Truthful Words are Seldom Pleasant

Written by Father Bill 2 Comments

I’ve read discussions relating to sex, the sexes and how they relate for over 30 years now. These discussions often degenerate into futility because the words used in the debate have different meanings with different speakers.

While I may not insist that others use words as I use them, it’s mandatory that anyone interacting with what I write in these blogs understand what I’m talking about. And that means they must read my words to have the meaning I intend them to have in my own writing. You may dislike or disagree with my definitions if you please; but, you may not read my words and impute to them meanings different from the ones I intend.

So, without further ado, here are some terms, along with how readers should understand them when they come across them in future blogs. This blog is long, so feel free to skim down through the various terms discussed and to read what interests you, or what you need to read to understand what I am saying in other parts of this blog site.

Feminism, feminist

The history of the word feminism is complex. The word feminism has evolved since it came into general use in political controversies beginning in the mid-1950s and afterward. Consequently, nowadays one finds feminism qualified by various adjectives – as in gender feminism, justice feminism, economic feminism, and so forth – to designate the characteristics or focus of the feminism under discussion.

When feminism and feminist are used in discussions or debates that involve religion, the result is usually murky, for now religious tenets are added to those arriving from nonreligious uses of these terms. Within modernist, liberal Christianity, feminism is a good term; within old evangelicalism and Christian fundamentalism, feminism names something evil. This latter situation has made evangelical feminists wary of allowing any use of feminism or feminist to refer to their own convictions, even though what they advocate is no more than baptized secular feminism. This leads many religious feminists who circulate within evangelicalism to call themselves egalitarians (see below) rather than feminists.

So, how am I using feminism in this blog (and feminist will be my term for anyone who embraces what I mean by using the term feminism)?

By feminism, I refer to an overall understanding of humans (both men or women) which finds sex to be theoretically irrelevant or inconsequential to the capacities of humans to function within social, economic, and political roles in society. Feminism in this sense does not deny the biological facts of our species; but, it insists that those facts do not (or should not) impact how any individual human functions in society, whether the human involved is single or married, mother or father or childless, heterosexual or homosexual, or whatsoever else someone names as their “gender identity” (see below for that term!).

Feminism, whether secular or religious, is often framed as advocacy for justice, for reforming unjust discrimination or oppression rooted in our biological sex. This “moral dimension” to feminism, however, arises from a more basic affirmation about the “metaphysical dimension” of our being. If our biology is not our destiny (or, rather, if it should not be our destiny), then the “justice” aspects of feminism will arise naturally from that affirmation. And, so, the metaphysical affirmation of feminism is basically the same one as the old Gnostics, namely that our material (i.e. our biological) being has no “spiritual” (or in modern terms, “social”) significance.

Combining the metaphysical and justice notions of feminism, feminists embrace The Feminist Premise: The sexes in their social activities are interchangeable with one another, and so in the interests of justice humans should order their communities to reflect this interchangeability in all social, economic, and political spheres of community life. Religious feminists would add that in faith and practice, religion should also be feminist.

Religious feminist

 

You don't believe all that sexist crap in the Bible? Neither do we!

A religious feminist embraces the Feminist Premise, but he relates that premise to his religion (and, in this blog that religion is Christianity) in two ways.

First, the religious feminist looks to Christianity as an authority underpinning the truth of the Feminist Premise itself. Second, the religious feminist views Christianity as a vast project for reformation along the lines of the Feminist Premise. The obvious contradiction between these two perspectives will arise often in future blog posts; but, it does not seem to trouble religious feminists very much.

Why do I use the term religious feminism instead of Christian feminism? It is the contention of this blog that feminism is profoundly anti-Christian, that religious feminists – no matter what their standing before Christ at the Doom – have given themselves to an enterprise which if successful will transform the Christian faith into a religion wholly different from orthodox Christianity and inimical to it. When J. Gresham Machen penned his book Christianity and Liberalism, he intended by the very title to affirm that Liberalism (as he defined and discussed it in the book) was not Christian, was not the same religion as Christianity. I contend throughout this blog that “Christian feminism” is an oxymoron, that it is much the same as “Marxist capitalism” or “anarchist fascism” or “theistic atheism.” And, so, while I may quote those who claim the term “Christian feminist” for themselves, I will usually take time to expound the contradictions inherent in the term they use to identify themselves.  And, I will not use the term myself except to echo their own self-identity, for Christianity and feminism of any sort are intrinsically hostile to one another.

