Tom Gilson

Is Christianity Sexist? 3: Even If…

Sexism is a manifestation of the human propensity by which those who hold power over others tend to abuse that power. Nothing in atheism helps correct that problem.

Christianity (ChristianytT, that is), by contrast, offers a strong solution to sexism. Look back at these revolutionary words from my previous post in this series and you’ll see the following.

  • In Ephesians 5:25, Paul tells men to give themselves up for their wives.
  • In Matthew 19:4b-6,8b (among other passages), Jesus turns upside-down the man’s prerogative to divorce his wife.
  • In 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, 10,11, Paul makes the woman’s rights in the marriage bed exactly equal to the man’s.
  • In Acts 6:5, the early church counters the common Greco-Roman disregard for widows.
  • In Matthew 28:1, 5-7a, 9-10, God allows women to be the first witnesses to the greatest event in all of history, and even charges them to carry news and instructions to the men. This was, to put it mildly, unheard of at the time.

Now compare this to what I have written about women’s status and rights in Jewish and Greco-Roman culture of the day. Do you see how revolutionary all this was?

In Galatians 3:26-28 we see how it coincides with the very heart of the Gospel:

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is a saying among Christians: all are equal at the foot of the cross. There is no partiality or favoritism in Christ. We are all equally created in God’s image, we are all equally fallen into the disaster called sin, and we are all equally dependent upon Christ’s work on the cross to rescue us from that disaster. No one is more human than any other person, no one is worth more, no one is higher in God’s eyes than any other.

That is not to say that every person has the same role in life. In the Godhead, Jesus Christ submits to the Father. There is a difference of roles in the Trinity that has nothing to do with worth, power, excellence, or value. Similarly with humans: some have higher leadership authority, not because of any difference in excellence or value, but because without differentiation there would be chaos.

But leadership must be exercised:

  • Without lording it over others (Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42)
  • As servants and as “last” (Mark 9:35, 10:43; Matthew 20:27)
  • Sacrificially (Eph. 5:25, Matthew 20:20-27)

In other words, not only does the Bible overrule sexism, it overturns all self-centered, abusive exercise of power.

Our discussion of sexism in Scripture will lead us soon to some controversial passages in Scripture, where the Bible assigns differing roles to husbands and wives, for example. Before we got there, though, let’s take a common-perception, worst-case look at the matter. It will be quite instructive.

For here is the charge commonly laid against Christianity: that it makes the wife subservient to her husband, and it prohibits women from leading men in the church. For the sake of argument I will invite you to think of those two things in the worst possible light. With that in mind, consider this:

  • The Bible led the way historically in declaring women’s value to be equal to men’s. Contrast that to Aristotle’s opinion (in the prior post) that a woman is a “mutilated” and defective male.
  • The Bible led the way in freeing women from the extreme male domination made legally possible through the law and custom of pater familias.
  • The Bible led the way in strengthening the marriage covenant, thereby releasing women from the threat of unilateral divorce and the accompanying loss of status and of property.
  • Christians led the way in ending abortion, which was more a men’s-right’s than a women’s-rights issue at the time (women were often forced to abort their children, at extreme danger to themselves)
  • Christians also led in putting infanticide to an end, including of course sex-selective infanticide.
  • Whereas Jewish women were expected to stay out of sight in the house, a large proportion of early church leaders were female.[ref]Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity[/ref]

And while we’re on the subject of context, compare women in Christian culture to women in:

  • Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamic countries. Need I say more?
  • China, until about a hundred years ago. Infant girls’ feet were bound so that as adults they would be crippled. Men thought it was sexy. Christian influence was instrumental in ending this practice.
  • India, until a bit longer ago, where widows were required by law and/or custom to throw themselves alive onto their husbands’ funeral pyres. William Carey is well-known among Christians as a pioneering missionary; less widely known is that he can be largely credited with the successful campaign to end this practice of sati.
  • Contemporary atheistic circles, if certain rumors are true.

Taken in that light, even if some aspects of the way the Bible treats women were as bad as some people claim they are, is it really reasonable to consider Christianity sexist? Where would women be today without Christianity’s long, enduring, and overwhelmingly positive effect on their place Western culture?

I am making an even-if-so case here. I am not granting that it  that Christianity really is guilty of sexism the way it is accused of being. I am merely trying to put some context around that accusation, to show that even if it were true, Christianity (both ChristianityT and ChristianityS) has done much more good for women since the time of Christ than any harm it is currently accused of having done.

Soon I will address the more controversial passages about women in the New Testament. In the meantime, I hope to have instilled in you a better sense of perspective. Again: even if today’s charges against Christianity were completely true, Christianity has done women an immense amount of good down through the centuries.

Series Navigation (Sexism Among the Isms):Is Christianity Sexist? 1: Definitions >>>Is Christianity Sexist? 2: A Revolution Of Liberation >>>
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3 thoughts on “Is Christianity Sexist? 3: Even If…

  1. Tom, I would invite you to read Dorthy Sayers little monograph “Are Women Human” some time. It is very informative. As Dorthy was one of C.S. Lewis’ friends and a member of the “Inklings” I think you ought to read her.

    Additionally, I have a paper I would like to share with you, because I read a bit of a problem with your statement of “roles” and rather than get into a debate, I would ask as from a fellow Orthodox believer if you would read a scholarly peer-reviewed counter point.

    Would you please consider it?

  2. Sure, Lisa. Bear in mind that what I said about women’s roles was in the context of an even-if-so argument. I really haven’t said anything yet about what I believe on it. But I’d be glad to read the paper.

    Do you have a link to the Sayers essay?

  3. Tom, this may not be your opinion but spreading the idea untouched that women should be thankful of Christianity for their currently unacceptable position in society and are otherwise all but vulnerable to other religions (and have no other options) seems problematic. What about feminism? Aren’t there a whole range of options quite devoted to the subject that are viable? Have they not been as responsible for the women’s rights movement as anything else? I’m not an expert on the subject, but I can’t help but have that initial reaction to the article.

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