A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Genesis 1-11, the image of God, and the plural Elohim

First off, I will be only intermittently posting on this blog till school gets out. Fewer viewers in the end, but the main purpose of this blog is to articulate my ideas more so than obtain an audience.

Over the past few weeks I have been doing study outside of my seminary work on the Old Testament, while reading authors such as Von Rad and Brueggemann. However, of particular interest to me is Genesis 1-11, due to the article in the JBL’s Winter 2008 article Shattering the Image of God by John T. Strong. While I do not agree totally with the article, of particular interest for me was seeing the Tower of Babel narrative as being understood in light of the image of God.

The image of God definitely plays a role within the Genesis narrative, especially early on. But the question as to what it means has received varied answers, many times reflected the views of the day more so than the intent of the text. As to my opinion, the way Genesis 1-11 is built, I think it in part reflects the many being united as one. In the Tower of Babel narrative, the language of the people follows the format of God’s declaration of creating humanity in his image in Genesis 1:16, the cohortive plural. God recognizes these people operating as one, and thus serves to divide them through the confusion of their language. As Strong notes, this is “in effect, smashing the [image of God] to pieces” (p. 628).

Multiplicity in the people is implied as being in the image of God. They were called to fill and subdue the earth, they were called to reproduce as a necessary consequence of filling and subduing the land, and humanity was made as male and female, as a the means for reproduction. Without there being many persons, they could not “rule” over the creation God had made.

And yet, there is a sense of unity implied by the image of God also. In making adam (used in this context not as the person Adam nor an individual, as 1:27 makes evident), the singular noun (compare with the singular nouns of the groups of animals, although they are frequently translated as plural) does not allow for the interpretation that each individual is itself in the image of God. That may be the case, but that would not conform the text at hand. Rather, this species was to be in God’s image. So a sense of unity in working together is probably conveyed by the text. Hence, this needed unity in God’s image perhaps explains why the image of God is evoked as support for capital punishment against murderers, who essentially would break up said unity.

So, I would contend the image of God conveying a multiplicity being one. Which I think coheres with the nature of the creator called Elohim, the plural for El (“god”). I am aware that some grammars refer to the plural here as the plural of majesty, but I think there is something more going on here. The narrative seems to have a polemical nature to it. For instance, Genesis 4:1 can be see as attributing Eve’s fertility to Yahweh, as if this was a counterclaim to a fertility god or goddess. Also, the inclusion of the serpent (nahash) has echoes of the Canaanite god Yam, who was also named Nahar and portrayed as a serpent (although, of the sea to be exact). Also, Elohim was used by the Cannaanites to refer to their pantheon of gods, but yet the Genesis narrative identifies Elohim with one named YHWH. Hence, the second creation narrative starting in 2:3 joins Elohim with YHWH.

My contention is that the creator is identified with the plural Elohim, to attribute all the powers of the gods within the Canaanite religion within one entity, such as the power of providing fertility and also over all the different animals, over the sea, and over the land. If that is the case, the narrative portrays the multiplicity as one. Therefore, Elohim can have verbs attributed to him that are both singular and plural. Thus, to be made in the image of God would mean to be a multiplicity working together as one. Therefore, in Genesis 3:22 the individual Adam (“the man”) is referred to being like “one of us.” The individual corresponds to a singular within YHWH Elohim.

Now if this sounds like a defense of the reading of classical Trinitarianism within the Genesis narrative, it isn’t. If Genesis 1 and on serves as a polemic against the multiple gods in attributing the many powers within one, it does not speak for a Trinitarian unity (of course, not against it either). Trintitarianism sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three sharing the same one substance (ousia), with the multiplicity being in the three persons (hupostases). On the other hand, the Genesis narrative has the multiple powers within one. To fit the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit directly into Elohim of Genesis 1, one would have to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different, distinct powers united as one. Not only does that reject classic Trinitarianism, but it is grossly anachronistic.


March 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem of Clergy Power and Sexual Misconduct

Last night, I attended a Clergy Ethics meeting that was pretty much focused upon the issue of clergy sexual misconduct with a pastor’s parishioners. It is indeed an important topic in light of recent scandals still within the consciousness of society. While I felt the seminar was not really beneficial to the average clergy with little training in psychology (and a person even said so openly last night), for people like me it gives food to chew on and to think about it.

The reality is that in the current system where a pastor is seen as the center and foundation of leadership within a church, there will be clergy sexual misconduct. Matter of fact, there will always be unethical behavior including sexual misbehavior until the day that God’s Kingdom is fully inaugurated and all evil is purged from His people by God and all evil people are purged from His kingdom, irregardless of the amount of power centered on particular individuals. Ultimately, I think the United Methodist church (amongst others) is fighting an ultimately fruitless way against clergy sexual abuse. While yes, training and help can help influence some clergy to avoid pitfalls, it is not going to be that effective in ridding the church of the overall problem.

In the problem of clergy sexual misconduct, it has been seen that different pastoral offenders fit on a spectrum between that of a wanderer and a predator. The wanderer is a person who is not inherently abusive in power, but is lacking in some way themselves, perhaps in feeling of closeness to others. Whereas the predator is a person who consciously uses their power vested in the ministerial position to obtain certain desires, such as sexual ones. Irregardless of the motivations behind clergy misconduct, it does great harm to the individual churches, the whole denomination, and even the whole Church.

