Epistles and Psalms

The Blog of Bobby Ray Hurd

Category: Epistles

Apologia: My Application to Help

Dear Friends,

After posting my first two letters that introduced the concept of “rape theology,” I am feeling urged to take a step back and say a few words out of sensitivity to the very personal feelings a term like “rape” brings up for so many; especially those women most directly affected by it.

I had a conversation yesterday with my dear soon-to-be-wife Shawna (and several other women involved in a blog collective I am a part) about some of the issues of insensitivity that I could potentially own as I delve deeper into the issue of “rape theology.”

Therefore, here are a few things I wish to speak to in light of these interactions:

1) My involvement with the fight for relational holiness has come from a long personal history of repentance and lamenting the relational damage done by the power complexes inherent to my sexist upbringing in a male-centric Church. And so, I must admit that while I have been delivered from the addictive powers of theological sexism I was conditioned to, I am (and will always be) a recovering sexist (similar to how an alcoholic is always an alcoholic whether they are drinking or not). With this in mind, I ask for your grace as I try to speak to a subject that concerns even myself; one who is conditioned to believe and trust the power of my own privilege as a white male. And so, (especially the women who read this blog) please be forthright in bringing your criticisms to me (for you are my priesthood on this subject) as I try to embody the significance of what I am after here to its fullest extent.

Hold me accountable to my conversion throughout this journey.

2) I use the term “rape theology” to be consistent with the language used surrounding the discussion about “rape culture” that was chosen before I entered the conversation. Granted, a term like “rape” brings up all sorts of demons from past experiences for people who have been abused (or have known abused people). Therefore, the effect a term like “rape” has on people faced with the abuse inherent to rape thinking should not be minimized; at all. However, if you do choose to press on wrestling with this subject as I am approaching it, please keep in mind that the term “rape” was not chosen for shock value or out of some manipulative misogynistic tactic for being able use language without the consent of the women affected by rape thinking. It is for purposes of coherency in continuing a discussion that was going on way before I got involved.

3) I never want to come across as if I, in all of my maleness, am an “advocate” for women; as if I am some theological knight. Such a thing infers women are not perfectly capable of advocating for themselves and assumes yet another platitude for male power. Rather, I would imagine a word like “ally” to be a much more suitable term to use here; because it infers my own submission as the one society recognizes as the one with power. Furthermore, such a term infers I identify myself as a repentant “helper” to the woman’s movement rather than a lead. I, therefore, submit my application to be a helper as I attempt to explore a subject that I feel might help the movement my dear sisters are doing a great job of being “advocates” for by themselves. Therefore, I simply ask your permission to be a helper to those affected by rape thinking; and I ask this as the affected (not me) take the lead for something that was going on way before I became involved.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Rape Theology: The Epidemic Idolatry of Christian People– Part 1A: The Imperial Male Cult

Case 1) Rape Ontology: “Penetrate, Conquer, and Colonize; Receive, Surrender, Accept”

Essential vocabulary:

ontology: 1: a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence 2: of relating to essence or the nature of being

self-justification: a self-centered attitude by which people defend their actions and beliefs without reference to G-d. Scripture insists that the confidence and ultimate justification of believers lie with G-d, and condemns those who look elsewhere for these (source: Bible Gateway).

rite: a religious or other solemn ceremony or act 2: a body of customary observances characteristic of a church or part of it.

Valiant defender of complementation theology, Jared Wilson of the “Gospel Coalition,” once articulated a gender theology that reflects his strictly Reformed ontological commitments by making one of the boldest public statements about gender relations on record from a Christian figurehead (summer 2012). He wrote:


When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the

sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed…True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

What Wilson has done here is astonishing. He has set before his readers a theology for gender relations that suggests our very ontological identity as created beings of gender is one that suggests we are created in the image of a power structure between human beings and G-d; therefore, such a hierarchy (one where “true authority” meets “true submission) is to be reflected and sustained in the relationship between male and female. Therefore, anything other than obedience to this strictly hierarchic ontology would be falling into the traps of a gender “pleasuring party.” Wilson makes it clear: For a woman not to “submit, receive, accept” man and for a man not to “penetrate, conquer, colonize, and plant” woman is the basis for people of gender falling into a self-fulfilling religion. Therefore, for Wilson (and his metaphor that is quite obviously overrun with sexualized undertones), this is the basis for how people of gender fall into the trap of self-justification (the religious belief that your works are sufficient before the righteousness of G-d). While I would say that such a theological statement is initially true and substantiated in Scripture (disobedience to the Creator amounts to self-justification), it is the relational values of this ontology that substantiate the gender relations of Creation that are what I have seen to be the basis for “rape ontology;” because the message is clear: to deny the authority of the divinely designed gender hierarchy is to self-justify oneself before the Creator and asserting rather, “I’m doing it my own way!” To disrespect the ontological gender hierarchy is, therefore, sinning against G-d as Creator.

