Christianity and Women

Promise Keepers is a fundamentalist Christian men’s group that thinks the Bible is the inerrant word of God. As a result, the group uses biblical verses to support the subjugation of women. Believers in the inerrancy of the Bible have done so for centuries and always will.

Ephesians 5:23 is an example of a verse that Promise Keepers, and other fundamentalists, use to oppose women’s equality. It says “the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church. . . . [J]ust as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be to their husbands in everything.”

Based on this teaching, Promise Keepers leader Bill Bright, who heads the Campus Crusade for Christ, has said men are “the head of the household and women are responders.”

Other Bible verses also promote invidious sexism. Paul teaches at I Timothy 2:11-15: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. . . . Yet woman will be saved through bearing children. . . .”

Additionally, Peter 3:1-6 exhorts wives to “be submissive to your husbands” and have “a gentle and quiet spirit.” It also states they should behave toward their husbands “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” And Titus 2:5 directs that women should be “keepers at home.”

With such biblical doctrines being taken seriously for centuries, it’s no wonder that women were excluded from many occupations, professions, and positions of leadership until recent times. The modern changes occurred only because society became less Christian and more secular.

In fact, Bible teachings led one of the most respected and influential Catholic theologians of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, to promote outrageous sexism. He wrote in the thirteenth century: “Good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in men the discretion of reason predominates.”

Aquinas’s statement summarizes the Christian attitude that prevailed toward women during the entire Middle Ages. In many places, it has lasted almost to the present.

Leaders of the Catholic Church still obtain misogynist nonsense from the Bible. As late as 1977, Pope Paul Vl explained that women may not be priests “because our Lord was a man.”

These assertions from Catholic leaders cause some people to suspect that the Church’s rabid opposition to contraception is based, in part, on a desire to keep women barefoot and pregnant. That way, they would be more likely to stay at home and remain in “subjection.”

Blatant sexism is equally obnoxious in the writings of early Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and John Knox. Luther decreed: “Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children.” He also taught: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.” Knox declared: “Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not rule and command him. . . .”

Themes of women’s inferiority remain prominently and disturbingly present in today’s Christian fundamentalist movement. Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has proclaimed: “God Almighty says that when you enter into a marriage, Jesus Christ is the head of the man, and the husband in turn is the head of the wife. . . . In important decisions, if there is any kind of dispute, the ultimate authority needs to be the husband.”

One fundamentalist Baptist preacher, while running for governor of Texas in 1989, promised that if elected he would fire all female state employees. He explained, “Momma needs to get back home where she belongs.”

Christianity’s long history of denigrating and oppressing women led the pioneer of modern feminism, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to say: “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.” She also said about the Bible: “I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women.”

Stanton’s reasons for holding those views included not only her knowledge of history and the Bible but also her experiences in fighting for women’s rights during the nineteenth century. For instance, Harper’s Magazine said in a November 1853 editorial: “Nothing could be more anti-Biblical than letting women vote.”

Similarly, the Catholic World pronounced in its May 1869 issue: “Extend now to women suffrage and eligibility; give them the political right to vote and be voted for, render it feasible for them to enter the arena of political strife . . . and what remains of family union will soon be dissolved.”

Sexism and many other social problems can be eradicated only when people reject outdated, ignorant, and oppressive religious dogmas. As Stanton pointed out: “So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of the woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages?”

She was right. Superstitious and dogmatic ideas about the sexes need to be replaced with humanistic attitudes based on reason and compassion.

When that happens, people are likely to agree with Robert Ingersoll on the subject of women’s rights. The great nineteenth-century proponent of Humanism said: “In my judgment, the woman is the equal of the man. She has all the rights I have. . . . If there is any man I detest, it is the man who thinks he is the head of a family – the man who thinks he is ‘boss.'”

Ingersoll was also correct in describing the benightedness of the male sexists: “The men who declare that woman is the intellectual inferior of man, do not and cannot, by offering themselves in evidence, substantiate their declaration.”

Finally, the nineteenth-century poet Walt Whitman, another freethinker who was opposed by conservative religionists of his day, was on target when he wrote: “I am the poet of the woman the same as the man, / And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man.”