"The Bible and Christianity are Patriarchal, demeaning, and oppressive to women. Christianity is intolerant to women and thus women should revolt against this ideology."
How many of us have heard the above claims? How many of us have looked to scripture to read it for ourselves, and have been outraged by, for example, the directives of the apostle Paul when he stated that women must be quiet and are not allowed to teach?
Let us look to the Bible itself for the answers.
If we look at historical fact, throughout the Bible, men were the heads of families and were the leaders. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Joseph. Thus, it stands to reason and historical fact that the Bible is indeed patriarchal. But does this necessarily mean that women are oppressed and demeaned?
Let us look to Genesis 1:26-27
"Then God said 'Let us make man in our image, after our likemess, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air..'
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them"
Notice the references here and the wording: God created not just MAN, but MAN AND WOMAN in HIS image; He created a MARRIED COUPLE to reflect God. This is the Divine Institution not only of the life of humankind, but of marriage, and women was included in this Divine plan. It was not Adam alone, but Eve who made up God's image, and thus, women are a part of this creation story, not demeaned but fully equal in the benefits provided by God. Arguing the idea that the male gender was created first is like twins arguing about who is greater due to which emerged first from the womb. They were created equally and with the intention of reflecting God's image in their own union, man and wife.
Genesis 2 discusses Eve's role as "helper", but what does this mean? Does this mean that woman is designed to be only a servant?
Throughout the Old Testament, God himself is referred to as "helper". Only page through the Psalms to see this reference over and over again. If we, then decide that in Genesis that "helper" is demeaning and signifies that Eve is submissive to Adam in value, then do we then change the interpretation of "helper" in the Psalms and other books and interpret that God is also submissive to Adam?
NO! Adam does whatever Eve tells him to do, and he does not resist. He does not reiterate what God directly told him, and what he then related to Eve...he simply obeys Eve and partakes of the fruit he knows is forbidden.
Later, when God confronts Adam, Adam acts like a typical male as we know them today, and he blames Eve. He takes no responsibility and in fact, we realize that he DID NOT EVEN BOTHER TO RESIST when he KNEW the act of eating the fruit was wrong! ADAM was given the command not to eat the fruit first, not Eve, and yet he does not resist when she offers it to him!
This actions displays the chasm created by the fall; that sin seperates relationships not only from God, but from each other.
For a more contemporary reference, look to "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding."
In that movie, Tula wants to go to school but her pleas are met with resistance and a chauvenistic attitude on the part of her father. But Tula's mother stepped in and she hugged Tula, comforting her, explaining she understood. She told the young woman, "The Man? He is the head. But the woman...she is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."
I'm certain that this movie did not set out to reveal to modern audiences the true role of Woman in God's Divine plan, but just the same, this line sets it up pretty well. Men may be the heads of households, and they may be the leaders...but have you not heard it said that behind every man is a good woman? Without us, men would be nothing but so much dust.
Unfortunately, that means we hold the higher responsibility...as we have the "greater" role in God's divine plan, we also must be cognizant of our authority and our power, and use it wisely. I do not mean to say that God created women as a higher order to men, but rather, within the context of our own specific role in salvation history. That's actually a topic for another post.
If we skip forward to the New Testament, the Wedding at Caana, we see Mary's role even more clearly. Remember how she asks Jesus to do something when the wine runs out. Jesus says to her, "Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour is not yet come."
And like a good Jewish mother [tongue in cheek here], she ignores him and tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Jesus, the humble and obedient son he is, submits to his mother and he orders the servants to bring him the water, which he subesquently changes into wine.
Clearly, Mary knew who Jesus was (as though she was informed by an angel that she would carry the Messiah!), and as a good mother, and a good woman in fulfillment of God's plan for her role, she pushed Jesus into his ministry. He protested...and she pushed. Good mothers push. Men, take note.
Because of Mary's influence, Jesus performed his first miracle. Look at how this mirrors and reverses the actions of Eve:
* Eve was approached by and seduced by the serpent to FALL from grace; she was the catalyst and the beginning of sin. She had free will, and she gave in to sin rather than obedience to God. She gave in to pleasure and pride.
* Mary was approached by and recieved the message of an angel of God to RECIEVE the grace of bringing the messiah into the world; that is, the cure for sin. She had free will, and she accepted with her fiat in obedience to God. She offered her own suffering in humility and love.
Now, I realize there is a great deal more to the story of the Wedding at Caana...after all, it is one of the two pillars upon which the Gospel of John rests! As that is not my current topic, I will not go into further detail within the context of women in the Church but you may find more on this post which focuses specifically on John 2:1-11.
