DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What Happens in History, Stays in History

Written by: on April 4, 2018

Throughout the ages, Christianity has continually attempted to define marriage, relationships, and God’s role and expectations of both. Within each culture, denomination, and era, what used to be acceptable at one time might not be acceptable today. For instance, polygamy was widely practiced among many of the patriarchs in the Bible but is now considered outside of Christian marital norms. Having concubines in conjunction with several wives was also a common practice in Biblical days. Women were considered property and something to be bought and traded or used as one desired. Clearly, these are archaic practices of ancient eras. We are constantly redefining what is acceptable Christian culture, but we get into trouble when we take Biblical instruction written for the context of that era and apply it to current culture.

For example, applying patriarchal principles commonly practiced in Biblical times to a society built on principles of equity and freedom is counter cultural and inappropriate for our Western societies, marriages, and churches. It has produced less than effective results as evidenced with: “A sweeping survey of marriage and family throughout the world concludes that ‘Patriarchy, the law of the father, was the big loser of the twentieth century. Probably no other social institution has been forced to retreat as much’.”[1]Imposing values and cultural norms of yesteryears to current society is like dressing in 80’s fashion and calling it fashionable and culturally relevant. As much as I would love 80’s fashion to regenerate, complete with the big hair, bright clothes, and gaudy accessories, I wouldn’t be caught dead going to the office with said attire. It is culturally delayed, unfashionable, and just plain weird, not to mention uncomfortable for people to experience. So it is with cultural and societal norms. What worked for one era and generation is specific for that time, and when those cultural norms are applied to other cultures and generations it is culturally inappropriate, weird, and sometimes, offensive.

I love the 80's

Similarly, marriage has experienced dramatic changes just in the last 50 years, with “the most significant change is the achievement of much greater equality for women.”[2]Currently, we are seeing the definition of marriage shifting and evolving to include same-sex marriages alongside heterosexual marriages. Thatcher credits this to the demise of patriarchy: “Once a patriarchal theory of male supremacy and female inferiority is discredited, and once marriage is valued primarily as a protective, stabilizing context for intimacy and ongoing care between partners, then justifications for excluding same-sex partners melt away.”[3]The evolution to marriage throughout the centuries does not mean marriage is getting disregarded but rather reveals that “marriage has shown itself to be highly adaptable and developmental, and is clearly capable of changing further.”[4]

The definition of marriage is a highly debated topic among Christians and society as we experience the evolution of marriage and who it includes. Yet historically, it would stand to reason that marriage would not stay stagnate, no matter how much we wish it could. Marriage in its definition and formation is a dynamic beast that we have been trying to tame and reign in throughout the centuries. Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks little to the topic and more about the importance of loving and servicing one another. Differences of the genders and marital units will continue to evolve and shift, as our cultural norms evolve, but the differences are not what we need to be capitalizing on as a church. The differences should never be “allowed to become distorted so as to license hegemony, and silly gradations of greater or less, dominating and submissive. …Rather the Communion of Love that God is enables mutuality, equality, and reciprocity wherever it moves and flows.”[5]God brings us together as believers, while sin divides us, from each other and God. Closing this gap through respectful communication, loving interactions, and servant leadership is a step in the right direction to bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

Not only is it culturally delayed and irrelevant to apply patriarchal concepts to church cultures and not involve women in leadership, the church is missing out on the beauty of women leaders. Ironically, since women have been more accustomed to being submissive and servant leaders in marriages, families, and society, Thatcher indicates they may be leading examples for the church in exemplifying how Christ loves and serves the church. “Since women are more accustomed to the role of service, the argument may be put forward that they may be more prepared than men for the servant-leadership that the Church expects of its leaders.”[6]In addition, patriarchal principles enforced in church culture show preference to one gender and provides a misrepresentation of God, since both were made in His image. All the more reason for women to be included in every area and role of the church.

