When a Gospel of Servanthood and Suffering Stands in the Way of Equality and Justice



Question: What if the wife is the victim of the husband’s hostility?

Answer: There is no “victim” if we understand that we are called to suffer for righteousness. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” I Peter 2:21 Christ was not a victim! He willingly gave His life for us. “By whose stripes you were healed . . . likewise you wives . . . ” I Peter 2:24; 3:1 Christ’s life teaches us how to suffer.

While I couldn’t find a firm citation for the image above, I’m fairly certain it comes from Bill Gothard’s material (let me know if you know otherwise). With that out of the way, let’s look at some context for the verses cited here:

I Peter 2: 18—3:7

18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

When I saw this image and looked up the text to refresh my memory on it, I thought of a recent article in Prodigal magazine. It was called “The Lost Art of Servanthood (A Letter to My Feminist Sisters),” and it hit on all of these same points, literally arguing that if Christ calls his followers to be servants, fighting for equality should be out of the picture. And thinking about this, I realized that there are two Christian doctrines that can easily stand in the way of any attempt to reach equality or justice—servanthood, and suffering.

The Bible over and over extols its readers to be servants, and proclaimed that the man who is least in this world is greatest in the next, and that the person who is greatest is the one who makes himself the servant of all. The Bible also praises Christ’s suffering and declares that his followers will suffer for their faith—and that they should rejoice for it. Further, some verses talk about becoming pure through suffering. The passage above is a perfect example of all of this.

And don’t think that this interpretation is limited to Gothard or the Prodigal article. Sure, these ideas aren’t usually taken as far as Gothard takes them, but they’re extremely prevalent in Christianity, especially in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Here’s another example from a recent post on another Christian blog:

Satan doesn’t want you to take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. He wants you to have your crowns now, your best life now. He wants you to have the promotion now,after all, you deserve it. He wants you to have the biggest and best of everything – after all, it’s all about you! . . . Good crowns come to those who wait. Exaltation comes to those who are humiliated, first.

The entire article that the above quote comes from is about a woman who gave up her dreams of stardom—she was a very good singer and could have gone professional, at least from the way she tells it—to become a pastor’s wife, something she had long loathed the idea of. In her piece she doesn’t say she has found that she loves being a pastor’s wife—far from it!—but rather that she has realized that her place is to serve, and to take up her cross and accept humiliation, and to wait till the next life for happiness and fulfillment.

When calls to be willing to suffer and to take the role of a servant are aimed at those who are in charge, those who are privileged, the possibilities are revolutionary. But it’s something else entirely when those same calls are aimed at those who are not in charge, to the underprivileged and the marginalized. I grew up in an extremely conservative environment where the elevation of servanthood was spoken of as revolutionary, but in terms of “servant leadership,” not in terms of the privileged abdicating their power; similarly, “traditional” gender roles were preached as handed down by God and the gospel of servanthood and suffering was used to enforce these roles—to inform women that their role serving their husbands was actually the greater role, and the more valued.

As I see it, the trouble with making ideas like servanthood and suffering revolutionary is that in the Bible these ideas were not only aimed at the powerful, but at those without power as well. Notice that the passage quoted at length above calls slaves to be obedient to their masters, even to those who are harsh and beat them without cause. Sure, Philemon is called to treat his slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ—whether that meant to free him is something I’ve heard debated—but Onesimus was also commanded to obey and serve his master regardless and without condition.

Another thing I noticed growing up in a conservative Christian environment is that this doctrine of servanthood and suffering allows Christian leaders to conceal the significance of their positions of power by giving them a way to symbolically point to the lowest in the hierarchy and say “those are the greatest in the kingdom of God” without actually doing anything to correct the power imbalances and inequalities. In some situations, the idea that those who suffer and are of lowly status are noble and close to God can actually take the edge off of the need to help correct inequality and bring justice to the suffering, both here and elsewhere. While it is an extreme example, this is well illustrated in the image with which this post began, stating that there is no such thing as being a “victim” because suffering is what we are called to.

The more I think about it the harder I am finding it to find anything good at all in the emphasis and value Christianity places on servanthood and suffering. Sure, it can make the marginalized feel that their marginalization will pay off the long run, but it seems to me that these ideas are naturally set up to defend the status quo and against radical movements to obtain things like equality and justice. And I see that as a very, very bad thing.

Of course, I’m coming at this from the perceptive of a young adult who no longer believes in God but grew up in an conservative evangelical home. If I still considered myself a Christian, I would probably be spending time right now with some books and a concordance, trying to find an eloquent way to challenge these narratives from the inside and create a doctrine of servanthood and suffering subversive after all. And so I will put the question to you, my readers: If you consider yourself a Christian and a feminist, what do you do with servanthood and suffering? 

The rest of you are more than welcome to snark at the image up top.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ella.warnock.7 Ella Warnock

    Suffering turned out to be the lynchpin holding the whole rotten mess together. From 2007 through 2010 I became well acquainted with constant suffering, both physically and mentally. Suffering was most assuredly NOT holy, nor will it bring you closer to anything but your possibly quick demise and the absolute fury you feel for a good life cut so short.

    If you allow it, suffering can bring you in touch with reality and reason. But if a god who ostensibly wanted my love purposely sent all of that crap my way? Let’s just say I respond much more positively to flowers, chocolates, and weekly hour and a half deep tissue massages. I never did like the bad boys anyway.

  • Stev84

    It’s not just Protestant fundies. Mother Theresa glorified suffering and poverty and thought it brought people closer to god. She reportedly said “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” To a woman dying of cancer she told “this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.”

    As a result the care at her facilities was severely lacking. “Houses for the dying” indeed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/darlingtheo Theo Darling

      Actually I just read a good article about this: http://new.exchristian.net/2013/04/self-flagellation-and-excruciating-kiss.html
      Most of this info (as relates to Mother Teresa, not to fundy theology) is new to me, because I grew up in this environment that revered her for her “work” and the only questions I ever saw leveled at her were about the truth of her Catholic beliefs.

  • http://sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/ Sophelia

    Once you see suffering as sacred, you also get into problems with charity work. Isn’t the doctrine of suffering the lynch-pin in a lot of the criticisms of Mother Teresa? If you believe things like: “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain,
    sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come
    so close to Him that He can kiss you.” Then dedicating your life to alleviating suffering seems like rejecting the Jesus kisses.

