I’ve heard people say they don’t understand what the big deal is with women anymore. Why can’t we just get over it? Do we really even need feminism? We can vote; we can work outside the home. We’re not oppressed anymore. We should be happy with all the privilege we have.
True, we can do those things. We have more options now than ever before. These changes came about because women were dedicated and didn’t back down. So why are we still so obsessed and angry?
Because here in the States there’s still a 23 percent pay gap. Because women hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats while making up 51 percent of the population. But also because there is a far wider world than America. Because honor killings of teenage girls still happen in Jordan. Because girls born in India are undergoing mass gendercide, at risk of being abandoned or killed simply because they are girls. Because female genital mutilation still occurs in 27 African countries. Because girls in countries all over the world are taught how to avoid being the victim of rape instead of boys being taught how to respect their sisters.
This is a humanitarian issue, not a gender issue. As Christians, we, more than any other group, should be in this fight, and I think that starts with rethinking our theology about women’s roles and positions in society.
You’re probably wondering how I’m going to challenge Paul on the role of women in the church. Who am I to argue with this man of God?
I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to challenge.
I probably wouldn’t agree on everything Paul said if he and I were to have a conversation today, and that’s all right. Welcome to the body of Christ. I don’t think Paul is a misogynist, though. I don’t think Paul hated or mistrusted women.
In our day, reading backwards, Paul seems ultra-conservative, telling women to learn quietly and submissively, to keep silent in the assembly. But let’s not forget that in his context, with a forward reading, Paul was a mover and shaker, a revolutionary and radical. This is the guy who wrote letters asking for the release and full restoration of a runaway slave, who said circumcision was unnecessary for Gentiles and who encouraged women to ask their husbands questions. Paul was before his time. He pushed for change in his culture. And I think if he were here he would still be pushing for change, and I think he would agree that we aren’t there yet.
There’s much to unpack here, but there is a strong theological argument that Paul did not write for all women at all times. He wrote specific letters to a specific segment of women who had more freedom than ever before and needed to learn how to use that freedom well instead of disrupting the church. In some epistles, Paul wrote to women in authority who were teaching in their assemblies. There is Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Mary of Rome, Euodia, Syntyche, Lydia, Lois, Chloe and Nympha, and maybe if you don’t recognize these names, you should take a second look. These are our spiritual mothers.
More importantly, I think Paul knew and loved many outstanding women because Jesus did the same. Again and again in the gospels, Jesus interacted with women and treated them as equals: the woman at the well, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Salome, the bleeding woman and the woman accused of adultery. Women were the first proclaimers of the gospel. They were the ones who shared the good news with the apostles that Christ had indeed risen from the dead!
As Christians, we have a divine motivation to fight for the universal rights of women, because God is in the fight, too. This is humanitarian, yes, and not any less important for that reason. But for Christians, this can also be holy work, our spiritual act of worship, the raising of the low things, the calling out of gifts and the lifting of the yoke of oppression.