On Mere Orthodoxy’s Delusion

Leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee – who in 2014 came to the position of LGBTQ inclusion, to the jeers and riotous attacks of conservatives everywhere – has written a piece on the quickly-vanishing middle ground on the matter of the full rights of LGBTQ persons in the larger culture. “It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions. Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”

I found this piece intriguing, as I have been discovering the same thing myself in the last year. Nothing about Gushee’s observations here are false or incorrect. The issue is emerging as a defining issue of our time, and the middle ground is rapidly vanishing beneath our feet. The issue will come and find you.

I am bisexual. Obviously I find this to be a good thing.

Others disagree with that assessment.

One of those others is the supposedly-moderate, deep-thinking evangelical website Mere Orthodoxy. One of their writers, Jake Meador, penned an absurd, comical post in response to Gushee. I think calling it “absurd” and “comical” is fair; he called Gushee a coward in his piece, and has more respect for the sludge he scrapes off the bottom of his shoes than for progressive Christians. “It’s all par for the course for progressive evangelicals like Gushee, of course,” he sighs, with an implied eye-roll. Yes, we’re all a bunch of dum-dums, barely able to get food the narrow distance between our plates and our mouths, woefully oblivious to nuanced debate, facts, or the noble ancients they revere over at Mere Orthodoxy, the same ancients who were cool with slavery, the oppression of women, murdering Jews, and burning witches and pagans.

But I digress. Meador was meandering.

He takes umbrage at one of Gushee’s comments in particular, a comment that has thrown a number of my conservative evangelical friends into apopleptics online since Gushee’s piece was published. “(Religious conservatives) are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty, and interpreting their plight as religious persecution.”

This, more than anything, Meador dislikes. Presuming that Gushee has no knowledge of the lawsuits against conservatives refusing to provide service to paying LGBTQ customers, Meador reviews the (four) cases thus far. But far from not knowing about these cases, perhaps Gushee has a different perspective on them, one in which they are not actually religious persecution. This would indicate Gushee (and progressives generally) are not idiots, but simply see the situation differently, which would put the issue in the category of the pluralism to which conservatives like Meador pay lip service but don’t actually believe in.

Far from being the facts on the ground, Meador’s persecution narrative is just that – a narrative. As the smarty-pants over at Mere Orthodoxy should know, all events are interpreted. From Meador’s perspective, “if you tell a person ‘I am ordering you to choose between your conscience and your livelihood,’ you are persecuting them.”

But is this accurate? Is this a full or correct assessment of what is happening? What if, for example, the right to decline service on the basis of gender orientation is a privilege, and an unjust privilege at that? What if – just imagine for a moment – if LGBTQ people had been systematically oppressed, opposed, feared, and discriminated against from the beginning in American history? The imaginative leap is difficult, because we know how welcomed LGBTQ people have been from the founding of our nation down to the present. But just imagine. Imagine that we had a system in place that privileged certain belief systems – Christianity, for example, of a heteronormative persuasion – to have a privileged place in our political and cultural life? What if that was a violation of the first amendment and the separation of church and state? What if, say, churches didn’t have to pay taxes? What if churches were supposed to avoid political entanglements as part of their 501c3 status but regularly ignored this law and the state didn’t enforce it? And what if, just by default, most Americans thought this was totally normal and a public good.

In that case, would the state saying you can’t discriminate against people on the basis of gender orientation be persecution? Or the removal of an undeserved and unjust privilege you shouldn’t have had in the first place? Is that persecution? Really? Are you sure?

It is obvious this is the removal of a privilege to discriminate, not persecution. Nobody is telling conservative, exclusionary Christians what to think. Nobody is telling them what correct dogma is. Nobody is telling their churches what to preach, or what they can say. They are merely laying down guidelines for what a person can do, in the public square, that place of lauded pluralism which conservatives have, in the last six months, suddenly fallen in love with.

All of these supposed persecutions have come in the public square, or when private religious institutions are using public money to proselytize. The state is merely saying, “If you want state or federal money, you must abide by state and federal non-discrimination guidelines.” In an act of unspeakable arrogance and privilege, conservative religious institutions have said, “No, we (and we alone) must get special dispensation to not comply with state and federal standards.” Or, in the case of private businesses, “We must have special dispensation to discriminate on the basis of gender identity (as well as race, sex, and disability, if we want).”

If these religious persons and institutions were arguing for something they didn’t already have, something that actually took their rights away under the law, they would be persecuted. But they are fighting to preserve a special exemption from the cooperative pluralism with which the rest of us get on with our lives. And they have the audacity, the singular arrogance, to suggest that this is persecution.

