So this is post 4 on the topic of violence against women – and I’m going to start it by saying a huge thank you to everyone who’s read it – I’ve had a huge amount of encouragement, and it means a lot. Thank you!
One of the comments I had yesterday got me thinking. I’m a very passionate advocate of women’s rights. I’m also a Christian. And it’s interesting how often the two can be seen to be in opposition. I mean, the Bible does contain some passages that, on the face of it, seem pretty against women’s equality – and they’ve been pretty badly abused by Christians over the centuries. So how do I hold both together?
I should probably start with an apology. I am, as is probably fairly obvious, most definitely on the more liberal side of the Christian spectrum. And there seems to be a problem in the Christian church, with those of a more conservative bent accusing those of us who are more liberal as being “wishy-washy”, not real Christians, and those of us who are more liberal accusing those who are more ocnservative as being strict, legalistic, or irrelevent. And I’m going to be honest here and say that until fairly recently, I’d brought fairly wholeheartedly into that mindset, and held my more conservative brothers and sisters as oppressive and unfair towards women. I was very wrong. Conversations with many people have convinced me that Christians of all colours are passionately commited to seeing God’s justice and mercy for all – regardless of gender.
So having said that, I’m purposely not going to talk about issues like women’s ordination. It’s not hard to guess my views, but I’ve become convinced that this isn’t helpful. I think we need to go right back to the basics, and look again at what the Bible actually says about women and their worth and their image, because those are the issues that matter most – and those are the issues which will help us solve the oppression and injustice faced by women and girls across the globe. Ordination, and other issues like it, need to be tackled, but I’m not sure they’re the biggest thing we need to be talking about.
So now that’s as clear as mud – let’s get back to Genesis…
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (NIV, Genesis 2:18)
One of the verses that seems to most get Christian’s knickers in a twist is this one. Sadly, it’s one of the verses that has been most abused – used to justify the idea that a woman is subservient to a man – and, at it’s most abusive, this leads to the idea that a man can demand anything of a woman, since she simply exists to serve him
It’s utter crap.
The word used here for “helper” is the Hebrew ezer. It’s not actually a word we find often in the Old Testament. Where it is found? It’s actually usually referring to God, as a helper of Israel. The actual phrase means “the help that opposes”. Think of two friends sitting back to back. They are using opposing forces to support each other. That’s the idea conveyed here, which certainly doesn’t justify any idea of women being weak willed servants of men. The help described is life changing, active, and vitally important.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (NRSV, Genesis 2:27-28)
So here’s the key verse for me. God’s getting his creative thing on, and He decides that the world needs humanity. So he creates male and female – both in the image of Himself. This is why we need to stand up for the rights of women. We’re called to be God’s image bearers in a broken world. We can’t do that without each other. And whilst one side is oppressed and suffering, the image of God will remain scarred.
So I don’t have the time of space to look at the entire old Testament – sorry bout that! As a summary, we can see lots of hideous examples of things that seem very against women. They are products of their time – but I think it’s also important to acknowledge them. What we do see, more often than other contemporary texts, are extraordinary examples of women taking the initiative and contributing to God’s plan – Sarah, Esther, Huldah, – the list goes on.
We see that again and again with Jesus. In a society where women were regarded as property more than people, Jesus goes out of his way to affirm the vlaue and worth of the women He comes across. That’s what we’re called to do.
So, Paul. Oh wow, has he ever got the potential to be a problem…
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind–yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. (NRSV, Ephesians 5:21-30)
A few things to say here. Firstly, Paul is definitely a product of his time. And in his time, women were held to be under their husbands rule. To do otherwise, in an emerging church already being presecuted for daring to stand up against the status quo would have spelt an instant death warrent to the Christian church. But let’s look at the other thing he says – asking husbands to care for their wives just as well as their own bodies. In an age where women were regarded as propery, this is radical. Paul calls husbands to the self sacrificing love of Christ. – and in Galatians, states that in Christ there is no male nor female – we are all one.
I’ve picked out a few verses, and there are a tonne more. But I really wanted to point out that there is a huge biblical mandate for ending violence against women. God is a God of justice and mercy, and we ismply cannot bear His image in a broken world wihlst our sisters are hurting. If we try, if we don’t act, if we let them cry in the darkness – we will forever fall short of God’s glory.