CHRISTIANITY & WOMEN'S RIGHTS
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
It is becoming more and more popular to blame Christianity, God, Jesus, and/or the Bible for just about anything that “goes against the grain” these days. Quite frankly, it's ridiculous. As the title of this article makes clear, the topic I am specifically addressing in this piece is women's rights. Those who blame Christianity and/or the Bible do so without a proper knowledge of Scripture, the culture at the time, history, and they lack hermeneutical and exegetical capabilities. For the most part, they tend to do a few things: they take certain verses out of context, they use verses that don't even mean what they assume them to mean, they blame the actions of some on an entire group, or they simply parrot what they have heard or read. Rarely have they done a thorough study of Christianity and/or the Bible as they actually relate to women's rights.
Let me start by saying that the Bible is an honest literary piece of work. It does not avoid hard issues. It does not tip toe around difficult topics. However, just because the Bible records something doesn't mean it endorses it. Just because the Bible records that slavery existed, that women may have been treated in an oppressed fashion, it does not mean it endorses such activities.
With that said, let's jump straight to the “go to” passage almost all those who oppose Christianity pounce on when it comes to women's rights. That would be Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (NIV).
“Well, there you have it. There it is right there in black and white!” This is usually the type of comment that will be made when this passage is brought up. These people act as if these two verses settle the entire issue and they disregard not only the verses which directly follow these, but all of the other positive Biblical passages regarding women. If these people would continue reading just one more verse, verse 25, they would pick up an entirely different vibe than what they usually cling to.
Right below, directly in the same portion of Scripture, right after all the “submit to your husbands” language we read, we see this, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up to her...” (NIV). So, if a husband is truly loving his wife as Christ loves the church, giving his life for her, humbling himself, and living as Christ lived, a wife will have no problem submitting to her husband. In fact, Christ lived a life of submission, submission to God, so wives and husbands should have no problem submitting to each other.
Women In Scripture:
Let's take a look at just how women are portrayed in Scripture:
-To start with, Jesus healed many women. We see Jesus healing women all throughout the New Testament. In that day and age, this is hardly the kind of “marketing strategy” one would use in an attempt to gain credibility.
-Second, when we look at the narratives of the empty tomb we find all four gospels making a point to note that it was women who first witnessed this event. Again, this would be a “culturally awkward” thing to admit in the first-century context, especially in writing that would be passed on.
-Third, two books of the Bible, Esther, and Ruth, are named after women who are the central characters. And both these women are portrayed as having the utmost of value.
-A fourth thing to note is found in John 8:7 where Jesus came to the rescue of a woman from a punishment which she actually deserved by reminding her male executors that they too are guilty of sin.
-Fifth, in Judges 4-5 we find the record of Deborah who was in charge of Israel. She was a powerful leader and was victorious in battle and brought 40 years of peace to the nation.
-Sixth, we see just one example of how a husband is supposed to treat his wife, “Husbands love your wives, and do not be embittered against them” (Colossians 3:19).
-And seventh, this can be found in Galatians 3:28 which reads, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV). And all of this is just the tip of the ice berg.
This would be a good spot to introduce a point made by Lee Anna Starr in her book The Bible Status of Women. In it she attests to the fact that Jesus “stands alone as a 'founder' of a religious sect that did not discriminate against women. Jesus favored women (and many minority groups) much higher than society did. He did not simply say they were equal. He went out of his way to elevate them. He was a pioneer in crossing cultural boundaries, risking reputation and legal consequences to add incredible value to women wherever he went.”*
The Feminine Side of God:
Another gripe often heard, especially among those into the New Age movement, is the lack of the feminine in the God of the Bible. While it is true that God is Spirit, He is not an anatomical Being, it is also true that when Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer he did instruct us to address God as “Our Father.” There is nothing sexist about that. This is especially true when you take into account some of the feminine descriptions of God found in Scripture.
-Deuteronomy 32:18, “You neglected the Rock who BEGOT you, And forgot the God WHO GAVE YOU BIRTH.”
-Isaiah 66:9, “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?” says the LORD. “Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?” says your God.
-Isaiah 66:13, “AS one whom his MOTHER comforts, SO I WILL comfort you; And you will be comforted in Jerusalem.”
-Isaiah 40:11, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His BOSSOM; He will gently lead the NURSING ewes.”
-Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to Her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a HEN GATHERS HER CHICKS UNDER HER WINGS, and you were unwilling.”
-Hosea 13:8, “Like a bear robbed of HER cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder.”
As is evident, the Bible has an extensive supply of positive things to say about women. Both males and females are created in the image of God and both have sovereign roles given to them by God for both family and the Church. Different roles do not mean different values are placed on either sex. One sex is no more or less important than the other. Mistakes made in the past should not be the criterion for an entire group of people in the present.
Let me close with some words on this issue from Matthew Slick of CARM Ministries, “If we are to conclude that Christianity is misogynistic because there are some verses that can be interpreted in a negative fashion, then we must also say that Christianity is not misogynistic because there are some verses that are positive about women. Therefore, the validity of misogyny depends upon the subjective preferences and presuppositions of the person who approaches the Scriptures, not on any universal truth. But not only that, critics must be careful with their ethnocentricity and not judge another culture by their own subjective preferences.”**
*Koch, Chris. “Why Christian Leaders Should Be Pioneers In Women's Rights,” (March 26, 2017).
**Slick, Matthew. “Is Christianity Misogynistic?” (CARM.org).