  • centaurie

    ” Sure, it can make the marginalized feel that their marginalization will pay off the long run, but it seems to me that these ideas are naturally set up to defend the status quo and against radical movements to obtain things like equality and justice.”

    Some people (around the start of the 20th century) expressed something similar with “The poor exist so that the rich can be charitable (and therefore pious)”
    Inhuman doctrine however you look at it…

    • reebism

      That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Jean Webster’s “Daddy Long-Legs”, written at the beginning of the twentieth century:

      “We had a bishop this morning,
      and what do you think he said?

      “The most beneficent promise made us in the Bible
      is this, ‘The poor ye have always with you.’ They
      were put here in order to keep us charitable.”

      The poor, please observe, being a sort of useful
      domestic animal. If I hadn’t grown into such a perfect
      lady, I should have gone up after service and told
      him what I thought. “

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Wow! I don’t remember that part. Now I have to go back and re-read that book. :-)

    • lollardheretic

      Actually, this idea is way older than 20th century. The idea of the poor being present to offer the possibility of charity appears in the Medieval church, too. Of course in the middle ages, you had the plagues, too, and you didn’t have the same concepts of human rights you do now, so the implicit “nobles are better than peasants” dominated (this is a generalization, of course).

      That said, there’s something good in the “poor are here for you to be charitable.” If you take it from the perspective that there will always be those who are suffering, and it is the Christian duty of those in power to help those suffering. The idea that those suffering deserve it is a perversion of that idea. The whole idea is that suffering in this world happens, without relation to merit.

      If you believe in a fallen world, it isn’t as though suffering might run out. Like one day we’ll solve it.

      All that said, I do agree that this notion of “suffering” and “service” is mightily abused, and it is fundamentally problematic, too.

      • centaurie

        I know it’s older than that, but the context I was thinking of was in the early 1900′s (a book about the political and social struggle of the labourers of a small industrial town in that time period).

        And I agree about having a duty as a Christian to look after those who are worse off….I mean it’s one of the main teachings of Christ, and all that… Just way to go by taking this commendable idea and turn it into something that perpetuates the problem!

  • Cygnus

    I wonder what the answer to that question would be if the genders were reversed? Would they say it is just as godly for a man to suffer at the hands of his wife?

    • Tracey

      I noticed it’s always the women expected to be lesser, to suck it up, to worship the husband…never the husband toward the wife.

  • Jayn

    Servanthood bugs me as framed. I have a strong belief in the social contract, that we all have responsibilities towards each other, but the hierarchical structure it defends doesn’t fit in how I see this. Those with power owe it to those without to wield that power wisely and without perpetuating injustice, but that’s not the ideal world I envision. That some are more powerful than others is something that is, not something that ought to be, and as we are all equal in God we should work towards mirroring that on earth.

    As for suffering, definitely bugged in how it separates out suffering for doing good things ( a recurring theme and something I see some value in, though I’m not sure how much) and pointless suffering, but then holds them both up as good. Jesus suffered on the cross FOR OUR SAKES, and while ideally good deeds would not result in suffering, if people are willing to take it on for the sake of others it is at minimum a sign of their convictions. But all suffering should be minimised, and needless suffering should not be tolerated. I do not see it as inherently good, at most something that should be willingly accepted in certain circumstances.

  • ebon badger

    If I was the pastor husband I’d be pretty upset to find I was married to someone who loathed being married to me. It’s not exactly going to result in a successful marriage is it? How long can such a situation like that go on for?

  • KarenJo12

    These passages have to be interpreted as they would have been read in Antiquity. At that time — and really until the 18th century — misery was universal and constant, and all ancient philosophies aimed at addressing the pain of existence. (I read a book called The Rise of Christianity which included a chapter by an archeologist who had discovered that everyone in Jerusalem during the 1st C CE had intestinal worms.) the common idea was that anyone who had bad luck slightly worse than the standard level of wretchedness was cursed and should be shunned. This led to people abandoning sick patients during epidemics. Christians cared for the sick, meaning that more Christians survived. Surviving the measles or smallpox was a sign of supernatural favor.

    The idea of suffering being proof of God’s favor today is, as Libby Anne notes, a problem. I have read in other places that these passages are interpreted very differently in the 3rd World.

    • erp

      I suspect people got abandoned during epidemics because people realized that those who cared for the epiidemic sick got sick.

      Some of the New Testament and some of the Hebrew Bible concentrate a bit more on the rich and the rulers (camel through the eye of the needle, or Isaiah “Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.” Note that the rulers in congress was able to find money for a part of government that directly affects them, the FAA.

  • AnyBeth

    I think you’re forgetting the root of those: original sin and hell.

    The idea here is that every person is inherently evil and deserving of eternal torture. The very best any person can do, God considers disgusting. People’s minds are evil and will trick them. So killing one’s inner self is the best thing to do so one can be a vessel of God only. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s God’s right to break a person to pieces if he so chooses… and no one has the right to demand an explanation.

    So being a servant is the best one can do because it includes denying self (which is apparently pious), but God may well still consider that repulsive. And with these ideas, suffering is practically guaranteed.

    How can one possibly fight for anything better for oneself (or a group one is in) if all one deserves is torture and destruction? The only answer’s already given: the thing to do is die inside. You can’t fight for yourself if you don’t have a self.

    Except… if these concepts are so right and holy, why do the ones who preach it not live by it themselves?

    • Christian Vagabond

      The answer is in your post. If every person is inherently evil, then logically they will have difficulty living by any moral code, no matter how enlightened or wise that code may be.

      But you’re conflating Calvinism with Christianity as a whole. Strict Calvinism would agree that God considers our best deeds to be “disgusting.” But only a small (but vocal) percentage of Christians are strict Calvinists. Most are Arminian (such as Charismatics, mainline Protestants, and most Southern Baptists). These Christians would say that our best meets Christ’s purity -it’s just that we can’t be at our best at all times.

      I should also mention that the Nazarenes are an exception to the above. They believe that it is possible to reach a state of devotion to God where ap person can become one with God and cease to be sinful or tempted by sin.

