26.9.09

A Thousand Splendid Suns and one sufficient Son

I found it particularly poignant that the minute I finished my book (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini), I should hit on this sermon on marriage via my blog list. The preacher marries the couple before him with words such as:

'Marriage is like the trinity, The Father is in charge. Jesus ALWAYS submits to the father, he obeys, he says what his father has told him to say...To submit to any authority, you are being Godlike...we have a couple (indicating the husband and wife), a head and a helper... Wives, submit to the husband as the head - he is in charge...'

'Helpmeet' emm, 'ezer kenegdo' yes, and when it's attributed to God, He is never subordinate to His people, he is their rescuer. Dr. Susan Hyatt in In the Spirit We're Equal "defines the Hebrew to mean "one who is the same as the other and who surrounds, protects, aids, helps, supports," with no indication of a secondary position.

The preacher marrying the couple goes on to say, 

'In a culture where Jesus has been proclaimed and women have been raised to equality, and have been treated in every way equal but different to men, [in] that same culture, people jettison God and the women say they want to jettison the men, they say, we want to be in charge.'
But it's never about who is in charge. God is in charge. We submit to Christ (we, being men and women), When did the 4 tier structure come in? And where is the Holy Spirit in the new trinity teaching?

God
Christ
my husband
me

this just isn't biblical, surely it's:

The trinity (Christ submitted to the Father's will in his incarnation).
Humanity

If I haven't even understood this most basic of Christian concepts then I'd better get back to basics at once and start rebuilding my faith from scratch!

Christian men should not claim the position of God with women in the position of the submitting incarnate Christ, should they? We submit to each other and together to Christ. Men and women together are the bride of Christ as the Church.

We exist by grace alone not works, we neither deliver God's justice nor do we impose our own hierarchies claiming them God-given. Christ came to free us from this - there is an equality for the repentant at the foot of the cross and the only vertical relationship of faith is the one where we come under the authority of the God-head. I know the apostle Paul has us submitting to our earthly masters, - whom none of us can escape, but we submit to the state, the government and the law where it conforms with the laws of our Lord - those laws were gifts, given in exchange for his promises.

Hosseini's Babi in his novel 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' explains to his daughter that 'men saw it as an insult to their centuries-old tradition...to be told by the government-and a godless one at that- that their daughters had to leave home, attend school and work alongside men.' This is still very much the case in Afghanistan. In the last year we have heard of women being stoned there.

Sections of our church still have a lot to learn about how they might welcome women. On this  fulcrum thread, we discover that there were no ordained women invited to GAFCON, for example.

Khala Rangmaal the teacher in 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' 'did not cover [with a burqa] and forbade the female students from doing it. She said women and men were equal in every way and there was no reason women should cover if men didn't.'

For this she is reviled and there is much protest from those who want to preserve the status quo:


'God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. you are not able to think like we can. Western doctors and their science have proven this. This is why we require only one male witness but two female ones.'

It is interesting to think here about how in Biblical times, similar perceptions were held. It is shocking that Jesus should have  women testifying to his resurrection for in those days they were the least likely to be believed because indeed a woman's testimony did not stand up in court. The other disciples do not believe her but have to see the risen Lord for themselves. Jesus does much to redeem women by choosing them for this task.


At the end of 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' our sacrificed protagonist is described as having been like 'a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her' and there is some hope for the women who had once suffered under the rigidity of the regime's interpretation of the Koran, interpretation being the key word there!


Attention women:

You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.

You will not under any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not you will be severely beaten.

Cosmetics are forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar.

Despite all of this our heroine, Laila is determined to fulfil her father's vision:

'Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.'

I wonder if as women, we need to support some of our Christian sisters? What do they think is the Father's vision for them? Is it a vision too small? Does it need redeeming from the infection of the vision that is society's? Does it even need redeeming from the vision, that is in some places, represented by the theology of their church?
To go back to that marriage sermon, Suzanne explains in a post how 'marriage has only been compared to a kind of 'eternal' subordination of the Son to the Father in the last half of the last century...Did the church fathers believe that the Son was subject to the Father in eternity?' Suzanne describes how, 'Augustine rebutted the view that the Son was subject to the Father, except in that he was subject to Himself, that is, the will of God the Father, and of the Son, is indivisible.'

So where has all this subordinationism stuff come from? Surely, we have to have tremendous faith in humanity, as much as we have in God, in order to believe that if one gender is set to rule another, that those in control will not abuse that right - for humanity is prone to weakness and if the atrocious abuse of Mariam and Laila at the hands of men in 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' seems a million miles away from what occurs in our culture, let it nevertheless serve as a warning to us about what one person can subject another to in the name of God.

As regards Suzanne's analysis that 'marriage has only been compared to the subordination of the Son to the Father in the last half of the last century' it can't be a coincidence that this interpretation has found favour in evangelical circles at the same time in which we have seen women given choices and control over their own lives - be it biological, financial and, or educational.

Our theologies, reflect and address, sometimes critically, the diversity and agenda of our culture. This conservative Christian insistence on 'homemaker moms who submit to their husbands' is surely in response to a society which will at times choose to pack off its children to nurseries at 6 weeks old, to then transfer them to boarding schools later, so that parents can pursue their careers. Love of one another in a family unit, give and take on all sides, can become compromised due to our society's empty promise that we should be happily and healthily balancing it all by embracing all of our 'opportunities'.

I'm faced with all these choices, I'm a woman of the twenty-first century but I'm a Christian woman - what do I do? Do I really simply really do what I'm told by my husband? Surely, we instead decide together, compromise? We both have the same amount of personal autonomy and choose what to sacrifice for the benefit of the other and the family unit as a whole, so that in actual fact, sacrifices don't feel like they are sacrifices in any negative sense that the world might conjure up, sacrifice takes on the Christian sense - it becomes good news - when the affect is the increased happiness of the whole family unit.

This is how I read what God intends, in the original plan, before the fall, Adam and Eve were both instructed with the care of their world:

Gen. 1:26 Then God said, 'let Us make humanity in our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' 27 So God created humanity in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Now read this as you engage with 'interpretation' and the rule of 'men'. Oh sisters!

1 comment:

Rosemary said...

I must apologise, because I can't really follow this post. I'm not sure when you're speaking and when you're sharing what others say. But I DO know that whoever told you ordained women didn't attend Gafcon is quite wrong. I only remember one name, but that is sufficient for now. The Rev. Anne Kennedy .. check here .. http://undercurrentofhostility.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.