Where there is love, there is God. Where there is light, the darkness evaporates. Where there is hope there is room for healing. Where there is faith, the mountains that divide us can be moved. “This is a Kingdom of God as envisioned by Jesus of a shared community of healing and eating, with spiritual and physical resources available to each and all without distinctions, discriminations, or hierarchies.”[7]There are no easy, neat answers to God, our sexuality, and closing the gender gap, which makes our need for a Savior and the guidance of the Holy Spirit all the more necessary as we seek His/Her guidance in our churches and marriages of today. Truly, what we can agree on when it comes to appropriate behavior in today’s relationships is that “The real danger to our souls is selfishness and the desires that feed it.”[8]God, may we be love, light, hope, and faith to our world, as we stand in unity with each other, reflecting Your timeless, pure image that is culturally relevant to any era. And if You want to bring back the 80’s, it’s ok by me.

80's 2

[1]Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction. (Chichester, West Sussex England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011),86, Kindle.

[2]Ibid., 85, Kindle.

[3]Ibid., 88, Kindle.

[4]Ibid., 84, Kindle.

[5]Ibid., 153, Kindle.

[6]Ibid., 146, Kindle.

[7]Jennifer Buck, “Reframing the House:Aspects of Constructive Feminist Global Ecclesiology for the Western Evangelical Church” (PhD diss., Claremont Graduate University, 2015), 21.

[8]Ibid., 73, Kindle.

 

About the Author

mm

Jennifer Dean-Hill

15 responses to “What Happens in History, Stays in History”

  1. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    First, Jen, much to my chagrin, the 80s ARE back… tho as “retro”. Remember when the 70s were cool and retro? I’d be happy to never see the 80s return– please don’t make me wear shoulder pads again.

    Second, you mention “polygamy was widely practiced among many of the patriarchs in the Bible but is now considered outside of Christian marital norms.” I would add as a clarification that polygamy is outside of the Western Christian norm, as it is still common (and somewhat acceptable) in parts of Africa (and to be fair, polygamy IS still practiced… serially… in the West).

    You wisely state, “Marriage in its definition and formation is a dynamic beast that we have been trying to tame and reign in throughout the centuries. Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks little to the topic and more about the importance of loving and servicing one another.” I think the “ideal” of a nuclear family– love-based husband/wife/2.5 kids/and a pet or two has only been an ideal for the past few centuries; it truly is a wild and dynamic beast!

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Aww come on. The 80’s were fun! I think you would rock the shoulder pads. And they are back in. On a positive note, they were very practical for a shoulder purse.

      Yes, you do such a good job reminding me of the polygamy in other countries and the necessity of it for their survival. That is an excellent example of the importance of not judging what is considered inappropriate for one culture is considered appropriate and even necessary for another.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for an excellent post, Jenn. You make many good points. I especially appreciate your insight on marriage and the way you process Thatcher in that light. Also, you make an excellent point here: “Not only is it culturally delayed and irrelevant to apply patriarchal concepts to church cultures and not involve women in leadership, the church is missing out on the beauty of women leaders.” This is the case in a North American or western setting and I agree. But how do we and should we address it in other cultures in which North American’s serve and minister. If we do, are we pushing a western culture or even western political views? Biblical understanding and practice are almost always heavily influenced by culture. This debate has been going on for many years and continues today. I would be interested in your thoughts on this. Very much enjoyed your post.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Yes Jim, I think you bring up an excellent point. To push our values on other cultures would be insensitive and offensive, and counterproductive to evangelizing. I guess it would take a special American woman to minister to another culture who overtly diminishes her value. How do you handle this or see Westerns handling the cultural differences?

  3. Mary says:

    “Patriarchy, the law of the father, was the big loser of the twentieth century. Probably no other social institution has been forced to retreat as much’” Amen and Hallelujah! May it rest in peace.
    Great observations, Jen. What a beautiful picture you paint for what the culture should be. Men and women serving together in mutuality.
    I read somewhere that there is a disproportionate number of “2’s” among the female population in evangelical churches. Any thoughts on that? Doesn’t it fit in at least with your (and Thatcher’s) idea that women are in the end better suited for servant leadership?
    I really enjoyed your post as usual!

