Questioning a Question

A False Dichotomy that Isn't 

Persis Lorenti has written Questioning a False Dichotomy at one of her two Blogs, Tried by Fire. She challenges what she believes is a false dichotomy - between orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxis (right practice). She introduces her concern with this:
I wonder sometimes if being Asian in what for some is still a starkly black-and-white American South protects me to some degree. I also wonder if people will like me less if I begin to write and speak more intentionally about racism and racialization. Perhaps I am "safe" because I have blended in so well by talking and writing about matters that are acceptable for a reformed, Christian woman. Because... 
If you discuss domestic violence, oppression of women, or misogyny, you might be labeled a feminist.
If you raise issues regarding poverty or race, people may begin to wonder if you are sliding down the slippery slope toward religious liberalism.
She tells us she still believes in "the doctrines of grace." However, her concerns have shifted:
But my concerns have changed over the years as I have been burdened about domestic abuse awareness in the church and now issues of race. This has led me to ask questions and question the status quo in some areas. Does this suddenly make a liberal feminist? But why wouldn't a confessionally reformed Christian care about imago dei issues? 
 She states and asks:
I am all for the pursuit of biblical and robust orthodoxy. Then why not an equally robust orthopraxy?
She is concerned that we put too much emphasis on what the Gospel and the Holy Spirit do, while neglecting what we must do, and too much focus on future salvation to the neglect of salvation in the present:
Or do I think that orthodoxy somehow delivers me from the consequences of the fall? Wave the gospel-centered wand and everything will be neat and tidy as the Holy Spirit supernaturally transforms everyone and everything up to my comfort level so I don't need to get my hands dirty. Just like the "miracle motif" in Divided by Race. But perhaps orthodoxy enables me to face the ugliness and evil in the world with hope that is not just for the "sweet by and by" but an impetus to actively engage the present.
She asks and answers her own questions:
Is there a contradiction between affirming male elders and being concerned that harmful ideas about gender may contribute to harmful responses to domestic abuse? Absolutely not. Can I love the doctrine of God and speak up about racial attitudes and divisions? Yes, and amen. Why should I have to chose between orthodoxy and orthopraxy? There is no "either or." I'd rather pray for the Holy Spirit to grant me both.
To borrow from the Apostle Paul, "What shall we then say to these things?" Several things:

First, there is and ought to be a priority of orthodoxy over orthopraxy for the simple reason that there can be no God-pleasing orthopraxy without orthodoxy. In the New Testament the indicative (what is - the facts) goes before the imperative (what should be - the commands). This is evident as well in the Old Testament. "I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" precedes the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." In the New Testament this priority is of the utmost importance to the Apostle Paul. Christ's saving work and its doctrinal interpretation is the foundation of Biblical ethics. When orthopraxy is made equally ultimate with orthodoxy, there is always the danger of the corruption of orthodoxy. Two examples: It may be legalism in which works worm their way into justification by faith. It may be liberalism which is what occurred in the first part of the 20th century and gave us the social gospel in the place of the gospel gospel.

Second, it is simply untrue to suggest that those who are concerned for orthodoxy have not been concerned with orthopraxis. How many expositions of the Ten Commandments have been preached and written by orthodox theologians and preachers? Is Ms. Lorenti not familiar with ethical works of Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans? Has Ms. Lorenti not read John Murray's Principles of Conduct? Or the many books of Christian ethics produced by Protestant orthodox writers? What Ms. Lorenti is really talking about is not a neglect of orthopraxis by the orthodox but the the the fact that orthodoxy has historically not preached against sin in political and sociological terms. 

There is good reason for this. While Jesus and the Apostles lived in times, to put it in understated way, when there were plenty of political and sociological sins that they might have addressed, they did not. Jesus did not condemn Roman oppression or call for reform of the Roman government. Paul and Peter addressed masters and servants, but did not call for the abolishment of slavery. James addressed the sins of respect of persons in the church but not the society that valued some persons over others. Orthodox preachers, theologians, and  ethicists historically have followed the lead of Christ and the Apostles.

Third, it is one thing to preach to Christians, "You must not be racists, and, if are a racist, you must repent." It is quite a another thing to preach, "The church be sensitive to racialization and must confront the issues of white privilege in society," or, "You in this congregation must repent of your many microaggressions." Before Christians commit themselves to preaching such things as gospel imperatives, even if they believe such things could be the concern of Biblical preaching, they ought at least to read the dissenting voices in academia and among African American voices questioning if such things exist, or, if they exist, how they are best addressed.

Those called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament are obligated to preach to Christian husbands, "You must love your wife as you love your own body and as Christ loved the church." And, "You must live with your wife in an understanding way, treating her as the weaker vessel and fellow heir of the grace of life, else your prayers will be hindered." (However, it can be wondered if male ministers may preach, "You must submit to your husband in all things as the church submits to Christ, following the example of your godly mother Sarah, who called Abraham 
'lord.' ")

It is one thing to tell a woman who is physically harmed by her husband that she ought to leave him and to offer her shelter and whatever support she needs. It is another thing to teach that because a woman is married to a man who is boorish or who fails to live up to the command to love his wife as himself that she is in an abusive relationship and the remedy is divorce. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote about "defining deviancy down." He was concerned that less and less was considered deviant. It appears to me there are some Christians who are attempting to define abuse up. More and more is considered abuse. This redefining of abuse is not the result of our having discovered that for 2000 years the church has got it wrong. It is rather the adoption by some of a definition that is not warranted by the Bible.  

Fourth, I want to challenge Ms. Lorenti about some of her assumptions and assertions. She is concerned about "oppression of women" and "misogyny." While affirming that only men should serve as elders, she seems to think that "harmful ideas about gender may contribute to harmful responses to domestic abuse." Where does she see oppression of women and misogyny? In Islamic cultures? Sure. In orthodox Christianity? No. Definitely not. Is there some correspondence between believing in male headship and harmful responses to domestic abuse? Has this ever happened? Perhaps. Is this characteristic of orthodox churches? No. 

Is Ms. Lorenti a "feminist"? I don't know. Is she a "liberal feminist"? I think not yet. Is she on a "slippery slope that leads to religious liberalism"? I hope not. But historically others on such a slope have found it so slippery they lost their footing.


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