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Scott R. Paeth

  • Scott R. Paeth is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. He works in the fields of Christian Social Ethics and Public Theology.

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« Antonin Scalia, Philosophy of Language, and the Rights of Women | Main | Werewolves in Church »

October 29, 2011

Comments

Rebecca

"a culture that has slowly but steadily carved away the theological and moral commitments that teach us who God is and how he is best known and loved and served"

That is a helluva way to describe an entire faith tradition.

Rebecca

Yes, yes and yes. The only thing I wonder about is tim's assumption that all Christians agree on abstaining from pre-marital sex. It's an understandable assumption given that I have yet to see a mainline Protestant Sunday school or youth group curriculum about making godly sexual choices other than abstainance. Without a countering voice, the conservative morality will cause us all to be painted with the same brush.

Scott Paeth

Rebecca, regarding your first post: It's hard to believe anyone could ever have found him judgmental on the issue, isn't it?

Regarding your second post: I'm certainly not OPPOSED to more traditional approaches to sexual ethics, but as I said above, it's nonsensical to take them for granted in today's culture. Nor do I think it's particularly necessary to do so. We need, as I think you are implying, a way of talking about human sexuality in Christian churches that includes a broad array of possible relationships without simply declaring one very -- and increasingly -- rare instance as the inviolable norm and all others somehow deficient.

Those who do practice a more traditional form of "wait till the wedding night" monogamy may be engaged in an act of supererogation, something particularly saintly perhaps, but we needn't take that as the basis by which all other relationships are found deficient.

Danielle Shroyer

Scott, I find this conversation interesting as well, since we all attended PES during the same time-frame. While I think you make some valid points, I also think Tim does. I do not think his argument means to point out the monogamous dating couple who happen to be sleeping together. He meant to bring attention to the random hook-ups and other college-level shenanigans that went on. Though Tony says he never knew of this, I suspect it's because a) he wasn't living in a dorm and b) he spent more time with PhD students. I could add some stories to Tim's list from my first year in the dorm. And I couldn't help but think, regardless of how judgmental this may make me, that I couldn't quite imagine some of these people being pastors in a few short years. (Granted, some of them dropped out.) So for me, Tim's real question is: what does it say when a seminarian doesn't seem to have some basic levels of self-control and maturity? I think if there's a liberal/conservative divide, it's that you might respond by saying, "Is that person, however, helping the poor?" while the conservative would say, "Can that person really live into full potential without his/her own house in order?" As someone who tries to stand between those two camps, I think there's a place for the validity of both questions.

Scott Paeth

Hey there Danielle,

You may be right, and perhaps I'm "over reading" Tim's piece a bit. I'd just make two observations: First, I still do think his piece takes aim at ANY premarital shenanigans among seminarians, whether in a committed dating relationship or not.

Second, in either case, I do think that the analysis above applies. And let me note my response in comments to Rebecca -- I do think there's a lot to be said, perhaps an enormous amount, for upholding a more "traditional" sexual ethic among Christians. But I think we need to find a way in the church to deal with a much broader array of sexual relationships, and to teach about them meaningfully within the Church.

Alex

Another issue is that so many of the people who hold to a "traditional" sexual ethic also think that people like Danielle shouldn't be pastors simply because they don't have Y-chromosomes. Maybe Tim is one of the exceptions, however he doesn't clarify this in his post. That would be an interesting post to see, a self proclaimed conservative defending women's leadership in the church.

The truly unfortunate part in my estimation is that a significant number of people might be more willing to give traditional sexual ethics a second look if it didn't so often come across as having all this anti-woman baggage attached to it.

Casey

You've completely missed the point of Genesis 38 in Judah's willingness to sleep with a prostitute. The reason it doesn't bat an eye at the fact is because the writer is endeavoring to show Judah is a failure as a son of the promise and a wicked man. The point and climax of the story is when he comes to his senses, confesses his sin, and repents. He undertands his wickedness in light of Tamar's righteousness (which is anything but pure or ideal).

God is gracious and sovereign, merciful and the judge of wicked men. He saves failures like Judah and prostitutes like Tamar, when they confess and repent of their sin...and he smokes wicked men like Er and Onan without having to give any other rationale than "They were wicked in my sight."

Scott Paeth

Casey, I don't think so. I think you're reading in a Christian interpretation, and a whole huge raft of Christian assumptions about what this narrative "means" that aren't borne by the narrative itself. It's fine to have a hermeneutical lens for your interpretation, but don't go acting like this "is" what the passage "means" without qualification.

