Christian main page Is the Christian Faith inherently anti-woman?

It may well be that Christianity took this anti-sex turn due to Augustine. He is the source of much of the anti-sex, anti-woman attitude of Christianity. He is the source of much of the "woman is a snare for men" rhetoric. He even felt that if a married couple had sex without conceiving children it was a sin, but a forgivable one.

A professor from my seminary points out that Augustine grew up in a classically abusive household. His father physically abused his mother. Augustine made the standard rationalization of children: in order not to face that his father was a bad person, he decided his mother deserved it and was a better person for having been beaten.

The clue that denigration of women is not inherent in the faith lies both in the Bible (you can't find that sort of violent attacks on women there, what you can find is much about controlling your own passions) and in the history of the early monastic tradition.

I've elsewhere written reviews of key aspects of this early monastic literature. What is clear there is that the heterosexual monks writing for other heterosexual men argued that it was the man's responsibility to control his own passion and that, being too weak to do so in society, it was their responsibility to withdraw.

Yes the Bible has some non-symmetrical words about men and women. But when examined for what they actually say, as opposed to what people think they say, they hardly support the sort of patriarchal violence women have suffered.

Issues in the debate

Ephesians 5

Consider the infamous Ephesians 5 text that directs women as follows "Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands." Oh, horrors. But, you if read the same passages' instructions to men you find: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ... 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"

Now, that isn't symmetric, but notice how men are instructed to (like Christ) die for their wives. Christ did not inflict violence, but rather suffered it Christ was murdered. Men, if they are to follow Christ, are to suffer violence for the sake of their wives. The passage goes on to make an identity between a man's own body and his wife's. In that context, beating your wife is beating yourself. Commanded to "nourish and tenderly care" for their body, which is their wife's body - isn't that a prohibition on violence against women? How can any of this be read to endorse violence against women? How can any of this support hatred of women?

Of course, it has been so read and that can't be brushed aside. But I think this is a perversion of the faith, not inherent in it.

Women pastors / women having authority

Much of Christianity still prohibits women from being pastors. This is often claimed to have Biblical justification in that all 12 disciples were men.

But this claim assumes the rule that the disciples of Jesus should be normative in terms of their gender, but not in terms of anything else - otherwise all pastors would have been required to be fishermen first. In fact, nowhere does Jesus instruct that the church is to look like his disciples.

Read carefully, you will find plenty of references in the Bible to women playing influential roles. One could just as easily point out that in all four gospels, the first to encounter the risen Lord and to proclaim (preach) that message to others were women. So why not have all the pastors be women?

Last updated 5/19/06; first posted 12/18/99; © 2006 John P. Nordin