Let me encourage you to regard such a thing as nothing more than the theological undergirds of gnosticism and spiritual abuse; because what Wilson does not realize is that he has done precisely the opposite of what he is intending to escape (self-justification). What he has clearly done is created an ontological framework that is fertile for establishing a cult of male self-justification that has been scandalously veiled by ontological notions of “divine authority.” Such a thing, therein, finds its telos in sexual intercourse (man “penetrates” and woman “accepts”) thus making it the theological basis for creating human life and sustaining human flourishing.

Thus, according to Wilson, if a woman does not accept the ontological rite of her husband to conquer her (if she does not “submit, receive, and accept”), she has made of herself an idolatrous rogue fighting against her very purpose in the Created Order as per G-d’s intended purposes for gender relations. Likewise, if a man does not form his life with the ontological philosophy of “penetrate, conquer, and colonize,” he is certainly not a man of G-d and is, thereby, sinning against the Creator as he has plainly transgressed obedience to the Creator by failing to claim his primacy and relative rite to rule over woman. From here, the “erotic necessity” of human reproduction fails to find concrete expression because neither have lived up to G-d’s design for creation.

As I have wrestled with this sort of theology, I have come to the belief that this is precisely the theological pasture of gnosticism for which the seed of “rape ontology” is sown; because it is by the divine decree of the Creator that a man has primacy over his wife and, thus, the wife must accept this rule just as the man accepts primacy over himself from G-d (being “penetrated” by G-d so to speak). And so, as a theological consequence, man is the divine witness of G-d (and His rite to power) to woman by embodying a gender relation that gives man primacy over woman. Therefore, if one were to flesh this out in terms of relational ethics for every day living, man has clearly been granted a special place of privilege over woman; therefore, at every juncture of gender relations, female obedience to the divine rite of male primacy is normative for living faithfully into the ontological narrative of Scripture.

And so, as we are beginning to see, the term “rape” is quite appropriate here when describing this sort of thing. G-d decrees the power structure; therefore, it is her position not to question the power structure at all but to accept it, receive it, submit to it, and ultimately find her way through a life of faith that never questions her role to submit, never questions the character inherent to divinized notions of hierarchical primacy, but simply that her submissive role is inevitable, divinely ordained, inherent to the call of her gender, and, therefore, must never form any relation of discord with man. G-d has righteously given man the privilege of “penetration, conquering, and colonizing” her that foils her privilege to submit to all such things.

This understanding of the Created Order clearly has the workings of a “rape” mentality inherent to it. Man can count on the religious rite of her submission and she has the religious rite of being ruled; just like every vile rapist and pagan sodomist who has ever lived might suggest. “It is my rite, ordained by the divine, to have primacy over you and it is your religious rite to submit to such primacy. This is the divine will. Submit or disobey the gods!”

Rape…ontology!

However, when we are faced with Scripture, we will see this is the classic move pagans have made for millenia when they misuse, misappropriate, abuse, and ultimately gnosticize theological language to justify their religious rite to power and primacy. Thus, what Wilson has done is nothing more than reinterpreted a classically pagan ontological framework for underwriting the “rite of rule” for an imperial religion/cult. However, rather than form it in the image of Caesar or Pharaoh, he has scandalously formed it in the image of a self-fulfilling religion of male supremacy.

Thus, as we have seen, the ontology of Jared Wilson (something very common in the Christian Church) is clearly ripe for birthing the dangerous religion of sadists who hide and sedate their outward expressions of lustful behavior with the justification of ontological notions of male privilege and female “submission.” This protects them from repenting of the villainous ivory tower incumbent to their idealism that has ultimately created a gender relation that amounts to nothing more than the vile civil religion of an imperialistic male cult.

To be fair, I do not think Jared Wilson is a rapist. I do not even think he would ever advocate for such an action. However, it is quite clear to me that his use of ontological language is overrun with rape thinking. Such thinking veils him from considering the truth that the ontology of his “gospel” propels Christian men in an ethical direction where they must never go through the pains of mercy necessary to be reconciled to their sisters. They would rather dismiss all such feminist heresy to protect the self-idolatry of the many Christian men who cop out of such costly work; because such repentance might require he admit that the male imperial cult of Western Christianity is just as much of a sadistically idolatrous, gnostic crime against humanity when lived out by Christian men as it was when lived out in eerily similar fashion by the cult of Rome who ultimately slew our Messiah in the blind spot of their own imperial cult and self-justification.

In my next letter, we will take a look into where Scripture challenges rape ontology. We will then hopefully arrive in a place where we may more faithfully strive for relational holiness; a place where we no longer have to hide the historic male lust for power with faux notions of justification.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Rape Theology: The Epidemic Idolatry of Christian People– Introduction: The Concept

Dear Friends,

I am in regular (almost daily) dialogue and “digital fellowship” with a satirical blog community known as “Stuff Christian Culture Likes.” I have been a regular commenter and theological voice in that community, off and on, for going on four years now. Over the course of this past year, being in dialogue with these brilliant people (people of whom I admit have a bit of a confrontational edge to them) has shown me many of the ethical blind spots I have as a privileged white male growing up in American Evangelical culture through teaching me about something they refer to as “rape logic.” After doing a bit of shallow research, I learned there is all sorts of material readily available that addresses “rape logic” and the “rape culture” it perpetuates. On the SCCL Facebook comment sections, “rape logic” is one of the most common gripes against Christian culture, and it is reoccuringly part of the major thrust of social criticism incumbent to the social values of the blog.

Over and over again in these conversations, I am faced with the testimonies of many women telling of how Christian culture has left them feeling ashamed of their bodies, conquered by the social bent of male-centrism in the Christian Church, and, thenceforth, blamed for the lustful power complexes of a Church culture that is both undeniably male-centric and, therefore, epidemically prone to “victim blaming” rather than Christian men owning responsibility for plunging the depths by which lust (and its father sin; power) have taken over the theological imagination of Christian living.

However, this letter is not entirely about these interactions. No. I write to you today concerning something I find to be far more wicked; something I feel deserves to be cast down into the pit of Hell it crawled up from; a demon to be driven into the bay of pigs to which Jesus damned it. It is epidemic in our churches and it is time the theological Powers that justify its cultural captivity were broken, disobeyed, and shown to be the evil theological narrative of depravity it is showing itself to be; because, as I will demonstrate, the horrific stories about these abuses (IE misunderstandings of “modesty,” “submission,” dominion, etc) are symptoms of a disease that is poisoning the theological imagination of the Church– something I am calling “rape theology.

To be clear, I am calling it “rape theology” so that I may add a third dimension to the discussion surrounding “rape logic” and “rape culture;” because, as a theologian, I believe that all ways of living are fundamentally birthed from the theological imagination. Therefore, I hold that “rape theology” is the theological root for the “rape logic” that has spread the “rape culture” epidemic in our American churches today. And so, I write to you today with a theological rebuke.

Therefore, being faced with the potential reality of this horrific theological epidemic, I have felt called to initiate a dialogue about “rape theology” (as I am conceptualizing it) so that the Church may give it a name and potentially cast it into Ghenna where it will hopefully stay for the remainder of Church history. And so, the remainder of this series of six letters will be dedicated to a three part case study in “rape theology” with the hopes that the depth by which it has grasped our theological imaginations will be put to a screeching halt as the Church continues its mission of being bearers of good news to the world.

I define “rape theology” this way:

Rape Theology: A gnostic thrust in Christian theology that justifies the rite of various (and idolatrous) power structures based upon an understanding of the Divine that manifests in terms of “rape logic” that, therein, facilitates the necessary environment for birthing a “rape culture.”

In my next letter I will begin my first case study on “rape theology” through exploring something I am calling “rape ontology.” Your presence would be appreciated as we explore and discuss this.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Epistle: Anarchist Jesus and Rendering to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17)

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.
_________________________

Dear Friends,

In the world, there are two coexisting forces; Caesar’s kingdom and G-d’s kingdom. It is often said they “compete” for loyalty; but to say that G-d’s kingdom competes in the same since of the world compromises its beauty. Nevertheless, the message is clear: If you belong to G-d then She has control over your life. If you belong to Caesar than he has control over your life. This is the central message of Jesus’ “kingdom of G-d.”

Now, if the enemies of Jesus had the mind to trap Jesus then it would appear there were stories circulating that Jesus was telling people not to pay taxes. They could then “accuse” Jesus. As Jesus usually does, he avoids the trap by making an ironical reply. He asks for a coin and then asks the questioners, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” It is obviously a Roman coin. And so, they own up to the evidence; the coin belongs to Caesar.

In the day Jesus lived, an owner’s marking was indicative of who the owner is; much like cattle ranching in the 19th century. The mark is the only way in which ownership could be recognized. Everyone in the Roman system had their own mark. Therefore, the head of Caesar on this coin is more than a decoration or a mark of honor. It signifies that all money in the empire belongs to Caesar. Therefore, those who held the coins were precarious owners. One could never really “own” the money. When a certain Caesar died, the money changed, because it belonged to that particular Caesar. Caesar was the sole proprietor. Jesus then has a very simple comment in regards to this: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” You find his likeness on the coin! The coin, then, belongs to Caesar. Give it back when he demands it.

However, let us notice that, with this answer, Jesus does not recognize that taxes are lawful; nor does he give the advice of submission to the governmental authorities and their tax laws. He simply faces up to the evidence. What belongs to Caesar? Jesus makes this very plain: Whatever bears his mark! With this, Jesus points out the utter ridiculousness of Caesar’s “power.” Because (indeed!) where is the mark of Caesar? On coins, on public monuments, and on certain altars. That is all. Jesus’ answer is rendering that to Caesar. Because, quite frankly, he could confiscate it if he wanted to– without asking! Therefore, to Jesus, paying or not paying taxes is not even a basic question; it is not even a true political question. It is irrelevant, because Caesar is going to flex his muscles whenever he sees fit. Give him what bears his image when he throws his roid-rage fits that lust for power.

