Thursday, December 21, 2017

Manage Family Conflict

It's easy to get sucked in to an argument at family gatherings and holiday parties. Here are some ideas for preventing A House Divided effect.

PREPARE for conflict by relaxing. It is easier to mentally prepare to be in a cheerful and peaceful frame of mind before arriving at an event than try to recover when someone pushes your buttons. Just recognizing that your well-being and positive relationships are more important than trying to convert someone to your views at a party can help you stay centered. People prepare in different ways like meditating, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and so forth.

LISTEN to button pushers. It seems inevitable that any large group will have someone apt at pushing buttons. They may be on the extreme left or right in politics, religion, or both. Perhaps they are really a moderate who enjoys conflict. Consider listening without debating. You know you probably can't win a debate in a festive situation. You might say something like, "it's good to hear your perspective" as you move on to another conversation.

DISTRACTION works with infants and boors (at least some of the time). When an infant grabs for something that might break, you have a choice. If you grab it back they might create a loud crying scene drawing attention from anyone within 60 feet. On the other hand, dangling another object within their reach often serves to shift their attention long enough to remove the fragile item without a fuss. Adults can be distracted too, by subtle shifts in conversation. Have a few ideas ready and soon they will be your go to "verbal toys" like those prepared parents carry in their bags. For those oafs who are not so easily distracted, a more direct, "lets discuss that point when we have more time" might work.

ESCAPE when your emotional temperature rises. Awareness of rising conflict can be a good time to excuse yourself for a break. Getting a snack, excusing yourself to say something to a friend, and a trip to the restroom are ways to regroup and avoid entrapment.

A House Divided effect is a commonplace in human history. People are divided about many things but moral matters involving religion and politics are at the top of the list of conflicting topics. There are times to engage in meaningful conversation about hot topic issues. But a party or family gathering is not the time or place. Resolving conflicts requires focused attention and skilled leadership.

Learn more about A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures 
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Boys will be Men: Sexual Harassment and Self-Control

Boys will be boys is a meaningless statement at best. At worst, boys will be boys is an excuse for aggressive behavior. And for young men, the aggression can include sexual harassment and assault.

Boys will be men. Girls will be women. In addition to their biological trajectory, parents, family, educators, clergy, and others will help boys and girls become the men and women that respect or do not respect sexual boundaries. Boys will be sexually active men.

Sex education is important but it is not enough. Awareness of sexual attraction is of course important to inhibiting harmful acts. But adolescents also need to learn strategies for inhibiting forms of sexual expression that harm or offend others.

It’s no secret why men, rather than women, make headlines for sexual harassment and assault. In case you haven’t noticed, adolescent males and young men have a powerful sex-drive. That’s biology at work. That’s not an excuse for wrongful behavior. But it is important for all humans to recognize that young heterosexual males are biologically driven to have sex with females. They are intent on having sex. Testosterone is a primary driver of sexual desire.

Moral bumper stickers aren’t going to help much when a young man sees a sexually attractive young woman. Sexual self-control is not easy for young men, which is why societies have provided external controls for millennia.

Sexual Self-Control and Social Barriers

We have a dilemma in western cultures because we have removed many external barriers to sexual expression in order to be fair to women. But we have not replaced those barriers with working control strategies that are fair to women.

In the 1930s and 1940s many of the world’s men went to war. Formal and informal arrangements were made by governments to meet young men’s sexual desires by providing men with prostitutes and brothels. To fight the battle of disease, some governments (e.g., USA) supplied men with condoms. Thus, they could continue to enjoy sanctioned sexual expression when away from home for years.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, millions of women left the home for the factory and the office, which were previously a man’s world. This movement of women into the workforce was at a time when western women had only recently secured the right to vote and a few were rising to powerful positions in all areas of society.

Following World War II, western cultures were on a path to learn how men and women could be educated together, work together, serve together, and even worship together. Appropriate boundaries on this path have not been fully established.

When men and women were segregated, men did not have to learn how to treat women respectfully in schools, at work, or in church. Segregation works for men to the extent women are not available at school, work, or elsewhere when sexual desire prompts the quest for sex. But segregation of the sexes is an immoral method of placing barriers around male sexual desire.

