Why Gender Inequality Is a Christian Issue

Christians can't overlook ungodly attitudes and behaviors.

A new ad, quoting derogatory remarks of Donald Trump toward women will begin airing on national cable television this week. The video, just released, opens with women quoting real words Trump has used to describe other women.

It is nauseating, and I cannot bring myself to repeat them. “This is how Donald Trump talks about our mothers, our sisters, our daughters,” the ad closes. It is no surprise that he has also fallen under scrutiny for tolerating campaign violence including the alleged assault of a female journalist by his campaign manager.

As Christians—and humans—we cannot overlook these kinds of ungodly attitudes and behaviors. Gender inequality and violence are alive in our nation and the larger world, and it’s our responsibility as ambassadors of Jesus to oppose it.

Sadly, not all faith communities are immune from sexist and misogynistic attitudes. In a recent Huffington Post article, Kelly Ladd Bishop calls attention to prominent faith leaders who have made derogatory statements about women. Ladd writes: “Sadly, many abusers have justified their actions under the banner of male headship, because at its core, complementarian theology is one of inequality and hierarchy. And inequality breeds abuse.”

When girls and women have equal authority and opportunities, communities are more apt to thrive as violence decreases and economic stability increases. Non-government organizations call this “the girl effect.”

Of course, most complementarians do not condone abuse, but statistics do support that power imbalances till ground for one partner to abuse the other.

Churches are not always safer for women than the secular world. One in three women suffer sexual and/or domestic violence and/or stalking over a lifetime. Every year, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children. One in five high school students reports being physically/and or sexually abused by a dating partner. In North America, a pastor preaches on Sunday morning to a congregation in which abuse occurs on average in one quarter of the families.

Sociologist and theologian Elaine Storkey, author of Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women, explains that a global pandemic affects women regardless of culture, region or country, or even to particular groups of women in a society. All societies subject women and girls to forms of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Storkey affirms it is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women, a process that cuts across lines of income, class and culture.

Devaluing females, an offshoot of sexism and misogyny, leads to treating them as less than human. On the positive side, study after study supports that when a culture values females as much as males, girls are more likely to survive to adulthood. And when girls and women have equal authority and opportunities, communities are more apt to thrive as violence decreases and economic stability increases. Non-government organizations call this “the girl effect.”

Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, suggests, “Christians might call this phenomenon ‘the ezer effect’ because ezer is the Hebrew word God used to describe the strong help females provide (Genesis 2:18). Scholar R. David Freedman explains that ezer arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save” and “to be strong.”

Psalm 121:1-2 provides a great picture of God as ezer rescuing the Israelites: “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Scripture offers powerful imagery as God’s strength uniquely endows a female’s strength. “What stronger help is there apart from God’s rescue?” Haddad remarks. Far from a passive help devoted exclusively to a husband and children (in the case of married women with children), it extends to God’s work through females in the larger world. As logic has it, a subordinate role of females to males would only follow if God functioned in a subordinate role when helping Israel. That was far from the case.

Overcoming global violence against girls and women begins with cultivating beliefs that males and females are of equal worth.

How we read the Bible has bearing on what we think and how we treat others. Those of us who read modern translations rely on interpretation of the text by translators. “Too often,” a professor once said to me, “some scholars adjust materials to fit the mindset they have developed toward certain difficult passages of Paul.” And it reinforces a bias toward male privilege.

For example, some who interpret universal subordination of women to men in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 adjust other passages to their preconceived notions. With this in mind, some believe passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 encourage women to submit to abuse in order to win a husband to Christ. Victims hear other oppressive advice such as “pray harder,” “respect him more,” “give him better sex,” “bear your cross” and “persevere in suffering for spiritual growth.” Yet, over 100 times, Scripture says that abuse—whether physical, verbal, emotional or sexual—is sin.

Sadly, many well-meaning Christians do not have enough training to recognize and appropriately respond to situations of abuse. And theology supporting the subordination of females to males compounds the problem. In many such cases, inadequate help actually harms families and drives people away from the communities called by God to offer compassion and helpful assistance.

As I have written in a previous article, Sin is the belly of sexism, racism, classism and other forms of systemic inequality resulting in inequitable education/training/opportunity/pay; harassment; domestic and sexual violence; pornography; sex trafficking; slavery and other crimes. As Christians, we are called to fight for justice in these areas (Isaiah 1:17).

Equality of all persons is a central and inescapable component of justice, and it deserves special focus because of the world’s history of exploitation and violence against women, children, minority groups, and anyone considered as “other.” This leaves no room for devaluing anyone based on gender.

Overcoming global violence against girls and women begins with cultivating beliefs that males and females are of equal worth. Changed thinking leads to changed attitudes and cultures that empower healthier communities in Jesus’ name.

Recommended Reading

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

You Might Also Like

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls
by Elizabeth Gerhardt

Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women
by Elaine Storkey

Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World
by Carolyn Custis James

Top Comments

Brad Cooper

5

Brad Cooper replied to Matt Ray's comment

Complementarian theology still devalues women that don't fit the script of traditional woman. Not to mention the notion that women are incapable of leading men which is very much apart of the theology. Headship should be on a case by case basis, not this ludicrous dogma that so many churches shove down others throats.

