Saturday, April 29, 2006

From eros to agape

I have been reading an article by Francis Watson 2000 'The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor. 11.2-16', New Testament Studies 46, pp. 520-36. Hat Tip Mark Goodacre

    It is this suggestion – that the head-covering is just the beginning of a process that will ultimately silence women altogether and leave speaking in church to men – to which Paul responds by way of the general dogmatic assertion that woman is not woman apart from man and man is not man apart from woman (11:11). The assertion opens with an adversative, πλην (‘Nevertheless . . .’), suggesting that the denials that follow rebut a conclusion that might be drawn from what Paul himself has just said. Women who pray and prophesy are now to cover their heads, thereby differentiating themselves from men who perform the same functions – nevertheless, this is not a first step towards a separation of women from men within the congregation’s meetings for worship.

    It does not imply that, in the ministry of the word of prayer and prophecy, the men who speak and the men who listen can speak and listen in a self-sufficient, all-male sphere in which women are silent and, as such, absent. On the contrary, in the Lord woman and man belong inseparably together, and it is this belonging together that is articulated in the shared practices of prayer and prophecy. In the church, men and women must hear the word of the Lord as articulated both by men and by women.
What a different picture arises from this. How hard it was for me in childhood to know that my great-aunt, whom I cared for in her last years, who was the first woman to receive an MA in classics from McGill, and who taught there for many years; would not be allowed to contribute to a church where not a single man had studied Greek beyond the vocabulary of the NT text.

As the women in our family graduated in the classics and biblical languages, it simply became easier to leave the church altogether than to be obliged to sit and suffer the liberty allowed 18 year old boys to get up and 'minister'. Us silent in out hats and scarves, and them going on about the women's place. How fractured can one become before it is time to go around and gather up the bits and pieces of one's personality?

    Paul’s principle of interdependence also implies a further negation. It is not the case that women who speak do so primarily for the benefit of women listeners, on the basis of one set of shared experiences or concerns, and that men who speak do so primarily for the benefit of men, on the basis of another. That would be a further infringement of the principle that, in the Lord, woman is not apart from man nor man from woman. If this principle is correct, men need to hear the word of the Lord in the words of women as well as of men, and women need to hear the word of the Lord in the words of men as well as of women. Where this does not occur, the underlying theological error is serious and damaging: for men and women have failed to realize that their humanity, as constituted or reconstituted ‘in the Lord’, is such that each cannot be fully human without the other. Where men enclose themselves in an all-male world, or where women enclose themselves in an all-female world, they deny their own humanity; that is, they deny the humanity redeemed and recreated in Christ, and reassert the distorted, unredeemed humanity that exists apart from Christ. (page 8-9)

    Paul’s concern that current practice be modified expresses a commitment not to male primacy but, on the contrary, to its overthrow. His anxiety is that the woman who prays or prophesies with uncovered head may become the object of the male erotic gaze: the problem to which female head-covering is the proposed solution is that of a male-oriented eros. As a woman articulates the word of God to the congregation or the word of the congregation to God, her appearance may obstruct the reception of her word; or so Paul fears. In describing the uncovered female head as a source of shame, equivalent as such to hair cut short or shaved off altogether (vv. 5c–6), the shame Paul has in mind is that of physical nakedness. This shame is the consequence of self-exposure to the male gaze. How can there be proper attention to the content of what is said where there is an improper attention to the person of the speaker?
    Paul is aware that his readers, male and female, are likely to find his argument here alarmist and insulting (cf. v. 16); we shall return to this issue later to ask whether anything of theological substance can be retrieved here. For the present, it is worth emphasizing again that the reason for Paul’s embarrassing contortions is his concern that women’s voices be heard – truly heard – as representing both the congregation and God in the ongoing divine–human dialogue. (page 11)

    In the Lord, women and men are interdependent, and this is the interdependence of agape and not of eros. It comes to expression in the shared practices of prayer and prophecy, and female head-covering is intended to ensure that this interdependence is preserved and is not distorted into covert eroticism. The headcovering is therefore woman’s ‘authority’ (εχουσια, v. 10) to put definitively behind her an origin which binds her to male erotic desire, in order to discover her true humanity within the divine–human dialogue that she helps to articulate.

    The role of the subordinationist language of 1 Cor 11:7-9 is therefore to outline a problem to which the head-covering is the solution. The claim that ‘man was not created from woman but woman from man’ (v. 8) is not contradicted by the later claims that woman and man belong together and that neither is the ultimate origin of the other (vv. 11-12); for these later claims serve to define the male/female relationship as it now stands ‘in the Lord’ (v. 11), and increation only as viewed from that perspective (v. 12), whereas the preceding passage defines a form of that relationship derived from creation but now definitively surpassed and superseded. The head-covering marks the limits of the old, asymmetrical, erotic construal of the male/female relationship, and the turn to new, reciprocal modes of interaction ‘in the Lord’ that express the reality of agape. (page 13)

    It is now clear why Paul wishes to modify the shared practices of prayer and prophecy so that they express more appropriately the new reality of themale/female relationship as it exists ‘in the Lord’.... The veil signifies the distinction between eros and agape as the basis for the relationship of men and women within the Christian community.
So I understand the complementarian position as an unwillingness to give up woman as an object of eros, 'other'. Yet the Bible describes us as 'of the same womb' 'similar' - members of a family of brothers and sisters. Obviously we are different in our sex, but the same in our condition, human. How are we in Christ?

I can remember, 15 years old, sitting discussing the focus of liberation from legalism, my friend and I articulating it not as 'feminism', but 'humanism' - in our terms, we had not read the classic philosphers yet - but freedom for both men and women from the binding and cruel effects of the law, a legalistic approach to scripture. We did not understand our predicament as women, gendered selves, not yet, that was later, but as humans, in tension with the elemenatary forces of a fallen condition.

So, no, we did not rebel as females from the strictures of our environment, but observed as those who saw the women seeking escape in absence, or shelter in silence, while the men dominated or were dominated. That was the misery.

1 comment:

Matthew Celestine said...

Ever heard of G.H. Lang?

He was an Open Brother (early twentieth century) who questioned the Brethren dogma that silence was required from women.

He covered this subject in his book 'The Churches of God.'