Jesus Was a Feminist

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From Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”

I started to write this post to respond a little more to the conversation surrounding the Duggar scandal.  I’ve been reading and researching, praying and vacillating between deep sadness and indignation all week.  The deeper I delve and the more I read, the more disturbed I become.  This conversation might have begun with one family’s broken choices and actions, but we miss the point entirely if it stops there.

The abuse in the Duggar family and the allegations of sexual and other types of abuse that have been uncovered in the last 5-10 years surrounding the theological thought streams for which they are poster children are symptoms of even more foundational issues which should be alarming to the larger Body of Christ.

There is a growing movement mostly within fundamentalist circles that emphasizes woman’s submission to man as head of the household. I knew some people believed that, but I’ve been living far from the fabric of American Christianity for much of my adult life.  This week has been a wake up call.  I had no idea how pervasive these ideas had become in some arenas.

In these circles, a woman is subject to and subjugated by her husband.  Many times she is instructed to suffer well and stay with abusive situations.  Many more times abuse {physically, emotionally, verbally, sexually and spiritually} perpetrated by male members of the household is glossed over, covered up, ignored, downplayed and the female victims are told to forgive and endure. Women are also taught that the moral failures of men are their fault and therefore they most protect their brother’s fragile morality and cover up beyond what is considered normal good taste.

This stream also emphasizes instant obedience of children often enforced with extreme corporal punishment, traditional gender specific roles and specifically sets up girls to be easy targets for abuse from male authoritarian figures.  As many of these families choose to home school, children can be literally trapped in a closed abusive system that at best grossly misrepresents Who Jesus is.

Over the next weeks and months, I’m going to be periodically writing about some of my experience around issues of abuse in the church and how we who love Jesus can step up to intentionally create safe, loving environments and build healthy communities of faith.  No church is perfect.  Every church has flaws and blind spots.  But the ones who are safest openly, freely and even joyously admit their weakness and are humble enough to be transparent as well as to grow and change.

The way a church treats and views women tells me volumes about how they see & know God.  I had one church leader {a stranger} who read my first response to the Duggar situation declare I knew nothing about the Bible and was a secular humanist.  I’m not sure what his definition of secular humanism is because I think most secular humanists would be highly offended with my attribution to their ranks. I’m sure this post would cement my position as a heretic in his worldview.

Because I’m pretty sure Jesus was a feminist. 

Given the culture of His day, Jesus was a radical in His support of women, even to the point of saving the life of a woman caught in adultery {a capital offense} and standing up against the religious system of His day to do it.

The word feminist has a lot of modern political connotations.  I get that and that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the original, historical meaning of the word feminist: the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities in all levels and contexts of society.

Jesus came to set both men and women free, not to set men free to rule over women.

Yes, I do know the Bible passages most often quoted to support patriarchal submission theology. I’ve studied them in depth.  Without going into a lengthy Greek lesson, much of the original meaning and cultural contexts of these texts are quite literally lost in translation and then the meaning disappears even further in application of the translated text.

For instance, in the original Koine Greek Eph 5:15-23 was ONE sentence.  One context, no division into sentences, paragraph structure or convenient {but in this case misleading} subject headers.  The submission of wives to husbands and husbands to wives was not a license for husbands to rule over their wives, but a revolutionary call to mutual submission, clarified by the context of vs. 21 “submitting to one another in the fear of God”.  {For a fabulous discussion of this and other Biblical passages, check out Why Not Women by Loren Cunningham founder of YWAM}

Many times translations can have hidden {and not so hidden} bias from the translators.  Which is one reason why it is important as much as possible to learn about the original languages, contexts and historical factors and be led by Holy Spirit. It is impossible to rightly interpret and correctly apply Scripture outside of relationship with Jesus and being led by His Spirit.

To any woman reading this who is living with spousal or domestic abuse.  Regardless of what anyone may have told you, God does not call us to stay in abusive situations. EVER.  Staying doesn’t make you more spiritual and leaving doesn’t mean you are failing God.  God wants you safe, cherished, whole and free.   Please, please find a way to get to safety.  Or at least begin to consider the possibility.

And to all who pause to spend a moment with these words, always remember you are dearly loved.