Moving on, we look at Jesus Christ's Passion. All of the apostles, all of them male, (all but one, John,) fled when Jesus was persecuted. They could not watch. They feared for their lives, and although they had promised fidelity, they fled. So much for the strong, brave patriarchy of the Bible!
It was the women who remained at the foot of the Cross. It was Jesus's mother, Mary, the other Mary, and Mary Magdalene who remained at the foot of the Cross, with only the Apostle John, the beloved disciple.
And it was Mary Magdalene who went early to the tomb and discovered the greatest event in history...the Resurrection of Jesus. It was not a man..it was a woman.
In that time period, women were not considered to be reliable and they were not allowed to be witnesses in court. Yet Jesus used women as his strongest witnesses, and it was women who were a part of his greatest works.
Jesus directed Mary to bring the apostles to a particular location, so we see that he relied on women to bring the men to him. He relied on the women, to whom he has given a special gift of faith, to bring the men to him to become spiritual leaders.
Men did not do this on their own, and they disbelieved, they questioned, and they ran from the conflict...but the women gathered them and lead them back to Jesus.
Now, one major issue is St. Paul himself: He really comes across as a big chauvenist pig, doesn't he?! Or...is our interpretation accurate?
In 1 Timothy 2: 11-13, Paul says, "Let a woman learn in silence with al submissiveness. I permit no wman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve, and Adam was not decieved , but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. yet woman will be saved through bearing children. If she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty."
It seems that Paul is saying that women should remain silent, barefoot, and pregnant. Is he really?
Consider the historical context: Paul wrote this letter for a specific purpose. In that time period, women were not educated and were not allowed to be educated, yet Paul is stating very clearly that he was allowing women to learn. The rest of the statement is not about domination of women, but is a discussion of proper behavior. The men, long accustomed to education, knew how to behave in a classroom. The women did not and were quite unruly. Who could blame them?
In our culture, we learn early how to behave in a classroom, but if we were deprived of the right to education, would we not be excited at the opportunity and would not our inappropriate reaction be classified as unruliness? Would we not need to be taught proper manners?
This is the case here. Paul is not saying that women cannot learn and cannot teach...he is explaining to them the etiquette of the classroom.
As for the authority...well, it would not be proper in that society for a woman to be publicly teaching with her husband as a student. This would be considered to be scandalous. A woman could teach a man, but she could not appear to have authority over her husband, specifically, in public. Again, this is an instruction in etiquette.
Let us also remember that women are encouraged to be celibate, as are men, for the sake of the kingdom of God. 1 Cornithians 7 disusses marriage and the single life, and this was revolutionary. Women in that time period were considered to be property; first of her father, then of her husband. Yet Christianity changed this; women in Christianity were given options and they learned that they had the right to choose not to marry; not to be property, but rather, to give their lives to God and remain single and celibate.
Let's remove the romance from the idea of history; women did not have a choice in marriage and they did not marry for "love". They married because they were forced to marry. Consider maybe a local businesman or some neighbor...maybe you are 17 or 15, or even 20...and he is 56, fat, hairy and not at all attractive. And in Biblical times, people didn't bathe a lot. Yuck. Yet you have to marry him and become his property. And maybe he has a heavy hand, or maybe he's completely self-absorbed but makes eyes at you every time he sees you. Is your skin crawling yet?
If you lived prior to Christianity, your only option to escape a life with this man would be death...otherwise, be prepared for your marriage bed because he's about to own you.
Christianity changed this...not only did Christianity propose an option to the bloody, sacrificial and self-indulgent idols of the time and give a message of hope and freedom, but it restored the dignity of women and revealed God's plan. The pagans were very disturbed by this...they liked having control, and they liked the idea they could buy the local village virgin for themselves. Women obtained freedom through Jesus and His Word, and they learned they could choose celibacy...and escape from false authority over their bodies and lives.
The next time someone claims that Christianity is patriarchal and that Christianity is demeaning to women, hand them a Bible and explain to them God's Divine plan and the evidence within the text which so clearly refutes their claims. Men and women are co-equal in God's plan of salvation; we each have clearly defined roles, clearly defined natures, and each one of us is called to live out God's plan within this context.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The above information was obtained at a talk by Dr. Mary Healy at the Called to Lead Conference in Wayzata, MN, 2006. www.calledtolead.com
UPDATE: 1-23-2010: I graduated from Ave Maria University with a Masters in Theological Studies in June, 2010. Guess I'm a theologian now. ;-) Having read through this old post, it still stands and perhaps another is forthcoming when I get a round tuit. ;-) This remains one of my most statistically popular posts, ever since it was first posted.