As an aside, let us not forget that women have sexual desire as well. Segregation placed limits on their access to attractive males. The removal of barriers at school, work, church, and elsewhere provided opportunities to interact with possible sexual partners.

In male dominated cultures, men pursue attractive mates and women vary their attractiveness to select desirable mates and repel others. Of course, this process does not always work well thus magazines for young men and women provide constant advice on attraction.

And let us not forget that segregation never works for those who are attracted to those of the same sex. Men and women who experience same-sex attraction are, and were, forced by cultures to live close together in residential schools, college dorms, hospitals, and military bases. Only recently are people becoming aware that some people find both men and women sexually attractive.
Recognizing their problem with sexual self-control, some men attempted to cope with temptation by keeping their wives close and refusing to be alone with other women. Understandably, this barrier interferes with a woman’s access to discussions when career-improving events may take place. It also interferes with developing important social relationships and mentoring.

Possible Solutions

Continual Sexual Harassment Training

Harassment training needs to be a part of the culture. And sexual harassment training needs to be age-appropriate and evidence-based. Children, teens, and adults must learn to respect others’ boundaries. At a minimum, they must learn by presentations, reading materials, and quality videos what behavior is unacceptable and the negative consequences for violating the boundaries. Adults need to know the impact on others following unwanted sexual behavior (talk and touch). And we need research to identify the most important components of training programs.

Sex-education and Self-Control

Sex education must include values. Sex education should include values that underscore the importance of respectful interactions with others. Students need to learn perspective-taking to encourage the development of empathy. This means that older students must learn the harm done when people are badgered into sexual activity. Sex education should also include information about acceptable sexual expression within the value system of the local subculture. Understanding what consent means is critical to a culture of respect. For many, appropriate sexual expression includes masturbation.

Sex education is never value-free. Sex education separated from values of respect for oneself and others leaves learners with the impression that sex is divorced from morality. Nothing is further from the truth. Sex and morality must be combined because sex and morality both have to do with relationships in which one or more persons can be hurt.


Parents are always accountable for the behavior of young children but they should not be blamed for the misbehavior of teens and adult children. I’m defending parents because they are too easily blamed for the misdeeds of their teens and adult children. Consider many examples of parents who have raised more than one child to find some children grow up to be responsible adults and others do not. So, parenting is not the sole answer to the problem of disrespectful and harmful sexual behavior.
That said, parenting matters. Parenting is a factor. Parents teach children to respect the boundaries of others by the language they use about sex and others, the behavior they model, the movies they watch, the way they treat other adults to whom they are sexually attracted, and how they react to news reports of sexual misconduct. Parents teach their children about one-one relationships when they enjoy time together. Everyday, parents are teaching their children something about respect toward other human beings.

Sexual harassment and assault represent severe violations of respect for others. Parents are in a position to constantly guide children toward respectful behavior toward siblings, relatives, friends, and others. The work of parents is hindered or helped by the actions of grandparents, teachers, and others. Parents are not alone when it comes to parenting and child discipline.


Individuals with sexual self-control difficulties should consider psychotherapy with an experienced provider. Talking with a supportive therapist may make an offender feel better but it won’t provide skills of attentional control, boundary setting, habit training, and other strategies of acceptable sexual expression.

As I have written elsewhere, sexual desire varies for individuals based on their age, time of day, health, and environmental stimuli among other factors. At the extremes, some men have strong sexual desire, often linked to high levels of testosterone. These men often have difficulty with aggression in other areas of life. When aggressiveness is harnessed, they may rise to the top in government, business, sports, and the military. The damage to self and others is obvious when aggression, including sexual aggression, is poorly controlled.

Policies and Laws

Policies and laws are a type of external barrier. Whether we are talking about a parent’s rules for their home, school policies, military regulations, or a nations’ laws, human beings need rules. It is a paradox that freedom only works when one person does not exercise their liberty to the extent of restricting the liberty of another. The best rules and policies clearly define the limits of acceptable behavior and state the consequences for violating the rules.

