I am currently reading ‘Trailblazers’ by Susanna De Vries and what a trailblazing traveller was Mary Gaunt ( 1861-1942). She describes the binding of women’s feet in China and the excruciating pain that caused, all in the name of securing a husband. ( She also explains the wonderful work by Christian Missionaries in intervening and treating this barbaric practice.)
When in USA last year, I heard a short news segment where a male ( women’s lib) politician was berating his government’s poor attitude to women by quoting the statistics for the huge number of bills before Congress dealing with women and their reproductive systems, compared with the few bills affecting men. (Of course, I cannot recall his name nor the statistics but according to him, I am not exaggerating.)
How many women are prominent at the Vatican?
Then there is the Sydney Anglican Diocese (where I grew up) and their current attitude to women as teachers. One friend who lives in Sydney told me that her minister said that if a woman was to preach at his church, he would walk out. Women are not allowed to be teachers, but once definitive rules like this are made, where do they start and stop? Can a woman teach the Bible to children but if so, what is the cut off age? Can a male Christian read teaching books by female authors? The mind boggles. Then of course, is the eternal ‘red herring’ of “wives submit to your husbands” as found in Ephesians 5:22 which was a recent topic by the previous Archbishop of Sydney who wanted it returned to the marriage ceremony.
However, in all my years of church attendance in a variety of denominations, I do not recall one sermon based on “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church...” Ephesians 5:25. Being in the mature age group, my observations are that despite the Hollywood 1950s version of marriage where the wife gives up everything to please her husband and he of course looks after her completely, the real world is very different. That is why I think St Paul’s extolling a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church goes against a man’s natural instinct and is a very radical idea – much too radical for most men in most cultures.
Recently in my daily Bible readings I was studying Numbers Chapter 12 where Miriam and Aaron rebel against Moses’ authority. Of course, Miriam was the one who ended up with leprosy but what was Aaron’s punishment? Why was Miriam seemingly treated so unfairly by God? This does not seem consistent with God’s character. On delving further into the incident, one commentator stated that Miriam was very ‘high profile’ during her life( giving examples) and later led the singing of the first recorded Psalm (Exodus 15). I think she must have had a very cool head to be able to manoeuvre the Pharaoh’s daughter into allowing Moses’ mother to be his paid nurse for his early years. It is assumed that Miriam was the instigator of the rebellion which was regarded by God as a very serious matter. Take the public brawl last week of James Packer and David Gyngell – high profile people do get noticed.
Last but certainly not least is Jesus’ treatment of women. I would love to have been a ‘fly on the wall’ during some of Jesus’ public dealings with women as he was so compassionate and caring compared to the trends of the day. He held up the important Jairus to heal a woman who had a mixture of faith and superstition when she touched the edge of his garment. What man dying in absolute agony could make the effort to ask his mate to look after his mother? How delightfully refreshing and radical was Jesus’ attitude to women.
I have met a number of women in my age group who no longer attend church, not because God has become irrelevant, far from it, but because the male based church has become irrelevant.
I know there are many more arguments for and against this topic and I am equally sure that there are many situations where men and women work in equal partnership, but unfortunately in my observations, that is not the norm.
That this should even be a topic in 21st Century is a disgrace but it is also real. Fortunately St Paul had the answer in Ephesians 5:21 where he sums up all relationships: - “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is reciprocal and any delusions of superiority are banished, for “in Christ there is no longer male and female for you are all one in Christ” – Galatians 3:28.
Society today may still lag way behind St Paul’s teaching in the first Century but it is a Christian’s responsibility to love one another. We still pray that those girls kidnapped in Nigeria will be found safe and reunited with their families.