I originally intended my Postmodernism Gone Viral article as a one-off, but the response (both positive and negative) has been so strong that I realized there was a bit more to say on the subject. Furthermore, that article was based on the draft document, and since I wrote it, the final proposal that the ELCA will consider for adoption has been issued. Before my brother and sister Lutherans in the ELCA adopt Faith, Sexism, and Justice (FSJ), there is another issue that could have immediate, direct ripple effects into the other Lutheran bodies. I will address this most serious issue in this article and then take on some of the criticisms I have received in a final installment, which won’t be published until after the die is cast regarding the adoption of FSJ.
Despite a few obligatory pious gestures to convince us that it is in fact “drawing on the deepest strands” of the faith tradition it largely critiques, it is clear that FSJ views the Christian and Jewish traditions as primarily providing impediments and challenges to its objectives. It is therefore unsurprising that the document is significantly out of step with the Christian (and Jewish) traditions of 2000+ years.
Goodbye to Sound Doctrine
A ready example is provided in the document’s first treatment of Scripture; here what is jettisoned is the tradition of sound exegesis guiding doctrine. Since poor exegesis can take on a life of its own, getting copied and re-used by others beyond the bounds of the ELCA, I felt that this should be addressed prior to the ELCA deciding whether to give FSJ canonical status.
Some rather dubious translation and exegetical footwork is engaged in to “prove” that the text of Genesis 2:7 shows God originally forming an un-sexed human being. The proposed social statement uses a translation of this text rendered by Phyllis Trible in her book God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality:
“then Yahweh God formed the earth creature [hā-’ādām] dust from the earth [hā-ʼͣdāmȃ][FSJ 419-422: I will reference excerpts from Faith, Sexism, and Justice using its own study numbers.]
and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life,
and the earth creature [hā-’ādām] became a living nephesh [being]”
Relying on Ms. Trible’s work based upon this tendentious rendering of the text, the document goes on to assert that:
In Hebrew, the word for “Adam” means “earth creature;” it is not a proper name but a poetic play upon the Hebrew word for earth. English translations of Genesis refer to “Adam” being formed first and refer to this earth creature as a male, but the original language never suggests that a man was created first. Rather, it recounts the creation of all humanity. Only later does the text refer to distinct bodies, called “Adam” and “Eve.”[FSJ 423-427]
Of course, noting the relationship between the words hā-’ādām and hā-ʼͣdāmȃ is covering no new exegetical ground, but the assertion that hā-’ādām refers to “the creation of all humanity” is new… and it ignores several striking contra-indicators about the canonical text. First, it ignores that in its canonical position, this story serves as a complement to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” which clearly refers to the creation of all humanity. In its canonical position, the Genesis 2 account adds a layer of narrative detail to the rather sparse account of Genesis 1.
Poetic Word Play
The assertion that hā-’ādām is, of course, “not a proper name but [only] a poetic play upon the Hebrew word for earth” is not sustainable in the face of the remainder of the Genesis 2 narrative. It ignores that hā-’ādām never undergoes a formal naming as does his wife in verse 3:20. A consistent use of Dr. Trible’s hermeneutic should then have us logically declare that Eve is not a proper name, but rather only a poetic trope upon the Hebrew word for life. Are we to believe Adam (and the rest of the creatures in the Genesis story) are not alive until Eve receives her name in verse 3:20? The proposition is ludicrous in the extreme.
All of this means that hā-’ādām [Adam] is the name of the first human, and that this name is apt precisely because it is descriptive. This last point is especially important given the dramatic contours of that happen next; Adam goes on to name “every living creature,” a task that requires that apt, descriptive names be found for each even as his own name is apt and descriptive. The dramatic significance of Adam’s name crescendos to a climax when the Lord pronounces His judgment over the disobedience of Adam and his wife (not yet named) by proclaiming “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground [hā-ʼͣdāmȃ], for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
That the first human in the Genesis 2 story is clearly male is indicated by the manner of the woman’s creation in verses 2:21-25. The creation of the woman from Adam’s bone indicates (among many other things) that Adam is male and his as-yet unnamed wife is female. The narrative climax comes in Adam’s doxological hymn, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ʾiš·šā(h), because she was taken out of Man (ʾîš).” (Genesis 2:23) That the woman is different from the man sexually is the very basis of her identification and clearly marks out Adam as different from her—that is already, prior to his wife’s creation, male. Furthermore, Adam’s thanks is proffered because the woman is the essential “helper” that Adam needs. Hence the apt, descriptive naming of her in accord with her creation; a naming after the same manner as Adam. However, what the text pushes us to recognize is that her telos as “helper” is made possible by the very fact of her sexual differentiation from Adam, whose sex is already determined and unchanged by her creation.
