Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Value Not Devalue Of Women

To objectify women is to pervert the sacredness that they are created in the image of God (Imago Dei). To silence them is to devalue part of His voice. 

We live in a world where 35% of women reported that they have experienced sexual or physical abuse by either a partner or non-partner. That is only the reported cases. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in every four women experience some form of abuse at the hands of "an intimate partner."  

In a study done by The Christian Post they found that:

65% of pastors had spoken one or fewer times about domestic and
sexual violence, with 22% indicating they addressed it annually, while
33% mentioned it "rarely." 10% of pastors said they had never taught on it.

According to the Department of Justice, one quarter of women were raped or physically assaulted by their spouse, the partner they were living with, or a boyfriend. 

Every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted. 

So why is this issue not being addressed in our churches?

Part of the problem is that when churches are so focused on teaching submission of women and the headship of men, it can often lead to abuse,. In fact, studies have shown that one in every four Christian marriages have had at least one episode of physical abuse. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists report that 3 to 4 million women are beaten in their own homes every year. According to the Department of Justice, approximately 2,000 women are murdered by an intimate partner each year.

Now we have a Presidential candidate who speaks of women in a way that encourages a rape culture. Many are dismissing his words as "boys will be boys" or "locker room talk." Luke 6:45 warns us that, "From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." So why are so many conservative Evangelical leaders still supporting this candidate? It should come as no surprise, since they do not value women in their churches. They do not believe that women should be leaders or have position of any authority in their churches. The voice of their daughters are not worthy as their sons and, unfortunately, they are posing this as how God designed the Church and marriage to be. 

Yet if we go back to Genesis, we see that both man and woman were made in the image of God. So why then has so many made woman inferior or less than? Genesis tells us that God created woman to be a "helper" to man. The Hebrew word is ezer, which means "rescue," "power" and "strength," It means coming to the aid of. So Genesis 2:18 can then be translated as "I will make a power (or strength) for man."It stresses equality, not inequality. 

Throughout the Old Testament we see women in roles of authority rather as prophetess and leaders in Jewish society: Deborah, Esther, Hannah, Huldah, Miriam, Rachel, Rebekah, Rahab, Ruth and Sarah. The 10 Commandments even tell children to "honor" both father and mother.

By the time we come to the New Testament, the culture demeaned and devalued women. They suffered under restrictions that limited their role in society and gave them no power, often treated as inferior and no better than slaves. In the Temple they were allowed to observe but never participate in worship. A woman had to walk six paces behind her husband. Then along comes Christ. Throughout his ministry, we see the importance of women. Unlike the men of his day, Jesus exalted the role of women. At the beginning of Luke 8, we are given a portrait of how they were instrumental in his being able to proclaim the kingdom of God because women like Joanna and Susanna provided financial support. 

In the New Testament, we find women most often those who understand the teachings of Christ and are most outspoken in their proclaiming him as the Messiah. The first to do so was the Samaritan woman at the well. Not only is this the longest conversation recorded that Christ had with anyone, but she was also the first to go forth and proclaim the truth of who he was. More often it was women who saw the worth of Jesus as Messiah while the men, especially his disciples, argued over their own worth and place in the kingdom of God. Is it any wonder then that when Mary pours the expensive ointment in worship of Christ, the disciples become angry with her. Yet Jesus asks them, as he continues to ask us, "Why do you trouble the woman?" (Afterall, she's the one getting it right).

At the cross, it was mainly the women who were present and did not abandon Christ. 

After his resurrection, it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus first appeared.  Mary Magdalene was mentioned throughout the life and ministry of Jesus and is the one to tell the disciples (fearfully hiding in seclusion) that Christ was alive; yet, later in the history of the Church, her role would not only be downplayed by the Church Fathers during the Middle Ages, they would also demean her by calling her a "prostitute" and a "promiscuous woman" something that was never mentioned once in any of the New Testament gospels. In fact, biblical scholars believe that she was most likely an older woman. 

In the early movement of the Church, women played a dominant role. The majority of early Christians were women, as is often the case in churches today. More women in the upper echelons of society converted to Christianity while men remained pagans. Because of their zeal for the faith, women would go on to impact the society outside of the Church. One example was Fabiola, who founded the first Christian hospital in Europe. More women studied theology with Jerome (who translated the Bible into Latin) than men. Saint Augustine would later declare that women were wiser in spiritual matters than the modern philosophers. During the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria wrote of how the apostles were accompanied by women missionaries, who would go and witness to women so that no scandals would be aroused. 

In his letter to Timothy, Paul even speaks of women deacons of the church. One of note was Junia, who was "of note among the apostles" and Phoebe, who was a "deacon of the church at Cenchreae" (Romans 16). The four daughters of Philip are mentioned as prophetesses. Another was Ammia, who worked throughout Asia Minor. 

Clearly these were not "silent" women in the Church but actively declaring the truth of the faith.

When we in the Church do not value women we devalue God: His handiwork and His image. The history of the Church is full of these women of valor, who were as vital to the spread of the gospel as any male apostle or prophet. Jesus clearly valued them in his own ministry. He included them and spoke to them openly (something not done in that culture). He did not keep women at arm's length, nor did he silence them, even when they questioned him (like the woman who reminded him, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table" in Matthew 15 and is the start of the gospel going beyond just his Jewish audience). 

The Church must see women not as subservient or lesser than. God did not create them to be so we have no right to try to recreate them not in His image, but the one we have of them. Nor should we allow for society to treat them as unequal. Gender equality should not be issues of debate but simply a given fact, and the Church should be at the front, calling for it to be so. The voices of our daughters should be no less than the voices of our sons.  

Nor should those within the Church allow for "locker room" talk to be treated lightly or as something boyish because it's not. In a pornography driven culture that uses sex to sell even something as trivial as a hamburger, the Church needs to stand up and say, "No, these are our sisters in Christ." When vulgar men view women as only objects, as parts of their anatomy for sexual pleasure, the Church needs to admonish and correct this by presenting the strength and power that women have had throughout history of both the Church and the world. These are women of honor, integrity and intelligence. I raise my sons to edify women, not objectify them as our culture too often does. 

Too often the Protestant Church has criticized the Catholic Church for the emphasis it has placed on the Virgin Mary, but maybe we've gotten it wrong. Maybe the problem we need to face is that we don't value women enough. Instead of silencing women, we need to listen and heed them because they might teach us what we have so far failed to grasp: that our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters bring their own insights to the table. They have perspectives that we do not see and could broaden our own. Certainly my own has been from the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila to Therese of Liseux to more modern writers like Madeleine L'Engle, Kathleen Norris, Ann Voskamp, Jen Hatmaker, Anne Lamott, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans (just to name a few).

How much can the Church impact the world if we truly begin to listen to them and what they have to say instead of dismissing, rejecting or silencing them?  If Jesus listened, how then can we not?

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