When it comes to sexual harassment and assault, all decision-makers must consider specific types of behavior. Not all behavior requires loss of employment, expulsion from school, or dehumanizing condemnation, or incarceration. Let us be clear about the differences between offensive words, jokes, touching, and all the other ways one person can sexually harass another.

Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration

I have written about this topic elsewhere. Here I only comment on a few points relevant to solving the sexual harassment problem.

Forgiveness can help victims gain relief from the intrusive memories of the past—especially when news stories bring similar scenes to mind. Forgiveness does not mean any victim is obligated to speak in favor of an offender. Forgiveness helps victims become survivors with a forward focus in life.

Reconciliation is a two-person decision. Reconciling with a person who sexually abused another may not be safe. Trust is the key ingredient in reconciliation. Trust depends on verifiable changes in behavior—words are not enough.

Restoring someone who has been guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault to a former position requires wisdom. Apologies and repentance are not enough. Even sincere people can re-offend. The decision to restore a person needs to be an individual decision considering the risk of harm and the likelihood of re-offending. The decision is not easy. Some people change and some do not.


You might guess after reading this post that I have concerns about father/daughter and mother/son dates. It's simple really, dates are culturally defined as romantic events. Parents tell their children they need to be a certain age before they date and they set rules for dating. When parents use the language of dates for their one-to-one time with their children, they violate the usual way we use language about an event that is highly emotionally charged with powerful forces of attraction. And we know dating is a way of finding life partners. Dating, marriage, and sex are about very different relationships than parent-child relationships.

By all means, spend quality time with each child. But use another word for parent-child "together time," "memory time" and so forth.


Read more about sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures in A House Divided available from the publisher PICKWICK and other stores e.g.,  AMAZON  GOOGLE

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Clergy Woman and A Church Divided

First Baptist Church of Jefferson City Tennesse has hired Rev. Ellen Di Giosia as senior pastor. Now the church appears at odds with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the national group, the Southern Baptist Convention.

A quote from the Tennessean:

“It is regrettable when one of our churches makes a decision that results in a broken confessional relationship with our TBC network of churches,” Tennessee Baptist Mission Board President and Executive Director Randy C. Davis said.

Rev. Ellen Di Giosia/ First Baptist Church of Jefferson City

The move by First Baptist Church reveals a gradual shift among some evangelicals toward equality. Given that most Christians are Catholics and women are not likely to become priests any time soon, seeing a woman as head of a church will be a rarity.

As I wrote in Chapter 10 of A House Divided, there are many scripture references conservatives use to keep women in limited roles when it comes to ministry.

But maybe it's time to start a discussion--at least in colleges and adult sunday schools or book study groups.

A House Divided is available from the publisher: PICKWICK. FREE copies are available to instructors and those writing book reviews.

Monday, September 4, 2017

After Gnashing about Nashville Start a Conversation

American Evangelical leaders made a public statement of beliefs about Christian marriage, which included statements about sexuality. Many signed the Nashville Statement and many voiced or wrote statements of opposition.

Some like Catholic priest, James Martin, SJ responded with his own statement of affirmations and denials matching the format of the Nashville declaration put forth by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Here's another thoughtful response by popular Christian author, Peter Enns:

By 4 September, a Google search for "Nashville Statement" yielded over a million responses. Articles appeared in the N Y Times, Washington Post, and USA Today.

Nashville Statement, Article 10 gets a lot of attention.

"WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree." 

The Nashville Statement is a short document. And many responses are pithy blog posts or short commentaries in news sources. Unfortunately, the short responses fall short of a conversation that would better inform people about the diversity of Christian views addressing LGBTQ issues. It would be far too easy for Christians to simply accept the views of these leaders and join the growing chorus of harsh rhetoric of those who wish to attack people holding different beliefs.

The good news coming from the Nashville Statement is the opportunity to see clearly what Christian Evangelicals believe about marriage and sex. Most of us knew their beliefs before the statement went public. But the public statement is a reminder that the issues divide Christians and others. And it is a reminder that strongly held beliefs lead to divisions that are not easily bridged by changes in law. 

In fact, as I write this post, I am reminded that in 1957 white people in Little Rock Arkansas saw US troops force integration so that nine African American students could attend the White, Central High School.

