BATTLE FOR THE MINDS

 

I am devoting the next two classes to the issue of shifting gender roles in Christianity, something that has probably been THE greatest single controversy in the churches over the past generation.

Virtually the whole of Thursday's class will be taken up watching the well-known documentary BATTLE FOR THE MINDS, about the battle over women's roles in America's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which is some 16 million strong (All told, the US has almost 40 million Baptists of various denominations). Then, the following Tuesday, the whole class will be devoted to discussing this film and its implications. I can guarantee that the film, and the discussion, will represent a major portion of the coming exam.

The film focuses on controversies within one institution - the flagship SBC seminary at Louisville KY - as a microcosm, a miniature, of larger splits in the church as a whole, and society at large. Among the questions we will be addressing in discussion - and which you should be aware of while watching the film:

 

*What is the basic story? What happened and why? How does the film explain it?

*The film has been described as an "unabashedly partisan exposé". Is it?

*Who is the star of the film? Who do you identify with as you proceed through the story?

*What are the sympathies of the film-maker, Steven Lipscomb? Does he support the conservatives or the feminist reformers? How can we tell? If he supported the other side in the debate, how would the film have been different?

*The film becomes a tale of heroes and villains. How does the director achieve this effect? How does he choose representatives of each side who will appeal to, or alienate, an audience? Look at issues like dress, hair-style, speech patterns.

*How is the audience meant to respond to Molly Marshall? Why?

*How does the film portray the conservatives? Is the treatment fair or not?

*How does each side use key words, buzzwords if you like, that are guaranteed to strike different audiences? Who do you personally identify with, who do you like, who do you find repellent? Why? Is the film-maker playing on prejudices of race, region, gender, and class? How?

*We repeatedly see the reformers trying to contextualize their campaign as part of a civil rights struggle. How do they do this? Why? Are they effective?

*The film-maker offers a particular interpretation of the Baptist cause and its history. What is it? Is he right?

*What do you think of the arguments made by each side in the debates we see here?

*How does each side use the Bible? Which side makes the most convincing case that its interpretation of the Bible is right?

*How can Baptists - who tend to be fundamentalist on Biblical interpretation - avoid following the plain text of the scriptures when they find them contrary to what they want to achieve? For example, how do the women's activists get around the prohibitions on women's teaching in texts like 1 Timothy? Is it acceptable to say that such texts just reflected the conditions of a particular time and place, and are not binding.

*What are the implications of these Biblical debates for other big issues like the acceptance of homosexuality within the churches?

*In short, what are the standards that churches should use when their own traditions and standards conflict with those of secular society?

*For your information, here are some of the New Testament texts that we hear referred to repeatedly in the film: this section is from 1 Timothy ch. 2, 11-15: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."

*How would you expect issues of women's ordination to proceed ion other churches with different attitudes towards hierarchy and authority, such as Episcopalians, Lutherans, and above all, Roman Catholics?

*What difference does it make to a church whether or not it has women clergy? Why?

*How do these arguments matter for the future of Christianity?