Study Guide: From the Cradle to the Cross

Sunday April 2, 2023 | Shawna Boren

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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.

Reflection Questions: