Plato said ideas rule the world. All action begins with an idea. Paul said, “Take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). “Ideas have consequences and some ideas can lead to brutal outcomes. For example, the most prominent indicator of whether a female will be sold to a brothel, killed as a fetus, abused in her marriage or family, or denied a place of decision making in her community or marriage is determined not by her gender, but by the value we place on females as a whole. Research concludes that when culture values females as much as males, equal numbers of girls and boys survive to adulthood. Gender-justice begins with an idea—valuing females and males equally.
What is more, when communities extend females equal authority in decision making and resources to develop their abilities, this lowers female-abuse. It also raises the economic stability within their communities. NGOS’ call this the girl effect. Christians might call this the ezer effect, because in the early chapters of Genesis the Bible suggests that females are created to provide vital help—a fact noted in Genesis 2:18. According to the scholar R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman’s help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save,” and “to be strong.” Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God, and four refer to military rescue. Perhaps the most familiar of these uses is Psalm 121:1-2 where ezer is used for God’s rescue of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” God created woman to provide not inferior but strong rescue.
Throughout Scripture women are never depicted as inferior but as equal to males in every significant way. Males and females are:
- Equally created in God’s image.
- Equally called to share authority in caring for the earth and in being fruitful.
- Equally responsible for and equally distorted by sin.
- Equally redeemed by Christ and equally gifted by the Holy Spirit.
- Equally held accountable for using their gifts in service to others.
Despite numerous examples of female rescue and leadership throughout Scripture and church history, church leaders have continually offered a patriarchal evaluation of the female gender as a whole. Consider the following examples:
- Irenaeus (130–202 A.D.) “Both nature and the law place the woman in a subordinate condition to the man”
- Augustine (354–430) “Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men.”
- Chrysostom (347–407) “The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account …let her not teach… for the sex is weak and fickle…”
- John Calvin (1509-1564) In his commentary on Timothy said that women are “not to assume authority over the man… it is not permitted by their condition.”
- John Knox (1514-1572) “Nature, I say, does paint [women] forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel… Since flesh is subordinate to spirit, a woman’s place is beneath man’s.”
- Mark Driscoll (a popular pastor of Mars Hill, a mega church in Seattle) wrote:
…when it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit because they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men. … women who fail to trust [Paul’s] instruction … are much like their mother Eve. . . Before you get all emotional like a woman in hearing this, please consider the content of the women’s magazines at your local grocery store that encourages liberated women in our day to watch porno with their boyfriends, master oral sex for men who have no intention of marrying them…– and ask yourself if it doesn’t look like the Serpent is still trolling the garden and that the daughters of Eve aren’t gullible in pronouncing progress, liberation, and equality.
Do ideas like these, that devalue females at the level of being, have consequences? According to two prominent Christian missionaries, Katharine Bushnell (1856-1946) and Josephine Butler (1828-1906), the proliferation of the sexual slave industry will never end until Christians oppose patriarchy in their ranks. After infiltrating brothels established by the British army in India, Bushnell discovered first-hand the abuses females suffered when abused by British soldiers. After years of working to free abused women around the world, Butler and Bushnell began to see that the global abuse of women was inseparable from a devaluation of females posited by Christian faith. Bushnell argued that the abuse of women will not be overcome as long as “the subordination of woman to man was taught within the body of Christians.” Butler and Bushnell agreed that:
Just so long as men imagine that a system of caste is taught in the Word of God, and that they belong to the upper caste while women are of the lower caste; and just so long as they believe that mere flesh—fate—determines the caste to which one belongs; and just so long as they believe that…Genesis 3:16 [teaches] “thy desire shall be for thy husband, and he shall rule over you”…the destruction of young women into a prostitute class [will] continue.
But place Christian women where God intends them to stand, on a plane of full equality with men in the church and home, where their faculties, their will, their consciences are controlled only by the God who made man and woman equal by creation…then the world will become a much purer [place] than it is today. . .(Katharine Bushnell, Dr. Katharine Bushnell: A Brief Sketch of her Life Work, (Hertford, England: Rose and Sons, Salisbury Square, date of publication unknown), pp. 13-14.)
Bushnell’s work among abused women gave her an opportunity to notice the link between abuse and the presumed inferiority of women, promoted by all religious and philosophical traditions, including Christianity. Like Katharine Bushnell and other egalitarians from the past several centuries, Christians today show how Scripture opposes patriarchy and the flawed view that women are inferior to, and in need of, male authority.
Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) exists to challenge patriarchy within the ranks of our own Christian churches. We believe that the Church cannot advance the justice integral to Christ’s kingdom without challenging patriarchy in churches, organizations, and relationships. For this reason, CBE will convene a conference July 29-31 in Seattle, Washington, focused on “Building Biblical Community: Transforming Sex, Power, and Prejudice.” The conference will answer questions like: Why would God give gifts to women, only to exclude women from using them? Are male-only models of authority biblical? Does male authority lead to abuse?
Featuring four general sessions, panels, and twenty workshops, this three day conference will include Christians serving all over the world. Richard Howell, the General Secretary of the Asia Evangelical Alliance and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, will examine abuse, gender hierarchy, and a biblical response to dominance. MaryKate Morse, Quaker minister, professor, and author of Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, will consider biblical models of leadership that harmonize servant leadership and power. Linguist, scholar, and author of Man and Woman: One in Christ Philip B. Payne will explore the textual evidence for the shared authority between men and women in church and home. Kanyere Eaton, pastor at Fellowship Covenant Church in the Bronx, NY, will address the difficulties African-American women face in their paths to ordination. Conference sessions will also examine pornography, abuse, biblical marriage, women in ministry, singleness, leadership, and grassroots activism.
Scholars, ministry leaders, and laypeople representing many denominations will join us in July from countries throughout Asia, Europe, and the Arab world. Students are participating in large numbers due to CBE’s student paper competition, which gives three students a forum to present original research on the conference theme. CBE is also offering need-based conference scholarships, and students and others are welcome to apply for financial assistance. Conference registration will be open until July 29th and all are invited to join CBE in Seattle!
CBE is the largest evangelical organization providing biblical resources on the shared authority and service of men and women. CBE sponsors annual conferences, hosts local chapters, runs an online book service, and publishes two award-winning journals and a weekly e-newsletter. CBE’s journals have received more than twenty Evangelical Press Association awards.
For more information, contact us. To register for “Building Biblical Community: Transforming Sex, Power, and Prejudice,” visit the conference webpage.
Christians for Biblical Equality
122 W Franklin Ave, Suite 218
Minneapolis, MN 55404-2451
Phone: (612) 872-6898
Fax: (612) 872-6891
Mimi Haddad is the President of Christians for Biblical Equality