      • AnyBeth

        I’d agree that, in all likelihood, you’re correct that most Christians aren’t strict Calvinists. (Southern Baptists don’t tend to be strict Arminians, either.) But I didn’t hear these ideas from strict Calvinists: I heard them from people in both camps that accepted three or four points of the five in one or the other of those positions.

        Anyhow, I’m not conflating whatever group that promotes the ideas I described above with Christianity as a whole. I was only suggesting that those ideas under-lie the toxic gospels of servanthood and suffering that the blogger here described. Libby Anne is the “you” in my first sentence and “those” refers to the things she first talked about. I’m sorry if you didn’t understand what I meant. If you have an idea how I could have been more clear, I’m open to suggestion.

  • Saraquill

    It did not escape my notice at how the stuff Libby Anne was commenting on was heavily implying that one’s husband is J*sus.Have these people forgotten about the commandment against idolatry?

  • reebism

    “They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed “Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

    No, this is flat-out wrong. This is not what Sarah did: the only time she thinks of Abraham as “my lord” is when she’s being incredibly disrespectful, and *God* calls her out on it. Sarah gave Abraham her handmaiden when she couldn’t conceive, cast out her handmaiden when she was being a bitch despite Abraham’s wishes, laughed at Abraham when she found out they were expecting a child, and then told Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. When Abraham was upset, God told *Abraham* to listen to *Sarah*.

    Whether it’s Peter or Bill Godard, anyone who’s telling you that being Sarah’s daughter means being demure and submitting to your husband is someone who has never read the book of Genesis.

    Genesis 16:1-3: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.”

    Genesis 18:12: “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?””

    Genesis 21:12: “But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

    A far more accurate way of describing Abraham and Sarah’s relationship would be this: “Men, listen to your wives, even when you disagree with them: this is the way you can be a true son of Abraham!”

  • Jaimie Bell

    I think it’s kind of funny that those who extol the virtues of servanthood are actually expecting or shaming others into serving them.

    • smrnda

      It’s kind of how the ‘love your enemies’ ends up being a much tougher obligation the more your enemies piss and shit on you, and can end up being nothing but ‘roll over and die while your enemies stamp on your head.’ Moral obligations have to take into account power hierarchies.

      • KarenJo12

        My minister yesterday preached on this. He noted that while Jesus commands us to love our enemies, nowhere does He command us to like them or to agree with them. Don’t dehumanize them and seek what is best for them, which might not be what the enemy wants.

  • That Other Jean

    Do fundamentalist Christians never read history? Even the history of their own church? Christians were called on to suffer for their faith because they were a small minority in the Roman Empire and acting in opposition to its established religion. Roman administrators tried everything they could to ignore Christians except when the Christians flat refused to sacrifice to Roman gods. They tried to compromise; there are records of administrators trying to make a deal with the Christians: “Think about your own god if you must, just THROW THE INCENSE IN THE BRAZIER!” Christians, of course, refused. Since the gods of Rome cared what you did, not what you believed at the time, this refusal meant that the gods could get ticked off at the Romans and make trouble. So Christians were made to suffer for their beliefs, when all else failed. Why modern Christians, most of whom are in a majority, privileged position in their home countries, think that they are are meant to seek out and glory in their “suffering” is beyond me.

  • Christian Vagabond

    As I see it, this is a good example of a passage that people tend to read under the assumption that the fundamentalist interpretation is the correct one, meaning that all of the uglier aspects of it have to be maintained or addressed. Instead I would suggest you look at it this way: if a servant’s heart is an unhealthy mindset, what is the alternative? Is it better to feel obligated to serve or to be served? Do we teach children to think of others and how they can help them? Or do we teach them to make sure they’re getting what they want and that they’re standing up for themselves? Are there elements of this passage that can be useful to us today?

    The criticisms you give are fair, but I look upon this passage as a great example of a spiritual truth couched in an ancient culture whose values and assumptions are no longer relevant. It’s important to remember that the Bible was written at a time when the notion of a world without slavery or egalitarian marriages (let alone human rights) weren’t even contemplated. If you read this through the lens of a first century society, the passage is very hopeful. Most people had very miserable, squalid lives and likely also had tyrannical husbands Overthrowing the ruling empire was an absurd fantasy for them, so something had to be said to help people get through the day. This passage says that there’s a reason for it all, and as Jesus put it, the least on earth shall be first in heaven. There wasn’t room to suggest that slaves leave their masters or wives leave their abusive husbands, because the social consequences would have been horrific. Christ provided the model when he refused to fight back or stand defiant in the face off execution.

    Can the idea of servanthood and suffering be abused? Of coure it can, and the blog post you linked to is a great example. But pretty much every moral edict can be twisted and abused no matter what its original intention was.

    I look at the concept of suffering and servanthood as one of modesty. And by that I don’t mean the gender wars, but rather the basic idea that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Other people matter. God matters. Your neighbor’s needs and your family’s needs shouldn’t just be an option, it should be our priority. You can see this idea manifest itself in humanism, charity and in pacifism. You might say that charity can exist without a servant’s heart, but in my experience charity carried out without one often ends up being self-centered (i.e. volunteering at the soup kitchen because it makes you feel good and people will be impressed with your kindness, rather than volunteering at a soup kitchen because the people there need help).

    • KarenJo12

      Exactly. Modern ways of thinking about human rights were 2,000 years away when those passages were written.

    • alr

      I think that the problem a lot of post-fundamentalist-no-longer-Christians have is that they have no other way to read or interpret scripture and cannot comprehend any other way. Your interpretation is too nuanced, too deep, too informed by context for those who had an all or nothing literal interpretation pounded into them from childhood.

      • AnyBeth

        I find it rather insulting that you’d presume non-christians who were once fundamentalists are ignorant of any other interpretation. Plenty have done much reading and/or been involved in other kinds of churches before changing or dropping religion.

        I can understand and perhaps even appreciate that various factors make good golf clubs. But I might have a different reaction when the golf clubs whose virtues are extolled and shortcomings minimized are the very same set that were used to bludgeon me. Please do not presume that my reaction means I don’t (and can’t) understand.