That’s pretty fucked up.

Meador, though, isn’t done. He accuses Gushee of the same sin with which every social reformer is accused by every recacitrant traditionalist since the beginning of the Enlightenment period. The sin of automatic progress (gasp! orchestral sting!)

Gushee, he claims, is dishonest in his piece down to his very language, because his language forms the situation as abstract historical forces of inevitable progress verses the bigoted enemies of progress refusing to bend before the inevitable.

This is an absurd accusation, and for a couple of reasons.

1) just because Gushee is speaking of cultural movement now doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of the efforts of reformers to bring us to this place. Meador’s suggestion is so silly it almost defies words. Does he really imagine Gushee is oblivious to the blood and sweat shed by reformers to win key victories and bring about meaningful reforms? Of course not, he’s just counting on his audience to simply nod their heads at the pathetic silliness of those stupid progressives.

2) there is such a thing as the weight of history. Far from inevitable, of course, but cultural phenomenons become phenomenons because at a certain point they take on a life of their own. “Ideas have consequences,” as one conservative writer (Richard Weaver) once put it. Some call it “the long tail,” others call it “the tipping point.” Gushee is doing little more than suggest that tipping point has been reached, or will be reached very soon. Maybe he’s right and maybe he’s wrong, but his point remains. The middle ground is vanishing, and soon everyone will have to take their sides.

Reformers have forced the issue. I don’t deny that, and I doubt Gushee would deny it either. This is how change comes. A few people point out inconsistencies in the mainstream belief system. A few become a lot. The huddle of a couple voices at the outskirts become a din. The arguments which Meador is making now were the same arguments made against Martin Luther King by the conservatives of his day, and against the abolitionists in their day, against the suffragettes in their day and the feminists in theirs. “Radicals have forced this upon us,” they whined, in every generation.

Whine all you like, but the question still stands: “Are LGBTQ people actually people, and do they deserve full protection under the law?” That is the question that stands to hand right now, and the culture is increasingly cool with saying “Yes” to both aspects of the question. Not because radicals have duped the unthinking masses into changing their philosophical worldview, but because reformers have pointed out the fundamental inconsistency at the heart of what has passed for mainstream thought for the last several hundred years.

You see, all people are given inalienable rights by the Declaration of Independence, and all people are granted full production under the Constitution. If LGBTQ people are really people, then if we really believe “all men are created equal,” then we don’t get to discriminate against LGBTQ people in America. Not in our public life, not by our government.

Conservatives are unable to answer both sides of that question with yes. They must find a way to answer with “Yes” to the first part (because the weight of history has passed the tipping point on calling LGBTQ people less than human or not deserving of being treated like human beings) but “no” to the second (because it is the last line of defense for preserving their privileged discrimination).

Of course, by answering no to the second part of the question (“do LGBTQ people deserve full protection under the law”), the conservative must internally answer no to the first part of the question (“Are LGBTQ people actually people”). If we are people, we deserve full protections against discrimination. If we do not deserve full productions against discrimination, we must not really be people, not in the full, healthy, teleological sense. Disordered people, like women with their small brains and frail natures, like slaves with their need for white masters to care for them because they cannot govern themselves, don’t have full rights, because they are somehow full of wrongs.

Meador’s post is full of further absurdities. Like the suggestion that progressives are somehow tied in their ideological agenda to capitalism – I rarely laughed harder at a suggestion. But let’s end on Meador’s beloved pluralism. Gushee’s piece, you might recall, begins with the loss of the middle ground. The middle ground is all I have heard conservatives talking about in the last year, the disappearing middle ground and why can’t we get back to it. But what middle ground is there between full personhood and full protection under the law, and some personhood and some protection under the law? Or perhaps, more starkly, what difference is there between some personhood and some protection and no personhood and no protection at all? When the issue revolves around how much discrimination should be allowed, there is little room for compromise. It isn’t that we’re losing the middle ground, it is that we’re realizing there never was any to start with.

We’ve tried the middle ground between full exclusion and full inclusion before. The answer of the conservatives was telling at that time, because it is the same compromise they are offering now. “Separate, but equal.”

 

 

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What Justice Means

I am a fan of Walter Bruggemann, and I recently read his little book, Journey to the Common Good. This is an amazing primer on the central themes of the Bible. Along the way in this book, Bruggemann defines what the Hebrew words for “justice” are, and the definition might be the best I’ve ever read.

So here is YHWH’s triad, which we first might state in Hebrew: hesed, mispat, sedeqah.

