As I have been watching the various reactions to this presidential campaign, I am fascinated with the way in which I can see communal memory in operation - how older memories are refashioned to meet the needs of a current group, especially as it attempts to solve some crisis. Usually I have only ancient texts to study, and so I cannot observe this process as an organic one. So seeing it in process now is very educational. Perhaps it will allow me to bring even more insight to my old text studies.
What do I see? Well I see some evangelical and conservative Christians in a real crisis over this campaign. Why? Because the republicans have nominated a woman as VP, and according to their strict literal readings of scripture, women cannot be in leadership positions, especially if those positions dominate men.
Let's take the Southern Baptist Convention which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on my blog. Ten years ago there was a conservative hostile takeover of the Convention that resulted in a doctrinal and practical shift - women were told to stay home, and be helpmates to their husbands based on what the bible says literally. At the time, this was applied to secular vocations, not simply pastoral.
In fact, just last year, Sheri Klouda a Hebrew professor in Dallas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) was denied tenure because of her gender. According to the Dallas news the controversy was over 1 Timothy which says, "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man." This was used to fire her from her teaching post. Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor who came to her defense said, "Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties. She is a professor, for heaven's sake," Mr. Burleson said. "The same institution that conferred her degree and hired her has now removed her for gender. To me, that is a very serious, ethical, moral breach."
Now that Palin is on the republican ticket, there is a dilemma for these communities. So we see a shift now in some of these circles to begin emphasizing part of the past, while redefining the other part. The emphasis is now being placed on spiritual leadership - women cannot be leaders in church. But they can take on these roles if they are secular, like perhaps becoming one of the most powerful people in the world - the President of the United States. And the redefinition comes in terms of "this is what we always meant, but are just clarifying."
So now, according to David Kotter executive director of the Louisville, Kentucy-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, "Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world" (Houston Chronicle). Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says that their leadership beliefs are based on New Testament teachings, and do not apply to women in secular leadership. "Where the New Testament is silent, we're silent," he said. "Where the New Testament speaks, we're under its authority" (Houston Chronicle).
Has this shift opened a crack for women's leadership in areas that Land and Kotter may not have intended? Sheryl Brady, one of the five pastors featured in the recent edition of Gospel Today (which I also blogged on last month), reasons, "My problem with all this is, how can we have a Sarah Palin running for vice-president and yet (Southern Baptists) don't think a woman can be preacher?" Colorado-based author Margaret Feinberg, an up-and-coming evangelical voice says that for a lot of young evangelical women, Palin's nomination is "exciting" because "it speaks to young evangelical women who face a glass ceiling in our workplaces, but also the stained-glass ceiling of the church" (Associated Press).
This shift in communal memory - really the development of a counter-memory in order to deal with a crisis situation in the present - is not being met with open arms by some of the conservative Christians because they are recognized as a change from the previous platform. In March 2007, the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of white evangelicals thought that mothers with young children (i.e., Palin?!) working outside the home was a "bad thing" rather than a good one. Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry, says, "The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least. The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities -- of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home" (Los Angeles Times). Voddie Baucham, a Texas pastor who has criticized the Palin selection as anti-family in a series of blogs, said that the overwhelming evangelical support demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics. "Evangelicalism has lost its biblical perspective and its prophetic voice," Baucham wrote. "Men who should be standing guard as the conscience of the country are instead falling in line with the feminist agenda and calling a family tragedy . . . a shining example of family values" (Los Angeles Times).
Send me material and links that you have noticed about these shifting communal memories.