|Jesus' Kind of Feminism* by Jennifer Jill Schwirzer|
(From the July 2011 edition of HopeSpeak)
This week I’ve feasted my heart on a study of Jesus’ relationships with women. Amazing things happened inside of me. Passion rekindled. Apathy disappeared. My desire to follow Him to the ends of the earth revived. Oh, how I love Jesus!
Here’s what I learned: Jesus respected women. Often we emphasize respect of men. I sometimes get the impression that women don’t really need respect; that they function similarly to small kittens, thriving best when well-cuddled. Yet the thing that grabs me about Jesus’ treatment of women, the thing that ultimately endears me to Him, is not so much His tender affection for women—although that’s plain and precious. It’s the respect factor. And Jesus demonstrated this respect in the midst of mass, general, persistent, pervasive and extreme societal and cultural disrespect. His respect translates to me today into the most exalted and holy kind of love I’ve ever known.
Probably no category of people has, over the eons of time, suffered more disrespect than women. Even today, one in three women walking this earth have been raped, beaten or coerced into sex. Women are the primary victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse. Women comprise half the population, but they do two-thirds of the world’s work and get one-tenth of the world’s pay. Women are at an educational, political and financial disadvantage globally.
I’d call this disrespect, wouldn’t you?
Westerners have a hard time grasping the full impact of these things because our society enjoys more equality. Stepping outside of our safe little world, though, the facts I’ve just cited hit us between the eyes—female genital mutilation in Africa, bride burning in India, sex slavery in Thailand—the list goes on and on. Similarly, Jesus lived at a time when the status of women rested at a low ebb. Even within Israel, pagan attitudes warped the Torah’s protective boundaries into severe limitations on a woman’s freedom and dignity, until “They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves.”[i]
Now, behold Jesus in his brief public career. He works His first miracle at a wedding, essentially at His mother’s request. Soon after He holds a very personal conversation with a foreign woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:7-42). He talks similarly to a Canaanite woman, healing her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28). He speaks against divorce, a practice which harms chiefly women at that time (Mark 10:11-12). He travels with women supporters (Luke 8:1-3) Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and “many others.” He defends Mary Magdalene before His disciples (Luke 7:37-50). He teaches women students (Luke 10:38-42) when the rabbinical sentiment is, “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman...Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity."[ii] He befriends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He uses the respectful term, “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), unheard of at that time. He dies and rises again, appearing first to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9).
Much of conservative Christianity wrings its hands over the encroachments of feminism upon modern society, upon the home, and upon the church. Yes, secular feminism (comprised of many schools of thought, all fighting with one another like Medusa’s snake heads) carries unbiblical baggage. But something troubles me; all the dire warnings against the evils of feminism have somehow drowned out concern for its evil counterpart—male chauvinism. Yet hasn’t male chauvinism, defined as the belief that “females are inferior to males and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit”[iii] led historically and globally to untold horror, atrocity and violation of basic human rights? Won’t those following the Master follow Him in countering every such violation?
On June 11, the North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church celebrated “Women’s Ministries Emphasis Day” (http://adventistwomensministries.org/). It is a good way to reinforce our respect for womankind. I wonder if my conservative Christian brothers and sisters are brave enough to take a stand for the rights, education, salvation and upbuilding of women, even when this might align them, for a brief moment, with those of a more liberal persuasion.
If they do, they’ll remind me of Someone named Jesus.
[i] B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible", Oxford University Press, New York, NY, (1993), P. 806 to 818
*Feminism= "The theory of the social, political and economic equality of the sexes."