Steadfast love (hesed) is to stand in solidarity, to honor commitments, to be reliable toward all the partners.

Justice (mispat) in the Old Testament concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity. In covenantal tradition the particular subject of YHWH’s justice is the triad “widow, orphan, immigrant,” those without leverage or muscle to sustain their own legitimate place in society.

Righteousness (sedeqah) concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity (pp. 62-63).

So the Old Testament’s words for justice mean solidarity, redistribution, and activism.

 

Troubles in Little Anglicanism

I have been drawn to the Episcopal church for a variety of reasons, but its inherent calm, ecumenical spirit, and tempered reasonableness have been among those reasons. Its heart for an inclusive gospel that sees us all as children of God has been another.

I am about two months away from being confirmed in The Episcopal Church.

Today at the global gathering of the Primates (Bishops) of the global Anglican Communion, the bishops did two horrifying things.

First, they voted overwhelmingly (by a two-thirds majority) to reaffirm and uphold the exclusionary tradition of exclusive heterosexual marriage as “between one man and one woman.”

Second, they voted to punish The Episcopal Church for changing its church laws on marriage to include marriage equality by suspending them from membership in the global Anglican Communion for three years. Basically, this means that TEC is now only an “observer” in the communion, not a full participant. They cannot vote on doctrinal or polity matters, nor represent the AC in ecumenical or interfaith discussions. Further, a Task Force will be appointed to “rebuild trust and healing” from the hurt that apparently refusing to discriminate against God’s LGBTQ children has caused the bristly global Bishops.

This whole process is a circus show and it is insulting, not to mention a shameless power-grab by the hierarchy of the church, which conservatives have been fighting to reclaim for at least 40 years. A lot of people don’t know this, but in the Episcopal Church there are two voting bodies, one of which represents the Bishops and the other represents the laity. No doctrinal decisions can be made without both of these houses agreeing with one another (similar to the House of Lords and House of Commons in the British Parliament). In the TEC, both of these bodies agreed to change the Canon on marriage to support marriage equality. By suspending the TEC, the AC is trying to discipline the TEC for a decision that was the will not just of the Bishops but of the people. It is an attempt by the hierarchy to claim power over this democratic process.

But this will also not change the TEC’s mind on the matter of same-sex marriage. We will not be threatened, we will not be bullied, and we will not be broken. We will cling to the gospel, which demands all people be welcome and proclaims liberation to those laboring under abusive tradition for centuries. As Jim Naughton, former canon of the Archdiocese of Washington, said:

“We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back,” Naughton said. “We can’t repent what is not sin.”

Guns and Prayers

After the San Bernardino shooting, conservative GOP lawmakers rushed to tweet out thoughts and prayers to the victims and the community. They were quickly called to the carpet by twitter, who pointed out that prayers, if they are all we get, are worthless.

Cue the strangled wail of evangelicaldom, as though a great many voices cried out in horror, and were suddenly offended.

Evangelicals rushed to point out that prayers aren’t worthless, and to once more arrogantly presume that anybody who says anything against prayer must be a flesh-eating atheist.

Of course, nobody ever said that prayer was worthless. I’ve been following the progressive social media and web for quite a while now, and I have not seen one single person suggest prayer was worthless.

If evangelicals could get beyond their own shrill fit of the vapors, they might notice that.

What progressives said is that prayer is nice and all, but we need more than prayer. Notice the basic difference here, which conservatives seem unable to grasp. They want more than prayer, not less than prayer.

But basic logic and paying attention to what people say isn’t really in the evangelical wheelhouse, especially not when they can get the base all fired up over all them damn atheists waging their imaginary war on Christianity.

Evangelicals have dubbed this act of pointing out that we need more than prayer to be “prayer-shaming,” as asinine and absurd a reframing as one is likely to see, but one which plays into the evangelical-conservative alliance of delusional victimology and imaginary cultural persecution.

Quite frankly, I’m fed up with their nonsense and if it takes a verbal drubbing to knock some sense into them, then so be it, because this bullshit has about run its course.

Charles Pierce has some choice words for the evangelical wailers over at Esquire, and they are well worth reading.

It’s long past the time to break the power and influence held over our politics by a splinter faction of one form of American Christianity. It’s long past time to make refashioning the Gospel into talking-points—​and, worse, a vehicle for ratfcking—​a political liability rather than a political asset. It’s long past time to ignore the bleating of self-professed Christians who specialize in marinating in their victimology, who build their own Golgothas, and who drive the nails into their own palms. If so-called “prayer-shaming” is the first step in that direction, then Chris Murphy’s entire career in politics has been worthwhile.