The basic hierarchy of all churches, in my opinion, in part add to the problem. In the end, most churches are centered around a pastor, who is seen as something of a do-it-all person for the church: preacher, teacher, counselor, evangelist, leader, priest, organizer, entertainer, etc. While congregations may not expect everyone of those qualifications, clergy better have multiple of those gifts. In doing that, it puts plenty amount of pressure upon clergy along with also vesting a lot of trust and power within the clergy that are capable (at least those who seem so on the surface).

For the wanderer type, the immense pressure on him and the pressure it puts on his family if he is married and/or has children, leads to them being high risk candidates for sexual misconduct. There are time constraints and there are expectations for the pastor to become adequate in an area in which they may not be very knowledge or able. While the United Methodist denomination (as I am sure others have) have recognized this pitfall and talk about keeping oneself healthy and not over extending oneself, they are in the end sending mixed messages. The mixed message is you don’t have to be this way, and yet for a great number of the churches there is the expectation placed upon the pastoral appointee, in part because of the appointment. In the end, the appointment system can be likened to a welfare and the current stimulus package in the United States. If you make it as such as failure is not possible, people will have little motivation to become viable contributors themselves. Likewise, within the appointment system, churches are not expected to be a community of charismata (plural of charism, Greek for grace or gift) since they are given clergy on the unspoken premise that they will guide the churches. All churches except for the most extreme cases are given an unconditional “welfare” in charismata, so there is not the importance perceived by the congregation to use and practice both supernaturally and naturally given charismata and to develop learned charismata. One can talk about the empowerment of the laity, but as is natural for people as a whole, they will not do something except out of perceived necessity.

Now before one might see this as a criticism of the appointment system, it is not. It encourages this type of view within the churches, but others traditions place huge emphasis upon the pastor. For instance, my previous denominational affiliation, Southern Baptist, find and hire pastors and place a huge importance upon the pastor they hire. At the heart of this is the criticism of the centralization of authority, power, and charismata in the clergy persons. It just simply happens that the appointment system, I feel, contributes to this tendency

Because of this centralization of authority, powered, and charismata in the clergy positions, it is the perfect feeding ground for predators. In the end, predators  are drawn to places where there is a heavy reliance upon them, so that they can exploit their so-called service for others. They use their power in a quid pro quo fashion. They maybe even exploit their mission as a means to get other people to “help them” so they can do their “mission.” After all, if the clergy are responsible for the church in so many ways, they need to be lifted up, so lifting them up is part of God’s mission. Hence, that can turn sexual very quickly.

You can not identify and stop the predators either. Part of what makes a successful predators is being successful in the trial and error process of manipulation. Those who fail will likely discontinue or always be caught and stopped before they bring about too much harm. Those who are successful at it are going to learn how to hide their misbehavior, even from the most perceptive persons. So any effort to reliably identify them before they get into pastoral positions will be difficult, if not impossible. In addition, many of them know how to make their past irrelevant in new situations, so they will continue to be predatory, even if they are caught in one place. And clergy training is not going to really affect them as they in the ministerial position for their own gratification, not for the goodness of the cause and service to God.

Training, on the other hand, like we did yesterday, might help those on the borderline of becoming a wanderer. However, for those who have pressing felt needs, one time or intermitent training sessions are not going to get them to reorient their life. Emotions and desires are not easily controlled. It takes constant dedication and time, time that many pastors may not feel is available as it is. Training might also help those to watch for pitfalls before they go down the path that would lead them to become predatory, while they still have a desire for the goodness of the cause and the service to God. But in the end, most training and guidance mostly only helps those on the borderline. And even then, in my opinion, it can not stem the tide against the pressing stress and reliance upon the ministerial leaders.

The solution, in the end, is not to focus our efforts to stop sexual misconduct. It will happen, as we live in a world that teaches and guides us to search for ourselves first and that doesn’t always meets the good, healthy desires of individuals. Instead, I believe the best way is to decentralize church power, authority, and charismata. It doesn’t put the immense pressure on the sincere that turns them into wanderers, and ministry is not the great feeding ground for the predators. By decentralization, I would think there would be a reduction the cases of sexual misconduct in the positions of power, and those cases where they are there they will be less harmful than when it is performed by the “center and foundation” of the church ministry. The damage will still be done to the individuals and the families in those cases where there is an abuse of power (and not just in cases of sexual misconduct), and those are the people who need ministering too. However, at least it doesn’t reverberate as far.

The alternative I would think is best for my own denomination to go towards is beyond the scope of this post. But to give a brief description, I feel moving towards established churches having internally grown leadership and ministry instead of external appointments (whereas new and exceedingly fractured churches would be have appointments for a time for a temporary period of time). I feel this doens’t require the total change of the church hierarchy within the United Methodist tradition, such as Annual Conference and General Conference. In other words, the UM denomination need not become a set of loosely affiliated churches like the Southern Baptist denomination.

I also am not denying the need for ethical training for clergy. But I view it right now as trying to putting a band aid on a bullet wound.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment