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The role of women in Christianity

Statements by Christian leaders & commentators

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As stated in our menu on the status of women in the Bible, women were considered as property through much of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Jesus later preached a revolutionary message: the equal status and worth of women. He demonstrated this concept throughout his ministry. Paul continued this tradition in the very early days of Christianity.

However, sections of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), that are believed by many theologians to have been forged in Paul's name long after his death, show that later church leaders gradually restored the status of women to the lower level that existed before Christ's ministry.

Some of the great leaders of the Christian church continued this trend of denigrating women. Many denominations continue this sexist policy today by refusing leadership roles to all women.

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Church leaders and commentators, prior to the 20th century: 

bulletSt. Tertullian (about 155 to 225 CE):

"Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die." 1,2

bulletSt. Augustine of Hippo (354 to 430 CE). He wrote to a friend: 

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman......I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." 10

bulletSt. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274 CE):  

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

bulletMartin Luther (1483 to 1546):

"If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there." 9

bulletMatilda Josyln Gage, et. al, "1876 Declaration of Rights" on the rights of women.

"...we declare our faith in the principles of self-government; our full equality with man in natural rights; that woman was made first for her own happiness, with the absolute right to herself - to all the opportunities and advantages life affords for her complete development; and we deny that dogma of the centuries, incorporated in the codes of nations - that woman was made for man - her best interests, in all cases, to be sacrificed to his will. We ask of our rulers, at this hour, no special favors, no special privileges, no special legislation. We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever."6

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20th century writings/sayings on the role of women:

bulletReformation Fellowship of the East Valley, Mesa, AZ (circa 1995)

"In the beginning God made man male and female. He made Adam first, and then made Eve from Adam's rib. This order of creation subordinates wives to their husbands in marriage, and women to men in the church. As an act of submission to their Creator women are commanded to submit to their husbands and to male leadership in the church. Women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in any formal capacity in the church." 3

bulletPope John Paul II (1995)

"Woman's identity cannot consist in being a copy of man, since she is endowed with her own qualities and prerogatives, which give her a particular uniqueness that is always to be fostered and encouraged... To all in our age who offer selfish models for affirming the feminine personality, the luminous and holy figure of the Lord's Mother shows how only by self-giving and self-forgetfulness towards others is it possible to attain authentic fulfillment of the divine plan for one's own life." 4

bulletStatement by "Christians for Biblical Equality" a conservative Christian organization

"...the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of scripture as reflected in Galatians 3:28: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' " 7

bulletJerry Falwell

"Most of these feminists are radical, frustrated lesbians, many of them, and man-haters, and failures in their relationships with men, and who have declared war on the male gender. The Biblical condemnation of feminism has to do with its radical philosophy and goals. That's the bottom line."

bulletThe Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (1997)

"...God, by creating Adam first (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:8) and also by creating woman for man (Gen. 2:18,20,22; 1 Cor. 11:9), has set the gender-based role and responsibility of males in the most basic unit of society (the family) to be that of leader, provider and self-sacrificial protector (also cf. Eph. 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7), and likewise has set the gender-based role and responsibility of females to be that of help and nurture (Gen. 2:18) and life-giving (Gen. 3:20) under male leadership and protection (cf. 1 Peter 3:7)..." 8

bulletRandall Terry, head of Operation Rescue

"...make dads the godly leaders [of the family] with the women in submission, raising kids for the glory of God."

bulletUnitarian Universalist Association: statement of principles and purposes. This faith group had been classified as a liberal Christian denomination in past deecades. By 1999, only about 25% of its members regarded themselves as Christian.

"The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member societies and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to race, color, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, age, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed."

bulletAnon, "Why women need freedom from religion," pamphlet 5

"The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women's right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth...and woman's suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women's social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Religionists defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Religious fanatics and bullies are currently engaged in an outright war of terrorism and harassment against women who have abortions and the medical staff which serves them."

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References:

  1. "Women in Islam vs. the Judeo-Christian Tradition." at: http://www.troid.org/Islamic Info/Women in Islam/women.htm
  2. Quoted in:
    bulletKaren Armstrong, "The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's creation of the sex war in the west," Elm Tree Books, (1986) Pages 52 to 62. 
    bulletNancy van Vuuren, "The Subversion of Women as Practiced by Churches, Witch-Hunters, and Other Sexists," Westminister Press, Pages 28 to 30.
  3. "The Reformation Statement on the Role of Women," Reformation Fellowship of the East Valley, at: http://www.ids.org/ 
  4. Pope John Paul II, "Mary sheds light on role of women," Catholic Information Network, at: http://www.cin.org/
  5. "Why Women Need Freedom From Religion," Freedom From Religion Foundation, at: http://www.ffrf.org/
  6. Matilda Josyln Gage, et. al, "1876 Declaration of Rights," at: http://www.pinn.net/ 
  7. "Who we are," Christians for Biblical Equality, at: http://www.cbeinternational.org 
  8. "Resolution on women in combat," The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, at: http://www.cbmw.org/ 
  9. H. Ellerbe, "The Dark Side of Christian History," Chapter 8, Endnote 103, Page 136
  10. Armstrong, "The Gospel According to Woman," (1986), P. 52-62.

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List of links to web sites dealing with women and theology:

bullet"Women & Theology," Women's Studies Section, Association of College and Research Libraries, at: http://www.earlham.edu/ 

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Copyright © 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JUL-24
Latest update: 2010-JUL-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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