if I am troubled by the negative attitudes toward women that I find
in the Bible and in some churches today?
reasons that I think we are still straining to understand, the Bible
and its attendant institutions—Judaism and Christianity—are
highly conflicted over women. Some of that has to do with the power
of sex to claim and often to corrupt human lives. Some is males'
fear of that which makes women unique, such as menstruation and
childbirth and the intuitive dimension of faith often credited to
women. Some has to do with power and control. Some has to do with
an ancient habit of seeing the masculine as good and the feminine
the one hand, the Old Testament seems to fall into those conflicts,
devoting much of Torah to regulating lust and property by regulating
the sexual behavior of women, assigning women a fundamental inferiority,
and blaming women for some evil. On the other hand, some of the
early judges were women, indicating that women were fit to rule;
God dealt graciously with Sarah and the various women associated
with her offspring; some women like Ruth were held up as models
of integrity; and the sight of the daughters of Zion welcoming their
men home from exile suggests partnership, not subservience.
clearly intended to break through ancient hierarchical practices
concerning women. He welcomed women to his inner circle, treated
women as disciples on a par with the male disciples,
had close relationships with several women and, it appeared, a special
relationship with Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the resurrection
in John's Gospel. His mother was a leader in the apostolic community
and probably was the source of Luke's Gospel.
seems highly unlikely that Jesus intended the male-dominated institution
that arose in his name. Why did it happen? Male dominance reflected
the attitudes of Paul, as well as the traditions of Judaism (in
which Christianity began) and the Roman world. Fear of women replaced
Jesus' openness to women. Accompanying that was fear of sexuality,
fear of the intuitive (as in Gnosticism) and fear of power dispersed
among the people.
recent years, arguing about women's roles in church has been a convenient
way to argue about change, modernity and questions about hierarchy
and power. One way for any institution to sell the concept of control
has been to establish the necessity of controlling certain groups.
In the church, that surrogate for all control issues has been women.
Protestant denominations are making a noble effort to move away
from ancient hierarchical patterns. It is tough
sledding and probably will require several generations to achieve.
My suggestion is that you explore those congregations that are trying
to move forward, that you not get hung up on past practices (which
can't be redone), and that you accept responsibility for developing
a relationship with God that doesn't depend on harmful assumptions
and practices. In the end, what Christians did in former times has
little to do with you. Your time is now.