The church is guilty of serious crimes against women: objectification, misinformation, ideological degradation and disunity. For centuries these transgressions have been written off and white-washed; worse still they are supposedly a reflection of the will and character of God. Adding divine clout is a manipulative technique which denies women the freedom to question these atrocities. Demanding equality from a husband or father is difficult enough, how much more so is it for women to demand equality from their God? Perhaps when charges are filed and evidence is presented, this institution will acknowledge the part it has played in the subjugation and mistreatment of the female sex.
The church objectifies women by perpetuating the notion that women are sexual objects and not sexual beings. Keeping the female body covered is a pet obsession. From a young age Christian women are taught their physiology is the key to man’s undoing. They are charged with the impossible task of eliminating lust from all male minds. Modest clothing is regulated on extreme levels. Even makeup and styled hair, expressions of individuality and creativity, are demonized as vanity and seduction. This fixation on appearance is an overreaction to the hyper-sexualized American society which also fixates on the female body. Ironically the church is no different from the culture it fears and despises, for it too focuses on the female body with only a slight alteration. They obsess over the female physical structure not because it is beautiful and useful for pleasure, but because it is distracting and useful for “sinful” pleasure. Thus the church continues to devalue women as nothing more than a sexual object.
Because women are viewed in this manner and never acknowledged as sexual beings, they are never educated on how to enjoy a healthy sexual lifestyle. Furthermore, because the female body is alleged to be evil, women are unfamiliar not only with their own anatomy but also with how to experience sexual pleasure. Many Christian women have been married and sexually active for years but have never or rarely ever experience an orgasm. Sex, an act which ought to be the most intimate moment of actualized equality, is perhaps the most sexist of all acts in that it is defined by whether or not the male orgasms. The church continues to peddle the myth that sex is dirty, taboo and essentially another chore which all dutiful wives must perform in order to keep their husband’s happy. By attempting (and failing) to regulate sex, women are denied the ability to develop and maintain a healthy and balanced sex life. Such would not be the case if the church valued and celebrated women as sexual beings equally capable and deserving of sexual fulfillment.
The church misleads women regarding their life options by proclaiming and insinuating that a woman’s ultimate destiny is marriage and motherhood. Because they have been misinformed, few can conceive of anything superior to being a “help mate.” This is not to say that women who choose to pursue a vocation over a family choose better. There is absolutely no shame in marriage and motherhood! Such a path requires every bit of strength, cunning and creativity as the path of a career woman. The point is that women deserve to be told they have options. Contrarily, women are encouraged and pressured to marry and conceive before they have ever had a chance to live on their own. They leave the house of their father only to move into the house of their husband. Instead of empowering women to develop their talents and pursue their dreams, the church corrals them into the fenced in life of an assistant.
Even more subversive Christian women are indoctrinated to view marriage as a pre-requisite to career goals. Finding fulfillment in something other than making a home for her husband is highly questionable to the church. Yet because women of faith who have their own dreams and goals for affecting change in the world (beyond raising Christian children) do exist, there is need for a back-up-plan to ensure they do not escape male headship. The church will generally refrain from frowning upon career women so long as their work does not interfere with their wifely duties. Nevermind that little is ever said to men who allow their careers to come before their duties as a husband! Has any Christian man ever been heralded for supporting his wife while she pursues vocational success? If these sorts of men even exist, they are but skeletons in the church’s closet – a thing of shame.
This concept of a singular role for women is almost as ancient as the institution of marriage itself. In previous centuries, when women were denied education and self-sufficiency, marriage and motherhood as the only viable option is significantly less appalling. Perhaps confining women to such a sentence was at one time necessary for the greater good yet, as science and experience continue to reveal that the “weaker sex” is capable of mastering “male” strengths (physical, moral, and mental), there is less and less need for such a starch dichotomy of roles – or more accurately a singular role for women as men are never denied access to any role other than mother or nurse maid. (And if bringing forth life were not also attributed to the divine, I for one would happily support any science which would allow for men to assume these roles as well).
In addition to being lied to, women are degraded ideologically by having to sort through a number of contradictory Christian teachings regarding their value and place in the church. Do women receive the rite of salvation as men do – through belief, baptism etc. – or are they saved through childbirth as 1 Timothy 2:13 suggests? If childbirth is indeed a requirement for heavenly residence, how are barren women meant to make peace with God? Moreover, why does the church ostracize single mothers or condemn teen pregnancy? These women are only following the biblical instructions regarding salvation.
Perhaps even more confusing is the issue of women’s roles. 1 Timothy 2 also states that women are to learn in silence and submission. Does this mean women are forbidden from asking questions? Is a woman required to submit herself to a teacher regardless of his morality or education? Is there ever an occasion in which a woman is permitted to correct her male teacher? Can she teach secular subjects? Can she give driving directions? If the strictest interpretation of this text is correct, how is one to understand Phoebe, Junia, Deborah, Huldah, Miriam and other female leaders in the biblical narratives? And why are women allowed to lead small groups, and teach Sunday school, or become missionaries, but are restricted from standing behind a pulpit or donning a priest’s robe? Many have suggested the reason women are forbidden from teaching men is because they are daughters of Eve and therefore more easily deceived. If this is indeed the case, why are women permitted to teach children who are incapable of detecting deception? Would it not make more sense for women to teach men who would theoretically be more capable of pointing out any errors?
Church leadership cannot see the forest for the sake of the trees. They allow the most troubling texts to interpret how they understand the entirety of the Bible rather than letting all of the texts concerning women interpret and overshadow the few sexist texts. Perhaps the verses that seem out of place do so for a reason; they actually are. Even ardent Evangelicals could choose to explain away these verse as culturally irrelevant as they do with a number of other texts in the Bible (all of the laws in the Old Testament for example, or the verses regarding appropriate dress in the infamous 1 Timothy passage). But many refuse to take this out and generally the church does little to clarify the mixed messages. In fact quite often they only further dilute the ideological waters. Women are left to wrestle with these issues alone. Their identity crisis receives neither attention nor sympathy.
This indifference has caused more than just confusion; it is also directly responsible for disunity among Christian women. The “Submissives” who for one reason or another are content with the way they are treated and viewed in the church are pitted against the “Subversives” who out of discontent with the inequality they see seek to change their faith culture. Apparently even the most righteous men enjoy a girl fight. Not only do the majority of Christian males refuse to acknowledge the mistreatment of women in the church, but by ignoring the troubling texts they deny women the ability to truly unite together as one collective entity. Because unification is made improbable, the equality problem is never validated and consequently change becomes nothing more than a far-off dream.
Most reprehensible of all is that the church turns a blind eye to these egregious errors. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing they masquerade as a beacon of love and equality all the while objectifying, degrading misleading and subjugating women, yet they remain dumbfounded and accusatory when driven intelligent women abandon these ancient patriarchal chains. The church needs to prepare itself for the continued exodus of half of its spiritual work force. Why would anyone willingly submit themselves to an organization which both directly and indirectly classifies them as a second-class citizen because of their anatomical features? (This “Subversive” has already submitted her letter of resignation.) While exceptions of equality certainly exist, the church as a whole is culpable and must be brought to justice. Unfortunately, because uneducated, arrogant men hold so much power in this institution it is unlikely the necessary apologies will be said and the overdue retribution will be paid. Those of us who have left or who remain as the alternative voices speak out together, echoing the words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali: “It is possible to free oneself - to adapt one's faith, to examine it critically, and to think about the degree to which that faith is itself at the root of oppression."