      • alr

        I did not say all. This blog, however, is a prime example of still existing in black and white fundamentalist interpretations. Libby Anne basically says, every time she addresses scripture, that the fundamentalist interpretation does not work (which it generally does not–no argument with that point) thus scriptures are always invalid. This entry, in fact, does not consider any other interpretation then proceeds to judge all Christians.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        What in the world are you talking about? Where in this post do I “judge all Christians”? Doesn’t the fact that I explicitly ask my progressive Christian readers for other interpretations make it clear that I know that there are other interpretations?

        Beyond that, where on this blog have I said that scriptures are “always invalid”? It is true that I don’t believe the Bible is divinely inspired, but I am perfectly aware that there are multiple interpretations of individual passages and numerous different ways of approaching the Bible.

        And in case you missed it, I did spend a short time as a liberal Christian, and I did explore other ways of understanding the Bible at that time. Even today I closely follow a good number of progressive Christian blogs, and I have a lot of respect for liberal and progressive Christians. The fact that I was raised in an evangelical church and am now an atheist does not mean I don’t know there is anything else out there.

        If you want to disagree with me, fine, but don’t come to my blog and bad mouth me in the comments sections, imputing to me things I haven’t actually done and things I don’t actually believe. Seriously, don’t.

    • AnyBeth

      The alternative, I’d say, is recognizing yourself as equal, that everyone has the same basic human worth and deserves basic human dignity, self included. I’d say neither serving nor being served is better; the superior thing is recognizing our interdependence, helping and being helped. Children, by the way, seem to come to this naturally. Of course tots try to see that their needs are fulfilled. They’ll also, without prompting, help someone in need (like one who dropped something) at some cost to themselves (like stopping whatever desirable activity they were doing).

      Yes, the books of the bible were written under cultures different than our own. But how do you justify the terribly bleak picture you present of said times? Divorce was evidently common enough that Jesus acknowledged it in the sermon on the mount. Would it really be so radical if divorcing for abuse was as acceptable as for adultery? And anti-slavery must start somewhere. Israel had once had a female leader… and there’s evidence of women ministers in the NT. So how do you justify the idea that such “modern” notions were unthinkable?

      Do you think that a person who is inclined to help others for reasons other than personal gain necessarily has a “servant’s heart”? It’s not always about serving. See a need that someone should fulfill, recognize you’re a person who can fulfill that need, do it because it’s right (and there are, after all, only so many qualified people around for any given job.)

      • Chrisitan Vagabond

        The notion of equality has its roots in edicts such as the concept of servanthood. I’m not saying that this was the first and only example of it, but the concept was fairly novel for its time. I don’t need to “justify” this terribly bleak picture any more than I have to justify how awful living during the Black Death was. You’re locked into the fundamentalist notion that every verse in the Bible counts, and none can be discarded. When you free yourself of this idea and approach the Bible to see what is worth applying to our society, you come up with a much more flexible view of it.

        Also, divorce during Biblical times was very different than it is now. Only men could divorce. Marriage was treated as an exchange of property rather than a union of love and commitment, so women had no right to leave their husbands. Adultery was common for men, but a punishable offense for women. Women who were divorced had a black mark against them for the rest of their lives and could be cast out of society. Widows could remarry, but divorced women were damaged goods. So your questions about divorce and slavery are like asking why America didn’t just use common sense and give black people and women the right to vote from the get-go. What seems obvious to us now was unthinkable for thousands of years.

        As for your last point, I was mainly referring to the difference in attitude I’ve seen between Christians who volunteer and nonreligous people who do. There’s a school of thought among evolutionary psychologists that all acts of kindness we commit are ultimately motivated by selfishness. We care about the poor because caring about the poor makes people like us and boosts our self-esteem; the poor themselves are incidental to the behavior.Kindness happens because we have evolved to seek reinforcement, and if kindness was not a reinforced behavior, we would not exhibit or encourage it. I know that not every nonreligious person subscribes to this belief, but i have met many who do, and I find that when I ask religious people why they’re volunteering, they’re much less likely to talk about their interests in the cause or their feelings.

      • AnyBeth

        If it were obvious to me, I wouldn’t have asked how you justified it. And I think it’s ludicrous to compare life in first century Roman Empire to living in a high-mortality pandemic. When places don’t have the people to take care of the bodies and when crops rot in the fields because there is no longer the manpower for the harvest, that’s obviously bad. An empire that still had hundreds of years to go that took a rather hands-off approach regarding conquered lands? Not so obviously bad. Ah, and the NT involved different Roman provinces. They did not share a single culture. And women’s status, at least, varied among them.

        Why are you so sure I’m “locked into a fundamentalist mindset”? Before I became an atheist literally in my sleep, I’d been a panentheistic liberal Christian for several years, not that I can see what that has anything to do with what I’d said.

        I’m told Plato had positions towards women’s rights and that his visions of an ideal society didn’t include slavery. Rome knew of these at least as well as we do now. As for circa revolutionary America? One name: Thomas Paine. But if the ideas had been unthinkable, how did they ever come to be?

        I’d appreciate a direct answer to the question in my last paragraph, the one to which you didn’t really respond. Unless you make clear exactly what you mean by “a servant’s heart”, everything you’ve said involving the term is nonsense to me because I literally do not understand what it means.

        I wonder, though, do you really think it’s bad to volunteer because you’re committed to a cause? That’s what I’m getting from your last sentence and I wonder if there’s been some misunderstanding or miscommunication.

      • Christian Vagabond

        You’re locked into a fundamentalist mindset because of how you’ve framed your question. You asked how I can justify the bleakness of first century life. That’s a question that assumes that any moral gain to be gleaned from the Bible must first overcome its cultural shortcomings.

        It’s like a basket of apples. Most people can look at the basket and pick out the good ones and leave behind the rotten ones. Fundamentalists insist that you have to buy the whole basket and eat all of them, because the rotten apples have nutritional value even if they taste bad. Many atheists also insist that you must buy the whole basket, except they argue that the rotten apples spoil the good ones, therefore a sensible person would reject the whole basket along with the good apples inside it. But most people just scratch their heads and wonder why fundamentalists and atheists insist that you have to buy the whole basket.

