Friday, October 12, 2007

Stepford Wives?

I love Column One in the LA Times. Every day there is a fascinating article there about some quirky thing going on in the world or some interesting people. Yesterday's article both made me laugh and cry at the same time. It was a perfect picture of the ridiculousness of some fundamentalist interpretation of scripture and the way that fundamentalists confuse culture and faith. My heart breaks for one very talented woman who "credits the class with helping restrain her take-charge instincts. 'I have to be able to shut my mouth.'"

Southern Baptist Seminary has evidently begun an undergraduate program to train women to be... good wives. And of course, the definition of a good wife looks suspiciously like those sitcom wives from the 1950's, or if you're really cynical, Stepford Wives. Consider these paragraphs from the article
God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It's just that he's given them different responsibilities in life: Men make decisions. Women make dinner.

This fall, the internationally known seminary -- a century-old training ground for Southern Baptists -- began reinforcing those traditional gender roles with college classes in homemaking. The academic program, open only to women, includes lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab in baking chocolate-chip cookies.

Philosophical courses such as "Biblical Model for the Home and Family" teach that God expects wives to graciously submit to their husbands' leadership. A model house, to be completed by next fall, will allow women to get credit toward bachelor's degrees by learning how to set tables, sew buttons and sustain lively dinnertime conversation

Well... it is not only hopelessly unrealistic and wasteful of the talents and abilities of some 50% of the population, it is poor interpretation of scripture and just as bad interpretation of culture. Any student of US culture has to see the "refeminization" of women in the media of the 50's as a reaction to the liberation of women during WWII when Rosie the Riveter was the model women were to emulate. The men returned home from war and had to find a way to put the women back into their places... the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedroom, but never the boardroom, the factory, and certainly not the pulpit.

It is also bad interpretation of scripture. For example, the text never says, "wives submit to your husbands..." The text actually begins in the phrase before where we are all told to "submit yourselves to one another..." The first example of what this means follows, "wives to your husbands." Yes, it does say that husbands are the head of the wives but the meaning there is not about authority, it is referring to the Genesis story where the man is the source of the woman (Eve is formed from a rib taken from Adam...) The image is not unlike the headwaters of a river. The examples continue with husbands as well.

And the woman as a "helper" to the man? Again, cultural interpretation of a text. The word translated "helper" in the Genesis passage is also used to refer to God and can just as easily be interpreted as a savior figure as a subordinate. Think how differently things would have gone if the KJV said something like, "it is not good for the man to be alone so I will create a savior for him" and then there comes the woman.

Evidently the folk in leadership of the Southern Baptists actually believe that this degree will act as an evangelistic tool. Someone will visit one of these homes where the woman has sublimated all of her gifts and directed herself solely to being Mrs. and the visitor will be so taken by the wife's chocolate chip cookies or squeaky clean counters that they will drop to their knees and become Christians.

What would happen if instead the Southern Baptists put energy into helping folk figure out how to maintain relationships and build strong families in the culture we actually have? What would happen if they actually taught the men to share responsibility and respect the gifts of their wives? What if they worked for a world where as Paul tells us "In Christ there is no male or female"? Or where women were treated with the kind of revolutionary respect that Jesus showed to them? Then there might actually be some evangelism taking place... but of course that would mean they would have to read the Bible and the culture with new eyes and that is not likely to happen any time soon among Southern Baptists.


Chad said...

I have always understood that one of your passions is to give to people the freedom to interpret Scripture according to their own conscience. Why are the Southern Baptists not given that same grace?

roy said...

Good comment Chad. I do believe in soul freedom, that nobody can tell someone else what they must believe. I also believe in the freedom of the Bible, that nobody can tell everyone else that this is what the scripture means, it must be alowed to speak for itself. I also believe tht it is in the discussion and wrestling of a variety of viewpoints that we find more of the truth.
All of that said, all interpretations are not equally valid or true. While we have the right to make an interpretation, we also have the responsibility to do it well. Let me give a silly example... I once heard a preacher who read one of the parables where Jesus spoke of weeping and gnashing of teeth... This preacher said that people would be taking bites out of one another. Sorry, that interpretation is just ridiculous. While the Southern Baptists in this instance aren't so silly, they are wrong. They have that right. I have no right to enforce any other view on them but I also have the responsibility to call their view into question and to present other possibilities.