26 February 2013

All are Sons in Christ

[[Dear Sister, recently you said that the language of Sonship is not sexist. Sure sounds like it is to me! Do you also disagree with the use of inclusive language?]]

Hi there. I think you are referring to a post I put up around the first Sunday of Lent about each of us being Baptized into Jesus' Sonship. In that post I said that being called Sons (as it occurs in the Scriptures) was not sexist because, as Paul makes VERY clear, in Christ there is neither male nor female. As I thought about this usage, then, it occurred to me that far from being sexist it was anti-sexist and that it spoke powerfully in a counter cultural way -- certainly it did so in Jesus' day -- of a fundamental equality between men and women and what was achieved at baptism. I think this was underscored for me recently, though in terms much cruder than those of  Paul and Jesus, as I read a book about Virgins in the early Church (Church Fathers, Independent Virgins). There virgins given entirely to Christ were seen to have relinquished all of the "deficiencies" of women --- mainly having to do with sex. St Perpetua even had a dream on the eve of her trip to the arena in which she was clad as a gladiator and fought against other gladiators rather then against beasts.

In other words, virgins were seen as "men" in Christ and as a result served in many of the ways men did. As the book makes clear, citing Isidore of Seville [[. . .the word femina comes from the Greek derived from the force of fire because her concupiscence is very passionate: women are more libindinous than men.]] or, as Jerome warned, [[It is not the harlot, or the adulteress who is spoken of, but woman's love in general is accused of being ever insatiable; put it out, it bursts into flame; give it plenty, it is again in need; it enervates a man's mind, and engrosses all thought except for the passion which it feeds.]] Women were blamed simply for being women. While sexuality did not define manliness it did define womanliness. Further, men were considered spiritual whereas women were primarily carnal. The solution? A dedication to Christ in which women renounced those things that characterized them as women. As Jerome summarizes: [[. . .as long as woman is for birth and children, she is different from men as body is from soul. But if she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man.]] Moving back again from the backwards and insulting notions of feminine sexuality just noted, the bottom line especially in Pauline theology is that in Christ we are all Sons of God, and thus, heirs --- with all that means for ANY Son and heir. The Scriptures do not speak only to or about men; they speak a truth in which gender is transcended in baptism into Christ's death and resurrection.

Today, of course, we do try to do justice to this bottom-line-truth without buying into the crude anthropology of Jerome, Ambrose, Isidore, etc. Thus we speak of all of us being Sons and Daughters of God in Christ. We need inclusive language in part because today the Church has moved away from Paul's own theology of Gal 3:28 as well as from the insights of the early Church Fathers that, cruder elements aside, identity in Christ allowed one to transcend one's gender and serve in ways only men would have been allowed to at the time. Women have been alienated as a result of sexism and inclusive language assists in overcoming that alienation. Thus, I believe that inclusive language is necessary and helpful. However, I think that in the Biblical texts, the use of Sonship, and more, the title "Son" for ALL Christians can be a leveling language which itself says NO MORE divisions of role or office based on gender! Such usage underscores the equality of men and women in Christ in ways inclusive language actually cannot do nearly as effectively. We have treated it as a sexist expression and I believe that perhaps in this particular case we ought not do that. Instead we should allow (and in fact, call) the Church to seriously grapple with the fact that it strongly signals that in Christ we are ALL adopted Sons and heirs and that in Christ "there is neither male nor female". I wonder if inclusive language has not sometimes actually diffused this challenge and call at the same time it has carried it forward.

One thing is key: we must see Christ as the ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON and the rest of us participating in this Sonship in light only of Baptism. All Sonship (all life in Christ) then is derivative and linked to participation in Jesus' own relationship with God. When we look at a Baptized Christian we are to see a person with all the rights and obligations of Sonship in light of JESUS' identity. None of this is based on Gender. When looked at from this perspective, to call all baptized Christians "Son" is anti-sexist and serves to level arbitrary distinctions in service based on gender. Once I would have bristled at being called a "Son"; now, in light of the past few weeks, I can see myself standing strong in my own womanhood and holding a banner proclaiming exactly this identity in Christ to those who would trivialize and obscure the paradoxical and counter cultural truth Paul affirmed in Galatians. "In Christ I am a Son and heir!" Let us learn to honor that in every way.