Friday, October 12, 2012

Speaking of cognitive dissonance . . .

If you were a fly on the wall in my house this week, you would have overheard C and me deep in conversation about whether I say “CAR-mel” corn (when referring to popcorn) and  “CAIR-uh-mehl” when referring to candy.  This mattered because I am ruthless with myself (and sometimes others) about consistency in all things.  I referred to the salted chocolates that I bought in Michigan last week as “CAIR-uh-mehls” (as I always do) and we were thinking about my inconsistency in pronunciation.  (We rarely argue in our house but when we do, it’s always over something stupid.)

Anyway, C can tell you that I am relentless about consistency in all matters theological, political or relational, which brings me to the topic of this post . . .

The other night before bed, I was reading through the biblical book of I Peter and picked up the theme in chapter 2 about submission to earthly authorities.  After enjoining all people to submit in general to kings and governors, Peter turns his attention to slaves, telling them to be submissive to their masters, even those that are cruel, because it is to our credit when we suffer unjustly. 

After ennobling the suffering of slaves by comparing it to the suffering of Jesus, he turns his attention to wives, reminding them “in the same way” to be submissive to their husbands, even those who are disobedient, to be chaste and respectful,  to have a “gentle and quiet spirit,” and to imitate Sarah, who “called her husband ‘Master.’”

I don’t remember ever hearing a sermon or reading a book about the first passage, about slaves submitting to their cruel masters.  But I’ve heard more sermons, sat through more lessons and read more books and articles about the second passage than I can count.  I’ve heard it used to explain why a wife should always let her husband make the decisions because then God will use his mistakes to bring him to repentance.  I’ve heard it used to explain why women shouldn’t be in some professions, like politics or business, because it is impossible for them to be “gentle and quiet” in those fields.  I’ve even heard it used—more than once—to explain why a woman should go back to an abusive husband, because his eternal salvation is more important than her getting slapped around every now and then (most recently by a famous conservative theologian).   (Disclaimer:  I know that many, many Christians don’t read this passage literally and would be as disturbed as I am by these ideas.  But I grew up with these ideas and they aren’t going away.)

Here’s what I don’t get:  as conservative Christians have gotten more involved in the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery, I have never once heard any of them say that we should encourage slaves to stay with their masters and submit to them rather than work for their rescue.  I’ve never heard the argument that Christian girls in other countries who are forced into prostitution should be counseled to be more submissive to their pimps or that men who are rescued out of mines or fields where they have been enslaved should instead go back to a life of servitude in order to imitate Christ. Just the opposite:  conservatives are now some of the most compassionate opponents of human trafficking.

I believe that they would say that Peter’s words to the slaves would be consistent with the Greco-Roman household codes of the day, in which slaves had no voice and no choices about their lives and no advocates for their freedom.  So why would the same people not also say the same thing about the women?  Why are the words to slaves obsolete but not the words to wives?  Note that we’re not talking about two disparate teachings in different parts of the Scriptures; we’re talking about verses separated only by a couple of related paragraphs.  Doesn't the phrase "in the same way" (I Peter 3:1) indicate that these two passages have to hang together, one way or the other?  

I want to be really clear:  this is a post about consistency (and it's opposite, cognitive dissonance), not a post about women or their rights (or lack thereof).  And let me also be clear about this:  conservatives have no more or less inconsistency than liberals and religious people are not more inconsistent than atheists.  But the consequences of inconsistency are dire. This is not a trivial theological argument akin to angels dancing on the head of a pin.  This is a place where the inability of some to see beyond their own cultural biases creates devastation for half the world's population in ways that they would never support or desire.  

This is why consistency matters.  This is why we have to be ruthless about rooting out our own cultural and religious and gender biases and lovingly holding up the mirror to each other.  I know.  One of the lessons I've heard about the subjugation of women was my own, a Sunday School lesson I taught more than once in my younger years.  And this is what repentance is:  changing our minds.

One last disclaimer:  I don't blame Peter for any of this.  He actually elevated those who were considered inferior in his culture and ennobled the suffering of those who were believed to be beneath notice and his subsequent counsel to husbands (I Peter 3:7) was nothing short of radical for his day.  


moderator said...

You made some thought provoking points. As an abuse survivor, I've personally studied and worked through 1 Pe 3:1. Here's what I came up with:

Todd Boring said...

T -

A friend of mine on Facebook posted this link and it reminded me of your blog post. Rachel Evans - "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She takes all the rules about women in the Bible and tries to live by them for a year. Funny stuff. And poignant.

T too.