This weekend, the second Sunday of May, billions of people around the world will be celebrating Mothers’ Day—not just in most European countries and North America—where the idea started about a century ago—but in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and the Philippines.
This focus to honour our mothers made me think of the status of women in the world, especially when we learn of cultures that put women down, even to the point of denying them basic education.
Recent History of Male Chauvinism
Respect for women, even in our more “enlightened” western societies is a relatively recent phenomenon. Canada is 150 years old this year, but for the first 33 years, no province allowed a woman to vote. In Quebec, it took 74 years before women could vote. Switzerland, although famously democratic since 1848, did not allow women to vote for 123 years, finally granting this right in 1971, only 46 years ago.
Ancient History of Male Chauvinism
Western cultures were heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman cultures of the Mediterranean area who held a worldview that despised women. Although democracy was practiced 2,500 years ago by the Greeks and Romans, only free adult males could vote—one-third of the total adult population. No women or slaves could be involved in politics.
Biblical Christianity—the Source of Gender Equality
- This anti-woman, chauvinistic Mediterranean cultural attitude stands in stark contrast to biblical Christianity which has taught for 2,000 years that in God’s eyes “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28.
- Jesus Himself deliberately chose to reveal some major theological truths, not to his male disciples, nor to male Jewish religious authorities, but to women. It was to a woman from Samaria that, for the first time, Jesus clearly stated He was the long-awaited Messiah, telling her, “I that speak unto you am He.” John 4:26. In the same story, the disciples, still steeped in their pre-Christian, Jewish culture, were surprised that He did the totally unexpected—talk with a woman.
- It was to Martha He disclosed His power over death, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” John 11:25.
- After His resurrection, He showed Himself first, not to Peter, James or John, his closest male disciples, but to a woman, Mary Magdalene, John 20:16.
- Besides the chosen twelve disciples a large number of other disciples followed Jesus, many of them women. Jesus taught them as any Jewish rabbi would his male students. In one incident, when He was teaching inside a house, He was told his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to see Him. “He looked at those seated around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3, 34-35. Had there been only male disciples sitting there, He would never have made a reference to them being His mother or sister.
- “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.” Luke 10:39. The expression “sitting at the feet” of a rabbi was used to describe a disciple receiving instruction from the rabbi. Jesus was a radical who constantly went against the male chauvinism of his day by treating women as equal to men.
- The early church also valued women in various leadership, teaching and prophetic roles and called them disciples, a term, until then, reserved for men only. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha who was always doing good and helping the poor.” Acts 9:36. When this woman died, Peter came, prayed for her, and raised her back to life—a notable miracle, performed on behalf of a woman!
- And the women disciples not only “helped the poor” they preached and taught as well. At the end of one of Paul’s missionary journeys, Luke mentioned them staying with an evangelist named Philip and specifically stated that he had four virgin daughters who prophesied. Acts 24:9.
Gender Equality is a Christian Concept
Biblical Christianity has always taught the concept of gender equality—that women and men can both participate equally in every area of life. Churches or individuals that put women down are influenced not by New Testament teaching, but by their own cultures, originating in a pagan Mediterranean worldview.