Scold your wife sharply, bully and terrify her is a quotation from a fifteenth century Catholic Church publication called Rules of Marriage , a document which does not just condone wife battering but actually recommends it as a meritorious action that will bring spiritual benefit to both husband and wife: to the batterer and battered alike (Women s International Network News). This is just one example of the inequality and suffrage that women have suffered in the Christian religion. Though today this sexism isn t as blatant as then, when beatings were condoned, it is still going on. Since the beginning of the Bible until today, the twenty-first century, women have been the lesser sex in the Christian faith. Though the Christian religion claims that all people are created equal, it is obvious that women have not been treated equally whatsoever, though things are improving with the womanist and feminist movement.
In the beginning of the Bible, Adam and Eve were created. They were both told not to eat off of one tree in the Garden of Eden, yet Eve is the one who disobeyed. Even here in the Bible it is showing women to be the weaker sex. Eve, the woman, is the one who gave into temptation and tricked Adam, ruining it for all human beings thereafter. The woman was the sinful one, the temptress, who lured man also into sin. This here is the beginning of a label for women in Christianity that shows them to be weaker and sinful.
There are other places in the Bible that also shows sexism against women. For example, in I Corinthians 11:3 it says, But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of women is man, and the head of Christ is God. Here it is showing the order of rule and as one can see, woman is under man. The man rules the woman. This passage in Corinthians also goes on to say, For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (The Holy Bible, 1261). This is still showing the sexist attitude that men are better then women. Man is the glory of God, but woman is only the glory of man. Here again it is showing a hierarchy where men are above women. According to the Bible, all people were created equally, yet how can one come to that conclusion when the Bible also says man is the head of woman. Even in the Bible there are obvious examples of sexism, so no wonder that men of the Christian church have put women in the church as less then themselves. Even God is always seen as a male. When one mentions that God is female, many people respond with disgust. The head of the whole Christian faith embodies the principles of a man. God is Father, Son, Lord, and King. As Feminist Kaye Ash says he is intrinsically male because he is spirit, reason, being, and pure act. Woman is matter, body, instinct. She is weak and unworthy. She is all that God is not (Ash, 3). Why can there not be a God, both equally male and female? The answer is because as long as men control the church they will reject the idea of anything feminine about God. With their sexist attitudes, a God has developed that embraces characteristics that are pure male.
In I Timothy 2:11-14, Paul forbids women from teaching or having any authority over men. He says, And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have any authority over a man, but to be in silence
(The Holy Bible, 1309). This is just another example that shows man should be over woman. It is passages like these that have kept women from holding positions in the church, such as preachers, ministers, deacons, etc. In the Christian church, women have almost never been allowed to hold any kind of leadership positions. Even Jesus twelve disciples were all men. Many men would say that because Jesus chose twelve men he did not intend women to preach (Booth, 2). This, however, is ludicrous. The twelve disciples that Jesus chose were also all Jewish, so in saying that women should not preach because Christ does not want them to since he did not choose any for his disciples, would also be saying that he does not want anyone but Jews to preach. In saying that Jesus was gender specific, one would also have to say that he was ethnically specific (Booth, 3). Though there were no women disciples, women were the ones who were more devout as a group to Jesus Christ. Women were the last at the cross, and first at the tomb (Booth, 2). Many women in the Bible gave up everything they had to follow Christ, yet the twelve men are the ones who are much more often talked about. After all that these women had contributed to Christ they are still the ones who are ignored. Even though there have always been more women in the Christian faith, they still have not been allowed to hold positions. There is no good argument for why women should not hold these leadership roles, it is just that men keep them from doing so by having these sexist attitudes.
This problem, women not being able to hold positions, is also a problem in the black church. African-American women are constantly struggling to serve God in the church on an equal basis with men. Even though there are more women in the church, the black church has followed the patriarchal structure of the white church and organized itself around male leadership (Chapman, 138). The main thought is that women belong in support roles instead of leadership roles. Even though the black church is made up of seventy percent female, these women are dominated by a congregation that is only thirty percent male (Chapman, 135). They have always allowed themselves to be dominated because their male counterparts have oppressed them since the beginning of slavery. African-American women have often had emotional and psychological pressure put upon them by many black men in leadership positions (school principals, school administrators, and preachers) who would often threaten to withhold assistance if black women did not consent to their sexual propositions (Chapman, 151). This is one form of sexism that black women suffered at the hands of men, many of who were Christians. The woman is to remain in the background, is another common thought among men in the Christian faith. Black women have also believed that they were to be seen and not heard because this is the way of life that they had always been taught by men. As Jacquelyn Grant says in her book Black Theology and the Black Woman : It is often said that women are the backbone of the church. On the surface this may appear to be a compliment, especially when one considers the function of the backbone in the human anatomy In any case, the telling portion of the word backbone is back. It has become apparent that most ministers who use this term have reference to location rather than function. What they really mean is that women are in the background and should be kept there (Chapman, 138). Grant is stating what is too often the case. Men often have the sexist attitude that women are to be seen and not heard. They should remain in the backdrop of men, while the men do the work.
Even with all these injustices occurring, times for women are improving and women are starting to get a voice with the feminist and womanist movements. Feminism is a theology from a white female perspective, where as womanism is theology from a black person s perspective. With these movements, both white and black women have started to become emerging leaders in the Christian church. The womanist movement has supplied a way for black women to address their gender oppression. With emerging leaders, such as Jacquelyn Grant, Delores Williams, and Alice Walker, black women are now starting to get the respect, freedom, and positions that they deserve, almost equal to men. In the black church, there are now more black females with PhD s in theology then black males. A1993 study showed that out of thirty blacks with PhD s in theology over twenty were female. Though it is sometimes a hard road to follow, many more women preachers are emerging, with male pastors being forced to recognize black women s profound gifts for preaching and ministry (Chapman, 166). With the development of womanism, some sexist stereotypes and attitudes are disappearing.
Unfortunately, many churches continue to do as they always have, go about business as usual, and proceed with sexist language, biblical interpretation, and practices that have always been the traditional way and which continue to oppress women. The Christian church will continue to have this problem as long as it persists in denying and failing its most faithful members (Chapman, 167). Even the black church continues to oppress its most committed members and generous supporters.
Although there are many examples of sexism, this is not what God or Christ really wants. In Galatians 3:28 it says, 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 (The Holy Bible, 1282). Sexism is wrong and unnecessary and it is not what Christ wants. In his eyes everyone is the same and this is what Christians need to come to realize also. As dedicated churchwoman Pauli Murray questioned, Why cannot women and men, boys and girls participate equally in every phase of Christian activity? (Chapman, 141). Maybe someday they can. But for now women continue to worship in a church full of sexist attitudes.
Ashe, Kay (1991). The Feminist Revolution and Religious
Education. Religious Education. P.99
Booth, William D (1993). The Open Door For Women
Preachers. Journal of Religious Thought. P.108
Chapman, M.L. (1996). Christianity on Trial. New York: Obis
The Holy Bible: New King James Version (1982). Nashville: Thomas
(1998). How Organized Religions Support Violence Against Women.
Women s International Network News. P. 45.