        Plato’s view of women actually compares very well to the Biblical concept of servanthood. In both cases you had ideas put forth that were very liberal for their time but seem restrictive from our modern perspective. Plato believed that there were cases where women should be allowed access to education and jobs, but he also argued that men were in every way the superior sex, and qualified women would therefore be rare. He felt as though it was good for women to hold jobs, but this was for the sake of the State rather than any notion of human rights. And it’s important to remember that Greek Society completely rejected Plato’s more liberal ideas about women .For Greeks women were less human than men, and their primary role was to produce more Greeks. The NT takes a far more liberal position on women.

        As for slavery, Plato believed that slavery was part of the natural order of society: “And therefore the endeavour to have more than the many, is conventionally said to be shameful and unjust, and is called injustice,whereas nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to
        have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior.”

        A servant’s heart is someone who puts others’ needs above their own without complaining about any lack of recognition or appreciation for their sacrifice. It is being committed to a cause that helps others and may not necessarily benefit you. It is measuring your service by whether the people you are serving are benefitting from your efforts rather than whether you enjoy serving them.

      • AnyBeth

        I ask why you think life in the first century is so bleak as you suggested, and you say my question means I have a “fundamentalist mindset”. Bit of a non sequitor, I think. Perhaps you have failed to understand me and took my words to mean more than they did. My question meant exactly what I said. I tend to think that there is a tendency to treat times long past as either much rosier or much darker than they were. If one making such claims cannot explain why they’re true, I see no reason to believe them.

        There is a difference between whether an idea could be contemplated or an idea that would have decades long struggle for acceptance (if its proponents aren’t all slaughtered). I took you at your word. (And that’s not evidence I have a “fundamentalist mindset”. It has a very clear, physical reason.)

        If you’ll read carefully, you can see that what you said about Plato doesn’t contradict what I said. But… the NT takes a more liberal position on women? I thought you were trying to say that time was horrible (Most people had very miserable, squalid lives), and worse for women. I might ask how you make these agree, but you may respond with more claims of “fundamentalist mindset”, and anyway, I likely won’t be able to respond or maybe even read for a little while.

        Thank you for finally giving some explanation for what you meant by “servant’s heart”. While I may not agree with you, at least now I might have a chance at understanding parts of your comments that were entirely opaque to me before.

  • Christine

    Libby, I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t come up with a good answer to the question you posed me. I’m sure there’s some cognitive dissonance involved, but nothing, as I’ve been taught it, about servanthood requires maintaining the status quo. It’s difficult for me to put into words, because these ideas are ones that get “taught” by being modelled, so they’re really understood mostly as gut feelings. (Hence my reaction to that article being “that’s not what servanthood is”, but not being able to elaborate.)

    I’ll start with the easy part to address: the epistles. While I’m not really a progressive Christian, I never until adulthood met someone who thought that the Bible was written as some sort of magical book that could be taken out of any context, and read as we would read any modern text. (The magical part comes because, presumably, people from any age were supposed to be able to read it, even though it was also supposed to be written for our culture). So the fact that the epistles were written by humans who had a certain perception for what is and isn’t possible in a society is relevant. As is the fact that these were written as ways to have changes actually happen, rather than hold out an ideal that would get ignored because it was too shocking.

    I think that the idea of servanthood only works if it’s taken in moderation – i.e. it’s not considered to be more important than everyone’s right to dignity, and everyone’s duty to respect others. I grew up in a Franciscian community, and St. Francis was very big on servanthood. (And that’s just a wee bit of an understatement.) And yet he was more than willing to go against his father’s authority when his father wasn’t willing to let him (Francis) go.

    There is definitely disconnect with the suffering. I will agree that the attitude you have towards suffering matters. Suffering can be very good if you’re doing physio, and letting yourself feel hard done by can have adverse effects on how hard you work, and your results. There are also times where the suffering just is, and you can’t change it (or it will take time to change), and railing against it does no one any good. But to use those as an excuse for just tolerating poor treatment, or for not looking for a solution, is horrible. Example: chronic pain. I’m not saying you should just go “oh, I have some undiagnosable problem, I’ll just have to suffer”. Push for diagnosis, push for treatment, push for a cure. But sitting and harassing your doctor is a waste of time. So is moping and crying for yourself (in excessive amounts, at least).

    • Kat

      “I think that the idea of servanthood only works if it’s taken in moderation”
      Bingo. That, right there, is why the fundamentalist approach tends to not work. I can’t speak for Libby Anne, but I personally was raised by parents (mom in particular) who simply could not comprehend anything between black and white, good and evil. There was no spectrum, no middle ground, no lesser of two evils, or any similar concept. It’s the same mentality that causes people to say things like, “Alcoholism is bad, therefore don’t drink at all ever.”
      Likewise, the whole servanthood idea meant that you shouldn’t complain ever, even if complaining might actually be the first step toward changing things for the better. “Don’t complain excessively” becomes “don’t complain at all,” because something is either good or it’s bad, period.
      For me, the memories of that mindset and way of life are still too fresh to read most parts of the bible with anything other than horror and revulsion. There are definitely good parts, and many of the parts that have been thoroughly twisted are actually not bad if you apply a bit of historical and cultural context along with some common sense. But when you’re told, repeatedly, “There is no such thing as gray areas,” it really stunts your ability to analyze concepts like this, understand the philosophy behind them, and choose whether/how to adapt them to your own understanding of the world.

      • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird


        In the same way, one of my friends has a knee-jerk reaction against the idea of forgiveness – because she grew up in a fundy family where forgiveness meant “Never be upset with anyone, ever, no matter what. Squash your feelings, because what you feel doesn’t matter.” and, unsurprisingly, this was a horrible way to live.

  • Joykins

    I would argue that a positive, no-BS interpretation of many of the NT injunctions toward humility could be simply glossed as “You think you’re so great and powerful? Go help someone else already.” To the powerless is the consolation that inequality and suffering is not the proper order of things and someday things will be in their proper order, as Mary says in Luke (I find Luke the most subversive gospel):

    “My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.

    He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.”

  • Alice

    I grew up in the fundamentalist home-school culture, and the first thing they say when common sense and logic fail them is “Well, of course it doesn’t make sense! God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are higher than our ways, so the world cannot understand them. Jesus turned the world upside down.” I think it’s a lame cop-out of an argument.

