Friday, October 27, 2006

Holiness and Liberation: priorities

Today's reading includes one of those passages that makes me feel uncomfortable. But thinking about the historical context and looking at the textual context helps me feel a little better. Here it is:
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Titus 2.3-5
Why does this passage make me feel uncomfortable? Because it's too easily used to force women into one particular social role and to exclude them from others. In particular, someone might latch onto "be busy at home" here and ignore the description of the empowered woman from Proverbs 31.

But when I look at Paul's comment at the end here, "so that no one will malign the word of God," it puts me in mind of one radical aspect of our faith: the incalculable value of each individual person. First-century infanticide of girls is well attested, and one of the distinctive things that early Christians did was this: they rescued baby girls who were abandoned outside of town.

The almost-universally held creation myth of the time taught that humanity was created by the gods to serve as slaves, and hence any individual person didn't have much intrinsic value. But the Bible teaches that we were created to reign with the one living God; we weren't made to supply his needs (cf. Acts 17). Therefore, each individual person is a regent for the master of the universe.

What might be the reaction to this new teaching? "Bring back the old myths!" they might say. "Without them - disorder, chaos, total disintegration; in short you have a ghastly mess!"

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say what I think this passage is about: that yes, each individual has infinite value -- but no, that does not mean we are anarchists. Rather, the focus of all this is the grace of God, which
... teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age...
Titus 2.12
Is it important that women have freedom to engage other social roles? Is it important to rescue baby girls from exposure to the elements? Is it important that slavery be abolished? Of course those things are important to Christians, as history has shown. Who rescued those baby girls? In contrast, where is slavery practiced legally today, and which countries officially oppress women today?

But the highest priority for me as an individual seems to be to say "No" to ungodliness and so on. If I were a slave, it's worse than useless to tell me slavery is an evil institution (wouldn't I know it already?). Better to tell me how to deal with my situation in the present (evil) age.

Which I guess is what I guess it's doing here. I still don't feel real comfortable with it, but maybe it's not as weird as I've thought.

posted 10/28

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