Rather than unthinkly accept the beliefs of the Nashville Statement authors, Christians, and those who wish to understand Christians, have the opportunity to start a conversation in churches, schools, and organizations.

There are books on the subject of faith, sexuality, and Christian morality. Here's my book and a discussion guide. The publisher (wipfandstock) provides free copies to course instructors and those willing to review the book for a review article. I realize I am taking advantage of the situation to promote my book. 

My point in writing the book was to address the divisions in society--especially Christian cultures. 

People at least ought to understand why Christians disagree and the points that the facts  support (or do not support). There are different perspectives on same-sex sex and marriage as well as other related issues.

Inexpensive copies of A House Divided are available on AMAZON and other book sellers. 

The Discussion Guide is only available on AMAZON.

What Christians, and people interested in Christian cultures, need to know:

  • CULTURAL CONTEXT. Most of the Bible was written by Jewish men in ancient cultures, which provide an important context for understanding beliefs about marriage, sex, and relationships. Old laws, teachings, and moral stories have a context that won't fit on bumper stickers or in simple proclamations.

  • CHRISTIAN DIVERSITY. Christians have different views about Christian marriage and sex because there are variations in the way scholars translate and interpret biblical texts. Christianity is the worlds' largest religion with over 2.2 billion adherents. The words of a few white men in Nashville, TN hardly represent the wisdom of Christian scholars around the world.

  • BIBLICAL SILENCE. The Bible does not address some of the points in the Nashville Statement. The Bible does not address transgender issues or same-sex marriage. For Christians to make statments about such issues requires an interpretation of what biblical writers wrote and did not write. You can probably think of a lot of things not covered in the Bible. Claiming to speak for God seems a bit risky. Follow biblical advice by evaluating the words of any would-be prophets-- including the folks writing from Nashville.

  • MORAL PRINCIPLES. The New Testament authors used ethical principles like "love your neighbor" to interpret old laws for Christians. For example, Christians do not practice animal sacrifice, circumcision, or Sabbath Day resting. Old laws were re-interpreted by Jesus and his followers. The sabbath was for man (or people), said Jesus. And circumcision was a matter of the heart-- not a literal cut-the-flesh requirement. 
  • Christians since Jesus derived ethical principles from old laws. This is my simplification of the previous point.

  • FACTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE. For example, in my book and others' books, you can read more about sexuality and the variations in natural attraction and sense of identity that produce considerable distress for sexual minorities and their families--especially those in cultures where they are shamed as sinners, treated with disrespect-- if not violence, and isolated from loved ones, including the faith family that embraced them before their sexuality emerged. Christian leaders ought to understand sexuality before making proclamations.

Some thoughts--

Let us read the Bible with understanding of its cultural context.

Let us learn about sex and the distress people experience when cultures are in conflict about sexual issues.

Let us learn about moral thinking in the Bible itself as practiced by Jesus and Paul in contrast to that of pharisees and those pushing a rigid adherence to religious traditions.

Let us start a conversation with other Christians. We all have our blind spots when thinking clearly.

Let us promote the love of God. It seems to me some people don't trust a loving God to work with those Christians who discovered that their sexuality was different from the majority of people.

See the book's website for more. A House Divided 

You can also learn more about a Christian approach to the concerns of sexual minorities from the writings of Mark Yarhouse.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Christians Speaking About God and Muslims: Language and Culture

Rick Warren/ Bing Images

What did Pastor Rick Warren say about God and Muslims?

An article in Christianity Today illustrates several points worthy of consideration when people wish to challenge (or twist) the words of others. We know there are sharp divisions amongst people of diverse religious and political views. People come to blows. Reputations can be decimated. And some even die for the words they speak.

Four Ways to Reduce Divisions Based on Communication

1. Get the original words right.

Sometimes we can be in trouble for the words we actually say or post. In retrospect, we can admit there were better ways to say things--especially when a kind friend brings a nuanced interpretation to our consideration--one we did not intend.

Being misquoted is even worse than using our own words against us. Let us be careful to get the words right.

