Dear Peter

[This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on 1 Peter. My husband, who does not usually provide sermon commentary, said, “It was gimmicky, but you pulled it off.” Clearly he was deeply moved in the Spirit by my words.]

 

Dear Peter,

I just wanted to write to you as one church leader to another–to share my appreciation for your words, and also to bring up a few concerns I have.

The extrapolation of your “authority principle” to slaves is particularly concerning to me:

*Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.

Let me guess–you were never a slave? You lived in a culture where most slaves were household servants, doing respectable domestic work. Where slavery was primarily an economic, not a racial or ethnic, institution. Where slavery was most likely a period of a person’s life, not their entire existence.

But I wish that you could have looked into the future and seen what slavery would look like in the early days of my country. The horror and brutality. The dehumanization of dark-skinned people. And the horrible legacy of racial injustice that the system of slavery has left in its wake. And I wish you could have seen what slavery would look like in my day. So much of it involving children who are used sexually.

If you had been able to look ahead to the realities of slavery that enter my mind when I read your words, I think–I hope–you would have written different words. I don’t understand how it is a credit for anyone to endure pain while suffering unjustly. I do not understand how:

*If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

Yes, Christ suffered. But was that a good thing? Wouldn’t it have been better if the world had been able to embrace the embodied love of God without enacting violence against it?

And then Peter. Dear Peter. We get to the part about women.

*Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Believe it or not, a lot of people now don’t think that husbands have authority over wives. Many consider marriage to be an equal partnership of mutual respect and decision-making. I guess that’s hard for you to understand from your context, but think about how things were developing in the early church–with Jesus valuing the partnership and testimony of women; Paul welcoming Priscilla into leadership in the church; and maybe you had a chance to read some of Paul’s letters: “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

You are, I presume, primarily talking to women who have come to believe in Jesus while their husbands do not. The idea is that the wives should not be rude or condemning about their new faith, should not, as we say these days, beat anyone over the head with the Bible. So, while I don’t really like this as marriage advice, it’s not bad guidance for evangelism: “that they may be won over without a word . . . when they see the purity and reverence of our lives.”

And I am glad that you put a little responsibility on the husbands here as well:

*Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

What I want to focus on here is that phrase “the weaker sex.” Maybe I shouldn’t admit this since I am a pacifist pastor, but when I read that I kind of want to punch you in the face. But then I take a deep breath and think about the first century. I know that that “weaker sex” line was just a statement of what everybody understood to be true. That was the given, not the controversy.

The controversy, the part that probably made people in your day want to punch you in the face, was the statement that women “are also heirs of the gracious gift of life.” For the people you thought you were writing this letter to, “heir” and “son” were basically synonyms. How can women–especially married women–be heirs? It was against human law for wives to receive an inheritance from their fathers, but you say that God the Father considers women equal heirs with men of the divine inheritance of life.

I bet that irritated some folks back then. Just like your “weaker sex” line irritates some of us today. Poor Peter, you just can’t make everyone happy.

Sincerely,

Joanna

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