Gender, Christians, and men of straw

This post is intended to address some comments that were made on a recent Facebook post, and hopefully to give some clarity by answering the people who made them.

Gender

In April 2014 I posted an article on Facebook that made reference to a comment made by actress Kirsten Dunst, in which she said, “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created.” She continued, “And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor.“

Anticipating some push-back, she said: “I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman.”

Of course her comments engendered vitriol from the feminist Twitter community. But I felt the article was worthy of sharing, being an expression of some good ol’ fashioned common sense not usually found in secular discussions on gender roles.

Initially there were a few kudos from Facebook friends who were right there with Kirsten, and general agreement that the feminists who tweeted Kirsten were over-reacting and out of line. But the discussion that followed on FB was anything but civil and devolved into a wholesale dismissal of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject of men and women and their respective roles.

Surely we in the Church must always be ready to give an answer to such secular unbelief, but here’s the kicker to keep in mind: Every person I am about to make reference to claims to be united to Christ by faith.

It all started with a woman who couldn’t understand what the big deal was regarding the “mother cooking” comment, and she went on to explain that since she made more money than her husband, her husband sometimes took the lion’s share of those household duties.

(One problem is that she eventually removed all of her own comments, making the interaction seem a bit disjointed at times, so I’m piecing these together from memory and from other quotes. You can read the original postings here).

As soon as I made reference to Titus 2:3-5:

“…older women…train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”

the response was: “Wow, what a waste of my brain that would be.” She went on to say, “that isn’t for us today,” even reasoning that “…back then no women went out to work, whereas now we do,” and “in England every household needs two workers just to pay the basic bills” and “Women were not well educated back then and now we are.”

Christians

I then asked, “Given all of what you said, is there now any application, even in principle, that we can give to Titus 2 today?”

It was at this point that the secret weapon was deployed—the “big gun,” the ace in the hole, the topic that is the destroyer of all arguments, when this woman asked rhetorically, “Aren’t you forgetting slavery?”

Yes, there it is: In an attempt to make null and void the ability of the Bible to speak clearly to us today, this anachronistic and rhetorical bombshell was dropped. Now, this is one of the most commonly-used, oft-recited but rarely researched, show-stopping points that is used by atheists, agnostics, and skeptics alike, but—by Christians? Really? Yes.

Regrettably, the reference to the “slavery” issue was intended to completely shut down any further discussion of God’s authority to determine the relative sexual boundaries of men and women, boys and girls, as they would have been derived from Titus chapter 2.

(No matter that the Greek word doulos, which is translated as either servant, bondservant, or slave, referred to both those who are in that state either involuntarily or voluntarily. The word was frequently used to refer to anyone in a position of subjection or subserviency, like an employee.)

Were there any distinctions or historical issues that could have been brought to the fore in an attempt to bring clarity here? Sure—and they were—but no, that would not do, as subsequent postings demonstrated, and as comments from her (and others) kept piling on, there was a marked refusal to acknowledge any differences in classifications regarding the matter of “slavery.”

So, the reasons given for dismissing Titus 2 for today are as follows, and in no particular order:

  • It would be a waste of brainpower for a woman to be a mere housekeeper.
  • Things were far different back when the Bible was written.
  • I was not addressing slavery (?).
  • No one is “worse for the wear” here—the kids are just fine with mom working full-time, thank you very much.
  • There are unbelieving popular Christian feminists acting like unbelieving popular Christian feminists “across the pond.” (Rachel Held Evans’ heresy is no big surprise.)
  • Having both parents work full-time is an absolute necessity in Britain, so don’t go there.
  • A man referencing the Christian Bible sounds exactly like a Muslim Iman.
  • The Bible was written in a very specific context, which means you can choose how to apply it or how not to apply it.
  • “I think he (the apostle Paul) wrote some very sexist things.”

Straw-man arguments

What often happens when someone’s argumentation is ultimately unpersuasive is they will continue the logical fallacy of “avoiding the question” and employ the classic straw-man argument, that illegitimate last refuge of a blogging scoundrel.

In a nutshell it’s this: Since it is difficult (or impossible) to knock down the real argument (or real “man”) that your opponent is purposing, you must re-define the argument—misrepresent what they are actually saying—and construct a straw man, which can then very easily be knocked down. That is essentially what then took place in the discussion.

Since my friend and I were adamant about our commitment to the inspiration and full authority of all Scripture, those in opposition to the Titus 2:5 “keepers at home” instruction for today’s women had to purposely misrepresent what it was that we were actually saying.