I happen to have Gerhard von Rad's commentary on Genesis right here. He makes a number of salient points: "It would be barbarism to want to decipher the main point in ethnological terms,as this would be to misunderstand something of its essence, namely, its wonderful openness to what is human -- passions, guilt, paternal anxiety, love, honor, chivalry, all churning up the narrot circle of one family in labyrinthine entanglement! Of course the narrative presumes readers whose perspicacity lets them be caught by the hopelessly complicated legal situation and who then rejoice in the solution because it respects both parties. For this narrative, however, in contrast to many others, we are in the fortunate position of knowing the narrator's opinion of the vent. The narrative is so constructed that there can be no doubt: Tamar, in spite of her action which borders on a crime, is throne justified in the end. Judah states it at the climax of the story, and only Tamar is unmistakably praised by the narrator. The dominating role of man and things human becomes clear from that fact that the actual narrative in vs. 12-30 does not speak at all of Yahweh's acting or speaking. There does not seem to be any specifically religious aspect of the obscure event. Nevertheless, here is a world in which the narrator clearly believes that Yahweh is present. He need not always be spoken of explicitly. Here the astonishing humanity of a woman has attracted the narrator's attention." (361-2)

Of course, if I had to preach a sermon on the topic, what you say would be very useful, but I don't think it bears up under a straight exegetical analysis.

Jason R

Scott,
I'd like to address points 2 and 3 above. I believe that Sexual ethics should be relevant to younger folk and in fact should be seen as a social justice issue. Given the sex trade, global HIV pandemic, rapidly growing STD rates in our own country etc. how can anyone honestly say that Sexual ethics are irrelevant (I realize you might not think that personally)? I believe a case for chastity and fidelity could (and probably should) be made on social issues alone. I admit that the "biblical" case isn't as air tight as we conservatives would like to make it on this issue but I do think the social issues surrounding sex should cause us to at least pause and at least give abstinence a fair hearing. That is that it might just be a way to deal with some of these social justice issues. A difficult way indeed, but a way none the less. (p.s. I also went to PTSem and am aware of the Dorm atmosphere though I lived in family housing and had a much different experience)

John Petty

My two cents: http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2011/10/evangelical-takes-princeton-seminary-to-task.html

Travis I

I have found this subject particularly interesting especially since I am fellow seminarian. Unfortunately, I did not go to PTS, but I can speak from evangelical Baptist perspective. I attended Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University for both my undergraduate degree in theology and part of my seminary education. I am looking to go to SMU to finish up my degree. All of that to say I can attest to the fact that even evangelical seminary’s like Logsdon which is heavily rooted in the Baptist tradition have some of the same features that PTS has. I think what Tim is noticing is that the Christian norms on sexuality are changing and many are afraid of what that might mean. I for one am completely convinced that our description of sexual ethics is outdated and is largely based on “traditional” ethics that seem more appropriate for a pre 1960s generation. I strongly feel that we need to reorient our Christian morals about sex around some of the ethics that the GLBT community has formed. Now in saying this many people who call themselves evangelicals might reject me, but I think there are some valid points to be made.


For the sake of space I want to just focus on one key point: sexuality has for most of Christian history has been defined by heterosexual males. Marriage as we know it today is invention of late modern and Romantic periods. ‘Traditional’ marriage was more a social, political, and honestly reproductive enterprise. Romantic love and marriage as a social construct didn’t exist until much later. Many authors have noted this, but for some reason most seems to think this is somehow a bad thing. I for one really like the idea of romantic love. Call me a product of my age, but the thought that I can love someone and engage in a loving sexual relationship with them seems much more enjoyable than marrying just for social reasons or to bear offspring. All of that to say that sexual ethics needs to move past dichotomies of male and female, heterosexual and homosexual into something more holistic. Brian Ammons early this year gave a spectacular talk on sexuality with Richard Rohr which described sexuality as conception of worship and of liturgy. I think Brian is on the right tract here when discussing sexuality. Why can’t sex be an act of communion with God? I guess what I am really trying to get at is that the Christian church really needs to get past the polarities of liberal and conservative and we need to have some honest discussion about sexuality. Ultimately, I think the Church can be counter cultural by focusing its sexual morality on loving committed relationships that embody God’s character of love and sacrifice.

Scott Paeth

Travis, I think there's a lot to what you say here. It might be interesting to do a genealogy of the idea of "romantic love" as it has come to define much of western, and particularly American conceptions of marriage in the modern context. It's not at all clear to me that marriage has historically represented the kind of intimacy and relationality that is at the heart of a lot of the traditionalist defense of marriage. Indeed, for someone like Aristotle, the idea of having genuine intimacy with a woman was, for a man, impossible, since intimacy required equality, which was impossible for men and women to achieve. This, of course, underscores a lot of what you're saying above.

Casey

Scott,

Genesis 38 clearly shows the raw and terrible reality of social, as well as sexual, sin. Tamar is put in the position she is because of the faithlessness of Judah. On that much I think we can agree. The rest of what you say, not so much. Lively discussion though!

p.s. Von Rad's commentary reads like about like an overcooked steak tastes. He could use a good dose of the Spirit to juicen things up a bit. :)

Scott Paeth

Casey, I'm sure old Gerhard would also have preached the passage differently as well. But yes, I think you and I do agree that at heart this story is about Judah's failure to act in good faith toward Tamar, to recognize his obligations to her, and to act responsibly. That said, the central sexual act that draws Judah's attention to these truths is treated in a rather matter of fact way. Had the prostitute not been Tamar, it would have been of no account whatsoever.

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