A Response from Susan Wise Bauer

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I have seen a response from Susan Wise Bauer to my ref 21 post of a few days ago, in which I responded to her Books & Culture article that complained about the “slippery slope” argument I and others had made about evangelical feminism. Bauer’s response mainly expressed anger and dismay towards my tone and my form of argument. In sum, she states, “Mr. Phillips chooses his words so that I appear guilty of hypocrisy, disregard for the truth, and apostasy.”

I take this as a serious matter. I apologize for the personal offense that Bauer has taken, which was not at all my intention. Moreover, I did not mean to accuse her of “hypocrisy, disregard for the truth” or “apostasy.” Such accusations never crossed my mind. Rather, I was subjecting her published remarks to sharp critique. I did so not out of any intent to harm her as a person, but because of the importance of the subject matter and the influence she is afforded by virtue of writing in such a prestigious publication. Serious, critical engagement is often taken as a sign of respect; I am sorry that it was taken otherwise on this occasion and accept the part of my responsibility in it.

A couple of points made by Bauer merit response, and I hope it will not be seen as inflammatory to do so. First, I had argued that the hermeneutics required to endorse women’s ordination will end up undermining the core doctrines of the Christian faith, as has in fact happened in numerous denominations. This may be true and it may be false. It is an argument that was cogent to the matter under discussion. I honestly do not see how Bauer might have taken this as a charge of personal apostasy or hypocrisy on her part. I would like to take this opportunity to make clear that I am taking no position on Bauer’s character or faith – in fact, I am glad to presume her virtue in all these respects. But the argument remains important and should be considered in and of itself.

Secondly, Bauer charged me with misrepresenting her. This allegation seems to be made in nearly every debate taking place today. But I do not believe it is misrepresentation when two people consider a subject from different perspectives, criticizing and critiquing the implications from their point of view. I find that the charge of misrepresentation often means “I don’t want to consider your opinion.” I do not believe I misrepresented Bauer’s argument, but simply critiqued it from my differing perspective. With this in mind, my main regret over her response is that she did not engage my actual arguments. Clearly, this is because she feels personally attacked. But, meaning her no harm at all, I would have been very glad for a simple consideration of the points I was making: mainly, that the hermeneutics involved in evangelical feminism have the logical effect of opening the door to tolerance of homosexuality and ultimately threaten core Christian doctrines.

The one issue that Bauer’s response raised was that I failed to appreciate her belief in the cultural situatedness of biblical teaching, so that we have to read things like Paul’s prohibition against women’s ministry as culturally conditioned. (That is only a brief statement of that argument and does not capture all its nuances, I know.) Actually, I am fully aware of this, but I think it is greatly overstated (not by her so much, but in general these days). It is for this reason that I do not mean to charge Bauer of hating the Bible, etc. But disagreeing with this approach, I think it results in a culture-over-Scripture hermeneutic, with the effects I described.

Well, I now run the risk of saying too much. Mainly, I plea that criticism not be taken for personal attack. But since I neither expect nor really desire a rejoinder from Susan Wise Bauer, and since this will likely give me the last word, let it be this: Please accept my apology for the offense I have given you.

Posted January 30, 2007 @ 10:05 AM by Rick Phillips
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