All over North America last Sunday, we celebrated and honoured our mothers, a stark contrast to the way some societies denigrate women. This got me thinking about history.
Influence of Cultural Sexism
It’s only recently that women have been treated relatively equal with men even in our more “enlightened” western societies. In 1900—only 115 years ago—Canadian provinces began granting women the right to vote. Quebec, in 1941, was the last province to do so. Switzerland, although famously democratic, didn’t give women the right to vote until 30 years later in 1971.
Both Quebecois and Swiss societies have a Roman Catholic heritage and were heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture. It is, therefore, interesting to note women’s social standing in Athens and Rome during the first century AD.
In Greece and Italy two-thirds of the adult population were not allowed to participate in politics—the slaves, and the free women. Thus, although democracy was invented by the Greco-Roman culture, only one-third of the adult population had a vote or could hold office, namely the adult free men.
Biblical Christianity Practices Gender Equality: Eight Examples
- This, sexist, anti-woman, Mediterranean cultural attitude stands in stark contrast to early Christianity which taught that men and women were equal before God. The apostle Paul stated it succinctly, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in ChristJesus” 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 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.
- It was to a woman from Samaria that, for the first time, Jesus clearly stated He was the long-awaited Messiah. When she brought up the subject, He told her, “I that speak unto you am He.” John 4:26. In the same story, the disciples, steeped in their pre-Christian, Jewish culture, were surprised that He did the totally unexpected—talk with a woman.
- A large number of disciples followed Jesus besides the twelve men He chose. Many of these disciples were women, and 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 in a circle 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. Here is another example:
- “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 culture of his day by treating women as equal in His sight 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 major, 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
That biblical Christianity teaches and practices the equality of men and women was echoed last week by Pope Francis when he said it is “pure scandal” that women earn less than men for doing the same job. He also lambasted the attitude of those who blame the crisis in families on women getting out of the house to work. He said such attitudes are a form of “machismo” that shows how men “want to dominate women.”
The Bible is not sexist, or anti-woman, and neither are churches and individuals who are willing to stand against the pagan Greco-Roman culture that has influenced so much of western civilization.
Biblical Christianity has always taught the concept of gender equality—that women and men can both participate equally in every area of life. This includes politics, women not only vote, but, as is currently the case in Alberta, are also elected in record numbers as members of the government, and even as the top leader in the ruling political party.