Tuesday, May 01, 2018

If the Internet is only about discussing outrage, then I am outraged

Where are all the black-eyed people, and their husbands? 

A tape of an interview surfaced with [Paige] Patterson [President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary] claiming women should focus more on their faith and prayer and “be submissive in every way that you can” to their husbands, the Texas Statesman reported. They should not be seeking divorce, even in the case of abuse. When asked about it, Patterson explained that women “who are undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands, and the husband says they should submit.”

“It depends on the level of abuse, to some degree,” Patterson conceded. “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.” Only on extremely rare cases, one or two in his entire career, he said that he has seen a level of abuse “serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough,” that “a temporary separation” was warranted.

He went on to talk about one case of a woman coming to him about help for abuse and he told her to pray at her bedside for God to intervene. Later the woman came back with black eyes saying, “I hope you’re happy.”

“And I said ‘Yes . . . I’m very happy,'” he said, because her husband came to church for the first time the following day. Thus, her husband heard her prayers.

Coming to church, you see, is all that matters.  Why?  Salvation!  How can you be saved if you don't come to church and repent?  How can you repent if you don't come to church!  Ignore the life you lead now, concentrate on the life you'll lead then!

Which is partly the problem of soteriology, and partly the problem of the kerygma of the basiliea tou theou.  If the basiliea tou theou is not here and now, then it's mere "pie in the sky bye and bye."  It's an empty promise based on misunderstood metaphysics and bad Neo-Platonism that understands this world as ephemeral and even replaceable, and the next world as the eternal world of perfection and happiness.  Which is completely at odds with the declaration in Genesis that the creation is "good," and all things in it are good.

Funny thing, that theology never argues that the rich should be poor, or the powerful should give up power, and all Christians should seek a life of service and asceticism.  It doesn't "put the arrogant to rout....[pull] the mighty down from their thrones, and [exalt] the lowly, or "[fill] the hungry with good things and [send] the rich away empty."  That's the song of Mary; that's the salvation she forecast. She spoke to the present, to this world and how we live in it, not to some imagined realm in the sweet bye-and-bye.  The theology of Paige Patterson is that those in power should stay in power, those with wealth should keep their wealth, because that's the way God wants things, and that matters in this life.  Except this life is not important, the next one is; so what matters is that an abusive husband come to church!

And keep giving his wife black eyes, because this life doesn't matter; especially for her.  Great will be her reward in heaven, though.

This is why I've rejected soteriology as even a claim of Christianity (metaphysical soteriology, I mean.  When people called Caesar "savior," they weren't referring to some metaphysical after-death salvation; nor where they thinking of that when the called Jesus "Messiah!" during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.*).  It is at the heart of abusive Christianity, of the kind of teaching Paige Patterson did when he told an abused wife with two black eyes to rejoice, that God had heard her prayers and brought her husband to church!  I've known lots of people in church no better off in their personal life for coming to church than for not coming to church, and Paige Patterson has to be smart enough to know he has no real control over people like that abusive husband, either, no matter how often the man came to church after that first visit.  Patterson is telling that woman to suffer so her husband can be saved, and why does he care?  Because his salvation depends on winning the salvation of as many souls as he is alive to reach.  No matter how finely tuned the discussion of salvation, it inevitably leads back to this conclusion:  it puts someone in power over someone else (hence excommunication, once upon a time) and allows a system of judgment that is antithetical to the plain teachings of the gospels.

As for counseling divorce always being "wrong counsel," I would first point out that marriage is not a sacrament in the Baptist church, so there is not the  problem of counseling someone to renounce their baptismal vows (the only sacrament that is "once and done" in Protestantism).  I would further point out the insistence that something affecting a person's life is always an absolute which can never be transgressed is precisely the argument carried on in the gospels between Jesus and the Pharisees.  "Do you see this woman?," Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee.  Simon sees a whore, a sinner, an unclean person; Jesus sees someone who needs to be treated like an equal, like a human being, who needs to understand existentially the concept of "the first of all shall be last and servant of all."  He turns her into a servant ("you did not wash my feet, but she has....you did not dry my feet, but she has...") and that makes her first of all.  Was Jesus' counsel wrong?  Should he have demanded some confession, some sign of repentance?  (Let's not argue again that she was repentant.)  Isn't that one of the points of the narrative of all four gospels:  what the Pharisees demand be done, Jesus demands yield to the needs of the people?  The Law, he says, was meant for humanity; not humanity for the Law!

Except, of course, how else do we stay in power, if we are not gatekeepers of the Law?  And if we give up our claims to power, who are we?

Last of all, and servant of all; which is what we should be concerned with.  "Lord, when did we see you," both the sheep and the goats asks Jesus in Matthew's final parable.  It is not an issue of "Lord, did you see how many we saved for you?"  It is a question of:  how many did you serve?  Even when you didn't know it was Jesus, it was Jesus.  Paige Patterson should not be defending his comments, or offering a half-hearted apology:  he should be asking himself if that woman with the black eyes was Jesus, and did he see that?

Because according to Matthew's parable, that's going to be the deciding issue for Jesus.

*Modern Biblical scholars recognize Roman crucifixion as a form of execution reserved for enemies of the state.  Calling Jesus "savior" was a direct challenge to Caesar, therefore to Rome, and therefor the punishment was crucifixion.  Rome certainly wouldn't have bothered to crucify a peasant from the edges of the empire who was making outlandish metaphysical claims about life in the hereafter, claims with no impact on life under the Pax Romana.


  1. I've decided from now on when I read a book by a male Bible scholar or theologian, I'm going to read one by a woman Bible scholar or theologian - though I'd never consider reading anyone who advocates women put up with being beaten up by their husbands, that Patterson guy is, among other things, enabling men who sin, who certainly violate even the Pauline verse that tells husbands they are to love and respect their wives.

    Salvation can cut different ways, good as well as bad.

    In one of the talks by Elizabeth A. Johnson I listened to last week, she noted that Vatican II said that only those parts of scripture which were necessary for our salvation were authritative for teaching. She noted that the Church finally gave up the supposed Pauline text that told slaves to obey their masters as not only not being useful for salvation but clearly an artifact from an ancient culture which is no longer useful at all. She noted that many of the texts concerning women were, as well, artifacts of long dead cultures which should similarly be treated. In that instance the idea of salvation is a means of moving equality. Not merely as the "spiritual" equality that is non-corporeal but, also, in regard to the whole person, BODY and soul, in the flesh as well as in the spirit.

    1. In brief, salvation is how we live, not where we end up. It is a valuable part of Christianity, but I am heartily sick of how it has been perverted in the endless pursuit of power.

      Agree with you about the theologians and scholars.

  2. "This is why I've rejected soteriology as even a claim of Christianity....It is at the heart of abusive Christianity, "

    Just a very late, perhaps beating-a-dead-horse comment: I think you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    We both grew up among fundamentalists, and the old "Have you been saved?" routine grates on my ear as much as yours, as well as the strange soteriology holding that you will be "saved" so long as you can be manipulated into uttering the "Jesus prayer."

    Still, the notion of Jesus as savior, as one who saves us "from our sins," is one that runs through the New Testament, and though it is not so pervasive as some versions of Christianity make it, I don't see how you simply reject it. To do so implies either that we don't need to saved from anything or that we're on our own. My guess is that a great number of our contemporaries, perhaps most of them, believe one or the other of those two, all the way across the political spectrum. But I don't see how either comports with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament, or the Christian tradition.