 Egalitarian

I find the term egalitarian to be poorly understood by rank and file evangelicals, even though most of them are, in fact, egalitarians! It’s something of a term or art used in the most controversial parts of the published literature and in blogdom. Its meaning is essentially the same as my term religious feminist.

Of course egalitarian is a term used outside discussions of religion. But, in this blog I’ll be concerned far more often with religious feminism, not secular feminism (though it too will get noticed from time to time).

But, most folks by now will have some general idea of what feminism means. Much more often they will hear the term egalitarian and say “Huh?” Nevertheless, religious feminists within evangelicalism often prefer to call themselves egalitarians because they are afraid of the connotations of the term feminist.

 Patriarchy, patriarchalist

Before the feminist revolution got off the ground back in the mid 1950s, patriarchy was a boring term from political theory or anthropology or sociology, a jargony term from academe’s manual of priest craft. But, with the publication of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics in 1970, patriarchy became the term to name feminism’s arch booger man. Patriarchy named all that was anti-woman, woman-oppressive, tyrannical over women, and exploitative of women in human societies of the past. Millet and those who welcomed her published work turned patriarchy into a dirty word. This led to the creation of a new word: complementarian (see below).

In this blog, I use the term patriarchy to name a society which is ordered in its familial, social, economic, political, and religious life with reference to the sex of the persons living within these spheres. Headship (meaning responsibility to lead) in these spheres is vested in men with requisite qualifications in addition to their sex. In its most elementary sense, a patriarchy functions as the etymology of the word suggests: the rule of fathers, and all other leadership in the society is based on that template – fatherhood.

In this sense, of course, patriarchy is anti-feminist and feminism is anti-patriarchal. Patriarchy and feminism name two systems of social organization in total opposition to one another. From the patriarchal perspective, feminism is anathema. From the feminist perspective, patriarchy is anathema. And if Christianity itself is patriarchal, then so-called Christian feminism is an impossibility of the same sort as a square circle.

If patriarchy is so besmirched with bad press, why use it at all? Why not use a term such as complementarian (see below). Sometimes there are reasons to employ neologisms (such as gender, also see below). And, other times, there are reasons to reclaim a term from the camp of the enemy and to use it correctly, to defend it against false and slanderous insinuations. I do so in this blog with the term patriarchy. And, I do so because (as I will argue frequently) the Christian faith is patriarchal from root to branch to fruit. I cannot profess the Christian faith without defending the patriarchy embedded in the warp and woof of the Bible. If patriarchy is bad or false, then the Bible and its religion are bad and false. Mary Daly was one of the rare souls to say so candidly.

Patriarchalist (yes, it takes practice for that term to skip confidently off the tongue) names someone who confesses, teaches, and defends patriarchy as a wholesome social system. The fact that a patriarchy is subject to the Fall and the Curse is deplorable but otherwise irrelevant. Why? Because the Bible shows us God redeeming patriarchy, working through patriarchy, and glorifying patriarchy. God Him self is a patriarchy – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – and the earth is full of his glory (i.e. riddled top to bottom with patriarchy and patriarchs).

So, I am a Christian patriarchalist because one cannot be a bona fide Christian without also being a patriarchalist. Those who claim otherwise are either deceived or deceivers.

 Complementarian 

Complementarian is a neologism, coined by evangelicals opposed to religious feminism who formed the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1987 in order to advocate in favor of – well it was (and still is) the patriarchy found in the Bible that they wish to defend – but they were spooked by the nastiness of the term patriarchy. And, so, they coined the term complementarian, signifying by that term that the sexes are complementary to one another rather than functionally interchangeable with one another as any form of feminism will proclaim (yes, feminists know that men don’t have babies; but remember – that’s just a matter of biology, and biology is not destiny in any social, economic, political, or religious sense).

I have used the term complementarian often in the approximately 25 years since the term was coined. Originally, I used the term enthusiastically as a show of solidarity to those evangelicals who were endeavoring to oppose religious feminism and to reclaim evangelicalism from religious feminism’s campaign to deconstruct patriarchalist Christianity and to reshape it in a feminist mold.