One started by ignoring the almost 2,000 years of intramural Church debate and exegesis regarding continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, and said, “If we had to follow the rules set down in some old testament passages…we would all be in breach of Scripture.”

He then continued to equivocate between the necessity of obeying New Covenant admonitions and the continuation of Old Covenant practices that were specifically for the Israelites. That was really unfounded, and more than a little immature, and of course we had never came close to suggesting any such thing. It’s a great example of pounding on a table where no one is sitting.

He remarked, “Some folks on this thread would be better off following the Muslim faith since the abuse of women is tolerated in that faith” (as if obeying the New Testament equals or could consistently ever lead to the abuse of women) and he went on to say: “I know that many men feel that they can dominate, manipulate and rule of their women with an iron hand claiming to be doing so under instruction from God when in effect all they are doing is manipulating, dominating and bullying.” (Don’t light a match anywhere near those posts, because the straw-men won’t just burn, they’ll positively explode!)

Then this “straw-man” was directed at me: “Maybe he should be questioning his congregation about how many have working wives or how many have tattoos or even maybe how many have not reached his level of divine superiority.” “…these pious (usually self) proclaimed mouth pieces of God…” Remember that all of this is coming from confessed Christians.

Another said to me:

“You make a good case for following Titus 2 in every way. I have to therefore assume that you didn’t waste time giving your daughters a full education where they would be taught subjects encouraging them to maximise their potential and earn a living.”

Regarding me again:

“He may very well be able to confirm that he has, indeed, denied his daughters the chance of a normal education, in keeping with his interpretation of Titus 2, or at least have a very good reason why girls with the name Bushong are actually exempt from that stricture.”

And finally:

“I am certain that his daughters as we speak are duly chained barefoot to his sink and peeling the potatoes for tonight’s meal. After all someone has to feed the mighty men of God. Maybe when they pass on and enter heaven gates they will enjoy being maid servants to the men there too”

(As an aside, my two daughters are both beginning their secondary education this fall, one having just completed her second year as a teaching assistant at a local elementary school, and one having just graduated high school this spring. I have no doubt that they will learn and flourish and grow, and Lord willing will someday have their lives completely interrupted by a godly young man who desperately needs a “help-meet” so he can fulfill God’s call on his life.)

But all of this was misdirection and hyperbole run amuck, pure and simple, completely unfounded, and utterly untrue, but the problem here is this: After all the purposeful misrepresentations, the hand-waving, the obstinacy, dismissiveness, and just plain vitriol, the real issue of ultimate authority still stands as the watershed issue of all time.

“Hath God said…?” still tempts Christians to question the Word of God, even today.

Then one of them admonished us, “Some scripture is intended for all and some for those it was written to. We need to be able to discern which is which and learn what God is saying to us.” Amen—and amen. But that is the entire point, isn’t it? In fact, one could reasonably say that all of Scripture was written to someone in particular, but universally for the benefit of all Christians for all time. That is exactly what the apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Rome:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

“Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved… these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction…” (1 Cor. 10:6, 11)

All Christians everywhere should have the highest priority on sound doctrine, hermeneutics, rightly interpreting those passages that, as the Westminster divines said, “…are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all,” honestly and humbly bowing before God’s Word, submitting to its authority as “God-breathed.” Frankly, that did not seem to be the attitude that was demonstrated by those who were posting.

My friend said it very well when he remarked:

“Scripture is not your standard. You have some other standard that you are using to expunge certain parts of the very words of God from applying to you. That standard is your god. I’m just trying to figure out what or who that god of yours is.”

“That standard is your god.”

Titus 2

The context of this passage, which has caused so much consternation of late (especially with a certain very popular “Christian” feminist authoress in the States), is that Paul is exhorting his young pastor protégé, Titus, that he “must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” What then follows is a summary of what we in Evangelical circles may very well be tempted to call “application” passages—not necessarily things that we immediately associate with doctrine at all.

The nine verses that follow verse one are what we would usually categorize as “basic Christian living,” or Christian Lifestyle 101. But Paul says that all of these admonitions are themselves “what is in accord with sound doctrine,” even going so far as making a connection between rejecting this behavior and maligning (blasphemy in the KJV) the Word of God—referring to those very things that our friends say must be out-of-date or inapplicable for today! (I have to wonder where the discussion would have gone if I had addressed wives being “subject to their husbands” or “self-controlled”? Hmmm…)

In essence, we were being told, “Paul said something about slavery, and we all know that’s bad, and since we can’t apply that slavery stuff today, then we don’t have to apply all this other outdated stuff either.”

