Gendered Virtue or Is This Bench Taken?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there virtues exclusive to women?
Are there virtues which should be exclusive to women?
Don’t the scriptures make a listing of what it is to be virtuous?

This week I was prompted to read a blog entitled “Militant Virtue” by Rachel Janovic at the Femina blog. Rachel makes all sorts of assertions in her post about “female virtues” and how we as women should have an “active defense” against men who would “leave a mark” on us (yes, like a dog marks its territory).

Sigh.

First let us look at the definition of the word virtue. Dictionary.com defines virtue as:

vir·tue [vur-choo]

noun

1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.

5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.

The word virtue is not used in the Old Testament rather, the word virtuous is. The word for virtuous in Hebrew is chayil (which you will recognize if you have been following this blog for long).
Chayil is defined by Thayer’s Lexicon (Strongs #2428) as:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you catch that? Chayil is used 243 times and translated:

  • army
  • man of valor
  • host
  • forces
  • valiant
  • strength
  • riches
  • wealth
  • power
  • substance
  • might
  • strong

Chayil is used 3 times specifically of a woman or women.
Ruth 3:11  – And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Proverbs 12:4 – An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
Proverbs 31:10 – An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

We have been through this before, but the Proverbs 31 list is not viewed in the Jewish tradition as a list of things all good wives (read “women of virtue”) must live up to. But rather it is a listing of examples of ways that women can show their Chayil. Just a bonus, if you read Proverbs 31 and compare it to the list above these are all different ways women can show valor or virtue. I will assert here again that there are as many ways to be an excellent wife as there are women. I would also assert that even these examples of virtue can have application to men as well. Could you not (gasp) reverse the genders in the Proverbs verses and still have truth? Let’s try it and see…

An excellent husband is the crown of his wife, but he who brings shame is like rottenness in her bones.
An excellent husband who can find? He is far more precious than jewels.

I know my excellent husband is like a crown to me. I am a very blessed woman. And I know plenty of women who can attest that a man who behaves shamefully is “like rottenness to her bones”.
Second one, once again, true. As the saying goes, “a good man is hard to find” and honey if you find one as good as mine you better hang on to him tight! He is more precious than a big ass engagement ring.

Okay, for grins, now let’s look at the word virtue in the new testament and see what it has to say. The word for virtue in the new testament is Dynamis. Dynamis is defined by Thayer’s as:

 

 

 
Dynamis is used 120 times and translated the following ways:

  • power
  • mighty work
  • strength
  • miracle
  • might
  • virtue
  • mighty

Dynamis is never used to exclusively describe men or women but rather God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom, miracles and even the strength of sin.

Ok, enough background (sorry about the length of this post but I felt like proper background was needed), on to the article. Ms. Janovic lists what she considers to be “female virtues” at the beginning of her post: gentle and quiet spirit, modesty, chastity, faithfulness at home. She states that, “Scripture does not define virtues in terms of empty space; it is defined in terms of fruit.” First of all I feel compelled to point out that I am unable to find a verse in the Bible that defines virtue in terms of fruit. I am also unable to see where virtue is delineated along gender specific lines. I do see in Galatians where it lists the fruit of the spirit for both men and women.  I do see in scripture where it says that in Christ there is no male or female.

It would seem that the author subscribes to the gendered virtue model embraced by Rousseau. This model asserts that there are special virtues characteristic of each and arising out of their different basic natures. This model is extra biblical. P.J. Ivanhoe of the University of Michigan summed it up this way in his paper Women and Virtue,

In his work Emile, he describes the ideal education that a young man should receive, an education that will develop the set of virtues that are the full manifestation of his manly nature. In this same book, though not occupying as important a position, is a description of the proper education Emile’s sister, Sophie is to receive. It too is described in terms of developing virtues that fully manifest her basic nature. But while Emile’s virtues concern life in the public realm of a citizen, Sophie’s virtues concern life in the private realm of the home. According to Rousseau, women not only have special virtues that are theirs alone, they lack many virtues that are seen as exclusively male. And virtues that women are thought to lack are those required for public, political life – the realm of a great deal of power.

Ms. Janovic or other Christians I know who take her positions in this article might say they disagree with my characterization, however I think her post belies that assertion. First of all her use of the Fairie Queene as an illustration points directly to the division of the virtues into masculine and feminine. Chastity in this story is represented as a female Knight or female virtue. As she says, a “militant virtue” that “requires an active defense”.

What happens next and throughout the article I find patently offensive. She decides to use the imagery of men as dogs who simply go about “marking their territory”. She states:

“…if you have ever watched a nature film, or seen a dog on a walk, or really paid attention to life at all, you will have noticed a certain tendency among the male of the species. They mark their territory. They make a claim. They fight over the girl water buffaloes. Men do exactly the same thing, starting somewhere around the sixth grade. They like to impose on women around them in a way that builds their territory, or their prestige, or their ego.”

