Submission to Power
I once had a conversation with Trudy Lebens when she and I were both clergy in the Diocese of Niagara. She had been around for a few years and I had been ordained just two or three, and I was very much a young, naive person. I said that I was not adverse to using the traditional patriarchal language, on the basis that the scriptures and christian tradition were so shaped by patriarchy that it could not be removed without seriously warping the good news. “What do we have left after we taken out patriarchy out of the Gospel?” I asked. “The Truth!” she said.
She had a point.
All Christians pick and choose texts in scripture to interpret other texts, and all of them read those texts in tension with their culture. Despite what “Back to Scripture” Christians might think, no one today lives or thinks the way that Christians did in the first generation or two after; we cannot recover “primitive Christianity” because we no longer live in that world. Rather, we receive the traditions and seek to live as best as we can in modern culture (even absenting ourselves from the present culture, as the Amish and monastics seem to do, is a reaction to the present day).
Titus is thought by modern biblical scholars not to be written by Paul because it is so different from the Christian community described by Paul. In the universally accepted letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon) Paul describes a spirit-filled community of equals, whereas this letter demonstrates a hierarchy with presbyters and overseers (priests and bishops, if you will). Whereas in the genuine letters we can discern an equality of sexes, where a woman can be a co-worker with Paul, this letter describes who should submit to others. Whereas Paul tells Philemon that he should free Onesimus the slave, slavery is endorsed in the text.
In today’s second reading the older men are at the top of the heap. The older women are to mentor the younger women, who are to be submissive to their husbands (there is not of the confusion about young women in 1 Corinthians 7). The concern is that if wives are not submissive to their husbands then the gospel might somehow become discredited – among the non-Christian community, I suppose. Slavery is accepted and slaves are told to be submissive to their master.
The letter seems to suggest that Christians are just passively waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus; this is in contrast to the sense that the transformation of the world has begun in the Resurrection of Jesus, and that all things are being made new. The transformation of disciples seems to be domesticated and made very much a distant prospect.
Paul wrote in First Corinthians 5: “‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial.” The criterion for whether an activity is to be recommended is not whether there is some directive, but rather if it helps build up the person in their relationship with God and their neighbour. While there may have been a time the majority would have said that slavery was good and submission of wives to their husbands was likewise part of the cosmic order, even in early Christianity this was questioned. Paul wrote in Galatians 3, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Cosmic categories are subverted by participation in Christ, they are no longer beneficial.
As Christians we do not sit and wait for the Last days. We seek to live in the Apocalypse, that is, the restoration of humanity through Christ and the making all things new. While we await the full physical manifestation of Resurrection, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is now at work in us, transforming our “inner natures.”
There is nothing wrong and much good in being “temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.” What is different now is that we have moved beyond where the Cretan Christian community was in the letter to Titus. By the Holy Spirit we are rising towards God, and being reshaped in the image of Jesus.
But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.
Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behaviour, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.
Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to answer back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Saviour.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.