By SES Alumni Dianna Newman and Nora Hale,
It’s interesting to see what happens when an anti-Christian group desperately wants to debate you on a controversial question about Christianity, making it very clear that they don’t want discussion. Not only that, but it’s also interesting to see what happens when the same group cancels the discussion because the Christians know too much about the Bible and they don’t.
What happens is that a talk emerges where two Christian women feel the need to address and respond to their question head on: does Christianity really oppress women?
To the average mindset, the answer is a resounding yes: Christianity definitely oppresses women. The culture at large assumes this to be true, and any denial of this is usually met with jests and jabs, without any thoughtful considerations.
However, there is a big difference between asking the question “do Christians oppress women” and “does Christianity oppress women?” The first question is noncontroversial. People from all religious backgrounds oppress women, and people without religion oppress women. It is also non- controversially true that men at times oppress women. But it is also true that women sometimes oppress women. Oppression and mistreatment comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. In fact, it seems to be the case that the only thing necessary for one group to oppress another group is an ideology that allows for it, an ideology where the “strong”—whether racially, economically, politically, socially, culturally, or sexually—are permitted to take advantage of the weak. So the more pointed question, then, is “are the ideas that constitute Christianity the type of ideas that either endorse or encourage the strong to oppress the weak?” Specifically, do Christianity’s teachings endorse female oppression, or do Christianity’s teachings disprove of female oppression?
Broadly speaking, two ideologies stand behind this question of oppression, and it is by looking at the ideologies themselves that we can begin to form a rational response to the question. The two ideologies are what may largely be construed as (1) Humanistic or Darwinian ideologies and (2) a Christian theistic ideology. By looking at each of these, the goal is to find out whether one, both, or neither endorses female oppression. We also intend to find out which ideology offers a solution to what is apparently a human phenomenon.
Begin by looking at the issue of oppression through the lenses of Humanism/Darwinism. Roughly speaking, Darwinism is a collection of ideas which posit that in any given environment the strong survive to future generations while those who are weak in that given environment do not survive to future generations. Darwinism hinges on the notion that not only is this “weeding out” of the weak a natural process, but it is also a necessary process. Social Darwinism posits the same idea that biological Darwinism does—namely that in the social world, those who “rise to the top” of the social ladder do so because they possess something that the weak don’t.
On a Darwinian view, such things are to be expected.
Immediately you can see the difficulty that Darwinists run into. If, according to Darwinism, it is natural and necessary that the strong outlast the weak, then what basis do the weak have for complaining that they are being outlasted? If Darwinism is the backdrop against which non-theists view oppression, why would there be dissatisfaction when Darwinian principles run their course and a group experiences oppression? Darwinians should expect for a group in society to be oppressed; they should expect female oppression since women, by nature, can easily be overpowered by men.
Of course, the irony is that most Darwinists do have a problem with oppression. They believe (and rightly so) that women should not be oppressed.
Christian theism believes that oppression of any form should not be happening. In other words, the differences between men and women are such that they complement each other—the differences themselves do not entail oppression. In stark contrast to Darwinian principles, Christian theism is justified in saying that when oppression happens, it happens because of man’s sinful nature.
Make no mistake. The unique value of the rational female soul/body and the unique value of the rational male soul/body allows for a complementary partnership that is much more significant than deciding who does household chores or who makes more money. The differences create a situation where humans can flourish most precisely because they complement each other. The oppression occurs when a society devalues both masculinity and femininity and instead moves towards genderlessness.
The New Testament provides an answer to oppression in the one man who practiced leadership perfectly, Jesus Christ. Christian Scriptures do not paint a prescriptive picture of males oppressing females because they are stronger. Rather, the God-given strength of a man is so because he has been designed to shoulder responsibility in ways that women have not; men are responsible for the wellbeing of those who have been entrusted to them.
Imagine the type of society in which men were treated as unnecessary beings except for the pro-creative act. Imagine a society where men did not care for their wives or the children they produce. Imagine a society that downplayed the role that men play in the lives of their sons and daughters. Imagine a society where an outside government provided and cared for the children, not the men who have themselves produced those children. Considering our modern day culture, it isn’t that hard to imagine, is it? In fact, the social problems created in this sort of society are all around us. Citing just one example, according to The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, children without fathers are twice as likely to drop out of school.
And let us not forget that a society where men oppress women is no better than a society where women oppress men.
Christianity is not the oppressor of women. Rather, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only sufficient answer for the human condition since sinful natures are the true cause of oppression. Christianity teaches that, though men and women are different in many ways and complementary to the core, they are of equal worth and dignity; and when the differences between the sexes are recognized, appreciated, and maximized, it is only then that all humanity will come to its fullest expression.