It is a messy subject and I am so glad you are addressing it. Thank you because it’s costly for someone in your position to write about this. I just think we are not called to condemn the world but as Jesus said help
    ‘save it’. The come as you are but you can’t stay like that has no traction in my opinion the Holy Spirit alone is the teacher and gay people should be allowed access to her/him and not blocked and have the door shut in their face by followers of Jesus! What they encounter from God will be far more grace filled I believe than normal Christian reactions to same sex relationships. I don’t mean to generalise though because I don’t have all the facts and statistics on the issue. I’m sure some Christians are deeply empathetic in this respect.

  2. I am more interested in what someone like Carl Jung has to say about sexuality, including hetero, same-sex, trans, gender fluidity etc. I don’t think the Bible has the answers that we are looking for…

    1. Stephen: unlike you to throw a spanner in the works…!!!! You are presenting something very important with that comment. I guess not unlike ‘I would like to hear what science has to say about…’ Maybe though the difference is the importance of the body theologically, how the resurrection plays in with regard to gender etc?
      Of course, Stephen, you have to keep reading… for my interpretation of the Bible will surely yield all the answers we have ever been looking for. (If I were to attribute human reactions to God I think maybe there was just a big yawn that was expressed, such as ‘really, now you are just simply boring me’.) Nevertheless I press on!

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