As a Lutheran, a podcast I frequently enjoy is “Issues, Etc.” It continually offers a Lutheran perspective on current events, theological issues, and more. However, there are times where its approach to theology or current events reflects less a Lutheran understanding than a specific brand of theological conservatism. The recent podcast (2/11/16) featured Pastor Hans Fiene discussing “Women in Combat and Selective Service.” I found it to be deeply mistaken on a number of issues, and would like to address just a few of those here.
“Sending” your daughter or wife?
One comment made in the episode labeled any man who would “send” his wife or daughter to investigate a noise downstairs to see if it might be a burglar as a “coward.” There are a number of problems with this statement. First, anyone who “sends” anyone else into a potentially dangerous situation because they don’t want to go themselves might be labeled as cowardly. The way the phrase was said already begs the question. If the situation were reversed, would Fiene say that the wife is “sending” her husband to investigate, or is the husband simply investigating?
Second, suppose that a man is married to a woman who has extensive martial arts training, is a weapons specialist, sleeps with a pistol under her pillow, and immediately leaps into action to investigate such a noise, while the man works a desk job, is of average build and has never used a weapon before. Is it really reasonable to think that the man is cowardly if he allows his wife to investigate the noise? Well, absurdly, others who share Fiene’s view argue that yes, that man has shirked his duty, is cowardly, and probably a wimp. In other words, men are to be shamed and emasculated if a woman is stronger or better at fighting than they are.
The absurdity of such a position knows no bounds. Men are stripped of their manhood if women are perceived as better at things we arbitrarily label “manly.” It gets curiouser and curiouser, as assertions are made that a man ought to intentionally die even if a woman could save him. A reductio ad absurdum is not even required for this kind of position: it demonstrates for itself that it flies in the face of reason.
Fiene could not resist the urge to take a jab at those who are for women in the ministry in this discussion, either. He drew a comparison between woeful ignorance of the horrors of war and ignorance of the spiritual warfare that pastors must engage in. In a stunning non sequitor, he stated that “If we lived in a world where pastors were routinely murdered by Pagans who were storming into churches and putting them to death or… where pastors were having to stay behind while everyone was getting the Plague and dying while everyone who was healthy fled… I don’t really think we’d be having an argument over whether or not women should be pastors.”
It is hard to take this kind of statement seriously, and the statement itself is clearly condescension. Fiene assumes that he knows more about his opponents’ sincerity of believe than they do. After all, if only those silly egalitarians really knew what war was like or really believed in spiritual warfare, then they’d clearly change their minds. This leaves no room for sincerity of belief on the part of the egalitarian, and that is extremely problematic. Frankly, I don’t know of anyone who calls themselves an egalitarian who would recant their stance if women pastors were being killed by Pagans or had to deal with Plague. No one wants women to have those things happen to them; indeed, I hope no one wants men to have them happen to them either! The same applies to combat–no one wants soldiers to have to go kill people, I hope. But if difficult spiritual warfare, even death, is what pastors are to endure, and someone genuinely believes women ought to be allowed to be in the ministry, then those are the types of risks that must be taken. And to assume that egalitarians didn’t even think about that possibility or are too timid to even consider it is offensive, to say the least. The only way Fiene can make such a statement is by assuming without any argument that his opponents are insincere.
As an aside, does Fiene completely discount the work of women like Mother Theresa, or Mother Maria Skobtsova (who was murdered by the Nazis), or the countless other women who have done exactly what he thinks egalitarians are silly to think women can do? A lack of integrating church history into an overall worldview might be shown here.
Complementarian (and other conservative) commentators continue to equivocate on the term “feminism.” Instead of acknowledging that there can be any diversity within the group who self identify as feminists, the label is assumed to mean any number of things that many feminists do not put forward. For example, it was not just implied but implicitly stated that “feminism” demanded equality for women by arguing for abortion rights in order to free women from having to deal with childcare. This, of course, ignores the fact that the feminist movement started as strongly pro-life, not to mention the continued existence of groups like Feminists for Life who are out there making a real difference for the pro-life movement.
The use of the term “feminist” as a clobber-word to induce fear is a straw man of the worst kind. It demonstrates either ignorance–a complete lack of knowledge about the breadth of views held by those who call themselves “feminist”–or intentional deceit. Moreover, to lump egalitarianism–the Christian movement for equality of women in the church and home–with this blanket statement of “feminist” as pro-choice, etc. is to obfuscate the issue even further.
I wanted to add a brief note about natural law as well. Fiene and others continue to just throw out “natural law” in an undefined way as though it unequivocally supports their position. Yet one could just as easily appeal to “natural law” to support women in combat roles, for a natural law might just be a threshold of strength and mental endurance that could be seen as suitable for combat roles, and then anyone who meets that threshold is permitted to do so. I don’t want to delve into the deep waters surrounding natural law theory, but the point is that a bald appeal to “natural law” doesn’t do much to support Fiene’s position.
I believe the discussion here has broader application to the discussion over so-called gender roles as well as the debate between egalitarians and complementarians. Fiene’s arguments are the same kind of arguments that are continually trumpeted by opponents of egalitarianism. But, as we have seen here, those arguments are fallacious, they fail to take the opposition seriously, and they rely on ill-defined terms and obfuscation. There is are no reasons provided by Fiene to support his position. Bare assertions, jabs at opponents, and absurdly irrational statements are put in the place of argument.
Hans Fiene, “Women in Combat and Selective Service,” 2/11/16 available at http://issuesetc.org/2016/02/11/1-women-in-combat-and-selective-service-pr-hans-fiene-21116/ accessed 2/13/16.
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