Sunday, November 16, 2008

Being Both Biblical and Egalitarian

I have been haunted by a statement I came across when I was researching my posts on Sarah Palin. More than one blog off-handedly remarked that probably most egalitarians would be voting for Obama. I had to acknowledge that this was quite likely the case. But why? Why should belief in biblical equality entail left-wing political persuasions? Two possible reasons crossed my mind.

First, it may be that biblical equality (BE) is regarded by no small number of adherents as a personal/political/feminist agenda. Thus many BEs identify with the party of the left. After all, is not this the political party advancing equality, justice and civil rights for all? Well, yes, this is how it is perceived; whether this is how it truly functions is another matter. But even if the Democrats were the political party most concerned for equal rights, would this warrant biblical egalitarians aligning with this political agenda?

Consider two points:

1. Biblical equality is not equivalent to the politics of feminism (the incessant rhetoric of patriarichal-complementarians not withstanding). Rather, biblical equality seeks to understand and explicate biblical teaching regarding the mission and meaning of women and men in the family of God. The question specifically at issue is whether or not the believer’s authority in Christ is conditioned by the gender of the believer. Feminism, on the other hand, is fundamentally a political and cultural agenda. The question of a woman’s biblically-based authority in Christ is not a question that concerns culture at large, but is rather a biblical and theological concern. Thus, a biblical egalitarian is not necessarily a feminist, and a feminist is not likely to be a biblical egalitarian.

2. Both the Democratic party and mainstream feminism are wholly and adamantly committed to “abortion rights.” Obama is more committed than any previous president ever was. And he is willing to stop at nothing. It is not enough for him to permit abortion under any circumstance; he is also intent on getting federal funding for abortions. But this commitment is not consistent with a commitment to equal rights for all people. How does this respect the civil rights of the conscientious objectors who must contribute to the abortion cause with their tax dollars? How does it respect the equality of all human beings when the least and the lost of humanity are summarily disposed of? Even a baby who survives her own abortion should have no legal right to live, according to Obama. (But the Dems are the party of equal rights for all persons, remember?) The disconnect between the rhetoric of equal rights and the reality of equal rights is not a problem in an ideology that is more image than substance.

A second possible reason BEs might choose Obama is simply that many BEs—along with Americans in general—may have become accustomed to the incongruity of living in a culture of death, a culture that does not love and regard human beings as creatures who are made in God’s image and thus are worthy of being cared for until the natural end of their earthly life.

So then, given the cultural capitulation to this silent, unseen “solution” to unwanted pregnancy, let us consider afresh: What is abortion? A convenient way to make a pregnant woman un-pregnant? Well, yes. That is what abortion is. But that is not all that abortion is. Abortion is fundamentally the intentional killing of innocent human life. This is what it is, at ground zero. No one can dispute that this is what happens when abortion occurs. An innocent human life is intentionally killed. Consider: (1) There is life. That is, the thing is alive and set on a trajectory toward continued life. And (2), the thing is human. What other species of life would it be? Obviously, it is human life. And obviously, this life is killed intentionally.

Now, it would seem that a believer in Christ who has read the Bible and has at least a rudimentary sense of who God is would readily grasp that God is vehemently and unequivocally opposed to the killing of innocent human life. In Deuteronomy, a book that in many ways lays bare the heart of God for his people, God says (through Moses), “Choose life!” (Deut. 30:15, 19-20). In God’s economy, to choose life is to choose prosperity and blessing. But America has become a culture of death—in a number of ways, but most prominently and evidently in its heedless willingness to dispose of “the least of these” (those whom Jesus especially loved)—so long as nobody sees them.

But note: This practice of killing innocent but unwanted human life does not primarily hurt the unborn infant, who surely goes directly to God (although a late term abortion can cause the infant pain). Primarily, abortion hurts us. All of us. It hurts the mother of the child who was convinced she couldn’t bear to bear the child. It hurts the “doctor” who kills the innocent human being (whatever his/her rationale may be). And, as well, it hurts—yea, is slowly destroying—the entire distracted, disposable, self-absorbed, video-sated American culture. The enormous price we all must pay for permitting the heedless and willful killing of innocent human life dwarfs by comparison what it would cost simply to honor all innocent human life regardless.

Some say it is short-sighted to fixate on a single issue like this. But this is the only ethical/political issue about which we can know God’s moral will. All the other political issues are a matter of strategy: Which is the most effective means of empowering the poor? Providing jobs for people? Protecting the country from nations with hostile intent? Caring for the environment? Providing health care? And so on. While these are all important concerns, the Bible does not lay out how we should accomplish these worthy efforts. Nor are the most effective and ethical strategies readily apparent. Scripture does, however, lay out clearly the fundamental moral principle that innocent human life must be protected; to kill innocent human life is to violate God’s law. Period.

If we want to be truly biblical egalitarians, then we will care about what God cares about, namely, the least of these: his human creations who have been left vulnerable and unprotected in this world. And if we want to be biblical egalitarians (where egalitarian means fair and equal treatment for women and all human beings), we will also care about the consequences and implications of a culture in which the fruit of a woman’s womb is routinely deemed detrimental and disposable. Abortion is, after all, a “women’s issue,” and it ramifies throughout the many ways in which women regard themselves and are regarded by others.

