As the dialogue on this blog concerning Covenant's College's Kaleo Center's conference on gender and the church comes to an end, a few observations are in order.
It is a great disadvantage to do the work of professing and fathering at a distance and by E-mail. Covenant students need on-site professors who will profess the biblical doctrine of sexuality with joyful abandon--not parsimoniously with a defensive attitude saying more what that doctrine doesn't mean than what it does mean.
These professors are physically present, and therefore in the perfect position to answer the question, "What is submission?"
Their answer should not come only in a classroom, but also in their homes around the dining room table. It's there in the hurlyburly of life that submission will become clear to Matthew, Heather, Stephanie, and hundreds of others who arrived at college thinking that feminism has questions that only twenty or thirty year olds hear.
When Covenant's Kaleo Center invites the James to campus to deal with the much-controverted question of authority and submission in marriage, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to read the signs and know where the Kaleo Center is trying to lead the campus. The headliner is a woman and she is approved of and promoted by the main evangelical feminist organization? Well now, let me see: I wonder what that means?
Not to put too fine a point on it, I think it means that she ought not to speak at Covenant since every confessional commitment of Covenant's ecclesiastical authority is opposed to the teaching of this evangelical feminist organization on the meaning and purpose of sexuality. Yes, to me it's that simple: Carolyn Custis James' books are sold by the organization and they use her to speak at their national conference so we cannot trust Mrs. James to teach our students the meaning and purpose of Christian marriage, sexuality, submission, authority, etc.
But some point out that while she was at Covenant Mrs. James took a second to affirm that she was willing to submit to Scripture's teaching concerning men alone being called to serve as pastors and elders, so she's obviously orthodox in her doctrine of sexuality.
Maybe an analogy will help make my point.
Let's say by some perverse error I was invited by the administration to be the keynote speaker at a conference on gender and the church at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, or Wheaton College where the community ethos is overwhelmingly feminist. And it was clear by the administration's invitation which direction they wanted to move their institution although, of course, nothing was ever said directly to me about their goal.
Still, I could read the tea leaves and prepared accordingly. The administration chose me for what I do best: address audiences hostile to biblical patriarchy in such a way, and with credentials carefully modulated to the end, that when I leave those I've spoken to have begun to question their feminist orthodoxies.
I show up with my wife in tow and she has a pierced nose which serves my purposes admirably giving the appearance that we aren't simply boringly normal Christians living in simple submission to Scripture but something more in keeping with the campus ethos--sort of exotic and bleeding edge like.
My wife starts out her message by speaking about the experience of men down through the ages suffering at the hands of rebellious wives who refuse to submit to their husbands. She tells the story, for instance, of a well-known theologian whose friend came in the front door of their home one day to find his wife standing over him in fury, grasping a clump of his hair in her hand. And she multiplies such stories and quotes until, as she brings it to a conclusion, the audience is gasping in despair wondering if any feminist rhetoric can possibly justify such wickedness.
Then I move onto the platform and pick up from where my wife left off. Nothing direct, you understand--everything carefully nuanced in such a way that my critics won't be able to get much of a toe-hold. But every professor present knows what I'm professing.
The students, though? No, the students all got high SAT scores and many of them think themselves wise beyond their years. So it's the work of a moment to throw them off my scent. I reassure them that I'm in complete harmony with their institution's feminist commitments by talking about Galatians 3:28 for a few seconds, demonstrating the equality of the sexes before God. A few short spurts of talk about the sexes having equal value, about the image of God being equally resident in both woman and man (and of course I say it in that order), and other such rhetorical flourishes.
After about a minute or so in that direction, I've built a bullet-proof shield against being accused of undercutting the campus ethos. So then I get to work. After the talk, a young woman raises her hand and asks me what she should look for in a husband?
I respond tongue-in-cheek that she shouldn't seek a husband who is weak and believes in the equality of the sexes as a way of covering up his own inadequacies...
Now is there anyone reading this analogy who doesn't see the parallels to Covenant College's Kaleo Center's invitation to Carolyn Custis James to address the matter of gender and the church? Mrs. James is married to the president of Reformed in Orlando. Trusting in her essential orthodoxy, we're lulled into feelings of security and let our guard down. Mrs. James just published the lead article in the denominational magazine. We're lulled into feelings of security and let our guard down. Mrs. James' husband begins the weekend by reading a list of the worst quotes he could find from church history indicating that every period of church history is simply one more time of gross suffering by women under repressive male authorities who demean women. We're AWAKENED! Hear, hear! What is this? Stand up and listen! Houston, we have a problem!
Having been softened up by Mrs. James' husband, we're ready again to be reassured so the headliner begins by taking a minute to say she affirms what the denomination confesses, that women alone should be pastors and elders. But then she's off and running.
Brothers and sisters, I've been around this issue of biblical sexuality for a long time now and there are some certainties that must be stated at the conclusion of this matter.
First, Carolyn Custis James is no friend of Scripture's teaching on the biblical doctrine of sexuality. She's no blunderbuss against that doctrine, but rather a stealth bomber. She speaks at both feminist and patriarchal venues, but the venues that are feminist are hard in their commitments whereas the patriarchal venues are soft.
Second, while I'm sure that because it exists under the auspices of Covenant College, the Kaleo Center is officially patriarchal (or complementarian which is surely the label they would choose), I'm equally sure that commitment is intentionally being moved in the feminist direction. Again, the movement is not direct but indirect. Still, movement it is.
Third, within the faculty of Covenant College, there are some professors who are faithful in this matter. There are many others who, although they are personally committed to biblical sexuality, know the cost of their public profession of that doctrine and have chosen not to pay that cost. And then there are the professors who have long since turned their back on the biblical doctrine of sexuality and are simply proponents of the reigning ethos of almost every academic community in the western world: feminism. And I'm guessing that, like every other academic institution in the western world, if there's a department where this conformist ideological commitment to feminism is strongest on Covenant's campus, it's the English department.
Where to now? Well, Covenant College has a new administration and we hope and pray that their commitments are not demonstrated by the commitments of the Kaleo Center evident in their recent conference. Time will tell and we must pray for them.