Monday, April 23, 2012

Christianity and Sexism

Before Easter, I was exploring certain issues on the topic of sexism.  In future posts, I’m going to be returning to similar themes for a while.  To some, this may not seem like an obvious fit for a blog on the intersection of Christianity and secular law.  As a result, I’d like to elaborate a bit.

I think the relationship between sexism and secular law is fairly obvious.  Secular laws often have implicit sexist biases or can be an unwitting tool to continue discrimination against women.   Alternately, secular laws can be crafted to empower women and protect them from various manifestations of sexism in our society and our economy. 

Moreover, the politics of choosing our lawmakers is ripe with gender bias.  Only a small fraction of our elected officials nationwide are women.  The media and the public sometimes don’t know how to react to female candidates.  They get questions that male candidates do not.  The media pay attention to aspects of their lives that are ignored when covering male candidates.

The relationship between Christianity and gender bias is perhaps not as obvious to some.  Indeed, many assert that the first century Jewish worldview, from which Christianity emerged, was patriarchal and oppressive to women.  Many also believe that the Christian church has propagated the same sexism to the current day.  I’m not sure I can necessarily refute such points.  Nonetheless, I do believe that Christianity affirms the inherent equality of men and women.  I believe that to be the case even if we the faithful have not always reflected or worked to effect that equality on Earth.

Even in the Old Testament, there are a number of strong female role models.  Deborah, Esther and Ruth all come to mind.  A few others should also be considered including Rebekah, Rahab and Judith. 

In the New Testament Gospels, it is remarkable that Jesus is reported as having spent considerable time ministering to and teaching women outside his family.   The male writers of the Gospels did not always bother to tell us the names of these women, but what they did record was insightful. 

Jesus healed several women including Peter’s mother-in-law and the woman with the “issue of blood.”  He also showed mercy and brought spiritual healing to the woman at the well and the woman caught in the act of adultery.   Particularly remarkable considering the culture in which he lived, Jesus also taught women like Mary and Martha about the Kingdom of God.  Indeed, Jesus even gently rebuked Martha when she complained that Mary should abandon her learning to help prepare the meal.  Women including Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna apparently traveled with Jesus during his ministry.  They appear to have supported the ministry financially.

And even after Jesus’s earthly ministry, we know women were important in the early Christian church.  Examples recorded in the New Testament include Chloe, Phoebe and Priscilla.  I’ve read a fair amount of analysis of Paul’s letters.  He is often viewed by many as being misogynist, but modern scholars now are uncertain that some of the most sexist passages were actually attributable to Paul.  Indeed, it was Paul who taught in Galatians 3:28:

"There is not any Jew nor Greek, not any slave nor free, not in male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Those were revolutionary words two thousand years ago.  Indeed, many would say they still are even in the present era.

Luke 21:1-4 (English Standard Version)

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

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