Women and Religion - Christianity

Understanding the role of women in contemporary religious practices is an overwhelming task. As long as men have been spiritual or religious, so, too, have women. Unlike men, however, many women are allowed only an internal spiritual or religious experience and are often denied leadership roles or roles that foster any form of externalization of their faith. While a small number of religious practices (almost no dominant ones) have begun ordaining women as ministers, most "continue to place women in a subservient role that demands their silence and obedience (Gray, 1994)."

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the LordŠfor the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the saviour of the body ... There as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Subsequently, a greater number of theologians have begun to analyze the role of women in the Ameri-Christian tradition (though other traditions are also under the same scrutiny, we will focus on Christianity for the purposes of this paper).

Though many people's (including women) faith in the Bible as the word of God has not changed in thousands of years, the roles of men and women in cultural contexts have. Many people wonder why, then, in some religious practices, they are required "to endorse the life styles of the women of two thousand years ago (Murphy, 1995)." However, detailed examinations of early scripture and church practices tell a different story of the role of women and how, rather than continuing to "endorse the lifestyles" of historical Christian women, our current roles are a "regression of over two thousand years (Murphy, 1995)." It turns out that women (such as in the gospel of Priscilla) were actually priests.

If we examine narratives of early American women, we see how religion was very often a "guiding force in their lives. They were told in sermon after sermon that it was their duty to submit themselves to their husbands, even if that meant submitting themselves to beatings by drunken husbands (Gray, 1994). "The passage of Jeremiah 17:9 was often quoted in their diaries: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked - who can know it?" Contradictorily, women were depicted as "children bound to follow the will and guidance of their superior husbands and fathers" while also "serving as guardians of American morals (Gray, 1994)." Ironically, it was the role of childrearer that allowed women access to the very education that caused them to "question the traditional dictates of the church (Murphy, 1995)."

By the end of the 19th century, many white women were leaving their homes "to labor in women's clubs and political organizations. The Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League were instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, which established Prohibition (Kanyoro, 1995)." Cartoons of this period show women engaged in outside activities, such as women's suffrage organizations, while their husbands and children went without dinner. Ministers used the new roles of women to warn of doom and the failure of family life. Some of them also began to berate women for bobbing their hair and attempting to act like men. Women, they said, "were too immature and emotional to have the right to vote (Murphy, 1995)."

Catholic women were told by their churches that they weren't like Christ and, therefore, they had absolutely no right to participate in any leadership roles:

Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they learn anything, le them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in churchŠBut I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. - I Corinthians

Jewish women were not only excluded from leadership roles, they were also excluded from sitting with males in church and were forbidden to hold and read sacred scrolls. At certain times of the month, restrictions were greater because they were considered unclean. Some of these restrictions continue to cause controversy in the synagogues today.

The role of women in the evangelical, holiness, and Pentecostal traditions continues to be strictly hierarchical. Even though some Pentecostals have allowed women to preach, they are excluded from performing many of the roles of priests. Evangelicals are still inclined to "insist that God intended women to be dominated by their husbands (Murphy, 1998)."

Contemporary organizations, such as the Promise Keepers and Christian Coalition (http://www.promisekeepers.com ... http://www.christian-coalition.org) fight through economic and political means to keep theological sex polarity and inequality. Not only are they fighting for traditional roles of men and women but for "retaining the nuclear family as God intended, removed from any perversion or alteration (Murphy, 1998)."



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