Is Christianity Irredeemably Sexist?


OK it's taken a few weeks, but here is the first topical post from my introduction to self criticism, and the need for a moral criqtique by christians of our own faith. And this topic might be pertanent in view of the previous discussions over the summer about women and church.

Key Biblical References to Women 1. Mary Magdalene – apostle to the apostle 2. Martha 3. Thelca – St Paul’s companion 4. Marceline – sister of Ambrose

Whilst these women were very involved, their voices are not included very much in the bible. Many feminists would go so far as to suggest/think that female voices were not included in the bible, even if they had a place in the ministry of Jesus and the early church.

The Early Church The early church does seem to support the subordination of women very much, and looking from 1st to 10th century here are some main characters and some of the beliefs they ariculated about women.

• St.Augustine: women are merely man’s helpmate, women aren’t in the image of God, men are….even though Augustine acknowledges the bible says otherwise!

• Aquinas: the female souls is irrational, discernment is stronger in men. There is a rational hierarchy that has women lower than men. Men are the most rational.

• Tertullian: women are the cause of original and ongoing sin.

• St John Chrysostom: “among all the savage beasts none is found to be as harmful as woman”, because animals didn’t introduce original sin.

• John Damascene: ‘Woman is a sick she-ass…a hideous Tapeworm…the advance post of Hell’. So there is a specific theological rejection of woman in the early church.

• Pope Gregory 1st: Women are slow to understand, woman are good for sex and being mothers.

• John Crystostom: Women shouldn’t teach because they are weak and vain.

• Apostolic Constitutions: Women are not allowed to baptise, the means by which someone else might enter the body of Christ. Women are the lowest of creation and cannot ebable people to enter the church of God.

Summary of Early Church • Woman are rationally inferior. • Woman are part of the lower order of creation designed by God to be subordinate to men. • Woman are naturally weaker, and are that way by God’s design.

It's no surprise that women have been denied holy orders, and leadership roles in established and traditional churches. Patristic theology lives on in the structures of much of the church today, and into the non traditional churches, and to a great extent into some of the more recent/new churches of the last 150 years. As we look at history the dominant swathe of Christian theology is the subordination of women.

Radical Feminist Theological Responses There have been some very strong responses to this by people, many walking away from church and not wanting to be involved at all because of the churches approach to women over history. Some femanists have gone further to articulate very strong critiques of Christianity on this issue. For example:

• Mary Daly: in her book 'Pure Lust': “we do not wish to be redeemed by a God, to be adopted as sons or to have the spirit of God’s son artificially injected into our hearts ‘crying father’”. Christianity has deified the male. “If God is man then man becomes God.”

• Daphne Hampson: “Within Christianity, there is no symbolic place for woman – the equal of man”. She sees the Christianity as inescapably patriarchal. She describes her self as a 'post-Christian'. For Daphne Hampson, the Christian story which we preach and teach is a patriarchal narrative. To preach in that tradition is to perpetuate patriarchy. Even if you have a a Jesus who liberated womem, you still have a patriarchal text of the bible and patriachy of the church in it's history.

Possible Constructive Responses I think we need to be honest and say women have felt very aliented due to the controlling metaphors of the Christian faith, and church. Lots of people feel this way. For many women in the UK, Christianity is almost by a slight of hand an Anglo Saxon metaphor for excluding women.

So back to my original question, is Christianity irredeemably sexist, in it’s symbols, narrative and tradition? How can we navigate the biblical text and church history? Maybe by some of the following:

1. By re-thinking theology of flesh, sexuality and reason. 2. By an Emphasis on a liberatory Christology. Jesus came to liberate women from the kinds of exclusionary behaviours of the church in history. 3. By raising the consciousness of injustice. 4. By confronting sexism, and sexist church structures when they occur. 5. By admitting the sexism of our faith, but knowing our faith goes beyond that issue too, it is not the basis of our faith, and hope for church in mission. 6. By actively releasing and allowing women to flourish in church ministry and leadership