Friday, April 3, 2009

Alienation, Reconciliation and Power in Gender Relationships

Every time that I see a discussion on the issue of homosexuality, the Bible and the Church, I can't help but wince. (The latest discussion I read was on Scot McKnight's blog, ) The appropriate expression of human sexuality is a tremendously polarizing subject. A couple of months ago I heard a presentation by a Princeton professor which effectively reduced the difficulty men have forming close friendships with one another to homophobia; he drew heavily on Freudian theory. Although the professor heavily nuanced his thoughts with intellectual language, sexual fears and expression were central. In talking with men I know, their response to this thesis was similar to mine. "Not!"

Generally, from my observations of working in male-dominated fields of economics and finance, and from conversations with thoughtful and insightful men I know with backgrounds in diverse cultures and continents, the major barrier to intimacy between us is abuse of power. Sexual power is one aspect of power, but it is by no means the only one.

IMHO, the Princeton professor cannot escape his environment; the majority of his students are unattached, young men and women with rampant hormones. Most of them have yet to experience the realities of the non-academic world, where men and women work side by side in businesses, corporations, and bureaucracies. The practice of their sexuality features centrally in their imagination and/or lives. Furthermore, an academic practices being in his/her mind, and intellectuals may get completely detached from the rough and tumble realities of the world.

Having worked in economics, government bond market, and asset-backed securities while I was putting myself through college, I experienced what, at times, felt to be parallel universes. The academic theory of neoclassical economics has underlying assumptions that just don't line up with the realities I experienced while working at the Federal Reserve Bank, or in Wall Street firms. By the time I graduated with a double major in Government and Economics, some of what I'd learned seemed laughably naive. For instance, the basic principle underlying neoclassical economics is that "people make rational decisions." The problem with that principle is obvious to any post or pre-modernist. What constitutes "rational"? Is there a universal set of "rational decisions"? Is what is "rational" to an American equally rational in Asia, or Africa, or Europe? Is what is "rational" gender-specific? family heritage specific? How do so-called "irrational" emotions such as fear, or groundless euphoria figure into the behavior of financial markets? Can they be accounted for? (short answer, "No!") Alan Greenspan's errors stem, at least in part, from his great intellect which overlooked the way things
really worked on Wall Street!

Although sexual relationships were certainly abused by colleagues in the financial firms, other components of power such as money, status, position, influence, information, and personal connections figured more broadly. As a matter of fact, sexual abuse is a subset of some other power imbalance. Acquiring money and position drove most people, and the means were subject to the end. I was frankly told that women didn't get ahead in "this" business environment unless they were witches (use a "b") or promiscuous with people who "counted." (crude expression omitted) Gender discrimination was the norm. Money, powerful friends, and positions ranked higher in calculations of personal value. Sexual favors might be solicited because of one's comparatively greater power in a corporate structure, but using sex to "get ahead" was only the ploy of the less powerful.

When I left investment banking, I chose another field altogether. I worked as the financial director of a non-profit organization, a shelter for battered women and their children. All our employees were women dedicated to the prevention and reduction of violence against women. Physical, verbal and positional violence against women is endemic to every nation, culture, race, and religion of the world.

So, how does this connect to the issue of homosexuality and the use of Scripture? We read Scripture, naturally, as a series of "laws" because we are legal beings. We read our own perspective and power into Scripture because we cannot escape our bodies. There is no "detached mind" available to any one of us. There is no "disembodied law" accessible to our intellect, which is subject to who we are. Our Savior needed to be God incarnate, God enfleshed, that we may know how corrupted we are, how alienated we are from God and from one another.

It was not unusual for women to become practicing lesbians after experiencing one or more instances of serious, physical abuse by a man. (85-95% of victims of domestic violence are women.)

Instead of speaking of sexual expression as indicative (or not) of personal identity, as law-breaking or law-abiding, Scripture helps to reorient this conversation. From Genesis, we understand that we are fundamentally alienated, as humanity from God, and primarily as male and female, from one another. Every other alienation seems to be subsequent to those. In Christ Jesus these alienations are overcome; we have been reconciled in the death of Christ to God and to one another. (cf. Eph. 2:13-14) If one's "body" dies, is denied, is crucified with Christ, then the legal and deadly gender differences are gone. Yet, both male and female are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), so there are God-created differences which reflect God together. Without the other gender, there is an intrinsic alone-ness to and incompletion in our fleshly existence (Gen. 2).