    From reading the Bible, I think that its ideal is everyone will love each other as they love themselves and acknowledge that there are no differences between Christians, including gender differences (Galatians 3:28), therefore there would be no injustice or inequality in the church. There are a lot of verses that talk about how husbands and leaders are to be humble, loving servants instead of dominating and harsh. And I was very surprised to find how little the Bible says about gender roles, even though there are certainly troubling verses.
    However, Biblical ideals and reality are two completely different stories. I think the church needs to have more balanced teachings instead of such extremes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1069731366 Karen Cox

    After I commented this morning, I went to church, where the sermon was on one of these verses, Matthew 5:38 – 42, about loving one’s enemies. Our minister noted that Jesus never said “like” your enemies, “agree” with your enemies, or “concede points to” your enemies. Loving one’s enemies means acting in a manner designed to produce what is best for the enemy. The example he gave was of a friend of his whose sister was abused by her husband. Our minister said that his friend did what was best — removed his sister — even though that was exactly what the BIL did NOT want, because Friend then prevented BIL from continuing to sin. (This part can entail other problems.) We serve those in authority and with wealth by preventing them from sinning in the use of their authority and wealth, including by imposing taxes to be used for the benefit of the less fortunate, and by creating a system that reduces the chances of other people misusing their authority.

    While I was listening to this, it occurred to me that where most people go wrong with these verses is to smush the suffering into the servanthood. We are ALL called to seek what is best for others and to serve others’ needs before our own, including those who happen to be wealthy or in authority. This doesn’t require being miserable, and really shouldn’t do so. To use Jesus’ famous example, the Good Samaritan saved the life and treated the injuries of his bitter enemy at the expense of making himself and the injured kid both ritually impure. The Good Samaritan relieved suffering, he didn’t add any. Other examples are that Jesus always healed sick people, he never told them how much their illnesses made them appreciate God. Suffering is an unavoidable part of life, but our mission as servants is to ameliorate it when we can.

    I started thinking about slavery during the Roman Empire, and remembered that it was universal. About a third to a half of the population were slaves. No one was an abolitionist. The economic and legal system necessary to support abolition didn’t exist yet. Had Philemon manumitted Onesimus, he could have been recaptured and sold to another, and likely more brutal, master. Onesimus couldn’t just go down to the unemployment insurance office and apply for benefits, or go to the union hall for a referral. There were no job-seeker boards, temp agencies, or help-wanted ads. His choices were limited to slavery or starvation. Not ideal, and certainly not the case in the 19th C when people used these verses to justify the Confederacy, but not as horrible if they’re read within the context in which they were were written.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      After I commented this morning, I went to church, where the sermon was on one of these verses, Matthew 5:38 – 42, about loving one’s enemies. Our minister noted that Jesus never said “like” your enemies, “agree” with your enemies, or “concede points to” your enemies.

      This doesn’t make sense to me. How can you love someone without liking them? I mean, I’m a mom, and while I love my kids dearly there are certainly moments when I don’t *like* them. But that’s a totally different thing from what I feel about my enemies. For instance, think of the pro-life movement’s position—they see abortion doctors and clinic workers as their “enemies.” What in the world would it look like them them to *love* those involved in providing abortion services? And the example you gave about your friend and his brother in law, twisting that into how the friend loved the brother in law so much that he just had to take the sister away from him to keep the brother in law from sinning . . . what. Um, NO. Unless I very much miss my guess, the friend removed his sister from the situation because he loved his sister, not because he was looking out for his brother in law. I mean, if you really make the argument your pastor did, what you get is that the United States was *loving* Germany during WWII, because it was doing it’s best to stop them from sinning by killing Jews and trying to take over Europe. Really?! If you do that, you’re completely and entirely shredding the conventional meaning of love. I get that what you’re trying to talk about is what is often called “tough love,” but if there isn’t actually real honest to goodness love there to begin with it’s just “tough,” not “tough love.”

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I was going to respond but then you said pretty much everything I was going to say. :-P

        But to reiterate, YES! Friend did not “remove his sister” because he loved his BIL so much that he wanted to prevent him from sinning. Unless his priorities are seriously skewed (in my not-so-humble opinion), his foremost concern was the safety of his sister. And my foremost concern when it comes to anybody who is causing harm to others is to stop them from doing that. Not for the sake of their soul but for the sake of those they are hurting. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise, not to mention just kind of messed up.

        And, plus, I think this attitude opens the door to people rationalizing hurtful and hateful actions as “loving” by telling themselves that they’re just “doing best by their enemies.” A good case in point would be Christians calling their harassment and persecution of gay people “loving” because, after all, they’re just trying to prevent gay people from sinning (by being themselves…) which is what’s best for them, right? There are dangers to watering down the concept of “love” so much that it just turns into a way to justify behavior that is anything but loving.

        I believe in being just to all people, including my enemies. And that’s important. The idea of justice for ones enemies is why we have things like the Geneva Convention. But that is not “love.” To me, justice is a public matter and love is a private one and that’s how I think things should be. I’d make a lousy Christian, I guess. Oh well.

  • smrnda

    I think the Bible, and many Christians, are just presenting a false dichotomy between being a servant and being utterly selfish. A healthy craving for a decent life gets confused with a desire for greed and excess, and a healthy and sensible desire to put limits on what other people demand of you is seen as greed.

    Let’s take the idea of sacrifice. It’s reasonable to expect everyone to sacrifice a bit for the greater good, but there should be limits on what you expect from people, and the real purpose of the sacrifices made is so nobody ends up being totally miserable. Privileged people make a few sacrifices so that the less privileged can have a better quality of life. If everybody is always just sacrificing and then sacrificing more, it’s like people’s well-being is being sacrificed for some abstract ideal.

    I don’t like the ‘servant or selfish’ view since I think we should think that we all have responsibilities, and that there are balanced by the rights we get and by what we expect from society. We’re both obligated to do certain things and entitled to enjoy certain perks.

    The problem with ‘servant leadership’ is that leaders, whether it’s a government, business or religious institution, always go on about what a burden and NOT a privilege leadership is, even when they make more and enjoy privileges that their subordinates don’t get. It ends up creating a climate where people feel bad about critiquing authority and that enables authorities to be oppressive and callous since the underlings feel like they shouldn’t be giving negative feedback.

