Is Christianity, and by extension, God Himself, anti-woman? Those of us who know and love Jesus understand that the answer is absolutely, positively not! Jesus came to give us life and give it abundantly; to help us live up to our full potential–not oppress or needlessly constrain. Yet many younger women today struggle under the misconception that Christianity is an archaic construct of a bygone era that seeks to subjugate and hold women back in a second class position.
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the [physically] weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7 NIV)
A big problem with trying to understand the Bible is our lack of context–we in the twenty-first century have the experiences and values of the twenty-first century, and for the most part, no understanding whatsoever of life in the Middle East two thousand plus years ago. We don’t understand the original audiences of Scripture; what life was like for women–that they weren’t educated, were married off at a young age, were dependent on their male relatives, were not equal under the law, could not directly inherit property. Our closest point of reference is repressive present-day cultures such as Saudi Arabia or Iran that subjugate women, denying them basic privileges. Indeed, verses such as today’s that pronounced women heirs together with their husbands, were radical and a new concept altogether, because the rights and privileges of women were not equivalent to those of men.
An excellent examination of a similar verse, Galatians 3:26, is found in the Desiring God article “Daughters, God Has Made You Sons:”
“A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. Adam was formed first, and then Eve. Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. But a wife will be brought safely through childbirth, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15 CEB)
God ask much of both a husband and a wife in marriage; He asks what goes against our grain, what is contrary to our selfish nature–for a wife to give up her own will even though she may be right, and give in to her husband if she cannot convince him to see things her way; and for a husband to give his life serving his wife rather than seeking his own well-being first or even if need be, saving her rather than saving himself. Both God’s command to a husband and His command to a wife are completely contrary to human nature; both require each to deny themselves, take up their individual crosses, and follow Christ; both require a heart completely devoted to Christ to accomplish successfully.
3) The third situation is within church structure itself. Women can be administrators within the church, but even though there are women who teach Bible studies, traditional Christianity has understood Paul’s writings to mean that women should not be pastors. Today, of course, some churches reinterpret this to say a woman can be a pastor, too; I personally know two women who are pastors, yet both co-minister alongside their husbands, who are also pastors.
The bottom line is, God frees; He releases us to bloom to our full potential, and where He constrains, it is only for our or others’ good–not to hold us back. So it is my belief that a woman can declare God’s Word (there were prophetesses in the New Testament church) and exhort with Scripture, but because of the lack of clarity in the I Timothy passage, I feel uncomfortable with a woman seeking to independently shepherd (direct) a congregation, and would personally rather err on the side of caution in interpreting Scripture.
Of course, we certainly can lead in life–many women need to lead their families in the father’s absence, and there are female military officers, CEO’s and other supervisory professionals–but rightly or wrongly, if placing themselves under the spiritual authority of a woman within the church would be an obstacle for anyone, I do not consider my personal liberty of more importance than another human being’s need for Christ.
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank You that you came to set us free and empower us through a knowledge of the truth! Help me focus less on my rights and more on how You can use me to bless others. Amen.