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Gender equality from a biblical perspective

Gender equality is an issue that is gaining new attention due to the HeForShe Twitter Campaign led by U.N. Women.

Actress Emma Watson is part of this campaign, and in her speech to the United Nations, she discussed the controversy around the word “feminist.”

At John Brown University, students have given several different definitions, for the word feminism, such as ‘controlling, angry, women trying to dominate men, overbearing and advocate for gender equality.’

“Empowerment and equality. A feminist is someone who wants to live in a progressive world,” said junior Ariel Lyon.

“A girl who thinks she can defeat a man at everything and that a woman is more powerful than a man,” said freshmen Holly Kindermann.

“Confidence. I am a feminist, and most people think about feminists in a negative light,” said sophomore Sara Lachance.

“I don’t like the word feminist, it sounds too one-sided. It should just be equality,” said junior Jake Lemons.

The common definition for a feminist, or feminism, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

In her speech, Emma Watson uses this term to focus on the issue of gender equality in the world and equality for education.

The World Wide Atlas of Gender Equality in Education published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization states that, “Education is a fundamental human right — one that all individuals are entitled to enjoy whatever the circumstances in which they live — that also brings important benefits to human society as a whole.”

According to the U.N. of the 774 million illiterates globally two-thirds are women.

Of the 72 million children of primary school age who are not attending school, 39 million are girls. In Nigeria alone there are 5.5 million girls not in school, in Pakistan there are over 3 million, and in Ethiopia there are over 1 million.

The HeforShe campaign seeks to spread awareness of this problem. HeForShe describes itself as “a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.”

What does this mean for the spiritual implications of gender inequality? Robbie Castleman, professor of bible and theology, explored what gender equality looks like in Scripture.

“The way that Genesis 2 reads is very clear that ish and isha (Hebrew for man and woman) were equal partners in the garden. In fact, there is no hint of hierarchy until after the fall.

“Hierarchical relationships between the genders are a result of the fall and not by divine design,” Castleman said.

“What ish celebrates when he sees the woman is how she is the same as him. He recognizes her as resembling him. Essentially, the man is saying ‘this is the one who fits me,’ ” Castleman said.

Castleman explained how humanity deals with the consequences of the fall daily.

“In Genesis 3 God outlines the consequences of the fall: that the man will be over the woman, and the woman will have this manipulative longing for the man, but it is a disruptive relationship,” Castleman said.

“So God has set these three basic consequences out, but what is interesting to me is that we don’t question the use of tools to push back against the consequence of toil; we don’t push against the use of pain medication for helping women in childbirth, but somehow we set in concrete the hierarchy of male dominance. Then we say that’s how it is supposed to be.”

The Apostle Paul in his letters said much about the relationship between men and women and women’s roles in the church. Randy Peterson, the author of the article “What About Paul?,” reexamines Galatians 3:28.

This is the scripture where Paul writes “There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Peterson points out that this statement does not intend to comment on the relationship between men and women, but to emphasis that “we are all one in God’s eyes.”

Paul not only had women participating in the leadership roles of the early church, but he also wanted those women to be educated.

“I believe in the power of spiritual gifts, and that God gives spiritual gifts to all people. I am completely comfortable with a woman being a church leader if that woman has been given those spiritual gifts,” Jacob Stratman said, professor of English at the University.

Castleman said when the discussion of gender equality is finished, it all comes back to becoming a servant.

“If Jesus is equal to God, which he is, and if men and women are equals, as a Christian what do I do with that equality? I empty myself. Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, Philippians 2, who though he was equal in God counted this equality not something to be exploited for his own benefit, but humbled himself and took on the role of a servant,” Castleman said.