I am heartily fed up with this nonsense. I am heartily fed up with people whose personal relationships with their personal Lords And Saviors lead them to knuckle the poor, subjugate women, brag about their gunmanship, and topple inconvenient regimes that happen to be sitting on an ocean of oil.

Better words may never be written about the present issue of “prayer-shaming,” and in sum, the fact that progressives (long believed the bastion of atheists and the dreaded secularists by evangelicals) have exposed the blatant hypocrisy at the root of evangelical life and evangelical theology.

The offense runs deep and wide. Progressives cannot be right, by definition, for evangelicals, and so to be called on the carpet for their shit so completely and so starkly by their enemies cannot be tolerated. So they push back about the value of prayer, completely missing the point that nobody was attacking prayer in the first place.

All they do is reinforce the cultural belief that all evangelicals want to do is pray, and this exposes the pietistic heart of evangelical theology they have been at great pains in the last thirty years to pretend does not exist.

Yet, clearly, prayers are not enough. Jesus himself was the first prayer-shamer:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full (Matt. 6:5)

13Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of Gehenna as you are.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as full of justice but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the just. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna? (Matt. 23:13-15, 23-31)

Prayer without deeds is worthless, as is evangelical theology if it does not take immediate pains to reform itself.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

The Problem is All the Liberal-Communists

Zizek reflects on how we are distracted by being thrown from crisis to crisis rather than evaluating the broader issues that give rise to the crises themselves: the real problem is capital and its ability to co-opt anything that sets out to resist it.

It is the self-propelling metaphysical dance of capital that runs the show, that provides the key to real-life developments and catastrophes. Therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than any direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective,” systemic, anonymous. (Zizek, Violence, pp. 12-13).

In short, because nobody is directly responsible for such “objective” forms of violence, they tend to be more or less invisible to us.

Zizek points out that there has been a great merger between the Right and the Left under the shadow of global capitalism. Capitalists like Bill Gates can now fund anti-capitalist poverty and development programs.

The new liberal communists are, of course, our usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as their court philosophers, most notably the journalist Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology has become all but indistinguishable from the new breed of anti-globalist leftist radicals… Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalised Struggle against Capitalism, are today’s true conservatives fighting their shadow-theatre struggles and out of touch with the new realities. (Zizek, Violence, p. 16).

These new conservatives have managed to unite the old Right with the old Left in the favor of capitalism itself. State redistribution has failed, or so the argument goes, and thus the only means to redistribute wealth is by volunteer charity from the wealthy and the corporate powers. The leftist radicals inherited or built their giant companies and now operate a kind of capitalist-communist charity fund that focuses on counteracting subjective violence: homelessness, poverty, racism, rape, etc. Such a position is not laudatory because it refuses to evaluate what causes the problems of poverty and h0melessness in the first place. Capitalism causes the problem and is, magically, somehow, the solution as well.

We need to ask ourselves whether there really is something new here. Is it not merely that an attitude which in the wild old capitalist days of the U.S. industrial barons, was something of an exception (although not as much as it may appear) has not gained universal currency? Good old Andrew Carnegie employed a private army brutally to suppress organised labor in his steelworks and then distributed large parts of his wealth to educational, artistic, and humanitarian causes. A man of steel, he proved he had a heart of gold. In the same way, today’s liberal communists give away with one hand what they first took with the other. (Zizek, Violence, p. 21).

This is why the delicate liberal-communist–frightened, caring, fighting violence–and the blind fundamentalist exploding in rage are two sides of the same coin. While they fight subjective violence, liberal communists are the very agents of the structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence. The same philanthropists who give millions for AIDS or education in tolerance have ruined the lives of thousands through financial speculation and thus created the conditions for the very intolerance that is being fought. (Zizek, Violence, pp. 36-37)

We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every progressive struggle today. … Precisely because they want to resolve all the secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system as such. (Zizek, Violence, p. 37)

How Our Obession with Violence Masks Violence

Continental philosopher and public intellectual Slavoj Zizek is always worth reading. I am working through his short book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections as part of a research project for my next book. In this book, Zizek begins by pointing out that liberals (Zizek himself is a hard leftist) are, generally speaking, entirely preoccupied with what he terms “subjective” violence. Subjective violence is direct violence, crime, assault, rape, etc. He delineates three types of violence: subjective, objective, and symbolic.

