…for us men and our salvation…
A significant portion of the theology and pastoral actions of Christians revolves around the misogynistic perspective that women are inherently evil or at the very least, lesser than. I just saw an interview on social media where a leader in another denomination admits it was over ten years into his marriage before he had the inkling his wife was a full person, equal to himself. We can try to quickly brush that off as being an extreme case or an example from a “conservative” or “evangelical” branch of Christianity. However, one need only look to Catholic twitter (such as it is at the moment), Instagram, Facebook groups, and even some of the books and resources for Catholic women that exist to see that there is a dangerous, continuous pattern that places women in subservient, lesser, and scapegoat roles. One need only scratch the surface of the ‘purity culture’ and complementarianism to see this carried out in modern times (definitely subjects of future posts).
Where does this come from? Well, the beginning. Eve and the Garden set women up for an uphill battle since literally day one. It would be good to remember, that for much of history this story was taken quite literally and without the benefits of the historical critical method that developed in the 20th century which brings a healthier and more nuanced understanding. (Here’s a great example of that in a fun 4 min video, if you are new to understanding the bible as a whole, this site is an easy and interesting way to explore it). Unfortunately, the men who theologized upon the text thousands of years later (early Christianity) did not have that perspective. They brought with it all their societies values, biases, and presumptions. Thus, we see poor interpretation of scripture, often leading to horrible teachings that persist today – such as Mary Magdalene being a prostitute.
The understanding of women as sinful, essentially property of their fathers or brothers, and without social standing of their own influenced theology far more than we may realize. About a minute and half into my graduate studies (I may be exaggerating), I was hit over the head when my professor share this gem:
What [he has not] assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved.
Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101
Now, we (especially those who haunt this site) likely see this as relating to all humanity. Whelp…for a very long time in theology there were implicit and even explicit understandings that since Jesus only assumed the male form, males were healed – saved. Yeah. That realization quickly got my “I want to pick a fight with someone” going and tragically there was no one to pick that fight with. I thankfully went to graduate school at Catholic Theological Union so everyone in the room was appalled. I would go on to spend time studying the works of theologians like Elizabeth A. Johnson and Ivone Gebara who both wrestle with the incarnation, evil, and how these interact with the feminine.
As I started with, the threads of Gregory and those early theologians continue in the Christian tapestry today. It is important to be able to be able to articulate Jesus did in fact come for each person, not just male. All persons. All.
Today I am not going to go any deeper into theology with you. Rather, I am going to push you out. I am going to challenge you to push against the subtle and not so subtle ways that God, Jesus Christ, Christianity, and Catholicism are used to subjugate, minimize, harm, and even persecute women.
If we really believe what we proclaim in the creed, that Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to all, then we must live accordingly. The work we do to call forth the fullness of each person, speaking out against and acting to stop the misogynistic threads in the faith is a part of helping each person to more fully become who God created them to be. If we look to salvation and the reign of God in heaven, we must also act on earth to build that reign. A key part of this is keeping God’s grace, truth, love, and wisdom from being corrupted. We must work, just as Jesus did, to name where there is harm denying the dignity of each person – especially when it is from within our own house.
If you would like to explore this more, consider:
Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation by Ivone Gebara
Creation and the Cross and She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson