Is Christianity hierarchical or egalitarian?

Is Christianity hierarchical or egalitarian?

samson-and-delilah-1

I have wrestled with this very important question as a husband, father, pastor and scholar, especially over the past nine years, the majority of which I lived in university contexts.

The first four of these year were in Cambridge, England, studying the letters of the earliest known author of the Christian movement, the Apostle Paul, who wrote, among other controversial things, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands” and “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man”–though not a few scholars today would dispute whether it was actually Paul who wrote these words.  But, indisputably, he did write, “Women should remain silent in churches.”

During that time I had plenty of opportunity to interact with other scholars from diverse disciplines and ideologies about not only Paul’s words in particular but (what is often described as) the generally hierarchical and patriarchal character of the ancient Jewish / early Christian social and political worlds, not to mention the Western Christian tradition.  Also during this same timeframe my wife Sarah and I proactively sought out persons from diverse international and ideological backgrounds simply to listen to and learn from their perspective on these challenging matters.

The other three years were in–well, in between–Durham and Chapel Hill (NC), homes to Duke University and the University of North Carolina, respectively.

But this time, instead of merely studying Paul’s letters, I actually had the gall to be teaching them (and the rest of the Bible) as a pastor to an (impressively) interested group of adults in their 20s and early 30s, a number of whom were graduate students at either UNC or Duke, who were often inclined toward (or at least conversant in) progressive views of all things related to gender and sexuality.  Further, being frequently on the campus environment myself and speaking at various forums on these topics, I had the privilege of further interaction on these issues in a rich academic environment.

None of this makes me an expert on this important and difficult subject. I share it simply to provide some of my story and to communicate that it has been for me a topic of great personal and vocational importance and a good amount of exegetical, historical, theological and pastoral (not to mention marital and parental) reflection.  My primary reason for writing a series of posts on this topic is (i) to begin to organize my own thoughts and (ii) to receive helpful ‘push back’ from any views I have misunderstood or caricatured.

I think it’s worth saying that, without pretending to be void of my own theological and cultural presuppositions, even as I have regarded this as a very important topic, I honestly have very little predisposition toward or allegiance to a particular view.  Therefore, let the reader, regardless of their views, be forewarned:

Buckle up, because it’s going to be quite a ride.

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Women, men, Trump & how to de-sexualize your life

Women, men, Trump & how to de-sexualize your life

I recently read a social media piece sharply criticizing President Trump’s view of women.  It began with an exalted quote from Thomas Jefferson and concluded with an equally glowing quote from John F. Kennedy.

Between these quotes from Jefferson and Kennedy was a scathing critique of President Trump.

In what follows my aim is not to talk at any length about President Trump (nor Jefferson or Kennedy). While not excluding them, I aim to talk about the sexual exploitation of women by men–at least, I would venture to guess, by most men.

Myself very much included.

So what was wrong with the social media piece, and, infinitely more important, what is wrong with us men?

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Jesus and gender

Jesus and gender

It’s been nearly 25 years since Saturday Night Live showed its final skit of “It’s Pat.”

The series of skits centered around the (so-called) androgynous main character named Pat, who is placed in settings (e.g., a salon or doctor’s office) where all interlocutors struggle–and inevitably fail–to discern whether Pat is a man or a woman.

The wildly successful SNL skit is quite instructive when considering the topic of gender in at least three ways, which can help guide us toward asking helpful questions about this intensely personal yet unavoidably public matter.

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Clark family update #2 (or: Stuff that’s awesome about my life)

Clark family update #2 (or: Stuff that’s awesome about my life)

mojito

This Clark family update comes to you in the form of thanksgiving.

So let’s jump in:

First, I’m very thankful for mojitos.  I was first introduced to a mojito here in Puerto Rico.

Thank you, Puerto Rico.

And, of course, thank you, Cuba (the origin, I believe, of the mojito).  Thank you, God, for things like sugar cane juice, lime, mint, and rum.  Brilliant.

Second, the amount of joy I get from my family is incredible.  We are presently in such a wonderful stage of life:

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An Advent meditation: why real Love gets angry–and divisive

An Advent meditation: why real Love gets angry–and divisive

fire isolated over black background

“I have come to bring fire on the earth.”

So said Jesus. Bluntly. And unapologetically.

No less unsettling is what he says next:

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth?”

How many of us, especially at this time of year, would take Jesus’ question as a no-brainer:  with carols ringing in our ears, we reply, “Yes, of course, you came to bring ‘peace on earth and mercy mild.'”

But Jesus’ own answer startles:

“No, I tell you, but division.”  He continues:  “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.”

What are we to make of this Jesus who has come to bring “fire” (judgment?) and division–division in the home no less?  (Jesus, it seems, came to ‘focus on the family’ in a most unexpected way.)

What is to be made of this angry, divisive, anti-family Jesus?

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