PeaceBang surprised many of us with her sharp reaction
to the comments that her blog post
on the Epistle to the Ephesians drew.
She's right, I think, in her observation that we overeducated and argumentative UUs can get so absorbed in the sport of the argument that we can lose sight of the spiritual succor that religion and religious community are supposed to provide. However, I think she was also being somewhat unrealistic in her expectations of the kind of discussion that her initial post was likely to provoke.
It sounds as though she expected us all to gush, in chorus with her original comments, "Ooh, yeah, look how warm and fuzzy Ephesians is! What a great model for community! It speaks directly to my heart! You're right, he spoiled it at the end with the wives and slaves stuff, but let's ignore that!"
But the only word in her entire post that she boldfaced was the word "hate". So that, and not the warm fuzzies, was the cue everyone seemed to take up in their responses.
A serious UU examination of Ephesians has the potential to branch off in so many different directions that it seems naive to expect it to follow any preconceived path. As far as my own reactions go, if the conversation had not been so abruptly cut short, things that I think it would have been entirely appropriate to mention include:
(a) that Ephesians 4 informed John Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon directly (he quoted from it), and at least indirectly, the Mayflower Compact and the gathering and covenanting of most of our oldest UU churches, including (presumably) her own.
(b) that Christianity traditionally has been more concerned with personal relationships and less concerned with the structure of a just society than we UUs are, and it should be no surprise to see that same relative emphasis in Christian scripture.
(c) that it was the historic witness of our own churches and members, at least in large part, that helped bring broader questions of social structure into Christian and national consciousness, beginning not in the 20th century civil rights era nor during the Civil War, but even before our member churches began to call themselves "Unitarian" or "Universalist".
(d) that reading Ephesians 5-6 to condone the subjugation of wives or slaves is just plain bad exegesis, contrary to the author's intended meaning; and that we, as the heirs to a tradition of critical thought, should not uncritically accept such interpretations even if we do so only to disagree with them.
(e) that it's a fair guess that most UUs aren't familiar with any of the epistles; and if one swoops in out of left field to invite UUs to a close reading of Ephesians, filling in some background is necessary just to be sure we're all singing from the same hymnal; and if the instigator of the conversation doesn't, some other egghead will.
(f) whether, if our own churches once did possess the sense of community described in Ephesians, we have since lost it, and if so, why.
(g) whether it's an abandonment of our historic witness and (according to Winthrop) commission to conceive of our role in society as a "prophetic voice" warning society of its inherent injustices from the periphery, rather than as supplying an essential moral center and foundation, and doing the hard work of forming community from the ground up as Ephesians instructs, and leading society toward justice from within.