However, let us explore the other side of this. Whatever does not bear Caesar’s image does not belong to him. It all belongs to G-d. Caesar has no right to the rest.
In the Jewish tradition from which Jesus spoke, all life is created, given, and taken by G-d. Life cannot possibly belong to another human person; because life does not bear a human mark but the mark of the Divine. Life is sacred because it is from G-d.

Therefore, Caesar has no right to life or death. Caesar has no right to plunge people into war. He has no right to ruin and devastate countries in the name of the empire, the economy, the ruling class, or defending the empire. To Jesus, Caesar’s power is very limited– merely to a set of metal that would eventually deteriorate into nostalgia and utter meaninglessness.

Therefore, (and most of all) may you remember that Caesar (and the empire) have no right to you! Remember that all life belongs to G-d. You owe nothing to Caesar but owe everything to G-d. And so, our only task is to discern what we owe to G-d in worship of Her grace that calls us to a place that no longer worships empire; to a place that does not recognize the mark of empire as a mark of authority. Caesar has no jurisdiction over you at any time; only the free G-d.

I call you to live in G-d’s freedom today and seek what it may look like for you and your community.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Epistle: Simple G-d

Today, I call you to know G-d as Father, Creator, and Friend. It is impossible to know G-d as master. Do not believe the notion of knowing G-d as “master,” because we know G-d in Christ. Therefore, we have been set free from knowing G-d as a “master.” At least, we do not know Her as “master” in the since of enforcing His will upon us or being superior, but as the suffering Christ and “Gracious One” who delivers us from the idolatrous powers of this world we are conditioned on a daily basis to call master; even if that power be “Christian orthodoxy” or otherwise.

G-d is eternally un-master and G-d is un-orthodox. G-d is eternal yet G-d is simple. His presence is an eternal invitation because the invitation into Her life is always there. For the Gospel must be sought time and time again!

And so, if we may ever speak of G-d as “master,” we know Him as this only because She is the One who ultimately proposes challenge to all preconceived notions of what a master is at any point in godless history. Therefore, G-d is eternally other than any master and any power– for G-d is powerless, free, and unconditioned.

But yet G-d still chooses to condition Himself for our sake. This is good news!

Such a notion makes G-d our greatest friend and ally. Jesus commands his followers to call G-d Father; therefore, we know G-d as our oldest friend with whom we carry burdens, take on suffering beside, and commune with for accountability in rising above the powers of the world so that I may serve the weak, the powerless, and the poor– for they are G-d’s elect, and we, as G-d’s people, have the privilege of entering into communion with them so that we may know the Father and what G-d is doing in the world.

Jesus never describes the Father as someone who is in hierarchical relationship over the Son. He says, “I and the Father are one; He in me and I in Him.” Therefore we, like Jesus, should believe that it is possible to have this sort of relationship with G-d– and it is the purpose of the Church to do so with faithful haste! If a Christian must speak of power then they should only know it powerlessly. For as Christians, we know Christ who gives us this truth to seek time and time again throughout eternity.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Epistle: Pax Romana– Remembering Rightly and Memorializing Righteously

Dear Friends,

As you memorialize those who die for what is good in the world (right, wrong, or indifferent), may you also remember an obscure, Jewish rabbi who lived two thousand years ago in the Roman-occupied Near East. He was betrayed by his closest friends– tortured and killed by the treachery of the religious elite and conquering powers of his day (Rome). May you also remember (or come to accept) that he died for all that is good in this world and, therefore, remember that there is no need to celebrate death given at the hands of nationalism any longer.

May you remember that his death has left an alternative to the violence of the world called the Church; a gathering of Christ’s followers who live as if this death has left an immanent call on our lives to do as Christ did by defeating powers that cannot worship the free G-d but only the divine appointment of themselves that often results in something like this:

Pax Romana

On this Memorial Day, may you remember that this sort of death and sacrifice is what is worth memorializing; and may you also remember those heroes called saints and martyrs who have stood in the face of the world’s violence to preserve the meaning of Christ’s life and death; the sort of death that births life through selfless mercy rather than the perpetuation of death posed by the arrogance of empire, the temporariness of domain, and the futility of war.

Let us remember Jesus received his penalty for being perceived as a revolutionary– a threat to “peaceful” society, as He preached the radically subversive Gospel of G-d’s Kingdom that dismantled the theological need for nationalistic pageantry in all its forms (whether Roman, Jewish, pagan, or American).

