Thursday, January 12, 2012

Common Objection #17- "Christianity Demeans Women!"

It is common for skeptics and critics of Christianity to claim that "Christianity demeans women" or "Christianity seeks to suppress women," but when the facts are considered this is simply not true.

In their book Cracking Da Vinci's Code, scholars James L. Garlow and Peter Jones challenge these oft-repeated notions.

Many are under the false impression that pagan nations of the ancient world affirmed women, while Christianity sought to repress them; however, as Garlow and Jones point out, history tells us another story:

"In Greece, India, and China, women had no rights and were considered the property of their husbands. The Greek philosophers of the day had no higher view of women than did other non-Christians. Aristotle taught that a woman ranked somewhere between a man and a slave. Plato taught that if a man lived a cowardly life, he would be reincarnated as a woman.

In ancient Greece, women-especially wives-were regarded as lowly. A wife was not allowed to leave her house unescorted. She was not allowed to eat or interact with guests in the home, but was consigned to her quarters (gynaeceum). In contrast, a hetaera (mistress) was allowed to accompany a married man in public.

The average Athenian woman had the social status of a slave. Women were not educated, nor were they allowed to speak in public. Silence was considered the great grace of a woman, even at home. Not only were women considered inferior, they were also thought to be the source of evil and were thus not to be trusted." [1]

The authors continue by contending that it was the advent of Christianity that "radically transformed the fate of women."

"Wherever Christianity has been introduced, it has lifted up women, not just in antiquity but even in modern times. Sex-selection infanticide was common in 1880 in pagan China before the influence of Christian missionaries. Girl babies were disposed of as a liability. In the last two centuries, because of Christian influences, the treatment of women worldwide has improved immensely. It was the influence of Christians that helped to abolish China's practice of binding women's feet in order to create the diminutive effect that men found attractive. This dangerous practice had led to gangrene infection, needless amputation, and sometimes even death.

In India, the practice of suttee was ended by the influence of Christianity. A good Hindu wife was expected to follow her husband in death on the funeral pyre, even if she was young with her whole life ahead of her. "Child widows" were also part of the pagan goddess-worshiping Hindu culture. There girls were raised to be temple prostitutes. Amy Carmichael, a Christian, fought to put an end to this practice by rescuing girls from it." [2]

Further, as female apologist Sharon James argues:

"...historically, wherever Christianity has spread, the status of women has improved. Those countries where women are most exploited today are those with the least exposure to the gospel. The Bible teaches that men and women were made equally in God's image [Gn. 1:27-28]
and that all human life is sacred. Christians have been among the first to provide education and other rights for women." [3]

Is seems clear from the above that Christianity has historically affirmed the worth of females.

How are Women Portrayed in the Old Testament?

As Garlow and Jones continue, they point out the numerous places in the Old Testament that women are celebrated and affirmed:

"Esther was courageous to the point of defying the king himself, an action that usually resulted in death. The outcome of her courage was the salvation of an entire race of people [Esther 1-10].

Ruth was loyal, astute, and shrewd. She stayed with her impoverished mother-in-law after the death of Ruth's husband. She humbled herself in order to secure food for herself and her mother-in-law. And she was obedient, marrying a stranger who ended up loving and caring for Ruth and her family [Ruth 1-4].

Deborah was a wife, mother, and judge in Israel [Judges 4].

Proverbs 31 affirms the greatness of women, demonstrating their ability to juggle the amazing pressures as community leaders, businesswomen, wives, and mothers. The chapter exalts the qualities of one whom the Bible portrays as a model woman:
  • She is skilled with her hands [vv. 13, 19] and her mind [vv. 13-31].
  • She understands manufacturing [vv. 13, 24]; importing [v. 14]; time management [v. 15]; real estate investing [v. 16]; agribusiness [v.16]; physical workouts [v. 17]; business profit [vv. 16, 18, 24]; a work ethic [vv. 15, 18]; "hands on" labor [v. 19]; welfare and compassion [v. 20]; planning, administration, and organization [v. 21]; and fashion [vv. 21-22].
  • When she speaks, she is articulate and her speech is content-rich [v. 26].
  • She is an instructor, a teacher [v. 26].
  • She is an unashamed homemaker-and a good one [v. 27].
  • Not surprisingly, she is busy-very busy [v. 27].
  • She enjoys being a mother and is quite successful in child rearing [v. 28].
Does this sound like a repressed women?" [4] I think not!

How are Women Portrayed in the New Testament?