Far from the social statement’s contention that Genesis 2:7 portrays the creation of humanity in general, the actual text of this verse shows the creation of a singular human nephesh (being), while the creation of humanity (human community and a species capable of being “fruitful and multiplying”) is not accomplished in the Genesis 2 story until verse 22.
Sexually Differentiated Humanity
Both the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 accounts therefore show God creating humanity in a sexually differentiated complementarity, a fact that the document wishes at all costs to avoid recognizing because it wishes to achieve a “reading of the Scriptures [that] promotes an understanding of human diversity that is not limited by either a binary or a hierarchical view of gender.” [FSJ 457-458] The authors of the document must have realized the evident meaning of the original texts, because one of the things that changed from the earlier draft provided for commentary and the one to be considered for adoption at the ELCA’s upcoming churchwide assembly is the next line of analysis: “The differentiation of humankind into male and female, expressed in Genesis 2, communicates the joy found in humans having true partners, true peers” of the earlier draft document has become in the text proposed for adoption, “The differentiation of humankind expressed in the creation stories communicates…” In the original draft statement, the authors had inadvertently fallen back into exegesis—reading the text according to its clearly intended meaning—something that needed to be course-corrected in the document to be adopted by the church as official teaching.
Conflagration of Influences
Such unadulterated eisegesis of the most ham-fisted variety should be expected in any document that is deeply influenced by the conflagration of deconstructionism, post-structuralism, Marxism, and reactive, sophomoric cultural analysis that fits under the umbrella of postmodernism. This is because, as I asserted in my last article, postmodernism views integrity to the data—coherence—as utterly superfluous to the true purposes of communication.
And this gives me the chance to course-correct a failure of my first article—my failure to state explicitly the observation that led me to draft the article in the first place. FSJ is more than disingenuous, it is hypocritical because it uses privileged communication from a position of hierarchical advantage to promote the ideology of egalitarianism. In a technocratic meritocracy like our own, positions purportedly based upon “scholarship” or “expert testimony” like the aforementioned work of Dr. Phyllis Trible carry undue weight and have disproportionate influence. The inclusion of the transliterated Hebrew words helps bamboozle the nominally educated and those who “just want fairness” (a noble predisposition) into thinking that the contentions of the social statement are supported by solid, relatively incontrovertible scholarship. This leads inexorably to the conviction that there can be no principled reason to oppose the social statement, and that those so opposed must be of bad character, prompted by despicable (dare one say, deplorable?) motives.
We All Suffer
I have had the opportunity to experience firsthand this resultant dynamic in the less-than-thoughtful, reactionary responses to some of my articles over the years. I will address some of the correspondence I received over part 1 of this article in the next issue of CORE Voice, but I end this article by noting that all of us suffer when the methodologies employed by FSJ are utilized. Many have bemoaned the current state of political discourse in America, but few have noted that postmodernism, by removing all objective reference points and reducing all social interactions to mere exercises of power, necessarily forces our philosophical, moral, political, and theological discourse to this extremity. For a Sola Scriptura tradition like Lutheranism, solid exegesis is the objective touchpoint that prevents our theology from becoming mere tribalism and enables it to retain its character as an expression of the “one holy catholic and apostolic faith.” On these terms, FSJ not only fails to be an aspect of this faith, but it hypocritically attempts to use privileged internal mechanisms of that faith — Biblical exegesis and church governance structures — to establish a purportedly egalitarian ideology. These are just two more reasons for its rejection by any church that hopes to remain part of the Church of Jesus Christ.