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"Christianity is so anti-woman"

A mother came to Jesus. Her daughter was engaged in the battle of her life, “suffering terribly” at the hands of a cowardly demon. She came in the sincerity of a mom who would do anything for her little girl. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
What this mother seemed to find when she met Jesus is a parallel to what many women today may think they see in any orthodox Christian church, namely, that they are dismissed. The all-male clergy looks suspiciously like an old boys’ club. It feels to many women like an institutional insult against their very femaleness, and the slight turns out to be as old as church history.
It is very possible that when women join the work force, they see men at their worst. When women come to church, it may look like more of the same. Think what happened to the poor woman in Matthew chapter 15. She wasn’t dismissed by the Christian church but by Christ himself. When her need was desperate, the face he displayed was that of man utterly unwilling to help. “Sorry, wrong sex,” said the times and the culture. “Wrong race,” explained Jesus. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
“Lord, help me!” she said. By this time she was on her knees.
He put her off again, this time with an analogy in which the Jews were children at a dinner table, his saving help was their bread . . . and she was their dog.
Could he be more condescending? Is this not the sound of a door slamming shut and the sound of bolting and double bolting on the other side? By all appearances, by his own words, the Lord cared nothing for this woman, this mom.
But she knew him better than that!
She wrestled face-to-face with God in the muscular spirit of Jacob—“I won’t let you go until you bless me”— and said: “Then a crumb, Lord! Give this dog a crumb!”
And the face he had been showing her changed.
The Jesus who seemed not to care let go the facade. The test was over. The essential kindness of God burst out toward the woman who bore the seeming insult.
She saw through him. She saw to his heart.
“Lord, you are good, no matter how you seem in my foolish pride. You care about me in a way no one else does. I will seek your face until I find it. I will pray as long as I have to—you will give in before I do! I am not going to go away. I have no one else!”
And Jesus was pleased.
“Woman, you have great faith!”

(Please read Matthew 15:21-28.)

Here’s what Dorothy Sayers once wrote about Jesus.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man . . . a prophet who never nagged at them, who never flattered or coaxed or patronized, never treated them as ‘the women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!,’ who rebuked and praised without condescension, who took their questions and arguments seriously. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity. They had never known a man like this!

The Christian church is out of step with society on the topic of gender, and it will be important for you to come to terms with that. What will make all the difference is that you must deal with Christ first. What do you see in Jesus regarding his point of view toward women?
Observe a first century rabbi who engages in challenging dialogue with women. Draw close to a first century man whose greatest delight and richest compliments are likely to fall on women. Meet the One who comes to Mary’s strong defense when all the disciples are against her. (And he certainly still rebukes men who do not have his heart when it comes to the place of women in his kingdom—all the times and places a woman was silenced when she did not need to be, when it would have been so much better to hear her voice.) See a living Savior, risen from the dead, who chooses to reveal himself first to women . . . and to let the first century men believe the testimony of women or continue on in despair. Jesus is different!
Then why 12 male apostles? Why rest authority in his church on men? The answer can’t be that he was bound by the cultural norms of his own time and place. Clearly he wasn’t. And women are not somehow incapable of leading. Then why?
It seems fairly obvious that for all of human history and in every society we can think of, men and women have found it natural to fall into different roles. It just seems to happen that way, over and over and over. Men certainly do abuse their power; women certainly can resent their positions. Both of these occurrences are bad. But the question is whether or not this recurring situation in which men and women play different parts is a show gone wrong from the start. On the strength of Scripture, I believe, instead, that a very good and beautiful thing has been twisted and corrupted.
The real truth is not that there are no roles but that we’ve forgotten how to wear them and that they’re only ugly and oppressive because we see them and make them that way. The relationship between men and women is yet one more thing needing to be redeemed and restored in Christ.
The Christian ideal is simply that men and women are created equal but different. Different in ways intended to bless them. This reality is more beautiful than the notion of men and women as interchangeable. It is lovely in the way a couple carried along in the rhythm of a ballroom dance is lovely and the sound of bickering newlyweds jockeying for power is not. When they dance, each is equally indispensable. And although one leads and one follows, look again, because this is the very opposite of grim-faced competition. The harmonious fitting together of male and female can only happen or even make sense in Christ, where human pride and self-centeredness are properly dealt with. Human ego is always wanting to cut in. Jesus’ own humility and grace create the rhythm that only the humble and broken and rejoicing hearts can hear.
Yes, the church is to be more like a dance than a factory or a political party. It is the one place in this world where the difference between men and women—the fact that their souls and spirits complete each other, just as their bodies do—can be celebrated and enjoyed. It is the one place where the question, Who’s the best? sounds appropriately silly; where the dreadful business of being sure you’re “getting your due” can be set down like the dead thing it is; where the question of status is left far behind—where we are nothing in ourselves and everything in Christ. It is an upside-down place where the one who wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all. This place is wherever Christ’s influence is felt—the Christian home or the Christian church.
At very least, please give Christianity credit for the lovely truth it unveiled before the world centuries ahead of its time, the central tenet that men and women enjoy equal status before God and in Christ’s church. Period. Men and women were equally created in God’s image and were equally and tragically corrupted because of sin, but now they stand side by side in the gift of their redemption. This point needs to be understood and embraced before it is safe to return to the matter of roles, so I do hope you’ve got it.
Men and women enjoy full equality of status in the Christian church.