It can be demonstrated as well that women were held in high esteem by the New Testament authors. Consider the following:
  • Women were included in the genealogy of Jesus [Matthew 1:1:16]. Unusual, when one understands that a typical lineage at that time would have included only males.
  • Jesus' very first announcement that He was the Messiah was shared with a woman [Jn. 4:17-26].
  • When Mary [the sister of Martha and Lazarus] listened to Jesus' teachings [at a time an activity reserved for males] and Martha scurried about fulfilling the "female" role, Jesus affirmed Mary and challenged Maratha [Luke 10:41-42].
  • In contrast to the custom of the time, a group of women were part of the entourage that traveled with Jesus and other men. These women even supported His ministry financially [Luke 8:1-3].
  • In the book of Acts, Peter cites an Old Testament scripture saying that both "your sons and daughters will prophesy" [Joel 2:28].
  • Paul is clear that both male and female have equal standing with Christ. [Galatians 3:28]
  • Following the often discussed directive "wives, submit to your husbands" [Ephesians 5:22], Paul, only 3 verses later, gives the most difficult assignment any male have ever received: "Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" [Ep. 5:25]. As husbands, we are called to give up our lives for our wives.
  • Women were the first to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. This is especially significant when one considers that, according to the customs of that time, women would not have been allowed to testify in court. All of Christianity hinges on this one event, and a woman was chosen for this highest honor. [5]
The Bible also commends specific women for their godly actions and contributions.
  • Anna [Luke 2:36-38]
  • Phoebe [Rm. 16:1]
  • Tabitha or Dorcas [Acts 9:36-41]
  • Lydia [Acts 16:13-15]
  • Joanna [Luke 8:3]
  • Susanna [Luke 8:3]
  • Mary Magdalene [John 20:11-18]
  • Lois and Eunice, Timothy's grandmother and mother [2 Timothy 1:5] [6]
Is seems clear that the authors of the New Testament indeed had a very high view of women.

What Contributions have Women made in Church History?

The critics who claim that Christianity demeans women also seem to completely overlook the numerous women who have made significant contributions in Church history. Garlow and Jones report:
  • Perpetua: This twenty-six-year-old mother of a newborn, along with her servant girl Felicitas, demonstrated unequaled courage as they were martyred for their faith in March 205.
  • Monica [331-387]: She was the most significant influencer-as mother-on Augustine, one of the most influential persons of Christianity.
  • Clare: Turning away from wealth to follow Christ, she established in 1212 the "Poor Clares," now located in seventy-six countries.
  • Catherine of Sienna: Born in 1347, she was an activist, prayer leader, humanitarian, and adviser and counselor to the most powerful political and ecclesiastical leaders.
  • Katherina von Bora: Without her, Martin Luther could never have become the leader of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
  • Susanna Wesley: The twenty-fifth child in her family, she gave birth to nineteen children, was a brilliant thinker, and theologian, and was the counselor, confidante, and theological mentor of son John Wesley, leader of the massive Evangelical Awakening in the 1700s.
  • Catherine Booth: A stronger preacher than her husband William, she co-founded with him the Salvation Army in the late 1800s in England.
Far from suppressing or demeaning these women, it seems Christianity empowered them to achieve much that many of us can be thankful for!

How Did Jesus View Women?

We must judge Christianity by it's Christ. It is Him we follow and live for. So, did Jesus hold women in high esteem? As I have demonstrated above [see How are Women Portrayed in the New Testament?] and Marla Alupoaicci contends, He did indeed:

"As God incarnate, He did not demean women. Rather, He powerfully affirmed their worth. He demonstrated love and compassion to women and engaged them in discussions about relationships and other significant issues [Mt. 9:22; Jn. 4:7-29]. In fact, the level of interaction He had with women shocked His disciples and the religious leaders of His day. Jesus Christ valued and affirmed women, and He is our ultimate example." [7]

When one demeans women and attempts to use his Christian beliefs to justify his actions, he is acting in contradiction with the very One he claims to represent.

Conclusion

1. History demonstrates that wherever Christianity has spread, women have been lifted-up and affirmed.

2. Women are celebrated and affirmed in the Old and New Testaments.

3. Women have made significant contributions in Church history.

4. Jesus valued and affirmed women and He is our ultimate example.

5. Whether in history or in modern times, if a person or group has used Christianity justify their demeaning of women, they acted in contradiction with what Christianity teaches. I believe even the atheist would agree that we should not judge a philosophy or worldview by those who abuse it.

To see our answers to other common objections, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad

For further research, check out the following:

1. The Biblical View of Women by Kyle Butt  Video here.



Resources:

1. James L. Garlow and Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci's Code, p. 62-63.
2. Ibid., 63.
3. Sharon James, Does the Bible Demean Women?, The Apologetics Study Bible, p. 730.
4. Garlow and Jones, p. 68-69.
5. Ibid., p. 70-72.
6. Marla Ahupoaicci, Does the Bible Demean Women?, The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, p. 507.
7. Ibid.

1 comment:

cvaughn3946 said...

Great article Chad. I just recently read the chapter in Copan's book that confirms what you have written. Its obvious in reading Genesis 1 and 2 that's Gods ideal plan for men and women is one of equality but was tainted by patriarchal societies that surrounded the Israelites.