Addressing the Bible’s Treatment of Women August 7, 2010

Addressing the Bible’s Treatment of Women

Christianity Today recently published an article called “Woman as Folly” by Jana Chapman Gates in which she describes hearing a number of Bible verses that refer to women in a negative light:

The speaker on the DVD said these verses showed that women should appreciate the desire of men to analyze and provide counsel. But I had a hard time moving beyond the underlying premise, at least as I heard it: Women are foolish. Granted, a verse or two appeared on the following page about how a prudent wife is from the Lord, but that didn’t counterbalance the overarching impression that women are at worst, shrewish, at best, naïve. When we began to discuss the lesson, I was more than a little surprised to realize my opinion wasn’t the consensus view.

“I think men are more aware than women of their tendency to sin,” one of the men suggested. “Maybe they can use this wisdom to help guide their wives.”

I couldn’t believe this was being discussed as a legitimate idea. I wanted to ask if he really thought that women are blinder than men to their own foibles…

As my husband and I drove home after the Bible study, I found the voice that I had subdued during the group discussion.

“Don’t they understand?” I said. “These sort of misconceptions — the idea that Christianity subjugates women — drive people away from the church.”

Wow… awesome! This is the beginning of a newly-liberated woman, right?

No, of course not.

She quotes a passage from Tim Keller‘s The Reason for God that showed her she just wasn’t reading the Bible the right way:

Many people run from any consideration of the Bible once they find such a biblical passage. I counsel them instead to slow down and try out several different perspectives on the issues that trouble them. That way they can continue to read, learn, and profit from the Bible even as they continue to wrestle with some of its concepts. One possibility I urge them to consider is that the passage that bothers them might not teach what it appears to them to be teaching. Many of the texts people find offensive can be cleared up with a decent commentary that puts the issue into historical context.

Godless Girl can’t believe it and rewrites Keller’s passage in her own way:

Instead of realizing the Bible is wrong on a topic like sexism against women (which we know it is, but can’t accept since we believe our god inspired it as Capital-T-Truth™), make sure you try really hard to make up a new meaning from the text that isn’t actually there. Don’t let passages bother you if you can explain them away through commentary from a totally non-Biblical human source. We’re Christians. We can rationalize anything.

Love it.

You know, if the people subjugated by Biblical passages collectively stood up against their churches, pastors, and faith, Christianity wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

They always manage to convince themselves that god didn’t really mean it that way and step back into complacency.

It’s depressing as hell and I have all the more respect for women brave enough to break free from Christianity because they know the god of the Bible really does intend for women to be submissive to the men in their lives.

(via Godless Girl)


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  • Mel

    “Maybe they can use this wisdom to help guide their wives.”

    My husband lost all hope of “guiding” me in our first 5 minutes of conversation, LOL.

    How very, very sad!

  • Mormonism’s treatment of women was a major reason why I left.

    I find the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog interesting and admire the writers for having the guts to call out screwy doctrine and practices, but at the same time wonder why they bother when it makes so much more sense to just walk away.

  • Andy

    I wonder if she realises that if theres another way to interpret those passages then that has a profound implication that God didn’t write them: God in his “divinely inspired” Bible managed only to write a passage that drives away potential converts: with 5 min thought Gates can rephrase the message unambiguously. In other words: apologists are cleverer than the god they worship.

  • Aric

    It’s funny that when I talk to someone from my old church I learn that what Christianity REALLY says is different than what I learned growing up in that church.

  • TrogloDyke

    One possibility I urge them to consider is that the passage that bothers them might not teach what it appears to them to be teaching. Many of the texts people find offensive can be cleared up with a decent commentary that puts the issue into historical context.

    REALLY?! He said that? Well, then that just explains all those OTHER silly verses I have been confused about for years.

    That FULLY explains why a phohibition against male homosexuality is right next to a prohibition about eating shellfish. God appeared to be saying male homosexuality is wrong, but what he was really saying was that it was a minor offense and no worse than eating shrimp, really.

  • Iason Ouabache

    “We’re Christian. We can make these words mean anything we want them to.”

  • Aj

    They write “context” or “historical context” as if that just makes the problem go away. So what you’re saying is given the context the way these people acted, with God’s blessing, was correct? It makes me wonder if they’d go back to those ways if their was some sort of disaster that destroyed most of our technology and knowledge. It’s a moral relativist position, but as with most of those people, they’re only moral relativists when it resolves a problem with their beliefs or actions.

  • Sarah

    *applause*

    My first step away from Christianity was at 14, on the day I mentioned my newly realized “call” to the ministry to the school bible club president. He “corrected” my “misinterpretation” of my vocation with some of the usual 1st Corinthians tripe. I swore I would study the bible and religion until I understood how both my conviction and the scripture could be true. Ironically, i eventually discovered neither was true in the slightest. Ironically, had the bible been more progressive, I probably wouldn’t have been moved to explore so deeply into how the sausage was made in the first place. Which raises a question: in the unlikely case that there is a superior being of some sort in the universe, could religious texts really be working as a gradual tool of societal deconversion and growth?

  • Citizen Z

    It’s hard to take the argument that only God is the source of objective morality when believers have to constantly “wrestle” with offensive scripture that so easily leads to “misconceptions”.

  • Citizen Z

    They write “context” or “historical context” as if that just makes the problem go away. So what you’re saying is given the context the way these people acted, with God’s blessing, was correct?

    I like it when they claim God just couldn’t promote modern liberal values, because Christians would’ve had a tougher sell trying to make converts. Apparently walking on water isn’t good enough.

    “Oh sure, walking on water… it’s impressive. But really, this business about letting women *speak*? Come on, now, don’t be ridiculous, mate.”