2. Be generous with context.

Many pastors and other leaders respond to questions. This is a setup for trouble when people wish to use words to destroy speakers or to advance their own agenda. It is as true of ancient writings like the words in the Bible as it is true of contemporary speakers. We may never know the full context of a communication so at least we ought to refer readers to full texts of speeches and documents and show humility when interpreting remarks based on what we think is the context.

A problem with mass media can be the lack of context in short posts and attention to headlines instead of stories. Tweets can defeat.

3. Clarify what the speaker means.

On important issues, go back to the source and get clarification. That's what Ed Stetzer did when reading something about Rick Warren that seemed amiss. Fortunately, Rev. Warren responded to Ed with some details clarifying his view of God and his interaction with Muslims.

4. Demonstrate love.

Throughout history, some folks have had a knack for attacking perceived heresies. Some Christians lie in wait to catch others in statements that will undermine their leadership. This is no surprise of course because Jesus himself was the victim of religious people using his words against him.

Sometimes leaders misspeak. Sometimes they could have said something a better way. Sometimes their remarks are misinterpreted. At a minimum, we are called to love our neighbor, which surely means giving people the benefit of explaining themselves when some comments appear troublesome.

Warren uses a phrase in response to a misrepresented challenge that I think could be useful elsewhere.

"It's the lie that won't die." 

It is a sad commentary on humanity that lies and falsehoods persist. Many people wish to believe bad things about others despite all the good they may have done. May we persist in telling the truth and giving love a chance.

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I write about the diversity of views within Christian Cultures in A House Divided. My hope is that understanding others' views can lead to respect even when there is disagreement.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Christian Home

Image result for family dinner

This essay was prepared for a discussion of Ephesians 5:22 - 6:9 on May 21 and 28, 2017. These few verses have been used in arguments about the roles of women and men in society, the church, and the home. 
My primary objective in this essay is to challenge the methods of those who gloss over the antediluvian biblical teaching about the household codes set forth by the author of Ephesians[i] toward the end of the letter (5:21-6:9). My secondary objective is to present arguments for gender equality by emphasizing ethical principles consistent with the teachings of Jesus and Paul and simultaneously to challenge the loophole-theology employed by some evangelicals. I have not heard any Christians arguing for slavery in recent years; yet I think a review of Paul’s teaching worthwhile considering the selective cover-up of Paul’s affirmation of this inhumane practice. Paul’s directive that slaves ought to be obedient is crucial to understanding the contribution of first century Christian morality to the temporal extension of the horrific destruction of those who lived in chains of iron as well as those who were even recently restricted by the chains of law and continue to be limited by attitudes that maintain racist walls betwixt people having discernible differences in appearance, behavior, or another recognizable characteristic.

It is a commonplace to consider context when discussing a particular scripture. And it is equally common to criticize another’s arguments by challenging the context. In short, when it comes to selecting a context for any portion of scripture an academic can be as guilty of cherry picking as those who post or tweet a favorite scripture verse with the only context being that person’s fleeting neural activity. My difficulty in limiting the context for Paul’s advice to the Ephesians is his similar comments in other letters[ii] in which he takes us back to the Garden of Eden (1 Tim. 2:14). What we must thus consider is the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.[iii] But even that is not enough.

Other contexts are part of Paul’s cultural milieu. The most obvious of these are norms derived from centuries of Greek and Roman cultures—especially those relevant to an understanding of relationships among God or gods, men, women, children, and slaves. An adequate review of the historical background relevant to Pauline theology would be hard to accomplish in a school semester thus I must risk an abridgement, which will of necessity be incomplete.[iv]

Finally, to understand the ancient text, we must approach the nigh impossible task of decontextualizing the New Testament manuscripts from those aspects of contemporary culture likely to distort any original intent. We have been inundated by perfidious nonsense that passes for instructions to contemporary Christians ignorant of living lives of submission to ancient militaristic male dictators buttressed by divine authority and wielding the chains of imprisonment, which were often a prelude to torturous death for those who might suggest people ought to be treated as equals. Assertiveness is foolhardy when looking at the teeth of a lion.


