Monday, October 6, 2008

Communal memory in operation

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.


José Solano said...

Hmm. Sounds like all the more reason to vote for McCain/Palin. It's a victory for feminists recognizing the value of women in the workforce and it helps "fundamentalist Evangelicals" broaden their perspective while still meeting biblical guidelines. This sword cuts from both sides and radical fundamentalist feminists are being caught in a very similar bind.

Roadscholar said...

Interesting piece on communal memory as an organic, changing entity. But is “the Truth” organic and changing, or does it always stay the same? It seems to me that the Southern Baptists have made their brand of Christianity (even as we are seeing them make it now) into something other than what it was in the beginning. They are concerned about enforcing their selected version of morality, and will change doctrines, create new dogmas, or do whatever they have to do to preserve it. I especially like the words of the Texas paster/blogger that you cited, who said that “the overwhelming evangelical support [of Palin] demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics.” In this vein I am reminded of the words of Frederick Nietzsche, who said that “The ‘good’ do not believe that morality is necessary, they believe only that the police are necessary.” So, in my view, they are not concerned with what the Bible tells them they should believe, but rather with what their own sense of morality tells them they should advocate and enforce. Thus, as the Word says, “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

Pastor Bob said...

First, I'm a Presbyterian. That's PCUSA. But I went to Fuller back in the 1970's when women were first being granted MDivs at Fuller. Also had women profs then @ Fuller. I thought I was an Evangelical and the Southern Baptists are Fundamentalists!

J. K. Gayle said...

Send me material and links that you have noticed about these shifting communal memories.

Thanks again for a great post, and for re-membering. Here are a few items:

1) The blog Complegalitarian promotes vigorous discussion about some of these issues. A post on the contradictory "complementarian" views on Palin has generated more than 220 comments so far.

2) The same Seminary that ousted Klouda because she was a woman (and would teach men - horrors!) has had an undergrad degree for women only, in homemaking. According to the administration's hermeneutics, men could teach the women in these "homemaking" classes; but, of course, the goal is to keep women in the kitchen and the bedroom and out of the theology faculty and the pulpit, so it seems.

3) The Chronicle of Higher Ed today reports on how men in the Political Science Dept at Rutgers are discriminating against the female faculty members and graduate students. (I posted on that here).

paulf said...

And how can fundies be so enthusiastic for someone who calls herself "Joe Sixpack?" I thought drinking beer was for bad people!

Fundy standards sure are changing. First they let guitars in churches and next thing it will be keggers.

Leon said...

I don't think that any of this is a problem for evangelicals or the religious right. Hypocrisy is never an issue when power is the goal. The evangelicals have never been satisfied with religious freedom. They want domination of religion, their brand of religion, their ideology. Palin can help get them there. Making a split between the secular and spiritual worlds is helpful to their desire for power. Power is the goal and anything you can do to get there is okay.

On the subject of cultural memory, scholars are still doing a poor job in biblical studies. It is still de rigueur to erase Jewish evidence from the New Testament. Jesus' Jewishness is still one of the most feared subjects in the world. Scholars still keep imposing their own views on the ancient texts. Instead of letting the evidence speak for itself, they do all they can to eliminate any pro-Jewish evidence and exaggerate the anti-Jewish evidence. There is a very long history to "remembering" the Gospels this way and no one is willing to challenge it. So when power is misused to study ancient texts, it is not at all surprising that we still have problems with other expressions of power trumping objectivity (which is not the same as neutrality as April has pointed out).

Leon Zitzer