But, as the years rolled by, I found myself endlessly explaining complementarian and egalitarian to audiences who had never heard these terms, who weren’t disposed to use them (because they didn’t feel as if they had a dog in that hunt), and who quickly forgot what I had taken time to explain.

Patriarchy? Feminism? Well, they had heard those terms, especially if they’d been to college, where patriarchy was loudly and thoroughly discredited while feminism was just as loudly and thoroughly defended. If I defended patriarchy, my audience was all ears, as some weird fellow were going to defend wife-beating, and they didn’t’ want to miss the show. Explaining complementarian or egalitarian (I needed to explain both, you see) produced little more than glazed eyes which soon began to close.

 Gender and Sex 

Within the patriarchal camp of Christendom there is disagreement on the use or misuse of the word gender. Many – insisting that a term which has a long and distinguished career as a grammatical term has been co-opted by pansexualists to fuzzy up the blunt bifurcation of our species into male and female – refuse to use the word and criticize those who do. An example of this (I could cite many) is my friend Pr. Timothy Bayly:

When speaking of the biological bifurcation of man, no one is allowed to use the word ‘sex’ today. Rather we must call it ‘gender’. And unlike ‘sex’ which makes us think of certain body parts designed to initiate and receive, ‘gender’ is an infinitely malleable identity one chooses for himself with ten thousand precious places to stand, not one of which is morally perverted.

Pr. Tim and other critics of the term are correct as to the genesis of gender as a term of art in discussions of sex today. I join him in calling it a weasel word. Why, then, will I use the term from time to time?

I use the term gender to seize upon a feature of sex as it is revealed in the Bible. In the simplest terms, sex is something to do and sex is something to be. Let me explain each in turn.

Sex as something to do is a concept far broader than to name the copulatory features of sex, what Pr. Tim points to when the term sex makes us think of body parts and how they are deployed in the activity we refer to as sex. Sex includes this, of course.

But, in the Bible the bifurcation of the race into two sexes goes far beyond what happens between the sheets. It includes how we dress, for example. It includes those with whom we may and may not have sex. Among those off limits are anyone to whom we are not married, anyone of the same sex as ourselves, and a number of relatives (cf. Leviticus 18). Other people’s spouses are off limits. Again, sex involves more than sexual activity in the narrow biological sense. Males are to comport themselves in manly ways, women in womanly ways. And all such considerations move us into the realm of sex as something to be.

Males are to be manly. They are to aspire to, to develop in themselves, and to applaud in other males those qualities and virtues that are manly. So too are women to aspire to, to develop within themselves and to applaud in other women those qualities and virtues that are womanly. From all these sorts of things arise relationships between the sexes and relationships between members of the same sex. Some intra-sex relationships are encouraged; others are prohibited (such as sex in the narrow biological sense).

Said simply: there are hard-wired aspects of our sexuality – our body parts, our DNA, the things that are given to us by God’s design at our conception. And there are aspects of our sexuality that are not hard-wired,, things which must be taught, things which must be developed and brought to maturity, things which are rightly the subject of commandments or prohibitions because we are creatures who may choose and, consequently, may choose rightly or wrongly. Sex is, therefore, moral. It includes a host of things one ought to do or ought not to do.

So, I agree with Pr. Bayly’s criticism above, and I will happily use the word sex in discussions where pansexualists will use the word gender. On the other hand, while not acceding to post-modernists’ obsession with avoiding categorical distinctions, I will use the term gender to refer generally to all those aspects of our sexuality which are not hard-wired.

 Sexual orientation, gender identity

I mention these phrases only because if I do not someone will ask me about them. As commonly used they assert a feature of the non-hard-wired aspects of our sexuality which is still problematic, namely a psychological “sexual identity.” Usually the terms are used when speaking of males or females who do not “identify” with heterosexuality.

The assumption in these terms, of course, is that they are hard-wired. Yet it is incidental to a Christian if they are, for the Scriptures tell us that sin in all its wild diversities is hard-wired in the sense that it’s a given from the very moment of conception. Heterosexuals, because all of them are fallen in the sense explained by the Scriptures, are “hard-wired” to fall into all sorts of sexual immorality that may remain strictly heterosexual. That fact does not relieve sinners of responsibility for their sin, or the possibility of overcoming through redemption in Christ their moral sickness inherited from Father Adam.