So guys, here it is, you are nothing but a beast who cannot be trusted to control himself when wanting to…
wait for it…
wait for it…
SIT NEXT TO A GIRL ON A BENCH IN A PUBLIC PLACE!
ASK A GIRL FOR A RIDE!
HAVE AN INSIDE JOKE WITH A FRIEND WHO HAPPENS TO BE A GIRL!
TEXTING HER TOO LATE

But it is ok, “it is not necessarily springing from any deep nefarious desires. Sometimes, it is just an accident. Sometimes it is a bad habit, or a different culture. Sometimes they aren’t actually paying attention when they impose. So don’t take this post as an accusation towards the men who impose on, or attempt to impose on you. These are all excellent opportunities for you to practice virtue.”
You see, you don’t even know you are being inappropriate, you are simply clueless. But that is ok too because it is all the woman’s responsibility to have a strong defense! She must not allow herself to “be imposed upon”. She should not “just let these things happen.” It is her fault if she stays on the bench when you sit down to chat. “Simply not resisting is how [she lets]a mark be made.”

Of course it is also her responsibility not to be shrill. According to the author, “Young women have a great deal of trouble with the fear of being shrill, and if that doesn’t scare them they probably are shrill.” So ladies, it is also your job not  to”overreact, but to be perfectly firm and cheerful. Someone unwelcome joins you on a bench? Unjoin him. Stand up. Walk away.”

The author also appears to think the women are clueless. She writes:

I know another problem for the unmarried women is that they might think that the young man, or young men, are all interested in them seriously. They feel like these things would not be happening in Christian circles if the men involved had no intentions. They would not be getting rides with me, walking me to my car, making a show of having inside jokes with me, or otherwise giving me attention if they were not actually interested in me.

Perhaps *gasp* the man and the woman are JUST FRIENDS! Perhaps they just want to get to know each other.

In the end her advice is this:

So if you are a young woman in this kind of situation, practice cheerful resistance. If the world of interaction between the sexes was a billiard table, be a bumper, not a pocket. Cheerfully, firmly, rudely  enforce your standards. You don’t owe him an explanation. Don’t get caught up in reasons you can’t give him a ride. Just say no. If he insists, pushes, tries harder, say, “Have a nice walk!”
Do not be afraid that this kind of defense will keep anyone from ever seriously being interested in you. If it is the right kind of man, this sort of behavior will bless him deeply.

Again guys, if this kind of behavior is off putting to you, if you think that when you sit down to chat with a girl on a bench and she gets up and walks away that she isn’t interested, you just aren’t the “right kind of man.”

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Why I Love Being a Woman

I love being a woman. Why? In honor of Women’s History Month I will share with you some of the reasons I love being a woman.

Because God calls me the same thing he calls himself: ezer kenegdo.

The Hebrew words used here to describe woman as a helper are ‘ezer kenegdo. The word ‘ezer means “helper” and is never used in the Old Testament to refer to an inferior or to a subordinate. In fact, the word is used in reference to God as our helper (Psalm 10:14; 30:10; 54:4; 70:5; 72:12; 121:2). Clearly God is not our subordinate. ‘Ezer is a sign of strength and power. Kenegdo is a Hebrew preposition and adverb meaning “corresponding to” or “face to face,” so it is best understood as meaning that Eve was a fitting partner for Adam, for she was like him. Eve was created as an equal to Adam. She was given equal authority and dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28).

Because God has made me and Kent to be a team.
Carolyn Custis James in her book, Half the Church writes: the ezer was designed to be a warrior.

Descriptions of the woman as dependent, needy, vulnerable, deferential, helpless, leaderless, or weak are – to put it simply – wrong. Such definitions betray cultural biases and I fear a deep-seated misogyny. The ezer is a warrior. Like the man, she is also God’s creative masterpiece – a work of genius and a marvel to behold – for she is fearfully and wonderfully made. The ezer never sheds her image-bearer identity. Not here. Not ever. God defines who she is and how she is to live in His world. That never changes. The image-bearer responsibilities to reflect God to the world and to rule and subdue on His behalf still rest on her shoulders too.

Because on my own, with or without Kent I bear God’s image.

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1:27-28, TNIV).

Because I love being married to Kent. I love being part of a greater whole. We are better together. He is my other self.

 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  (Gen. 2:23-24, ESV)

Because I love being a mother.

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.  ~Washington Irving

Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.  ~Linda Wooten

Because there are as many ways to be a “biblical” woman as there are women. We are all different. We defy pidgeon-holeing. We are complex. We are mysterious. We are creative. We are powerful. We are sexual. We are nurturing. We are warriors. We are defenders of the weak. We are lovers. We are smart.