  • http://www.facebook.com/enodiaofthestar Lindsey Vaughn

    I always find it funny that people use the words of Jesus and the Early Christians as an excuse to keep the status quo, those people were very much against the status quo of their time.

  • Melissa

    I think people will always be able to twist these verses and so it would be better if they weren’t there. But I don’t think the ONLY way to read them is in a twisted way. If the Bible is to be taken literally and each verse applied in isolation literally and prescriptively to each individual, then there is nothing good to be said for them. What I always took them to mean, in the ancient context, was that verses like these gave people a way to own suffering they could not control. There was no way out except violent death for a Roman slave, or, really, for a Roman wife, so likening his or her suffering to Christ’s makes an impossible situation bearable, because it makes it sacred, heroic, and moreover temporary (Christ’s ultimate gospel is freedom after all, and calls for justice for the oppressed in both the OT and NT outnumber these verses by the hundreds, I would guess). Today slavery is broadly illegal and women who are abused have legal rights. Change is much more possible in those areas that it was 2000 years ago, so these verses are no longer needed.

    I don’t think the point was “do nothing to alleviate you suffering”; I think the point was, “if you have to suffer, take comfort because your suffering is never meaningless.” My last speculation: this was advice given to individuals in small congregations trying to live their daily lives, and so I don’t know that it was meant to apply at all to broader movements for social justice. Again, broader calls for justice, especially on behalf of enslaved peoples and groups as wholes, ring throughout the whole Bible. It is odd to me that fundamentalists reject the most consistent overall message of the Bible in favor of artificially re-erecting structures of abuse and slavery that, partly because of the efforts of many Christians, we no longer live under. Those verses advised people stuck in slavery (I include the situation of wives here) how to survive; they were not PRESCRIBING slavery, for the love of God.

  • Sally

    “I would probably be spending time right now with some books and a concordance, trying to find an eloquent way to challenge these narratives from the inside and create a doctrine of …”
    This is my favorite sentence in the post. It applies not only to this issue, but to all of Christianity, imo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melody.marie Melody Jones

    If you consider yourself a Christian and a feminist, what do you do with servanthood and suffering?

    I do and I do. For servanthood issues (because I have those), I usually look at it from a “selfish” or medical perspective. When you help others, if you ignore your own needs, you will always burn out. If you burn out, you can not help others, because emotional elasticity will be gone, depression can devour you whole, physical ailments can lay you out flat, and those assume that your relationships are unaffected by your helping attempts. Whereas if you prioritize helping yourself, you are in turn better equipped to help others because you have more resources at your disposal for everything.

    On suffering I think that it was, as so many commenters have pointed out, an attempt to shore up a population that was locked in a social structure that was oppressive and stagnant. In reality, it should not be esteemed, it should be fought. Jesus had far more to say on ending poverty and material need than he did on accepting it because of reasons (one line, people-in-favor-of-inequality, there was just one line, and it was a *rebuke* to Judas.) and I have no earthly idea how anyone could say that the deeds and miracles he preformed were “accepting” of suffering in this life.

    (I find it really interesting that there appears to only be two themes in the comments:

    1. Yes, this, exactly! Suffering is wrong and should be eradicated, Servanthood is okay but it needs to be redefined.

    2. But you’re just not reading it in the right way!!! you have to look at it in context!!!)

    • Christine

      You have just done a wonderful job of defining servanthood. Look at the big picture – am I going to actually do any good by putting myself in a position where I can no longer help? Am I actually doing GOOD by this, or am I just making myself feel good by sacrificing myself.

      • KarenJo12

        If servanthood actually causes suffering, UR doin it rong.

  • Marta L.

    I’m not touching the original image or the idea that “suffering servanthood” means staying in abusive relationships – I agree with you, that’s ridiculous and has to go. But one thing worth asking is: is this what it means to be a servant? I’m no historian, but somewhere I got the impression that it was more prestigious to be a high-ranking servant of a powerful person than to be a free citizen with less wealth and power. Often the lord/master/whatever would be away for years at a time and the leading servants ran things in his absence. The higher-ranking servant was also responsible for the well-being of the lower-ranking servants under his command, and was expected to treat them well or face repercussions.

    I think this is the paradigm the Biblical call to be good servants is based on. It has been wildly misused in contemporary Christian circles, particularly fundamentalist ones, but I think this comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be a servant. Being a servant doesn’t mean you have no right to demand good treatment; rather, it means others have no right to mistreat you because when they beat you and push you down (or starve you and make you work in inhumane circumstances, or whatever) they are really mistreating the servants’ master – in other words, God.

    I do think the way this phrase is used is often a cop-out for not fighting for social justice, in the same way Mitt Romney’s calling his wife’s job as homemaker the more important role in their family. I guess my point is, this isn’t the only way to read that servant reference. (As for the suffering aspect… well, there’s a world of difference between suffering because God is hated by “the world,” and suffering because your husband is a vindictive arse. But this comment is long enough without going into that.)

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    Suffering just hurts. Pain hurts. There’s nothing noble about pain; it removes the faculty to think, to reason, to do anything other than hope the pain goes away.

    Waaait a minute … if people are suffering, they stop thinking and pondering and considering and just accept the word of people promising relief? I think I might finally be starting to get why Christians glorify suffering so much.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Yeah so… I’m a Christian, and this question is one of the big ones I’ve thought about in my process of becoming a feminist.

    Like you said, this emphasis on suffering does sometimes stand in the way of equality and justice. Like when women are saying they should be able to be pastors, and someone tries to shut them up by saying as Christians, they’re not allowed to advocate for themselves- they have to be servants. (And refuses to even engage with their reasoning.)

    I don’t really have a full answer, but here are a few thoughts:

    Love: It’s important to advocate for those who are less privileged, because that’s love, and that’s helping people- which is what Christians are supposed to do. So in general, ending oppressive systems will help a lot of people, so that’s what Christians should be doing.

    Being practical: We shouldn’t necessarily make decisions in reaction to specific things others are doing, but consider the big picture and make a decision based on what will give the best future outcome. So instead of “if someone did this specific harmful action against me, how should I respond?” and it’s a choice between revenge and submission, I should think, “I am in this situation, what can I do to give the best possible outcome?”