 Masculine, male 

The use of these terms in discussing sex and the theological implications of our understanding of the is invariably muddied. I intend to use these terms in a very specific way and I will criticize those who do not use them with the precision detailed here, to wit:

Male is a term that names one of the biological sexes. Maleness is fundamentally found in things like DNA, hormonal patterns, and body parts (all of these, by the way, subject to damage by the Curse and the Fall). Male names one half of the human race.

Masculine is a term that names a host of non-material aspects of males: temperaments, characteristic talents and dispositions, modes of expression, roles in ordered societies.

Masculinity and maleness are NOT synonyms of one another, though masculinity is ordinarily a characteristic of males. We see this, because male may not coherently be predicated of a female. However masculinity may easily be predicated of a female. If she comports herself in a variety of ways characteristic of males, we do not call her male (unless we’re being very sloppy or deliberately obtuse in our use of language); we call her masculine. It is a scandal of our culture that many men are less masculine than many women.

 Female, femininity

flikr/Beny Shlevich

As with male and masculine, so also with female and feminine. No female may coherently be referred to as male; but we might say of a certain female that she is masculine.  And no male may be coherently said to be female.  But, he could be called feminine, or effeminate, if his appearance and/or his behavior are characteristic of women. The Apostle Paul, for example, says that long hair is characteristic of women, and so it is a shame for men to have their hair long (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3ff).

 Updates as needed

As terms pop up in future comments, terms that need specific clarification as they are used in this blog, I will add terms here. If you have suggestions for these, say on. If I don’t include them in the above list, I will likely devote a blog to them.


2 Comments

  1. Karen   |  Saturday, 22 October 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Please specify what virtues and activities are prohibited to women? Which ones are prohibited to men?

  2. Fr. Bill   |  Monday, 24 October 2011 at 11:42 am

    Karen,

    Pardon the lateness of a reply. I’ve been involved in a weekend meeting training older women to teach younger women (cf. Titus 2). I’m trying to dig out from under deferred tasks.

    I’m not sure whence your question arises. I looked back over the blog above and find this paragraph:

    Males are to be manly. They are to aspire to, to develop in themselves, and to applaud in other males those qualities and virtues that are manly. So too are women to aspire to, to develop within themselves and to applaud in other women those qualities and virtues that are womanly. From all these sorts of things arise relationships between the sexes and relationships between members of the same sex. Some intra-sex relationships are encouraged; others are prohibited (such as sex in the narrow biological sense).

    In this paragraph, I do not specify that there are virtues prohibited to either men or women. The closest thing to speaking of activities prohibited to men or women is in the last sentence of the paragraph.

    On the other hand, I have often run across objections from religious feminists (are you raising such here?) that the Christian virtues are “sexless” or “genderless,” by which they mean that either sex can and should exhibit any given virtue one might name. Usually it is the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22ff which are mentioned. And, the fruit of the Spirit is named in order to counter the notion that there are manly virtues or womanly virtues, that Christian character admits of a sexed aspect.

    No one, of course, thinks that courage – a virtue that comes to mind in connection with men – is a virtue that women may not display. On the other hand, no one (except religious feminists) would suppose that courage in men looks like and acts like courage in women. The “gender differences” between men and women (See! I can use the word “gender” to name those non-material aspects of sexuality!) guarantees that masculine and feminine courage will look, feel, and behave in ways that are distinctly different between the sexes.

    It’s rather the same situation as another thing which religious feminists camp on – the imago dei or the “humanity” which men and women have in common. Humanity, in this sense, is the same as a virtue – either sex possesses them, but they do not live except in their sexed incarnations. We never meet a person as “mere” personhood – it is always a male person or a female person. So also the brave man and the brave woman, the gentle man and the gentle woman, and so forth.

    Now, a specific answer to your question, an activity prohibited to men but allowed for women and vice versa – consider dress. The Scripture takes as a given that dress appropriate or permitted to women is prohibited to men. If we wish to name an activity appropriate for men but prohibited to women, we could mention the head uncovered in worship (1 Corinthians 11:3ff, where an uncovered head is not only appropriate but commanded by Paul!), or the teaching or exercising authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12ff).

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