Earlier this year, Blood Stained Ink (BSI) asked, Are Women Second Class Citizens in America? This post briefly provided statistics regarding the number of women elected to the US Congress, as compared to women elected to legislatures around the world. That got me thinking about I Timothy 2 and Empire.
I Timothy 2:11-15 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. Adam was formed first, and then Eve. Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. But a wife will be brought safely through giving birth to their children, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.
When America was debating the merits of women’s suffrage in the early 20th century, pastors often cited Genesis 1-2 and I Timothy 2 as grounds for denying the right to vote for women. Take a look at this quote from the Council of Congregationalist Ministers of Massachusetts.
The appropriate duties and influence of woman are stated in the New Testament…. The power of woman is in her dependence, flowing from the consciousness of the weakness which God has given her for her protection…. When she assumes the place and tone of man as a public reformer… she yields the power which God has given her… and her character becomes unnatural.
Likewise, consider Rev. Justin Fulton’s, 1869, statement,
Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class. There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel’s cheer to the favor of God and the love of the Christian community. It is because of this tendency that the majority of those who contend for the ballot for woman cut loose from the legislation of Heaven, from the enjoyments of home, and drift to infidelity and ruin.
While their arguments sound absurd to event he most conservative Evangelical, these were mainstream Evangelical arguments in their day. It is easy in our context, culture and time to deny the power of these arguments, but that was not the case in the early 20th century. What this shift exposes is the power of history and culture upon our imaginations as we seek to interpret and implement scripture. It also exposes our relative ignorance for how these forces are at play upon us in the present time. In other words, were Christians truly following the logic of scripture in denying female suffrage in the early 20th century, or were they picking up the biblical language to use it within the defense of a long standing cultural preference? Woman’s suffrage may no longer be the Continental Divide of biblical exegesis today, but the cultural struggle for civil rights among homosexuals is certainly the new center for exegetical wars.
I don’t agree with those that want to interpret scripture in such a fashion as to deny the clarity of the sexual ethic for the people of God, so I would side with those that see scripture requiring all sexual activity to be confined within in the covenant of marriage. Nevertheless, moral injunctions for those that follow Christ are not the same thing as civil rights.
Does scripture require us to deny a hospital visit between two people at the end of life? Does scripture require us to deny housing, employment or other civil economic opportunities to people caught up in a particular sin? Does scripture require us to enact laws to make Christian morality the norm for all in society? Does scripture require us to deny the ability to cover loved ones on health insurance policies?
Is your visceral reaction against a discussion of civil rights stemming from a scriptural mandate or is it the product of culture preferences? How can you distinguish your position on this matter with any more certainty than those that wanted to deny woman’s suffrage in the early 20th century? How do you know?