As Christians, we affirm that our identity is founded in God's creation. Our alienation from God and each other originates in our sin which is embodied; i.e., the only way out of "this body of death" is the death of flesh and resurrection in the new life of Christ. (cf. Romans 7:21-ff.)

Fallen creatures usurp power - from God (impossible, but an imaginative product of our self-delusion), and from one another (possible, because we are all deluded). Our power builds human kingdoms of this world: kingdoms of money, of status, of physical strength, of domination and control. Simplistically, human responses to human power are to seek to overpower another's power (verbally, physically, influentially), to subject oneself to another's dominance, to hook oneself to the other's power trip, or to try to escape alien and/or destructive exercises of power.

All of these responses omit the exercising of appropriate dominion, truth, justice, mercy, and reconciliation to God and each other.

If the church is to BE the Body of Christ, and we are to be conformed to Christ, then we are to reveal the power of God in the foolishness of the cross to one another and to the world. We are they who are to be reconciled and reconciling, "ambassadors of reconciliation" proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the world. Marriage is the reflection that man and woman are "flesh of my flesh" to one another, together reflecting the image of God, being reconciled through the power of God in Christ, serving one another, looking to the best interests of the other, and creating new life together. The only role we ever model to one another is that of Christ Jesus, who emptied himself, and who came to serve (Matt. 20:24-28, Luke 22:24-27).

It is my humble conviction that the issue of homosexuality in the church is so destructive
exactly because there have been so many centuries of hypocrisy, of the inappropriate rule of one sex, of one gender demeaning the other, undermining or lording it over the other within the Church universal. Appropriate Christian rule, whether of a man or a woman, is always serving of, and always building up every person created in God's image - male and female. Homosexuality merely reflects the power imbalances and alienation present in our fallen world from humanity's first power grab. In Christ, we are to enact reconciliation, dying to our flesh, emptying ourselves, having the same mind-will-purpose as Christ, living to reveal Christ through our lives individually, familially, and corporately. When Paul spoke of there being no longer "Jew or Greek... slave or free... male or female" (Gal. 3, Col. 3) he spoke of the reconciliation that is ours in Christ Jesus; it is not reconciliation enforced by the law!

As churches, as families, as married men and women, we need to embody the reconciliation of Christ to one another in word and deed. "Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (Rom. 14:17) Men and women have severely wounded one another throughout human history. Although the historical preponderance of the damage seems to have been done by men against women, women should not deny how they have rejected, humiliated and debased men when women have abused any positions of power they've had in themselves. (It's not coincidental that Paul used the word for authority, authentein, in 1 Timothy 2 in the context of Adam and Eve's story. Eve's authority was not from the Author of all who is God the Creator of all, but in and of herself. The root of authentein is the personal pronoun, autos.) Our broken sexual problems and expressions, heterosexual or homosexual, are fundamentally based in the abuse of power which disables true intimacy and reconciliation. The only way out is to seek first the reign of God, to be crucified with Christ, and to live forgiving and forgiven lives, full of grace, and giving of grace to one another.
Men and women will not "know" reconciliation until we do the humbling work of being reconciled to one another, of confessing and forgiving, and being restored in Christ. "...but [God] disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled." (Heb. 12:10-15)

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Ann, I saw your post on Scot McKnight's blog post where he mentions my book, but since it was about 24 hours and 6 jesuscreed posts back, I wasn't sure you'd see a response there. So here it is instead!

    From your short summary of what you do and some of the challenges we face when trying to overcome sources of division (theological, racial, ethnic, sociological, etc.), I think that the New Perspective type reading of Paul provides powerful ammunition for calling us to repentance. The last section of the conclusions of my book reflect on resurrection and oneness. I think that we're on the same page there, and I hope that you continue to find an ally in Paul for your work.

    Grace and peace,
    Daniel Kirk