Equality


The following is the first point from Professor Brownson’s book that will be opened up for discussion.  The first point on equality is one of four main points Professor Brownson presents in his book. If you have not already and would like to download a copy of the paper this point is taken from you can get a copy by clicking on Overview Paper. As part of the development of the website a page has been added concerning the purpose of this exchange.


After the statement of Professor Brownson’s position on equality you will find a response which comes from the historic, or traditional position. At the end of the email there is a link to a survey which you can use to provide us with your feedback. It is hoped that you will take a little time to provide that feedback as that will be helpful for incorporating your insights into this matter.


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STATEMENT: EQUALITY MUST BE NORMATIVE


Professor Brownson states that in order to determine the moral logic which shapes sexual ethics in Scripture one must examine the matter of patriarchy. He asks the question whether patriarchy is not only normal but also normative. (James Brownson, Bible Gender Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, page 57.) Professor Brownson works with a distinction between normal and normative in his book. Things that appear accepted in Scripture are normal. An example of normal in the Bible is slavery; it is accepted as part of what is normal in human existence. Those things that are normative are those which should be principles guiding how we must live. The freedom of people should be normative, not slavery. His conclusion is that once the historical norm of patriarchy is examined in the light of Scripture, it will be found that egalitarianism, equality, is the vision that Christians need to strive for. Scripture contains contrasting patriarchal and egalitarian streams. The patriarchal view being the structure of society where the males of families etc. rule the households and make all the decisions. The egalitarian perspective, a modern outlook, is one which views all humans to be of equal worth of equal roles in families and society. Professor Brownson acknowledges the patriarchal tendencies that are identified in both Testaments, and in addition, that both Testaments contain egalitarian motifs. He points out that twice in Genesis we are told that both male and female were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2). He also refers to the point in Old Testament history where Miriam, the sister of Moses, is described as a prophet. Deborah and Huldah are listed as prophetesses who judged Israel. In the New Testament women appear in key roles of leadership. Based on these pieces of evidence from the Bible Professor Brownson comes to the conclusion that there is a biblical transition away from patriarchy and toward egalitarianism. (Brownson, pages 57-63.) The tensions of patriarchy and equality are best resolved by the "already" versus the "not yet" of the New Testament. We already possess salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, but we do not yet possess it fully and will not until we arrive in heaven. In a similar fashion, Professor Brownson holds that patriarchy has already been surpassed, but the change has not yet been fully implemented. Professor Brownson cites a number of examples in which Christ broke with the patriarchal structures of the past. Among these are the fact that he allowed menstruating women to touch Him (Mark 5:25-34), He allowed a woman to let her hair down in public and to kiss His feet (Luke 7:36-50), and He counted women among His followers. Christ declared that anyone who loves father or mother more than Him was not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37). In these ways Christ called into question entire social structures of patriarchy that singled out paternal males for particular honor. Brownson also refers to Christ’s statement that in the resurrection they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In the resurrection the ongoing task of raising up the next generation will no longer be needed and therefore the social structures requiring this procreative effort will also not be needed. In this way he claims that one's eternal identity is decisively severed from patriarchal structures and relationships. (Brownson, page 64.) The egalitarian vision is the perspective which holds that the ultimate goal of life in Christ is one where all people are considered equal. Based largely on Galatians 3:27-28 Professor Brownson sees the Old Testament distinction of male and female as passing away. He sees in this a significant movement toward the state where there will no longer be marriage as referred to above. (Brownson, page 65.) He then proceeds to consider the New Testament patriarchal texts (Brownson, page 67-80). The explanation he gives for those texts is that their purpose is to balance the overenthusiastic move on the part of some women into this new state of egalitarianism in Christ.


Response

The “already” and “not yet” do not eliminate marriage. Professor Brownson’s key statement is, “In these ways Christ called into question entire social structures of patriarchy that singled out paternal males for particular honor.” If Christ did in fact call these structures into question, what are the exact implications? In Professor Brownson’s Statement the “already” and “not yet” is to be part of the argument of egalitarianism, which states that we need to understand patriarchy in order to determine the moral logic which shapes biblical sexual ethics. The problem here is that there isn't a clear-cut statement concerning what we really ought to believe in this regard. These sections refer to changes that took place in society but it is not clear what direction we should see these trends going in or how far these changes should go. Brownson refers to Christ's statement that in the resurrection they will neither be married nor be given in marriage. I Timothy 4:3 refers to those who will wrongly forbid marriage. Now, first off, I do not see Professor Brownson here denying marriage. This seems to be quite a strong statement in I Timothy indicating that in God's eyes marriage is good and is to remain throughout human history. So when Professor Brownson advocates following a trajectory toward the eternal state where there will be no marriage, what exactly is he advocating for that portion of the trajectory on this side of eternity? Things will be very different once we reach perfection from what we see here. Exactly what changes should we make in this life, how far should we go? Without a clear definition for what should be the outcome of the changes as listed in the first paragraph above, as well as the lack of clear definition for where the trajectory in the second paragraph should take us in this life, it is not possible to understand where these points should bring us. It is not clear exactly what is being advocated here. In the absence of those matters being clarified there is no option but to consider this section inconclusive.


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