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      That’s interesting Mary. Since I am a 7/8, I’m not sure how to respond to that. I guess I could say that regardless your personality type, as women in the evangelical church we have learned to stand back, sit down, and operate under men even if we are the stronger leaders. This, in the long run, makes us capable leaders as we learn to follow and collaborate with all types of leaders, and develop ourselves in more balanced ways. That’s my 2 cents. 🙂

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “Imposing values and cultural norms of yesteryears to current society is like dressing in 80’s fashion and calling it fashionable and culturally relevant.”

    When I thought of this, my mind raced to Dominic’s book. In the early days of the Protestant reformation, people were actually KILLED for having a different theological belief. Now, we can debate theology with much less bloodshed.

  5. Obviously, we need to bring back the 80’s!
    Seriously, though, great post, Jenn.
    I think you bring up an important point about marriage and it’s evolution.
    So often, when we listen to people discuss this issue, the picture painted is as if there is a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage, that was static for 2000 years and then there are the massive changes we have seen in the last 50 years…..
    But, the reality is that is a false dichotomy as (as you point out) the meaning form and functions of marriage have changed and evolved throughout history.
    I experienced this first hand as I worked with Cameroonians in my former congregation. At one point, I officiated a memorial service for the father of one of the church members. His father had lived in Cameroon his whole life, was an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon. He was also a polygamist.
    As the member of our church explained, polygamy was the norm in that part of Cameroon until very recently. This was, quite literally, the traditional understanding of marriage in that part of Cameroon until the last 30-50 years…. They have moved on from polygamy, in large part because of the leading of Christian churches, thankfully but it does make clear that what we often call ‘traditional’ is only one ‘evolution’ of marriage over the last several hundred years

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Such a fascinating experience working with people with such a different perspective of marriage. Thanks for sharing!
      Glad you share my enthusiasm for the 80’s!

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jen I enjoy how you tie your reflections into what you are passionate about–marriage and women in leadership. It has always amazed me how behind the church is on relevant topics and issues. I believe it is because we have been taught to have an answer for every question. So then we find ourselves in a conundrum with not even understanding what the questions are and being in agreement on the answers. That approach is all wrong. We should be more experiential in allowing the Holy Spirit to help us work through the questions in communion with one another. That is where we will be challenged and experience growth and transformation. ?

  7. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thank you for your wonderful post. Your view on marriage was beautiful. “God brings us together as believers, while sin divides us, from each other and God. Closing this gap through respectful communication, loving interactions, and servant leadership is a step in the right direction to bringing God’s kingdom to earth.” This statement is powerful!!!
    The sad part of sin dividing us is that we don’t recognize it as such. We stand firm on our wrong to make a point.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Thanks, Lynda. Glad that statement empowered you. So true about sin dividing and it’s the sin of having to be right over making peace.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    I loved the 80s music, Jenn, but do we really want that hair again?
    I deeply appreciate the way you brought up how marriage has changed over time. Katy’s and Jim’s comments about marriage being different in other parts of the world is important for us to think about also. I know many struggle with same-sex marriage as not being biblical, but I still suggest that it isn’t the genders involved so much as the hearts involved. The fact that so many “biblical” marriages fail tells me we have a long way to go before we can declare one man/one woman as God’s perfect design as a blanket statement. For centuries, men essentially owned their wives. In some parts of the world, they still do. Why are we willing to “respect” that culture even while we disrespect a covenant partnership between two men or two women?

  9. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Great point Kristin, and deep question. I don’t have anything very intelligent to offer on answering your question. Maybe it’s the familiarity of a culture that allows us to “respect” it more even if we don’t agree with it? That’s the best I got.

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