Let us remember that Jesus was a social critic and an agitator; a drop-out from the social climb that assumes one can attain true peace through the peace of empire (Pax Romana) that cannot believe beyond the authority and supremacy of their self-justified cult celebrated on holidays that look much like Memorial Day.

Let us remember that the “Pax Romana” is peace by the security of the empire’s sword rather than the grace and liberation of G-d.

Let us remember that Jesus– amidst a culture whose minds were completely captive to the “Pax Romana”– was the spokesperson of a counterculture; an “upside-down”, alternative kingdom; one he perceived truly liberates people from the farcical “peace” of the violent Pax Romana that knows nothing of G-d’s grace but only the self-important genius of self-justification.

Today, it has become quite clear that the common American patriot and many American Christians can hardly be distinguished from each other. It seems we would rather choose to remember the self-justified works of our guns, bombs, and military genius of soldiery that only perpetuate the violence of the world. Today, I am overcome with sadness as I lament that distinguishing from the Pax Romana and the Pax Americana is increasingly difficult on days like these; because by celebrating this day’s idolatrous pageantry, you celebrate the war crimes of those of those “fallen:”

Pax Americana

On “holidays” like today, I am reminded that American Christians have widely fallen into the same historical delusion that killed Jesus; and such idolatry continues to kill Jesus and the Spirit from which he acted as it is manipulated into another representation of what Jesus clearly renounced through his death on the Cross.

My call to you today is refusing to be fooled by the propaganda of the empire you live in. Do not believe in the straw men and twisted propaganda that the American media sends out to convince the public they are fighting for peace. Jesus knew nothing of such “peace” as that defined by the cult of empire.

When defended with violence by his close friend Peter, Jesus says, “All who use swords are destroyed by swords” (Matt 2652 MSG). Then Jesus asks those arresting him, “Am I leading a rebellion…that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” (Matt 26:55 TNIV). I am sure that the casualities of the many American bombings on Middle Eastern soil were thinking similar when they were bombed, shot, and murdered. Perhaps they were thinking, “Are the people bombing me so threatened by me that they must kill my family, friends, and neighbors?”

Therefore, may you believe better for yourselves, your families, and your communities and choose to worship an authority that calls us out of intellectual and physical slavery to the temporary kingdoms of this world. Today, do not say “God Bless America” and call it righteous remembrance or a righteous memorial. Nothing could be further from the truth given our current circumstances.

Today, on Memorial Day, may you remember that this:

Pax Romana

Is this similar to this:

Pax Americana

Today, may you remember and celebrate the ways of war no more. Do not believe in the “peace” of security but the “peace” that comes through long-suffering and mercy. Today, may you memorialize the death of the “peace of empire” brought to judgement on Calvary through remembering the saints of martyrs of the Church; not the tragic deaths of those who were were led to sin like cattle to the slaughter through their idolatrous worship of militant nationalism.

Why Women Should Still be Silent; Why Men Should Too (Part 3)

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety— I Timothy 2:8-15

Dear Friends,

In respect and submission to the context of theological and ethical powerlessness, what does Timothy then offer as an alternative lifestyle of worship to the coercive, graceless political powerfulness of this world to his sisters in Christ? He beckons her to good works.

Why is this?

Because for Paul, there is a relationship between “good works” and the rejection of a spirit of worship that rejoices in powerfulness and gracelessness. Therefore, there is a connection between doing good to your neighbor and powerlessness. In fact, Paul communicates here that there are no good works that are powerful in a sense of the graceless and powerful cults of the world.

Therefore, neither it is not acceptable that a sister in Christ be coercive in her presence for G-d’s liberation to be manifest in her life; this is even in the wake of there being injustice that only a woman could know. Therefore, as a way of vanquishing a religious spirit of powerful gender politics, she is asked to deny her powerfulness and take up her cross by performing good works in remembrance of Christ. Therefore, take notice to the theology that contextualizes what an appropriate expression of “good works” is here — they are works submissive to the peculiar claims of the gospel that they should overcome the world by refusing to enter into its cycle of political domination and revolution.

In submission to this theology, she is, once again, a model of godliness. In submission to this distinctly christological commitment, she is the greatest of Christian leaders in a way that proclaims great authority in her community.

Nevertheless, how should we then understand verses 11 and 12 that proclaim it is not permissible for a woman to be the teacher of a man? The answer is simple. It is unacceptable for Christian worship to act in “authority over” one of their equally powerless brothers in Christ– it is, once again, their place to be in silence and in a mode of listening that does not act in “power over” another but out of grace, powerlessness, mercy, silence, and love for her brothers. Therefore, a newly liberated female from the tyranny if the cult of man should not use her freedom to become the new dictator– she should sit in silence and pray for the repentance of herself and her brothers in Christ of which there is no distinction between male or female but only worship of the powerless Christ.

