On complementarianism and the environment

Communications Staff — December 7, 2009

(Editor’s note: The following post originally appeared on CBMW’s Gender Blog)

At the 61st annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society last month in New Orleans, Russell D. Moore presented a paper analyzing John Frame’s recent book Doctrine of the Christian Life, the third in Frame’s incredible “A Theology of Lordship” trilogy. Within that paper, Moore applauded Frame’s link between gender roles and biblical environmental stewardship. Along the way, Dr. Moore also furthered the argument by demonstrating compelling links between gender roles and environmental views. That section of Moore’s paper is reprinted below. It is an engaging biblical application of complementarianism. Moore serves as dean of the School of Theology and as senior vice president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“It seems to me that radical feminist theologians and ethicists who suggest that one’s view of gender affects one’s view of environment are correct.  Seeing God as head over his creation is fundamentally different from seeing the earth as “God’s body,” and it is true also that human self-consciousness is affected by these notions. Ironically, though, only a differentiation of humanity from the universe can lead humanity to exercise the stewardship only humanity can exercise to save the natural order from the ravages of human acquisitiveness. Feminists are correct to see an abusive form of “dominion” in harsh forms of patriarchy in human history, and they are correct to see an analogy with human abuse of the earth itself. It is no accident, I think, that a metaphor for human mistreatment of the earth is often “rape.” Sadly, every human culture knows what it is to see the strength of the male directed toward evil, cruel, and self-serving ends.

“Frame’s assertion that human servanthood to the universe does not obliterate hierarchy is precisely correct, both in terms of Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition. I would argue that this is the reason a complementarian vision of gender is not irrelevant to the discussion of an evangelical environmental ethic. Humanity does not escape from nature, as though the male/female hierarchy can be transcended. But neither does humanity equate male headship with the kind of anti-Christ patriarchy in which male “power” equals superiority or privilege. The headship of the man over the woman isn’t about privilege but about self-sacrificial servanthood-an iconic representation of Christ’s sacrifice of himself for his church. In the same way, humanity’s headship over the cosmos isn’t about self-gratification but about a loving servanthood, characterized by wise decision-making in the best interest of the earth itself.

“Ironically, those evangelicals most concerned, at the moment, about environmental protection seem to sometimes be those evangelicals least likely to see a complementarian symphony of hierarchy and mutual dependence in the male/female polarity. This is a mistake, I believe, not only because it kicks against the goads of the biblical revelation and the Christian tradition, but also because it deadens the very impulses needed to see an “economy” in the created order in which difference does not entail ontological superiority, and these impulses are necessary for ecological stewardship. As Wendell Berry puts it: “Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version is now on the one hand an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and divided. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided.”  But Berry notes that a household is an economy-not just a “relationship”-an economy based on differing but complementary husbandry and housewifery.  The same technological Gnosticism that has seen the earth as an infinitely malleable “resource” has likewise seen the natural family as an infinitely malleable “relationship.” In both cases, nature is seen as an impediment to some other value-quite often to monetary success.

“If headship and servanthood are mutually exclusive (or if either is redefined to remove either hierarchy or dependence), then it is difficult to imagine an evangelical ethic in which humanity is charged, specifically, with “tending” and “keeping” the earth, not just for the purposes of self-interest, but because it is in and of itself “good” in the sight of the Lord.

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