But wait—how isn’t that conclusion completely arbitrary? If, as our friends insisted, the issue of slavery can have no application for today, and therefore its irrelevance then disqualifies women from having to be “keepers at home”, then I imagine that the entire passage is up for debate, right?

What about other instructions from Titus chapter 2, like having “integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech” (vs’s 7-8)? What about not being “addicted to much wine”? Or, even more fundamental, what about the effects of the grace of God, and “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good”? Why is the line to be drawn at “keepers at home,” but not to Christians saying “’no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions”? Why here, but not there? That is, again, merely arbitrary and capricious, and is based more on our surrounding societal pressures than on an accurate handling of Scripture.

Once you grant that our surrounding culture can have any determining factor over the authority of Scripture, it’s all over. Done. Kaput. As I wrote to a friend of mine last year, if you don’t have a reliable text, a God-breathed and authoritative text, you have:

  • No promised New Covenant
  • No heir of David (Christ)
  • No substitutionary Lamb of God (Christ)
  • No extension of God’s grace
  • No forgiveness of sins
  • No imputation of Christ’s righteousness to you
  • No justification
  • No adoption into the family of God
  • No resurrection of the dead
  • No hope for the future

In fact, you have no objective standards for love, no objective basis for either justice or mercy, no objective basis for right and wrong, no accounting for anything that is not physical (like emotions, ethics, logic, rationality, romance, etc…), no justification for ultimate meaning—in fact, all you have is death itself.

If we can’t rely on the Bible to speak clearly and authoritatively, then to heck with it all. And when there have been compromises on the issues surrounding God’s right as our Creator to determine the boundaries that men and women are to operate within, in the home, and the family, and yes—in the Church—then ‘sound doctrine’ has also been compromised, and the Word of God is maligned, or as the KJV says—blasphemed.

Back to the FB post: Everything had just devolved into characterizations at this point, and I simply allowed it to fester, as it were. I would be very much surprised if these folks haven’t already acquiesced on the issue of women as pastors and elders, mutual submission in the home (as contrasted with Eph. 5:22-33), and even the possibility of there being an unrepentant “gay Christian.” The reason I say this is because once you dismiss Scripture in one area, dismissing the other areas logically follow.

What we see in the Facebook post was a stark contrast: One side was making an attempt to “rightly handle” the very Word of God itself, to seek understanding of it, and to make application of it. The other side was attempting to find exceptions to it, to blur the lines of application, and ultimately to supplant it by placing their surrounding culture and their own understanding squarely in the drivers’ seat.

That, to me, was the most disappointing thing of all. Any fellow believers in our Lord Jesus Christ should with clear minds and humble hearts be able to sit down together, with their Bibles open, and discuss prevalent issues of the day without resorting to hyperbole, ad hominum comments, or straw-man argumentation. None of those techniques are used when one is honestly seeking illumination from the Word of God, and none of them should be used by one Christian to another.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

Our God has graciously puts parameters in place, in His Word (in Titus chapter 2 no less!), so that His people will be instructed by God how they should live, what kind of behavior glorifies Him, what kind of behavior we should repent of and avoid, and what kind of lifestyle is in “accord with sound doctrine.”

I have been married just under 31 years, and my friend who was posting on my FB has been married 25, and I can say without blushing: We have sought to apply these very passages into our own lives, and into the lives of those with whom we come into contact. We love and are loved, we are raising godly offspring, and we are doing all of it all only by God’s grace and all to His glory.

In our current cultural climate, the prevailing thought is that we should be dead-set against anyone having any objective standards for living (that would be judgmental), let alone to live one’s life according to the standards that are revealed in the Bible.

But the fact of standards is absolutely inescapable, and while there may be non-Christians who couldn’t give a fig about the Bible, they still recognize the benefits of living in a way that provides the family with warmth, comfort, and stability.

I make no claims to know what Kirsten Dunst believes about Jesus, but she certainly sees something in her own mother that warranted praise, and she was vilified for it by feminists. If she perceives that “You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman,” then certainly we Bible-believing Christians should, too. We dare not subjugate God’s revealed Word to the whims and standards of our surrounding culture, for that would be to give our culture ultimate authority over the Bible. Yes, argue passionately, debate with conviction, pound the table in love, but let’s do so with the goal of clarity, with fidelity to the Bible as our common creed, and without all those goofy-looking straw men getting in the way.

Photo via Creative Commons license by user Beana_Cheese

In lieu of comments, we accept and publish your letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.