And so, set in this context of sound Christology, this completely reframes how we understand holy gender relations in the community of Christ. Thus, we are faced with the grave reality that we, as Enlightened Westerners, have failed to set our communities is a context of powerlessness and, thus, lust for political power despite each other in the slirit of the self-justified cult of gender. Thus, because of this exegetical failure, we read the Timothian letter as if it were some primitive expression of dangerous patriarchy. But as we have seen here, Timothy is not advocating for patriarchy at all; but an ethic of powerlessness normative for how the community carries on relating to each other.

Therefore, I can do nothing here but agree with Paul, and I call you to agree with him too. It is essential to Christian worship that we should seek the fruit of powerlessness in our communities. And so, we should consider the possibility that simplicity (v. 9), good works (v10), silence before G-d (v.11), listening to each other (v.12), that the “knowledge of good and evil” is why we cannot know G-d (12-13), and that those who live powerfully and gracelessly will be saved by their children– because the children of the powerful will eventually come to reject the arrogance of their parents’ power-mongering as G-d rescues them from the tyranny of their gracelessness (v.15).

And so, may you be silent, powerless, and graceful before each other; and it’s damn time we decided this is still how we should act with each other.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Epistle: Reflections on Hitler and Osama bin Laden– Retribution AT BEST!

Dear Friends,

Several years ago, I had an email correspondence with pastor Greg Boyd. I was wrestling with a Christian response to how Christians should answer the questions presented by rulers like Hitler, the brand of revolutionary violence proposed by Osama bin Laden, and the “just wars” and “just violence” that often emerge from the trouble that they propose. I’d like to recall the fruit of that conversation and share some very personal thoughts with all of you as well.

The killing of Osama bin Laden is retribution at best; just like the killing of Hitler would have been had he not committed suicide. Though many Christians (including myself) would consider any act of murder sin, I must admit that I am not naive of the fact that his murder will benefit Western rule, democracy, and that which the West holds to be their most cherished values and philosophical norms. Nor am I naive that the actions of the American military benefit me; because I live in America.

In light of this, I would like to say this briefly, because I find it disturbing that many Christians find the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death to be a moment of celebration when it is anything but:

Just because the killing of a tyrant like Hitler or bin Laden is “just” doesn’t mean followers of Jesus should participate in it, advocate for it, and most definitely not celebrate the murder of them.  When they met the edge of the sword that was swung before them, they then chose to swing rather than put their sword (or AK47) down. They then reached their demise because of these patterns of swinging the sword. Those who live by swords die by them is not some morality; its a fallen liturgical reality and a reflection of the depravity of mankind.

This is why Christians are called to:

–A higher standard than “justice.” We are called to love our enemies, do good to them, and serve them; including the Hitlers and bin Ladens of the world.

–In doing this, we bear witness to a kingdom that is “not of this world.”

People always say, “Well, if all Christians did this we’d all be Nazis”  or “Well, if all Christians acted this way, Osama would eventually enslave the world to his brand of Islam.” To which I say:

A) You have to trust G-d at some point

B) If all Christians acted like this, there would not be any Nazis since good German Lutherans and Catholics fought in Hitler’s armies.

C) If all Christians obeyed Jesus, there would not have been the centuries of anti-semetism in Prussia/Germany that made the Holocaust possible.

D) If all Christians obeyed Jesus, than it would be likely that some of the violent and corrupt patterns of America– the so called “Christian nation”– would not have provoked bin Laden to believe America was an evil power needing to be destroyed. Such as, acts of imposition on other Arab countries for their oil and stationing a military base in their holy land.

When you swing the sword, it swings in all directions, and when you fail to live peaceably with all people, you begin giving yourselves the excuse to neglect loving your neightbor in order to preserve your interests by any means necessary to preserve them.

What happens all the time is:

–The church fails to be the church which creates

–the “need’ for war and the “need” to resort to murder; which then leads people to

–tell Christians they must join in the war or resort to violence else evil will take over. In other words, we use the failure of the Church to justify the Church continuing to not be the Church.

I say, lets trust G-d to run the world and keep going back to “A”; and do so relentlessly.

WE did not kill Osama bin Ladin; the patterns of violence in which we are bent and in bondage to claimed yet another life the Lord gives unsurpassable worth. This is yet another example of a world held captive to religious hubris; both Islam and the American civil religion alike. This is yet another example of one who lives by swords shall die by them. This is not a happy occasion; this is a time to mourn that we once again fell into the vertigo of a world that does not love their neighbor but instead chooses to embody the patterns by which tragedy keeps its stronghold.

The anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden has created an overwhelming sense of sorrow and anguish in my heart today. It has stolen my joy. I held my son in my arms this morning and wept praying that he might inherit a better world and a better Church where we imagine it possible this better world; a world where we do not celebrate death any longer.  

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

Psalm/Epistle: Nail Us to Your Cross

Dear Friends,

“Forgive them, Father. They don’t know what they’re doing.” These words play over and over in my head whenever I think about the bloody roots of Christian faith. What’s more, I’m also reminded of the references in Scripture that speak of G-d’s people being reflections of G-d in this oppressive, dogmatic, graceless, violent world.

