In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey reminds us that the biblical scholar Walter Wink has said the Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels. According to Garry Wills, in “What Jesus Meant,” “The equality of men and women was a thing so shocking in the patriarchal society of Jesus’ time that his own male followers could not understand it.”
The same Apostle Paul who wrote that women should be silent in churches also wrote in the book of Galatians what at the time was a stunningly egalitarian statement: “There is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Women had prominent positions in the early church as prophets, deacons, teachers and “co-workers” of Paul’s. “Women in these communities enjoyed a greater measure of freedom and dignity than they could have experienced in Greco-Roman society outside the Christian fellowship,” according to Richard B. Hays, a former dean of Duke Divinity School.
Yet again and again, elements within the faith have veered away from Christianity’s egalitarian roots, with biblical teachings distorted in ways that belittle women. The prominent conservative evangelical author and teacher Beth Moore, in an open letter that she published earlier this month, recounted the sexism she has experienced during her years of ministry. She describes being talked down to by male seminary students, being made to feel invisible, and meeting a theologian she had long respected whose first comment to her had to do with her appearance. Her examples “may seem fairly benign in light of recent scandals of sexual abuse and assault coming to light,” she wrote, “but the attitudes are growing from the same dangerously malignant root.”
This attitude of disesteem toward women has given rise to a culture that among other things has discouraged abuse victims from coming forward. So here’s a proposal for evangelical Christians: Let’s confront misogyny and patronizing behavior in our ranks. Stand with the victims of sexual abuse rather than with the perpetrators. Embrace the animating spirit of the Me Too movement. Be public (and private) voices for victims and for justice. Think for a moment how it would look if a watching world saw evangelical leaders give a fraction of the public support to women who have been assaulted compared with the “mulligans” evangelical leaders hand out