    (So for example, in the case of a woman with an abusive husband, she should evaluate the outcomes of staying or leaving and decide based on that, rather than “he did this or that, and my response must be to serve.”)

    When Jesus suffered, there was a purpose behind it. He was thinking of the outcome. He didn’t just let people walk on him for no reason- and Christians shouldn’t either.

    Self-care is not evil: Yeah so this is a problem within Christianity- the idea that we HAVE TO be living for God all the time and working and doing stuff, and if I want to relax and do something nice for myself, well that’s just selfish and evil (unless I can spin it as somehow useful to my following God). But this leads to all kinds of burnout and self-hate… (And that was basically my experience with modesty culture- believing that any desire to beautiful was just selfish and should be rejected… yeah that’s not healthy.)

    So I definitely don’t think that advocating for oneself is somehow inherently evil and opposed to how Jesus wants us to live, as servants. Plus I believe God loves people and wants to give them good things. (So why do bad things happen sometimes? Don’t ask me, I don’t know.) God doesn’t want us to just be suffering all the time- he wants us to enjoy life. Because he loves us.

    • AnyBeth

      Yeah. It’s funny, isn’t it? Galatians 3:28, for instance, certainly seems to have an equality vibe about it. But other places, the overall message turns to Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

      I was a bad fundamentalist because I could never agree that women ought to face discrimination in church. (My parents are fundamentalists and feminists… except when it comes to those two instances.)

      On love: I agree with you that’s something people ought to do (in addition to self-care). Do you know various Christians have very different definitions of what love is? The furthest I can think of from your position goes like this: One cannot be truly happy unless one submits to God (the version I worship). If one is comfortable in sin, one will not submit to God’s will, therefore the only loving thing a Christian can do is to make sinners uncomfortable. This is what gets us Michigan’s 2011 ostensible anti-bullying law that had an exception for “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”, it’s what justifies putting women (or other racial groups) in their place, and it’s what makes the inquisition a loving affair. I encourage you to define for yourself what the goal of loving is and what influences how one could work toward the goal. And, yes, different people mean different things by “love”.

      On being practical: I like it… though one must be careful how one defines “the best possible outcome”, just like one must take care as to what is loving. In the instance of an abusive husband, for example, husband and wife may well have very different ideas of the best outcome. Besides, a wife who thinks submission is biblically mandated may agree that submitting to her husband even to the death is the best possible thing she can do because to do otherwise would be rebelling against God and risking God’s chastening on earth and/or eternal hellfire. Your question works for you, but it wouldn’t work for someone entrenched in these horrible ideas. Would it be possible to change your question in a way that makes it less dependent on already believing in equality and universal human rights? Something to think about.

      Though a couple patient friends helped me greatly on the way, the big thing that allowed me the transition from fundamentalist to liberal Christian was the basic belief that God didn’t want me dead (as evident to me from close calls) and I knew that my anti-self beliefs were killing me. (I’m an atheist now, but this has nothing to do with it. I’ll explain on request.)

      • gigi_girl

        AnyBeth, would you please explain? I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments on this post and I find myself nodding along as I read.

      • AnyBeth

        Explain how it is that my atheism has nothing to do with my transition from near-fundamentalism to liberal Christianity or from anti-self to pro-self beliefs? That’s easy. I’ve no reason to think the content of my religious beliefs is at all related to the total loss of them due to the unusual way I came to be an atheist.

        I have a degenerative neurological disease. One night, I went to bed Christian and in the morning, awoke as an atheist (along with a transient increase in difficulty with memory retrieval). My best guess is that the feeling of connection I had with my religion and religion-related experience was severed. After a short time trying to regain Christian belief (by reading and by asking questions), I accepted myself just as I was, figuring that if God exists, evidently God wants me to be an atheist.

        Or did you want me to explain other things, and, if so, what?

        I appreciate your compliment. Thank you.

      • AnyBeth

        Gah! I could’ve swore I’d responded a couple days ago! Apparently not.

        Anyway, it’s simple why my former beliefs and any changes I made to them has nothing to do with my current atheism. I have a degenerative brain disease (that fortunately is now responding very well to medicine). One night I went to bed a devout though heterodox Christian, and in the morning, I awoke an atheist currently unable to access memories as to recent events. As far as I can tell, I lost the feeling of connection to my former religion and without that, I was starting new. I tried to get back to Christianity for some weeks,but none of it made sense to me, so before too long, I accepted myself as I am.

        I figure my previous beliefs have nothing to do with my atheism because I became an atheist because of brain damage. Suppose my religious and moral beliefs right before only had an effect on how hard it was to deal with the sudden, unexpected change.

        I blush at your compliment. Thank you. If you want me to explain anything else, let me know.

  • Hilary

    I thought of a classic Hillel saying, when reading this:

    If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
    But if I am for myself alone, what am I?
    If not now, when?

    If I am not for myself . . . if I don’t take care of myself, which includes letting others know when I need help, who will? If I don’t stand up for my own rights, my own people, family, values, community, who will, who will stand with me or for me?

    But if I am for myself alone . . . If I only take care of myself without a thought for anyone else, what am I? What value is there in only caring about my self, family or community with no concern for how we all fit into the larger world around us? As important as it is to care for yourself, that needs to be balanced with a concern for others as well.

    And if not now . . . . then when?
    2 cents from a Jewish feminist on serving others vs. serving your self. But for the quote at the top – the best use for that piece of paper is to use it as garden mulch and recycle the carbon in the paper pulp. It’s sick, and as an added twist it can almost be used to encourage men to be abusive so their wives have a chance to be righteous under their hostility.

  • Eliza

    Yes, I can confirm that this is from Bill Gothard’s material. I can’t remember the name of the booklet it came from or the publication date, but I think someone else is looking that up and will post it here. But I can definitely confirm that it is from Gothard and that the rest of the booklet is similar.

  • Caravelle

    That reminds me of a… surprising argument I saw on a blog of the Catholic channel. In a discussion of gender roles somebody pointed out that all the people in positions of authority in the Catholic Church were men, to which the answer was that priests and the pope are really servants, and the highest will be the least etc so the Church really doesn’t give power to men at all !