Monday, March 15, 2010

the Evangelical Caste System

The "evangelical caste system" is what Jocelyn Andersen calls an ecclesiastical and household construct based on "old arguments traditionally used to keep men and women enslaved in illegitimate bondage based on sex." After conducting "extensive personal research into the Patriarchy movement" and after reading the Bible carefully for herself with respect to the Patriarchy, Andersen is coming out with a book entitled Woman this is WAR! Gender, Slavery, and the Evangelical Caste System.

The last time I heard anyone use the word caste to refer to any part of the Christian church was toward the end of last year.  This raised an eyebrow, I imagine, but was hardly the passionate, provocative declaration that Andersen is making, and that she has to make, because she's a woman, a woman with an all too common story this late in human history.

In November last year, blogger Peter Kirk called the historical teaching that has promoted "Church leadership by a special caste of pastors or priests" a "deeply de-Christian doctrine."  In other words, the notion and practice of a caste system is not to be seen as Christian at all.  Kirk, an Anglican, doesn't look at the systematic construct of an ecclesiastical caste in relation to gender so much, and he casts blame for such a doctrine on the Christian appropriation of "the values of the world." Nonetheless, he sees as another "deeply de-Christian doctrine" the idea that "Leadership is male"; that's a "concept," he says, "which also seems to have been imported into the church from the surrounding culture." One of Kirk's responders, Gary Simmons, commented to speculate that pragmatism and not the assimilation of culture values is the source: "I agree there should be no formal 'caste,' but as an American of Protestant background from the Bible Belt, I will tell you that having no clear authority structure (like a caste) has its drawbacks and frustrations."  They, and none of Kirk's other responders with him, further discussed male leadership as part of the caste and how that, as biblical teaching, might be outdated or de-christian or damaging to women, men, and children.  Perhaps other things were more interesting to them in the conversation because they are not women and are men.

In a recent related post at another blog, John Hobbins defends Christians in general and bashes what he calls "standard-issue feminists" in particular (as if there's a necessary divide between the two beyond his own thinking); the former but not the latter, he says, have reduced the global gendercide reported by the Economist.  Hobbins asserts that "Korean Christianity remains strongly complementarian [i.e. the male is the leader] in the pulpit and the home" to suggest that such teaching and practice "stands in contradiction to femicide" but that, in contrast, "democratic capitalists and feminists ... have failed" [in opposing male-over-female hierarchies] to so stand against gendercide.  Hobbins is "an ordained pastor in the Waldensian Church" and a prolific blogger.

In a responsive post today at yet another blog, Suzanne McCarthy points out that male bible-bloggers who are the most read, Hobbins included, create a very odd position for female bible-bloggers.  It's not just the strong assertions, like Hobbins's, that complementarianism (i.e. the caste-like teaching and practice) is actually helping women in the church around the world but it's also the censorship that a powerful male bible-blogger engages in (albeit at his own well-read blog) that limits women in the conversation about the very caste system that silences many.

However, perhaps Andersen's new book will get more of us talking and will allow women to talk with men and with one another.  The comparisons of a caste with some domains of evangelicalism (along the lines of gender and slavery) should have more of us considering whether and how we rank.


Bob MacDonald said...

I didn't post a comment but I wondered if the blocking that Suzanne experienced was a software error - a blog comment scheme where a blogger having been blocked once, will then block that same blogger after so many replies.

I have to admit I have not tried to express an opinion on this subject. I am I think now equal, recognizing of course that there are complementary roles in any partnership and in a male-female partnership, some roles are preconfigured - like having babies.

I wasn't always of the equal opinion - I believed literally in all the commandments implied in the NT. I realize that my logic then as now was subject to fallacy - mostly the fallacy of incompleteness. A does not imply not-B without further assumptions or specifics. Moreover, I think I have the Holy Spirit, as one chief sinner noted. I also recognize will to power and ignorance and fear as serious motivators, not that I attribute these explicitly to some, but I do suspect others as guilty-of-not-critiquing-their-own-assumptions-that-are-without-the-grounds-needed-for-trust.

Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for the link and discussion. There has been a lot more on my blog about gender issues, in this category.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


John normally keeps me blocked from posting on his blog. But a few weeks ago he unblocked me so I could dialogue with Marilyn and he agreed that I have always been polite when talking to her.

However, this time, I posted a comment since I had blogged about John's topic before, but he suggested that no other biblioblogger had done that. I don't think John considers me a biblioblogger, because I am some kind of feminist, a stinky one apparently if you read his comments carefully. He really outdid himself this time in insulting me. His insults this time are kind of like fart jokes, so I can laugh at them.

In any case, this time when Marilyn turned up, John reblocked me. Go figure.

I know this is true for a fact because we discuss this in emails. However, it is John's blog and if he wants to block me there is not a thing I can do about it. C'est la vie.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

he agreed that I have always been polite when talking to her.

John doesn't think that I am normally polite.

Bob MacDonald said...

So it was not a software error - I can't fathom it though.

J. K. Gayle said...

I wasn't always of the equal opinion - I believed literally in all the commandments implied in the NT.

Bob, Many thanks for sharing how you are changing. You're speaking to many things here, to your own change (i.e., metanoia, which is a NT command, isn't it?), to questions of belief, and of audiences of the NT, and of translation too.

Peter, Thank you for all of your several thoughtful posts on gender and the church!

Suzanne, I'm sorry that John continues to insult you. I wish it weren't because of your gender and because of what you say and even how you say it. His labels insult many of us, and sometimes he's almost as personal in his attacks on what I say. I can only speculate but, like you cannot control, that and why he does this. Thank you for continuing to blog!