How often in Christian history have we crucified, executed, put to death, and declared war with the confidence that what we are doing is justified before the Lord? That what we were doing was righteous before the Savior we confess? Who are we worshiping whenever we’ve acted this way? Is it America? the Constitution? Is it ourselves? Is it humanity? Is it technology? Is it money? Is it our ability to have power? Is it pop culture? Is it our morality? Is it the political party we belong to? Is it the conquering of others in the name of our own self-righteous good?

Whomever and whatever we worship, Christ’s question is clear to us:

What images of what’s Ultimate are we reflecting when we live this way?

This is a deeply spiritual dilemma. I say, in these instances, people worship the gods of emptiness; gods who do not exist and that leave you broken and in denial.

The cross shows us that retribution is not the same as justification before the LORD. Retribution is not the salvation of Jesus Christ. For the death of Jesus was most certainly retribution— a man that the religious elite and moral order of Rome put to death as a transgressor– a rival to the salvation of human accomplishments. What the cross shows us is the futility of the cumulative accomplishments of humankind. Whatever our moral standards, our philosophies, our religions, and our commitments, man is godless. Godless man! And on the cross we see why. For whenever we stare G-d directly in the face, whenever She offers her hand of fellowship, we do not embrace Her but we put Her to death– because G-d is a threat in the eyes of godless man! And so, the great irony of our Gospel is that in the name of what is good, we put G-d to death– because He reveals parts of Himself that we are unprepared to see– whispers that which we are unprepared to hear. For as the LORD said to Moses, “You may only see my back!” And so, in the name of good, in the name of retribution, in the name of justice, in the name of the moral order, we reject G-d– we then become salt, without saltiness…light under a bowl. Man without G-d!

The hope of our godlessness is that we enter into G-d’s grace and transform by it. Where is grace whenever our works and morals give our lives its meaning? Where is grace whenever the moral order trumps our willingness to seek the work of G-d in all people?

The Christian narrative tells that if we live as if our works save us, we will eventually take up arms against G-d who reveals Himself and soon find ourselves hanging people on crosses. In the same way CS Lewis articulates his “Great Divorce,” I shall call this the “Great Hypocrisy.” The Great Hypocrisy is our break with G-d– our very divorce from Her.

This final piece I imagine captures this Great Hypocrisy and the One who speaks defeat into it. I present this next piece imagining Jesus speaking as prophet. I think of it as an oracle that reminds Christians that Christ must be worshipped in all things.

Indeed, the prophetic Word of Christ, “I am the truth!”

Because the bloody roots of Christianity are ultimately found among the victims of godless people in a world gone to worship the “god of emptiness”– a god that does not know Christ– a god who does not know grace. One of the great truths of our faith is that Truth is not in us– truth is a man. Truth is relative, because it is relative to Jesus Christ. For we are godless man and are nothing apart from the grace of Jesus Christ– the one who tells us the truth about ourselves. And so, I believe that this G-d of Jesus Christ speaks this oracle through his life on the behalf of all those who suffer at the hands of godless, lifeless, venomous people– religious and non-religious.

Nail Us to Your Cross
(Credit given to my friends and favorite metal band in St. Louis– MEGALITH)

I’ve seen your face in reflections of their tears
Self-proclaimed saints rise up to crush their fears
Haloed hypocrites donned in robes of white
Chastising smiles disguising minds of spite

Don’t look upon us with your pity and shame
Pathetic moral lies victimize and cast the blame
You can’t see the good for the evil that you spawn
Distorting all the truth and creating your pawns

Holy wealth proclaiming power supreme
We are here to see that you’re redeemed
Just as Pilate you have washed your hands
Sabbath day hymns become cries of the damned

Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross

I see your face in reflections of their tears
Self-proclaimed saints rise up to crush their fears
Haloed hypocrites donned in robes of white
Chastising smiles disguising minds of spite

Don’t look upon us with your pity and shame
Pathetic moral lies victimize and cast the blame
You can’t see the good for the evil that you spawn
Distorting all the truth and creating your pawns

Holy wealth proclaiming power supreme
We are here to see that you’re redeemed
Just as Pilate you have washed your hands
Sabbath day hymns become cries of the damned

Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross
Nail us to your cross

Epistle: Why Women Should Still be Silent; Why Men Should Too (Part 2)

Dr. Evil "Zip It!"