Without question, the early followers of Jesus were Jews acquainted with the stories and laws attributed to Moses. Certainly, our author quotes or paraphrases many portions of the Hebrew Bible[v] as he offers instruction on one matter or another. So, I begin my look at the Ephesians’ passage by considering the spiritual family and inheritance metaphors with God as a jealous and protective Father (Ex. 20:5) and Israel as the errant bride (Hos. 2:2-23) in a covenant relationship. In parallel to this spiritual family we have an earthly family of nations headed by the patriarch Abraham (Gen 17:5) who was blessed with Isaac, the miracle male child. Following a near death experience explained as Abraham’s obedience, Isaac obtained the culturally desirable blessing of an eternal dynasty of countless descendants. Along the way to Jesus, challenges to the family line emerged but there was always a man to ensure the promised inheritance would not fail.

The stories and laws recorded by the men of Israel reveal the powerful role of earthly fathers who like God retain the power of life and death over their wives, children, and slaves. Moses’ laws[vi] set some parameters on what an earthly father can or cannot do. But like the Greeks and Romans, women, children, and slaves were the chattels of their fathers.[vii] The control over women passed from father to husband. It is worth mentioning that despite the power of fathers and husbands over other humans, the laws differentiated between wives and concubines, male and female children, and slaves. Discrimination has a long history. To understand Paul, we must recognize his use of the slave metaphor.

Paul, a Hellenistic Jew, not only inherited the sacred cultural traditions of his ethnic ancestors but as a Roman citizen born outside Palestine, he appears to be influenced by the laws and customs of the Romans[viii] and the Greeks.[ix] What we have in Ephesians is no surprise to the Ephesians.[x] Everyone knows wives ought to submit to their husbands. Everyone knows children ought to honor their parents. And everyone knows slaves ought to respect and obey their masters. That was the way of the ancient world. And that is the way the secular and Christian world ran, with a few exceptions, until a few decades ago.

What Ephesians might not have known is that Jesus is the head of the church and in this spiritual kingdom everyone lives in submission to Jesus (5:21). Before this Heavenly King, all people are equal—Greeks and Jews, men and women, freemen and slaves (Gal. 3:28). Like earthly Kings, Jesus qua God, has the power of life and death over his subjects (Matt. 10:28). But unlike earthly tyrants, Jesus wants to rule with love (5:1-2).

Like many contemporary pastors, Paul proclaims the spiritual truth of Christ’s love for the church but when faced with liars, thieves, gossips and the immoral, he draws upon old ways to bring about at least the appearance of decency by encouraging the virtuous life. He encourages the Ephesians to shed the old ways as one might remove filthy garments and don righteous raiment (4:22-24). And he reminds readers that our spiritual father holds the power of life and death (5:5-7). The spiritual inheritance of Abraham comes with a high price—the sacrifice of a son. Sharing in the son’s inheritance requires living a life worthy of such high honor.

Now it would appear that some Ephesians were not living up to the expectations of the virtuous life (Eph. 5). In reminding wives, children and slaves of their duty, Paul calls on the head of the family to follow Christ’s example. He must love his wife, and practice self-control in disciplining his children and managing his slaves. Remember, Paul advises, the earthly master and his slave have the same heavenly master.

We are not Ephesians

For the most part, we do not live according to the customs of the Ephesians. And few moderns would want to slavishly adhere to the teachings of Paul. Though in fairness, Paul does recognize some degree of mutuality as in his teaching about conjugal rights.[xi]

As I consider the present state of the Christian family in Western cultures I see many families where the woman is the head of a household having a few children and limited resources.[xii] I see churches that would offer very little to their community if it were not for women volunteering to take on a variety of responsibilities.

When it comes to various types of employment, the best person for a position is sometimes a woman and sometimes a man. On average, there are no significant gender differences in intelligence or the capacity to learn. Western cultures have led the way to considering women as equal with men. The church has lagged behind contemporary western cultures in affirming gender equality.[xiii]

Sexism has a long history in Christianity and continues in many overt and subtle ways within many churches[xiv] and Christian organizations.[xv]

Children are still expected to obey their parents but in most cases,[xvi] they no longer fear their father will end their lives in childhood if they fail to comply with his requests. On average, even disobedient children will have longer lives than was the case in previous centuries. In fact, we could argue that Western cultures have reversed the biblical commandment to read, “Thou shalt honor thy children.” We Westerners live in a culture that glorifies youth and families often to the detriment of the elderly. Ageism is a reality that deserves the attention of all Christians. What we really need is a reminder to show love and respect to everyone regardless of age.