Opposing all forms of violence, from direct, physical violence (mass murder, terror) to ideological violence (racism, incitement, sexual discrimination), seems to be the main preoccupation of the tolerant liberal attitude that predominates today. An SOS call sustains such talk, drowning out all other approaches: everything else can and has to wait . . . Is there not something suspicious, indeed symptomatic, about this focus on subjective violence – that violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds? Doesn’t it desperately try to distract our attention from the true locus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them? (Zizek, Violence, pp. 10-11)

Obviously the unspoken answer to this question is “Yes.” Liberalism’s obsession with subjective violence can be observed by following the news cycle, where activists are thrown from one crisis event to another, never really slowing down to analyze all of the larger pieces and the bigger problems. I noticed this in myself just this year, when the news cycle careened from refugee crises to the student protests to the Paris shootings, to the BlackLivesMatter shootings, and back to fears about refugees.

As progressives, particularly as progressive Christians, we need to do a better job avoiding getting caught up in each crisis thrust at us by the 24-hour news cycle and dig beneath the surface to the unifying whole, the deeper violence that goes unobserved by most, the violence of our cultural, economic, political, and social systems.

The point is not to ignore the visible crises, nor to abandon desperate refugees (to use the most recent example), but rather to contexualize them within a larger picture. We cannot have a larger battle plan for cultural and political change when we are constantly jumping from fire to fire.

This is how our obsession with violence actually masks violence. Subjective violence is simply the most visible form of violence, and therefore the most obvious. But our obsession with subjective violence also prevents us from developing ways of exposing and dealing with the objective violence that lies behind subjective violence, disguised as a public good because it is part of the normal functioning of the system, and the symbolic violence that ultimately lies behind all violence, the violence of our symbolic landscape, our metaphors and language categories.

Manhood vs. Jesus

There has been a long history of “masculine” Christianity in the life of the modern church. The fact that the Christian faith has been the refuge for women and other minorities and vulnerable, weak elements of society has created an aura of anxiety around the men that are active in Church life. They fret about masculinity, manhood and the faith, fearing the “feminization” of the Church, nursing the lurking suspicion that perhaps in the end it is feminine itself.

Men have done a number of things to remedy this situation, but they all ultimately boil down to a “re-masculization” of the faith, emphasizing themes of capitalism, warfare, and patriarchy. From Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to the contemporary Quiverfull movement, Doug Wilson, and beyond, this movement has tried to rediscover, define, and enforce masculinity in counter-distinction to femininity, as a vital need within the Church.

Typically, this is expressed in the traditional masculine roles of Protector, Provider, and Progenitor. As I was thinking about these categories today, I suddenly realized how far these are from Jesus’s vision as presented to us in the New Testament. Christianity, then, innately destabilizes traditional male and female roles by summoning women to ministry, service, and education, and by summoning men to surrender their instinct to self-defense, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Man as Protector. Here the man is seen as guardian, the paternalistic defender of the patriarchal household of wife, property, and possessions. Jesus undercuts this instinct when he summons Christians to the life of nonviolence and non-retaliation.But I say to you, do not resist with violence the harmful person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you,” (Matt. 5:39-42). While the male instinct is the assertion and defense of rights and property, Jesus asserts that the opposite is characteristic in the Kingdom of God.

Man as Provider. In this perspective, the man is seen as the source of provision for himself and his household. Implicit in this idea is the concept of capitalist acquisition, accumulation, and consumption, the making of money and the provision of a household for the subservient wife and children. The degree to which our society insists this is a matter of honor for men (while simultaneously abandoning much of it in practice) shows how ingrained it is in our thinking. Jesus challenges this directly. Jesus himself was not a provider, but received the hospitality and financial support of others, including women (Luke 8:3). He advocated this life for his followers: “You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt. 6:24-26). The pattern here is mutual support and a radical trust in God, not accumulation and provision.

Man as Progenitor. Here the man’s power is felt in his sexual veracity and his ability to procreate – hence the struggle of men with impotence and other sexual issues. Rather than seeing sex and marriage in egalitarian, equalitarian terms, it becomes a means of planting one’s seed, of “taking” a wife and fertilizing her garden, an instinctual regression to patriarchy, however guided by evolutionary necessity. Even here, however, Jesus reconstructs our view. “But seek first His kingdom and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matt. 6:33-34).

Jesus, as is apparent from this brief glance, radically un-centers the capitalist, middle-class lifestyle into which modern Christians are desperately seeking to accommodate him, and the patriarchical assumptions that sit behind it. He calls us into a vastly different type of community, organized around a revolutionary set of assumptions that challenge the cultural locations of both men and women. He is not pro-masculine or pro-feminine, but beyond both, a new way of living in which there is “neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:25).