“There is neither . . . male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

As to the different roles that men and women are given to play, the woman’s role can be called helper, a word that implies no inferiority—God himself is not ashamed to wear it. Her submission is not a forced submission. To submit means that she willingly yields to her husband from a position of strength and out of the security she has in Christ. Such a submission isn’t real, in the biblical sense, unless it’s freely chosen. She helps him to be a man with her respect and admiration, just as he leads her to relax in his presence by being her strong advocate and the one who treasures her. That role, the man’s, is called headship, a word that does not imply superiority—God the Father is the “head” of his true equal, Christ. Headship is meant to look something like Jesus on his knees washing the disciples’ feet. A man is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church, calling her more important than himself, should it cost him his life. When godly men lead their families and their churches in this same humble, sacrificial spirit, the wisdom and blessings of God will take their breath (and every complaint) away.
If the role of women often involves nurturing families and raising children, I agree with Chesterton that I can feel bad for women because of the enormity of the task and the difficulty of sacrificing other ambitions on the good altar of motherhood, but not because of the role’s insignificance. Never that.
There’s giggling in the next room. Always giggling. There my bride chatters away with my girls—about coupons, about tulip bulbs, about Jesus, about angels, about our Father, about carpet samples—and I wonder. What in this whole world matters more than what she does? “She is worth far more than rubies.” Who will better prepare my little girls to become Supreme Court justices or successful entrepreneurs or . . . just think . . . mommies?
To the charge of sexism, or even of condescension, I plead not guilty. God himself has taught us to call him Father— blessed be his name—and to see Christ as the Bridegroom and the church as his holy, beaming bride. Male and female are more than biological facts; they are shadows of unchangeable realities and of lovely unutterable mysteries. The argument for gender neutrality is not an argument in favor of equality but an argument against the church herself.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Perhaps the time has come in my humble book to say that it’s okay if all of your questions aren’t answered to your satisfaction right now, today. It may be the doctrine of hell, the problem of pain, the challenge of science, or it may well be this bit about the roles of men and women that makes you say something like: “This is just a tough one for me. I want to know more about this Jesus. There’s too much to lose to just walk away because of a sin¬gle issue, no matter how jarring it is to me. Anyway, some¬thing I can’t fully name won’t let me walk away. So I’m just going to have to suspend judgment for the time being, keep listening, keep praying, and come back to this another time.” That really is okay.
In other words, please don’t let the defining question of your life—Will you return the love of Love itself, for that is who God is?—hinge on one answer that doesn’t immediately satisfy or on one look you see on the divine face that you don’t quite understand. The hope I hold out to you comes from some particularly strong, successful women I’ve been privileged to know, women who have taken the journey from being offended . . . to grudgingly accepting . . . to being profoundly moved by the scriptural teaching about women and men. It just took a little time.
First, these women needed the Spirit-worked confidence, authored at an empty grave, that everything that comes from the Father by his Word is good and is meant to bless. They needed the sweet Spirit-filled release of the soul submitting to Christ and his Word, longing to follow wherever he might lead, not because they were timid and not because someone said they had to but because he surrendered his all for them.
And if they seemed for a time to be receiving an insult from Christ, well, they now know him better than that.

Look into the face of Jesus . . . as he looks into the faces of women.
This is important, so please take the time. What do you see in John chapter 8 or in Matthew chapter 26, Luke chapter 7 or John chapter 20? You’ll find in this order:
A strong defender.
He makes a woman’s life unforgettable.
Her soul is safe with him.

From More Prepared To Answer, by Mark A. Paustian © 2004 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Featured image by Ken Kistler is licensed under CC0 1.0.

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