When a problem comes along, yooooou must ZIP IT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 Likewise, I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety– I Timothy 2:8-15

Dear Friends,

Paul’s address to early Christian women is a bit different, though it is motivated by the same christology of powerlessness that characterized his instructions to men. Nevertheless, I believe Paul’s instructions are different not so that “gender roles” may be established or so that so-called “G-d’s design” can be made typical; but because Paul finds that Christian women are the newly liberated ones of whom Christ had/s set free from the patriarchy common to not only first century Near Eastern (and Greek) culture, but typical in many walks of traditional Judaism. Therefore, Timothy calls Christian women to do, in principle, as the prophets of the Old Testament call for time and time again– that they would remember their exodus. And so, Paul’s call to Christian women is that they would remember they were once the lowly objects of the caesars and pharaohs who ruled a male dominated cult but were set free from its power by G-d in Jesus Christ who dismantled the theological and social need for such things through the declaration of Christ’s Gospel of powerlessness. And so, Paul’s call is that they would act believing this to be true and would allow this truth to affect their actions by how they choose to worship and pray as a congregation in remembrance of Christ and the significance if his life to their life together as the Christian colony.

Therefore, Paul’s instructions to these newly liberated Christian women are given in caution that they ought not become a new caesar in their freedom, but that they would enter G-d’s grace and, therefore, be powerless alongside their male brothers by living in remembrance of their liberator and savior, Jesus Christ, who rendered the coercive, violent, cultic, self-justified political powers of the world insignificant through his example.

Verse nine starts with the adverb “likewise” to tie in Timothy’s previous command directed to men that they should seek the rescue of G-d in powerless ways. This then begs the question: Could we imagine that these recently emancipated Christian women are in the midst of learning to substantiate their freedom in Christ at the time Paul wrote to the Timothian community? I believe this is why Paul’s instructions are more specific; because Christian women– who have been the lowly and the “least”– are learning to express their freedom in Christwell through learning the disciplines of Christian worship and prayer and how this manifests in how they carry out relations to their fellow brothers in Christ. They were set free to do as they were given– to set others free; to revolt against the political cycle of the world (“domination and revolution”), that perpetuates the cycle of human lowliness, through how they choose to orient themselves toward G-d and, thus, unto each other in expression of their communal relations and public worship.

And so, Paul proclaims that it is right for women to not bear the fruit of yet another zealot political revolutionary by guarding how they are spiritually disciplining themselves in community. Therefore, Paul’s instructions are given with the hope that they will eliminate their lust for this type of powerfulness the heavily male leadership of the Timothian communities believed characterized “the world.” And so, Paul gives some suggestions for how women might consider disciplining themselves in the Spirit of this christological emancipation women were coming to be formed by. This brings us to believe that his instructions are not universal or permanent orders but are markedly contextual to the community Paul wrote to. For it is likely that in their new freedom, these newly emancipated women of G-d needed to humble themselves, listen for a time, and seek the Spirit by which they may substantiate a faithful form of Christ’s commitment to powerlessness and grace in their community.

And so, Timothy gives the instruction that women should dress simply– that is, without excess or as to call excess attention to themselves. This is so that they may not only be powerless and selfless in worship, but powerless and selfless in both presence and character. This is certainly not to squelch the dignity of women or to suggest any notion of “modesty;” but to empower them with a presence of non-coerciveness and grace that worships Christ and his Gospel. Similarly, this is also as not to display excess to those who have no excess, as to listen to those who are not heard, and to be silent before G-d’s Word of which they believed is only heard in silence, simplicity, and fasting. And so, as they are empowered by their silence before the Lord, they will surely be silent before each other as both men and women come to find the rhythms of grace and powerlessness practiced in mutual submission and service. Therefore, the call for women to be silent, simple, and submissive is not so that she may serve any notion of patriarchy (never!)– but so that she may be discipline herself by the peculiar claims of the Gospel. Paul’s wish is not to take from her dignity or to set men above her. Not at all! It is so women may seek a spiritual character that gives dignity to all of whom enter the non-coercive, gracious presence of our sisters in Christ! She is not secondary in the realm of public worship. Not at all! But a profound model of godliness in the making. Therefore, in the hope of her powerlessness being realized, it will eventually demand the submission of Christian men who forget their confession of Christ and his powerlessness.

That being said:

How many Christian men who lead in Christian congregations have forgotten their Christ, his powerlessness, grace, and mercy and, thus, continue to perpetuate an idolatrous leadership model that is quite simply a denial of who Christ is? In the wake of this epidemic male idolatry, I write to these congregations:

I want the women to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. Likewise, I also want the men to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, watches, or expensive suits, but with good deeds, appropriate for men who profess to worship G-d in Jesus Christ. Your men should learn in quietness and full submission for now. I do not permit a man to teach or to assume authority over a woman at this time. He must be quiet until further notice. This is even though Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was the one not deceived. Even though it was Eve who was deceived and became the sinner, your men live as if they do not remember their mother by silencing her struggle to repent of her sin. Nevertheless, men will be saved through childbearing alongside their mothers in Christ if they continue in faith, love, holiness, powerlessness, and remembrance of Christ who set us free from the sort of power you exercise over your sisters. And so, let this period of instruction serve as a reminder.

Be Powerless,

Bobby Ray

(Stay tuned for part 3!)