Asking Jimmy Carter for information on proper global governance is asking an amiable failure to comment on what he does badly. His recent comments on sex and religion are vintage Carter: replacing distinctions with platitudes. There is no reason to think he would govern a church any better than he governed a nation. Carter is evidently a splendid private citizen and personally pious, but one wishes he would retire to the private behavior that suits him so well and leave public pontifications to actual popes.
Christianity celebrates the common humanity of men and women, but also rejoices and allows for difference.
Romance withers in the face of modernity, but justice dies if romance rules. This side of paradise men and women must live justly, but also allow for the romance that creates healthy human beings. Man as man and woman as woman each have an irreplaceable role in the order of things.
Wise Americans will take joy in sameness and difference.
When the law tried to enforce different treatment between men and women, it was unjust. Likewise, if it tried to mandate that in private or religious life they be treated as interchangeable, then it would be profoundly wrong.
Healthy cultures celebrate differences while protecting basic human rights.
Each individual human person is unique, but each person is part of humanity created in God’s image. Christian civilization has preserved both truths. Justice demands equal treatment, love demands unique treatment. Christianity balances love and justice.
Religion reminds us that the happy fiction of full “equality” between humans is good and necessary for government, but cannot govern all of life. People are not numbers. There must be equality before the law, because the government cannot be trusted with the arbitrary powers of love, mercy, and grace.
Christian civilization slowly has recognized that when it comes to life, liberty, and human flourishing each person is the same. However, that does not mean that all roles in a culture must be the same, because not all of human life is comprised of law.
Love knows nothing of “equality.” The lover will do for his beloved what he would never do for anyone else. He voluntarily and extravagantly grants his beloved what he justly could not be forced to give anyone else.
The parent who gives more time to his children, because they are his children, acts lovingly and not based on some external measure of equality.
In the same way, the church acts out a great drama where men and women are allowed to be themselves. No man can be a mother and no woman can be a father. If a technological society can help us forget this difference, then theater, including the theater of the church liturgy, reminds us of it.
Shakespeare was hobbled by his culture with all male actors and so knew firsthand the truth that no man can ever be a woman and no woman can ever be a man. Acting is more than a task and so is ministry in the church. Both attempt to portray deep truths about the human condition.
Sometimes the church must remind the culture that men and women are all equally human. In an earlier age when secularists hated sex, church councils had to remind members that sex was not evil. When pagan “science” taught that women were not fully human, the church had to remind culture that misogyny was a sin. Of course many Christians, including otherwise great people, would forget both lessons at times, but the church as a whole did not.
The church never made men women or women men, but the male apostolate was balanced by service of women, such as Nina, who were proclaimed equal to the apostles.
Extremists will always hate the moderation of Christianity. Evil people who hate one sex or the other will pretend superiority and demand total power. Extremists, with at least the virtue of being moved by past injustice, will treat every relationship as if sex does not matter.
Led by Christian nations, some of the world is making good progress in reducing unjust discrimination against women. This noble fight is not finished and all good citizens hope it continues. Women and men must be treated equally where the law and justice must govern. Where difference does not matter, difference must not be allowed to matter under the law.
There is a woman’s voice and a man’s voice that must be allowed a hearing, however. In those areas where difference matters, family and Church, a tolerant society must tolerate difference. Otherwise we will choke out diversity and end with bland sameness.
Most Americans recognize that in their public lives they must tolerate no discrimination, but that their private lives are governed by deeply personal choices driven, in part, by the differences between men and women.
God bless equality under the law and blessed differences!
John Mark Reynolds | Apr 13, 2011 8:31 PM