And what about slaves? Well, slaves are few and far between in most Western cultures. Yes, people are still slaves.[xvii] And others are near-slaves. But most humans have more freedom than in most eras of recorded history. One thing we ought not to do is gloss over the obvious meaning of biblical texts when the words are referring to slaves qua human property rather than hired servants.[xviii] If your translation reads servant instead of slave you may be overlooking an inconvenient truth. If we gloss over slave language, we fail to recognize the role of Christianity in supporting the perceived right of churches, clergy, and wealthy Christians to buy, sell, and hold people as property.[xix] And we fail to see the biblical connection to apartheid,[xx] racist laws, and race-based discrimination.[xxi]

How should Christians read Paul?

Frankly, I think we ought to exert some effort to understand what is written before reacting from a semi-free twenty-first century Western cultural perspective. Unfortunately, we find that despite similarities among modern translations, Christians disagree on how to apply the teaching to one’s life. I find myself approaching a sympathetic stance toward fundamentalists who claim something like, “The Bible means what it says” or with worn black leather clad Bible raised, “God’s word says!” My respect does not go to the passionate purveyor of priestly placards announcing one absolute truth or another but to their intentional integrity. That is, sincere fundamentalists aim to live according to the texts they quote.

On the other hand, I find myself frustrated with evangelicals who raise voices of protest pregnant with Pauline passages ranting about rainbows, blathering about bathrooms, or pussy-footing around politicians’ peccancy whilst on the other hand they deftly ignore those inconvenient truths prompting love, kindness, humility, and forgiveness coupled with reminders to care for the needy and marginalized.

Further, I think evangelicals have created a loophole theology of biblical gender equality on slender strands of an honorable mention here and there, a quibble over translating a submission verse,[xxii] or even the recognition of a female leader or two.[xxiii] This type of reasoning around the odious texts has become the hermeneutical pathway to destruction for those intellectually deft enough to drive a locomotive through the gender loophole to discover other biblical inconsistencies that interrupt a pleasurable life.[xxiv] When I see evangelicals ferreting out obscure texts I am reminded of the wiles of the first deception, “Did God really say (Gen. 3:1)?”

I would not be so brash as to say I have the correct answer to interpreting Paul’s inconvenient pronouncements for contemporary cultures. I cannot affirm the harmful outcomes of fundamentalist interpretations of the texts. I might affirm the conclusions reached by evangelicals in matters of gender and ethnicity but as I have already mentioned, I question the adequacy of their methodology. I think the carping about culture has led evangelicals into a moral quagmire of relativism, which has been rejected by some in favor of a move toward the certain safety of fundamentalism. I will not hesitate to say I think the principles within the teachings of Jesus show a better way to a life of freedom than methods aimed at finding freedom through the eye of a hermeneutical needle.

Contemporary Christian morality[xxv] ought to embrace the ethical principles of scripture. In the Christian household and the community, the virtuous life promotes positive relationships but even the virtues mentioned by Paul and others must be subject to principles to avoid self-righteous imperatives. Principles promote just policies and laws as long as one weighs their consequences.

I agree with others who have observed that there is a resemblance to the categorical imperative within Jesus command to love our neighbors and, by an alternate wording the commandment sets a no-harm consequentialist parameter.[xxvi] Thus, in one phrasing, Jesus points toward the two great approaches to morality (Matt. 7:12; 22:39).

Jesus also points people in the direction of making ethical decisions that appear to violate customs such as providing healthcare on the Sabbath (Matt. 12). It takes courage to go against cultural customs—especially religious customs thought to come from God. Finally, I add the words of Jesus echoed in the writings of Paul to replace the old with the new. Old customs and cultures like old garments and old wineskins (Matt. 9: 14-17) are not good enough for the truth that in the Kingdom of heaven there are no ethnic minorities, no gender minorities, and no socioeconomic minorities (Gal. 3:28). Paul points his readers toward freedom and equality as heirs with His Son.