Meghan

1

Meghan commented…

Yes. Thank you for this.

11 Comments

Meghan

1

Meghan commented…

Yes. Thank you for this.

Matt Ray

18

Matt Ray commented…

"at its core, complementarian theology is one of inequality and hierarchy. And inequality breeds abuse.”

I don't see this at all in my understanding of complementarian theology. Of course any theology can be misused but complementarian theology is pro-woman and pro-man. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equals with different roles, but co-equal nonetheless. All parts of the Trinity are equally magnificent, glorious, beautiful, omnipotent, etc BUT different. This is the example complementarian theology is supposed to follow. Each sex is equally created in the image of God and equally delighted in by Him, but different.

The complementarians that I know all highlight the "ezer" of women, as you call it. Complementarians simply say that men and women are co-equals but different. And within that understanding each person, male or female, is co-equal to and different from any other human-being created in the image of God.

Brad Cooper

5

Brad Cooper replied to Matt Ray's comment

Complementarian theology still devalues women that don't fit the script of traditional woman. Not to mention the notion that women are incapable of leading men which is very much apart of the theology. Headship should be on a case by case basis, not this ludicrous dogma that so many churches shove down others throats.

Andy

43

Andy replied to Brad Cooper's comment

I'm with you Matt.

Brad Cooper says: "Not to mention the notion that women are incapable of leading men which is very much apart of the theology"

Incapable is not what the doctrine says. Different roles does not mean incapable.

PM

105

PM replied to Andy's comment

Complementarian theology is based on proof-texting, in other words, lifting verses out of the context and making them say something that Paul really didn't mean for them to say. Also, of course, Paul must be interpreted through the lenses of Christ's teachings. Anyway, complementarian theology states that men have all the power and women have none just because of their gender. This "the man is the boss and the woman must submit" attitude is the first step down the road to abuse. Like lust, abuse starts with a thought, an attitude. Of course, most comps will not go all the way down that road, but they've taken the first start with the attitude that what they say goes.

Chanhee Kim

7

Chanhee Kim replied to PM's comment

Complementarian or egalitarian, it doesn't change the fact that women are being oppressed, more likely than not, by the hands of men. You're nitpicking on one sentence in this entire article when the point of it wasn't to critique Complementary gender roles, but the fact that the church is silent on the very apparent discrepancy in the rights for women and children compared to men.

Chanhee Kim

7

Chanhee Kim commented…

As a Christian, and as a feminist I think the above article highlights the reason why the "complementary" approach to male and female relations has failed. So many churches are only for male leadership and "feminist" is almost as bad as the other four-letter F word at church. However, looking back at history, did they not stop to think why feminism is so attractive in this day in age? Its because "male leadership" has failed women greatly for centuries. Its under "male leadership" that women couldn't vote, get an education, own property, or pursue jobs for so long. Its because of "male leadership" that women and children are exploited sexually, economically, and abused in their own homes. Then they say "Well you should have grace and forgive". That's an extremely easy cop out answer from the side that has the power.

So do I think men should lead? Of course I want them to! But properly! And the way that God intended! And the way that God intended it to be like is the way that Jesus gave Himself for the Church. And I thoroughly believe that Jesus would ensure that his daughters had every opportunity to use their gifts for His kingdom, in their jobs, in their homes, to learn not only His word but to get and education, that they would feel safe walking the streets at night (or in their homes no less!), not have their bodies mutilated, and have their voices and thoughts listened to and appreciated, that their bodies would not be objectified, that they (gasp) can hear revelation from God and carry it out on their own accord (Mary mother of Jesus anyone?).

At the end of the day its really not about who gets to lead, but whether we as followers are following Jesus, regardless of gender. And who knows maybe the way that God wants me to follow after Him is to be in a position of leadership (double gasp).

PM

105

PM replied to Chanhee Kim's comment

I agree. People take the sinful world view that has abused women for thousands of years and in every culture, and they read the Bible through the lenses of that view. That plus proof-texting help them to get to the attitude that the Bible says that men have the power and women must obey. Luckily, that's not how God sees it.

Ache

4

Ache commented…

It would just be nice to know that you're safe, as a human being. Yet, I also need to understand that despite living a non traditional role as a woman, God's hand is in this, and that He will bring me through to the other side, though it does not guarantee that I will be unscathed, though this may prove that my life may turn out to be something other than safe. Even though I have seen little signs of being able to live out the "traditional" calling of a woman, I must trust that God has willed for my life to be as such.

Doug Heck

1

Doug Heck commented…

In a world stocked with ISIS, Boko Haram, and.....frankly....Bill Clinton....Donald Trump is the only name check in this article?

Chanhee Kim

7

Chanhee Kim replied to Doug Heck's comment

Bill Clinton is old news, and we would expect ISIS and Boko Haram to be oppressive towards women. Donal Trump is running to be the next POTUS, and he gets away with making derogatory comments towards women. All of these things are scary, but which one of them has the most potential to affect readers of this magazine? (ex. First world, developed country female readers)

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