“Houston, we have a problem.” Our situation, however, is direr than the one which imperiled the lives of a crew of intrepid astronauts on the Apollo 13 moon flight. With our current problem, the direction of an entire nation and the future of the Christian Church are at stake. The depth of the divide between the two sides of our Culture War has never been greater, and the terms and implications of that divide have never been more threatening.
A recent discussion about women’s roles in Christian pulpits included a viral social media spat among Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders (and, yes, many conservative churches are still having that conversation). Included were remarks from the president of the oldest of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries. Spoken from the halls of academia in 2019, his words are tragic, almost inconceivable.
“It is all too easy to connect the dots between a Church that seems increasingly irrelevant to a modern culture, and leaders who actually prove that very point.”
Evangelical leader Albert Mohler Jr. said, “I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.” Justifications of gender inequality are humiliating to many of us who graduated from Southern Seminary, but we have come to expect a defense of patriarchy from Southern Baptist leaders. As maddening and concerning as this is, however, the real issue is much deeper.
Mohler defends his shameful sexism on the basis of a supposed “order of creation” – a comment that is so anachronistic that “embarrassing” only scratches the surface. The idea of such an “order of creation” displays a frightening bias against the process of discovery, the very system of education on which Western civilization was built.
Yes, “Houston, we have a problem,” but it’s neither “the women’s issue” nor the Bible. Christians can fully affirm that scripture is an indispensable element for the spiritual life without denying science, ignoring empirical evidence or turning one’s back on almost 500 years of technological advance. This is the greater problem. Framing contemporary issues about gender around an “order of creation” requires a worldview that is shockingly out-of-touch.
To be clear, evangelical leaders are defending the legitimacy of patriarchy based on a pre-scientific world-view that still insists a Supernatural Being literally spoke the world into existence (maybe as recently as 6,000 years ago), and brought the creation to completion by creating the first, literal human male with a word: “Let there be… one man.” Then, as a kind of afterthought, because the single Adam needed a helper, God created Eve – and because, in the “order of creation,” she was second, all women are second, and because, in the “order of creation,” she sinned first by eating that apple, all women for all time will be held responsible.
I can no longer wrap my head around such an anti-science view of God and the process of creation. Ironically, it was the education I received at Southern Seminary (in a very different time) that taught me better! One need not be an atheistic, “godless Darwinist” to acknowledge that for several hundred years science has questioned such a woodenly literal story. The empirical evidence has, in fact, discredited such literalism. For those same hundreds of years biblical scholars have been offering a hermeneutic that accepts and affirms the science – while celebrating the beauty and centrality of scripture for the life of faith.
“The reach of an anti‑intellectual, anti‑education mindset threatens our future as a Church and a nation.”
This is not news. Our understanding of the so-called “order of creation” began changing with the scientific revolution – in the 16th century!
For hundreds of years scientists and biblical Christians have accepted a new reality. Yet, across vast portions of this country and perhaps with most churchgoers in America, we who accept this “new” reality are viewed as the problem. The depth of ignorance of science displayed by many religious people today is tragic, and the reach of an anti-intellectual, anti-education mindset threatens our future as a Church and a nation.
The president of the United States has now surrounded himself with only the kind of Christian leaders who question the very premise of science (evaluation based on empirical evidence), and whose “biblically literal” worldview affirms a pre-scientific understanding of gender and sexual orientation and the environment, not to mention the development of nations and an impending, inevitable, literal apocalypse. We are in danger of making national policy decisions based on theological premises that actually deny fact-based research, disavowing science altogether.
World Religion News recently featured the headline, U.S. Church Membership Plummets to All-Time Low. It is all too easy to connect the dots between a Church that seems increasingly irrelevant to a modern culture, and leaders who prove that very point.
“Houston, we have a problem,” but the problem is not science; nor is it women in ministry or homosexuals or liberals or immigrants or any of the other “enemies” we are being sold by the ascendant national theology. The problem is the fear of progress. No “advanced” nation will survive the future by trying to return to the past – and neither will the Church.
The “gates of hell may not prevail against the Church,” as Jesus said, but ignorance might.