If we are free and equal before God, then let us be free and equal in society, in the church, and in the home. Let us show respect to all persons regardless of gender or age. And let us embrace people regardless of social group as we work with them to sever spiritual and social chains.

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References & Endnotes

Althouse, P. (2016). Jesus, empire, and Christian ethics: Implications for the moral critique of mass incarceration in the United States. In G. W. Sutton and B. Schmidly (eds). Christian morality: An interdisciplinary framework for thinking about contemporary moral issues. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

Burgess, R.V. (2016). A woman’s place: Perspectives on gender equality. In G. W. Sutton and B. Schmidly (eds). Christian morality: An interdisciplinary framework for thinking about contemporary moral issues. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.

Frankenna, William K. Ethics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963.

Furnish, V. P. (1985). The moral teaching of Paul: Selected issues. 3rd Edition. Nashville, Abingdon Press.

Mostert, J and van der Spuy, M. (2010). “Truth and Reconciliation: A South African Perspective”. Chapter in Mittelstadt, M. and Sutton, G. (Eds.) Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration: Multidisciplinary Studies from a Pentecostal Perspective. Pickwick Publications.

Sutton, Geoffrey W. A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016.

[i] Henceforth, I shall use the traditional name of Paul for the author because I do not consider it crucial to this topic to become entangled in a justification of pseudo-Paul, whomever he or they might be. For readers who do not know, many scholars believe Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles.
[ii] e.g., 1 Cor 14: 34-35; Col 3:18 – 4:1; 1 Tim 2: 11-15.
[iii] In addition to the Septuagint, Paul’s writings have some language in common with works in the Apocrypha. See Goode (2015).
[iv] I have written more about conservative and progressive views of Christian marriage and gender issues in A House Divided, 2016.
[v] For example see Ludlow (2006) Paul’s use of Old Testament; Harrington (2009) Paul’s use of the Old Testament in Romans.
[vi] An interesting aside is the current term “Baby Moses Law” permitting parents to deliver their infants to a Safe Haven site e.g., Texas DFPS.
[vii] Bible quotes illustrating humans as property: Ex. 20:17; 21:7; 22:16-17
[ix] For an example of Greek customs, See
[x] Previously mentioned by Dr. Martin Mittelstadt of Evangel University.
[xi] The mutuality in 1 Cor. 7:3-4 appears to lessen a male-centric marriage suggested in older Hebrew texts.
[xii] For recent household census data, see
[xiii] See Furnish (1985) chapter 4, “Women in the church."
[xiv] I was reminded by Stan Burgess that some Pentecostals (e.g., Assemblies of God) ordain women. This is particularly interesting because of the Assemblies’ conservative position on other matters. I have heard Pentecostals comment on the ministry of women related to their gifting by the Holy Spirit.
[xv] For example, see Ruth Burgess (2016) for a discussion of sexism in religious texts and the church.
[xvi] Child abuse leading to death continues to be a problem in many cultures. Of the people in the household code, contemporary laws only allow adults to hit children. Spanking is legal in all 50 US states and is allowed in many school districts (Nicks, 2014). In 2014, TIME identified 43 countries where spanking is illegal.
[xvii] For example, see “What is Modern Slavery?”
[xviii] For more about the Greek word for slave, doulos, see Read more about Roman slaves at this link: 
[xix] For example, see “Why did so many Christians…” Also see Morrison. “The Religious Defense…”
[xx] Mostert and van der Spuy, 2010.
[xxi] For example, see Althouse, 2016.
[xxii] For example, hypotasso missing in Eph. 5:22 but present in Col. 3:18.
[xxiii] Ruth Burgess (2016) reminds her readers of the Gospel of Mary. According to some feminists, this document and other texts suggests a repression of female voices in early Christianity. For more information on the Gospel of Mary see Also,
[xxiv] Different writers emphasize one point or another to mitigate Paul’s blunt teaching about women. A more scholarly example is the writing of Craig Keener
[xxv] I make no difference between ethics and morals, which is the common practice in moral philosophy.