This is the concluding post in my series of responses to the questions I posted as part of last month's book discussion
on Colossians Remixed
by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat over at the Emerging Women blog
. (read my other responses - here
Question #8 -
"We can argue until we are blue in the face that Colossians is good news for an oppressed and marginalized community at the heart of the Roman empire, but unless this good news is for those truly at the margins - slaves, children, and women- it is nothing but a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal." (p201). But the household codes in Colossians 3:18 -4:1 have more often been interpreted as justification for oppression of those groups instead of good news. The authors address this issue through a fantastic expanded account of Onesimus (the slave) and Nympha (who had a house church) - the whole book is worth just this story imho. The authors propose that the household codes can be interpreted as (1) Just an affirmation of the imperial view of the household, the Aristotelian hierarchy of man over women and all that (not likely if this letter is about subverting empire and not being captive to the philosophies of men). (2) A loving patriarchy when the wives and slaves choose to submit and husband (amazingly enough) love and not beat their wives (wow - that seems full of hope). or (3) Paul is challenging the status quo by promoting the freedom and full rights of women and slaves. He couldn't of course say so directly because to commit that to writing would lead to serious persecution from the empire for such revolutionary practices. But the language he uses connotes the themes of inheritance and jubilee. Remember that Colossians was delivered and read with Philemon (about treating a slave as an equal), the subversion is evident. Are we willing to challenge systems that oppress others if it means questioning the philosophies and assumptions of empire (ending global slavery, grant equal rights to women, not treating children as commodities)?
This is of course one of the most controversial parts of the book (bring up equality for women and you’re bound to find controversy). The idea that Paul was intending a certain meaning through his use of allusions to inheritance and jubilee that he couldn’t say outright challenges the assumptions of many contemporary Bible readers. The average reader is so used to assuming that their 21st century cultural lenses and vague familiarity with English versions of the Bible is all they need to fully grasp the Biblical text. Try to suggest that there may be elements there that a 1st century reader would hear, but which require a tad more complex reading from the reader today and one is met with cries of “the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand, how dare you assume the masses need education and intellect to understand God’s word!” (a claim that I have issues with, but which is believed as gospel truth by many).
But assuming that the household codes listed here and the language that surrounds them really does claim a revolutionary inclusion of all, then what does that mean for us now? Perhaps to forget these passages as confining the church to rules and philosophies that don’t even make sense in our culture today and instead see them as messages of hope that can alter our world for good. To recall the language of jubilee and shalom they connote and actually put that into practice. To live in this subversive and revolutionary way.
I always laugh when I hear Christians tell me that I’m just
being influenced by the world when I stand up for women’s rights. In what universe do they live in where women actually have equal rights in the dominant culture? Where do women actually receive equal pay and benefits? Where do women not have to live in fear of being raped or trafficked into sexual slavery? Where are women appreciated as people instead of sex objects? Where do women get the same publishing and speaking opportunities as men? I’m not giving into the world - I’m trying to subvert the world by promoting women’s equality. It’s the church that has sold itself to the lies of hierarchy and inequality.
And it gets worse when slavery is brought up. The fact that our clothes, our food, our junk is made at best by underpaid workers in sweatshops and at worst by abused slaves doesn’t seem to bother most people. It keeps our stuff cheap and helps our economy. To care about those people
would just be hurting ourselves and our country. Phrases like “you can’t change the laws of economics” or “those jobs are better than what they had before” get thrown around as poor excuses for not giving a damn. (and don’t even get me started on the people who say that if those poor people would just live morally, then they would have better options available to them). When it’s our greed that brought about most of the conditions for slavery worldwide and it is our greed that sustains it, it is up to us to fix the mess we created.
Guess what. This might take sacrifice. To live for Christ and the values of the Kingdom just might mean having to deal with some hardships. Maybe we can stop seeing “carrying the cross” as not getting to pray in school or not having our candidate win and start having to actually identify with Christ by caring for those he cared about. By being willing to pay workers a fair wage, to not support the (cheap readily available) products that were made by slave using companies, to stand against sexism even when the church openly supports it (and labels you a liberal feminist). These are lessons, I’m still learning. To get over my sense of entitlement and wanting to be liked by everyone in order to actually live for Christ.
Labels: Colossians Remixed, Gender Issues, Reflections, Social Justice