It is interesting to note that, while feminism and biblical equality address distinctly different concerns from distinctly different perspectives, the issue of abortion is one place where the two converge. The subject of abortion encompasses both theology and culture; it bears on what the Bible teaches, and it bears on what feminism teaches. Feminism has always been concerned with abortion: initially opposing it, later extolling it. (One of the best kept secrets of the abortion agenda today is that the original feminism of the 19th century was adamantly opposed to abortion on the grounds that it was abusive to both mother and child. See chapter 24 in Discovering Biblical Equality for an excellent analysis on this.)

To be sure, this is a contentious and sticky wicket, but if we are in the business of being both biblical and egalitarian, we cannot ignore it. It is right in our face, front and center.

Following are excerpts from an open letter by Colorado Springs pastor Dutch Sheets regarding the 2008 election. While he may at times align political causes too closely with the causes of God’s kingdom, he makes many worthwhile points. I have put in boldface those comments that I thought were most compelling.

November 6, 2008

Was what happened Tuesday God's will? America was offered a very clear choice between moving further toward protecting the unborn or further away; between a Supreme Court that would move toward honoring God, life and morality or away from it. The stakes couldn't have been higher nor the cost greater. As a nation we put on blinders concerning Barak Obama's background, associations, beliefs and practices, and set these causes back years, possibly decades. And in doing so we took another step away from God and another step toward judgment.

Judgment Will Increase

This is not a fire and brimstone warning from an angry, legalistic preacher. In fact, I feel more sadness and grief than anything else. Perhaps I feel what Jesus felt as He wept for Jerusalem while announcing its judgment. I am not hoping for judgment; I am saying it is coming. I don't know where the unbiblical belief comes from that says a nation can live any way it pleases, can reject God and His ways—even mock Him—and not receive His judgments. Nor do I know when the belief came that it is always mean-spirited or judgmental to warn of these things. To the contrary, I believe it is our responsibility. In warning of judgment, I am not suggesting that God is going to intentially and directly hurt people. Much judgment is simply the absence of God's protection and provision, caused by a rejection of His laws and ways. We have been experiencing some forms of judgment in America for years, but God in His incredible patience and mercy has kept us from the level we've deserved. I believe this will change to a degree and judgment will now increase.

I have heard the argument that God cares as much about social justice issues (such as poverty and racism) as He does abortion, making a vote for Obama okay. I certainly believe God puts a very high priority on caring for the poor and I, too, have wanted to see equality demonstrated through a "minority" president. But to equate having a better income or the desire for a first black president, regardless of his positions on abortion and morality, to the issue of killing 50 million babies is not justice—it is a gross distortion of justice and a great deception. I fear that we have been desensitized to this issue of abortion. I believe it kills babies and takes innocent life. Let's not forget this in our noble attempts to be kind and conciliatory.

For African Americans I can easily see how it could bring healing to have a first black president, just as it would be for Native Americans to achieve this or for women if a woman were elected president. Again, I have wanted to see justice in this way. I am only saddened that the price for this healing ended up being Barak Obama, a man that will set the cause of life back so drastically.

What are some of the judgments we may experience on our nation from this election? Look for the following possibilities:
More economic woes
More violence in an already violent nation
Disease and death (Satan, who is responsible for these things, will have greater inroads to our nation.)
Natural disasters (weather—tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, drought, fires, earthquakes, etc.)
Acts of terrorism (they will fear us much less now)
War, perhaps on our own soil
Judgments relating to the Court. The stacking of the Supreme Court against the sanctity of life and God's influence on America will occur, which will in turn cause the shedding of more innocent blood, more rejection of God's laws and the stealing from us of our godly heritage—all of which will perpetuate a cycle of even more judgment.

How Did This Happen?

I've been asked if this could have been averted had there been more prayer. I'm not sure. I believe there was a remnant of Christians fervently praying over these elections—I don’t think there was anything more they could have done. Others, obviously, should have done more. The complacency and lack of discernment concerning our real condition in America—especially by the Church—is both appalling and horrifying. America is in serious trouble and it seems no one wants to say it. Fewer still are willing to do anything to change it.

But still, yet, since God is usually wiling to work through a remnant, I thought we had enough prayer. Obviously, God decided otherwise. There comes a time when He will not forgive or bless the majority based on the prayers or actions of only a few. America rejected God and asked for a king; I believe we now have our Saul (see 1 Samuel 8:5-7), a man who does not have God's heart for America but his own. Like Israel in scripture, our nation believes it can turn from God and still be blessed. In His mercy and justice He will show us otherwise.

Has the fact that my prayers weren't answered shaken my faith? No. I'm a little confused and discouraged. I'm also somewhat angry at the nation in general and much of the Church. Mostly I'm grieving over the nation and what this will cost us. I am not, however, angry with God and do not question His justice. And it is not true that we wasted our time, energy and money in our efforts anymore than it is a waste when we share the gospel with people who don't get saved. We must keep in the forefront of our thinking the fact that ultimately we are doing this for Him and that He will reward us for our faithfulness. And who knows, perhaps He will store up all those prayers for the next battle (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-5).