At the Republican debate last night, Michelle Bachman was asked whether she was a submissive wife. Perhaps the question itself was sexist, but prior Bachmann statements suggested that she accepted certain Biblical writings about women rather literally, and the question was asked against that background:
It is a philosophy that Michele Bachmann echoed to congregants of the Living Word Christian Center in 2006, when she stated that she pursued her degree in tax law only because her husband had told her to. “The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands,” she said. [referring to Titus 2:5]
Last night, Bachman responded to the question by suggesting she “respected” her husband. Equating “to submit” with “to respect” is more than a tiny stretch, but I’m sure her minions were satisfied with her Biblical exegesis.
Coincidentally, New Testament scholar Dom Crossan suggested a better way of dealing with Paul’s alleged sexism in a Huffpost blog article yesterday. It is Crossan’s thesis that Paul was actually a flaming women’s libber that subsequent generations of the church needed to tone down. The blog post was merely a snippet in a popular medium of a theme that Crossan, Marcus Borg, and many current Biblical scholars have promoted in more scholarly media.
The basic thesis is that Paul was essentially egalitarian—there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female—in his own writings but the pastoral Epistles (1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus) were written by others in order to correct Paul. This is the central thesis of The First Paul, co-authored by Borg and Crossan and reviewed here. This seems to me to be a more intellectually honest way to approach the sexism of Titus and the 1st Timothy passage below:
I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 1st Timothy 2:12
Although his thesis is not new, Crossan adds a new argument; he uses a defaced, early fresco to further his point. Crossan claims the defacement of the fresco demonstrates the shift away from the egalitarian early church to the patriarchal church of a later generation.
The historical Paul is being pulled — kicking and screaming — away from Christianity’s radical past and into Christianity’s Roman future. As with owner and slave so also with male and female, hierarchies rejected by Christian radicality — in, for example, Galatians 3:26-28 — are being retrofitted into Roman normalcy.