Opinion Columns & Blogs

In praise of women

Will Daniels of Macon, who now pronounces Forsyth correctly I’m delighted to announce, wrote a beautiful Letter to the Editor on Aug. 17. He quotes Matthew’s story of Jesus curing the daughter of a woman who was not Jewish (Matt. 15:23), and Daniels makes the point that Christianity has “elevated the status of women in society” based on scriptural stories such as these. How I wish that were true.

Daniels could have quoted many more biblical stories about Jesus and women. Matthew and Luke both tell their nativity stories, praising Mary and Elizabeth. Mark tells us that one of the first healings Jesus completed was for Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29). Women permeate Luke’s gospel: the widow’s son (Luke 7:11), and the women healed (Luke 8:40), etc. And it’s in Luke’s account of the “followers” of Jesus (Luke 8:2) where we get a glimpse, however fleeting, of how much women were both valued and loved by Jesus. (More on this later.)

And it is true that women today have broken the glass ceiling in many places (not all) and enjoy a freedom and status they well deserve. However, I maintain it’s no thanks to the church. I maintain the male-dominated Christian church (and especially the Catholic branch) ignored those gospel texts and deliberately subordinated the role of women in our world whenever they could, based on several Pauline texts. The most blatant, of course, is 1 Corinthians 14:34:

“Your women should be silent in church.” Not just women, but “your” women (in the Greek) as in your house, your horse, your slave. “Your women are not allowed to speak but should be submissive, as the law says.” Paul uses the same Greek word for law (nomos) that he uses for the Torah in all his epistles, indicating the witness of the Old Testament is backing him up. “And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meetings.”

Over the years, embarrassed Christian preachers have given all sorts of spins for this text (and for 1Tim. 2:8-15) but the fact remains these texts are scripture, and many male Christian leaders have followed this advice instead of the opposite example of Jesus, and they have developed a misogynistic religious culture that is only slowly falling apart. The Catholic church still prohibits women to be priests.

However, Will Daniels mis-interprets me. (Evidently, this is very easy to do.) Daniels says my July 2 Christian credo proves that I can find no place in my belief system for a “humble heart crying out for mercy,” like the woman in Matthew’s story about Jesus. I think Daniels is implying (however, incorrectly) my acceptance of Christian misogyny. Just the opposite! I hear women crying out, not for mercy, but for justice and equal rights, and I march with them.

Furthermore, I think the historical Jesus marches with us. Unlike his male counterparts in Palestine, who treated women as a man’s pleasure toy, I see Jesus building a new cultural pattern that unfortunately is not perpetuated as Christianity grows and spreads. Let’s read Luke 8:2 slowly. As Jesus travels from one village to another with his male Apostles, Mary Magdalene and a group of women are right there with the men, “supporting them from their possessions.”

These women had the money. They paid for food, shelter, boats and anything else the men might need. But what if another preacher was needed? Do you think anyone would have said to Mary Magdalene, “Sorry, sister, but you’re a woman; we want your money but keep your mouth shut”? Not a chance! Not to Mary!

I think support meant all those support mechanisms women provide to any venture, and many times provide them much better than men. I wish Christianity had followed the Jesus texts instead of the Pauline quotes.

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.