Many have walked away from the faith because the church has embraced patriarchal patterns. This sermon addresses what patriarchy is, how Jesus responded to it during his time and takes a hard look at how patriarchy remains a problem today. Here is an alternative perspective that tears down the patterns of control and abuse that deride and demean women, and empowers them to walk as peers alongside men in the world and in the church.
Shawna addresses the fraught question: Is Christianity inescapably patriarchal? The history of the church is full of problematic teachings about women and their role in the world. And because of this, it has been one of the biggest factors in people leaving the church.
The interesting thing is that Jesus and the way that he treated women was supposed to set an alternative pattern to patriarchy. We see examples of this in the stories of the woman at the well in John 4, the woman Jesus healed from her bleeding issue in Luke 8, and the fact that many of Jesus’ closest followers were women, as we read about in Luke 8:1-3. One of the most startling passages that demonstrates his unique attitude toward women is found in Luke 10:38-42, where we read that Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha performed the feminine role of working in the kitchen. Mary was doing what only men did in that culture, learning from a great teacher. She chose the better thing, which is something that women were not supposed to do, and Jesus praised her for it.
If Jesus is our example, what happened? Why is patriarchy so prevalent in the church? To understand the answer, we must first define patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold the power while women are largely excluded. In such a system, men dominate and women submit. This pattern can be expressed along a spectrum, from overt and extreme ways to subtle microaggressions. The working assumption of patriarchy in the Church is that God created women as inferior beings who need to understand their place in the hierarchy of life. They should not lead, work outside the home, or have a role of authority in a church. They must sit under their husband and do the kind of work that is supposedly suited for women. Beth Allison Barr writes: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Christians that oppression is godly; that God ordains certain people with power over others simply because of their sex or skin color (or both)…”
Many people arrived at the point of embracing patriarchy because they focused heavily on a few scripture passages, specifically 1 Timothy 8-12, Ephesians 5:22-24, and Titus 2:3-5. Such passages are made into foundations for why women are created to be subordinate to men. This has led to demeaning comments, forcing women to play specific roles, denying the gifts of women and even physical abuse. Sadly, there is too much evidence that exists that shows the trail of sin and destruction left in the wake of teachings that place women under the power of men instead of seeing women on equal footing.
We must ask if there is something else going on in these passages and whether we have actually read them well. What if the interpretation of these passages lack historical and cultural context? We must ask this question because Paul actually assumed that women would be leading in the church, something which is quite clear in Romans 16:1-7. For instance, Phoebe was a deacon and Junia was an apostle. These were leadership roles in the early church, and an apostle was a title that carried great authority as it was the highest leadership role in the church. Scripture is clear: God empowered and moved through women in the churches we read about in the New Testament.
In addition, Jesus first appeared to women after his resurrection. Women were the first evangelists! In God’s kingdom, “there are neither male or female,” as we read in the focus passage above. God embraces and loves women and aims to work through them. This means that we must break free from the chains of patriarchy and embrace the truth about who God had us made to be.
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One thought on “From the Cradle to the Cross”
Good points made, excellently stated. Thank you for addressing an important topic for the whole of humanity in healthy balance as God intended equally for male and female image-bearers (Genesis 1).
As to the “what if” questions of the sermon, I’d also ask “why is it” questions about the man-made so-called “complementarian” doctrine contrary to the message and actions of Jesus.
• “Why is it” that most churchgoers (other than at Woodland Hills) aren’t taught that “complementarianism” is also deviant from the egalitarian weight of what Paul wrote in epistles scholars consider his own work, unlike letters to Timothy and Titus today generally dubbed pseudo-epigraphic aka not written by Paul but later made canon by Greco-Roman influence as the 2nd through 4th century church became more patriarchal?
• “Why is it” that many pastors of today’s trinitarian churches would not hesitate to call out “oneness” or non-triune versions of Christianity
— but generally hesitate even if egalitarian themselves to call out hierarchical “complementarian” church patriarchy (functionally operating as misogyny) that relegates the female half of humanity to subordinate status (often including emotional and/or physical abuse) from men?
• “Why is it” that most egalitarian pastors don’t call out as idolatry what complementarian churchmen impose on women by their complementarianism nowhere specified in the bible but made up as a word in the past few decades — and which as practiced violates the First and Second of the Ten Commandments which, according to Jesus, still apply?
• As to false gods (men) and idols (men’s controlling social structures) foisted on women in complementarian churches, “why is it” being brushed under the rug that the marriage manuals and counseling presented by those male pastors (some celebrities) designate every husband in direct line to Jesus/God but relegate every wife to second-tier caste in which her husband (“head”) is her conduit for reaching Jesus/God?
• Don’t we need to ask “why is it” those same protestant/evangelical pastors disavow the orthodox/catholic practices of using saints and/or the blessed mother Mary as conduits to Jesus/God instead of all people having a personal direct line to Jesus/God?
To sum up, given the unambiguous statements of Jesus on hypocrisy of religious leaders and God’s primacy for us all, “why is it” not considered a violation of God’s evenly dispensed love and a denigration of the beautiful work of Jesus on the cross when complementarians posit for all women that all men (and men only) are made for God, and women for men — as they disregard Genesis 1, distort Genesis 2, ignore the role of the cross in undoing for believers the curse of the Genesis 2 fall, relegate all four biblical gospels to the virtual trash bin, and make up the worst sort of doctrines of men?
That said, to God be the glory that we as women today in the U.S. enjoy high literacy rates and can reason things out after reading and studying (as opposed, for example, to many countries where women are not only unschooled but also endure the “complementarianism” of other religions). The price to the psyches of complementarian women in the U.S. (and the loss to churches of the talents of women), still too high, but every bit of awareness helps.
Praise and gratitude to God for those churches (like Woodland Hills), congregants, pastors and other leaders who are egalitarian Christians. In this we can be sure Jesus is pleased, and we are good and faithful servants equally blessed.