Because there are so many reasons to love being a woman. I didn’t always. There were times in my life I wished God made me a man because I thought they had more autonomy, more freedom, more power. Now that I am older, I know better. In spite of the challenges and the occasional dismissal because of my gender, I treasure being a woman. It is an amazing privilege. Just as is being a man. It is not that it is better to be a woman, but that it is better to embrace all you were made to become. For me, it is my great honor to reflect God’s glory in all that it means to be me. I must embrace my womanhood in order to do that in order to truly love God and my neighbor with all that I am.

 

Here is a list of the other people participating in today’s synchroblog:
Marta Layton – The War on Terror and the War on Women
Ellen Haroutounian – March Synchroblog – All About Eve
Jeremy Myers – Women Must Lead the Church
Carol Kuniholm – Rethinking Hupotasso
Wendy McCaig – Fear Letting Junia Fly
Tammy Carter – Pat Summit: Changing the Game & Changing the World
Jeanette Altes – On Being Female
kathy escobar – replacing the f-word with the d-word (no not those ones)
Melody Hanson – Call Me Crazy, But I Talk To Jesus Too
Glenn Hager – Walked Into A Bar
Steve Hayes – St. Christina of Persi
Leah Sophia – March Syncroblog-All About Eve
Liz Dyer – The Problem Is Not That I See Sexism Everywhere…
Sonja Andrews – International Women’s Day
Sonnie Swenston-Forbes – The Women

God and Homosexuality: Part 1 – Lev 18:21 and 20:13

Leviticus 18:21
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

First,  Scripture must be read it in light of its context and the culture in which it was written. When we look at the beginning of chapter 18:2-3 we read:

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God.You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.

The context of the chapter is that the Israelites are not to do as the Canaanites or Egyptians did when worshiping their gods. Chapter 20 is more specific saying not to take part in the rituals done in worship of a god named Molech. Both chapters set forth long lists of sexual practices common in the cultic worship of the cultures mentioned.The question then arises, what were the practices of the Canaanites and Egyptians? Biblical historians tell us that Canaanite’s worship often included sexual rituals. During the rituals, whole families, including husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles would engage in sexual activities, including some homosexual activities . There were also temple prostitutes involved in the worship of some of the gods. Having sexual intercourse with them was thought to bring you favor with the god or goddess of that particular temple.

Historians also tell us that homosexual relationships were untenable in such tribal cultures. Men and women were largely kept separated and men’s and women’s work clearly delineated. They simply would not have been familiar with a meaningful long term sexual relationship between members of the same sex. Wouldjesusdescriminate.org puts it this way:

It simply is not reasonable to believe the author of Leviticus intended to prohibit a form of homosexual relationship that did not exist at the time. When read in textual and historical context, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are clearly directed at homosexual temple prostitution, and that is how they should be applied.

Some people may object, saying, “But if you ignore the context and just read the words of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in black and white, they appear to prohibit all sex between men, not just sex in pagan rituals.” But that is the whole point: The meaning of words depends on context. Remember, the words of 1 Corinthians 11 also appear to require long hair and head coverings for all women in all circumstances. But, because we have studied the context, we know that is not what was meant. A text taken out of context is pretext. Let’s apply the same common-sense rule here.

The Leviticus passages were clearly written in the context of pagan religious ritual. Since we are not bringing a question about the appropriateness of cultic sex practices for modern Christians, we can safely set aside these clobber passages.

The holiness codes had a purpose; to help keep Israel from falling into idol worship because of the land they came out of and the land they were entering. They were rules to keep them from falling into the ways of the people of those lands who worshiped false gods. These laws were not and are not universally applicable. Indeed, prior to these laws being given, God blessed several relationships forbidden in these two passages.

  1. Abraham and Sarah – an incestuous, brother-sister marriage.
  2. Amram and Jochebed – an incestuous, nephew-aunt marriage.
  3. Judah and Tamar – an incestuous, father in law-daughter in law marriage.
  4. Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah – a polygamous marriage.

These examples illustrate that the Levitcal laws had a beginning. These laws also had an end. Jesus. The only law that remains is the law of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. The law of love has overturned other things the church used to say were abominations: Interracial marriage, slavery and the subjugation of women, among others. The Levitical laws were given,

  1. to a specific people (Israel & resident aliens),
  2. in a specific location (Palestine),
  3. under specific rules (the Holiness Code),
  4. for a specific purpose (to bring them to Christ their Messiah),
  5. during a specific time period (1450 BC to AD 30).

If you intend to follow them, you must follow them all. Galations 5:1-3 says:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

There are many specific acts commanded in the Old Testament that we ignore and many that are prohibited that we enjoy. These are a few of my favorites noted in an open letter to Dr. Laura from several years back:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,
Jim

Oh yes, don’t forget your tattoos.