    “Ok, that weird cannibalistic ceremony with the wafers, ok I can do that. We should hang out with lepers and prostitutes and preach to them, sure. Eye/needle/camel – give away nearly all my worldly possessions, no problem. Let women speak in church? WHOA WHOA WHOA… whoa. Hold on there.”

  • Andrew Morgan

    I’m not sure how I feel about this.

    One the one hand, it would be nice if the woman had instead left Christianity because of its misogyny. On the other hand, filling up Christianity with women who don’t believe that the Bible condones sexism is also a good thing.

    I think it’s still a victory, though a small one.

  • Citizen Z

    One the one hand, it would be nice if the woman had instead left Christianity because of its misogyny. On the other hand, filling up Christianity with women who don’t believe that the Bible condones sexism is also a good thing.

    Yeah, and who the fuck else in Christianity is going to listen to them? Excuse my bluntness, but she herself gave examples of several Christians’ views of women and mentioned that her “opinion wasn’t the consensus view”. It’s support of a sexist religion for no good reason.

  • The treatment of women was one of the reasons why I couldn’t stay in Islam and also one of the reasons why I couldn’t go to Christianity. There just isn’t enough in either the Qur’an or the Bible to actually argue that these religions treat women equally; a person has to ignore a great deal of what is in these books to reach the conclusion that they do not favor discrimination.

  • There are some religions in the world that venerate women as creators, wise guides and similar stereotypes. I think they are silly but at least they don’t tell women that they are worth less than men. I say: just scrap the whole ridiculous bunch of these daft stereotypes and judge people on how they actually behave rather than on how some Iron Age myth claim they act.

  • This is one of the things religion does best: rationalize.

    As a non-religious person, I often enjoy watching these backward somersaults. The Bible clearly means whatever the hell people want it to mean at any given point in history—but they can’t admit that. So this is what you get. Theology is basically the art of “spin,” as the politicos would call it. Only difference is, in political “spin” you have to have at least one foot planted in something that resembles objective reality.

  • Samiimas

    The Bible clearly means whatever the hell people want it to mean at any given point in history—but they can’t admit that.

    Go back to 1910 and most of modern America’s Christian’s would be seen as heretics. Go back to 1810 and all of them would be heretics. Go back to 1710 and they’d be burned at the frickin stake for their heresy.

    I’ve always wondered how they don’t think it just a wee bit suspicious that the only time in human history were people actually interpreted their holy book the ‘right’ way is within the last few decades were their religion changed it’s rules to be in line with modern standards against racism, sexism and violence. Especially when their church is probably in the process of flip-flopping their stance on homophobia. A few decades ago practically all of them agreed gays should be denied any rights and in a few decades from now practically all will agree theirs absolutely nothing wrong with being gay.

    The entire time though they’ll be claiming their objective rules are eternal and unchanging unlike are worthless wishy washy subjective morals.

  • Baconsbud

    Samiimas you forgot to add that they would also be taking credit for the gays getting the right to marry. They will have forgotten how tough they fought to keep gays from marrying.

  • Dan W

    The Bible’s bad passages (the sexist, slavery-supporting, genocidal, etc. ones) are often ignored by most Christians. When not ignored, the non-fundie Christians tend to make up other interpretations of those passages, which usually don’t make sense. I wish they would stop trying to rationalize all the ridiculous crap in their “holy” book and realize that it’s just a terrible book to base your morals on. And I wish they’d stop trying to rationlize the sexism in their religion and just leave it entirely.

  • abadidea

    In high school I was taught that women are absolutely more prone to evil than men, hence why we cannot lead and should not be independent.

  • Alix

    Not too many comments on the article at Christianity Today, but of course leave it to the sole male voice to argue that “weaker” doesn’t mean “lesser,” that different roles may still be complementary. Oh how I hate that line. We’re made different as individuals, not through gender. I would give mythological Eve a lot of credit: she listened, contemplated, and decided for herself to take a bite of the fruit. Adam, however, seemed just to eat whatever was put in front of him.

    And the woman-as-inherently-evil-and-feeble is an interesting premise against contemporary Victorian values, for example, that maintained women were more delicate and nurturing and thus the moral backbone of any family or relationship, meant to gently guide the nature of the beast in man. Neither is accurate, but it’s a telling shift that women are damned in either assessment.

  • This is a bit off-topic, but the post reminded me of the TVtropes.org page Fair For Its Day.

    WARNING: TVtropes is the kind of website that sucks you in and steals your life.

  • muggle

    they know the god of the Bible really does intend for women to be submissive to the men in their lives

    If I had left that to the “man” of the house, the whole family but the cat (who would have hunted for herself) would have starved on the street. Fortunately, I’m not that idiotic and fed myself, the cat and the baby. I threw him the hell out!

  • 1 Timothy 2:9-12

    “9 In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly raiment; 10 but (which becometh a woman professing godliness) through good works. 11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I permit not a woman to teach, or have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.”

    I wrote about the context thing in relation to the cherrypicking habit of christians to interpret things the way they want them to be.

    “Dont just vote for them… Pray for them” – Politics and Religion

  • Steven

    On occassion, I mention to my wife that according to God she has to do what I say.
    She invariably responds “So? You don’t believe in God.”
    “Damn, screwed by atheism again” I say “How about if I say please?”
    Not being able to assert my authority by basing it on an all-powerful diety really cramps my style. I actually have to treat my wife as an equal – perhaps if I ask nicely she can do the same for me. Tongue firmly in cheek here by the way – for the humour-impaired. I certainly wouldn’t want to be solely in charge of my family – there’s no way to spread the blame that way.

  • Sorry in my last comment i said the descent of humans i mean the ascent, most likely a freudian slip.