Jesus Didn't Overlook Gender, He Transcended It
Earlier this year I spent nearly one week at a Christian university. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the passion and vision of the next generation of Christians, especially regarding gender. I was thankful for the strong leaders I met and those who believed scripture teaches that women and men should share authority. Yet I also encountered several young women who believe that women are just too emotional to hold positions of leadership.
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The view that women are less rational and more emotional than men, and therefore less able to lead a church, company, denomination, seminary, or country, is a pervasive perspective held by nearly every culture throughout history. In every religious and philosophical tradition, the bias against women is overwhelming, with one exception -- Jesus. The teachings of Christ are lacking in all cultural "wisdom regarding women," an observation made in Women, Authority and the Bible. Unlike all the great teachers in history, Jesus assumed women were fully human and equal to men. And what is even more striking, he was also completely comfortable with women. He approached them as he did men, in public, regardless of cultural taboos. He offered them God's unconditional love, healing, and forgiveness. And he commissioned them to build God's kingdom (John 20:17-18), just as he commissioned men.
Christ did not overlook gender differences, but he refused to allow gender bias to limit women's dignity and service. Jesus consistently opposed the cultural devaluation of women's bodies, such as when he healed a hemorrhaging woman in public (Luke 8:40-49). He spoke with women unselfconsciously, in broad daylight, despite the disapproval of his disciples (John 4:4-42). Unlike the rabbis of his day, Jesus allowed women to sit at his feet and study his teachings (Luke 10:38-42) -- preparing them for service as disciples, evangelists, and teachers. In all ways, the equality of women was self-evident, implicit, and most importantly, consistently part of Christ's practice and teaching.
Jesus also taught his disciples, both male and female, to call God their Father (Matthew 6:9), not because God has gender or because he believed men are to assume positions of authority in human relations, but because in Christ's day one's inheritance, value, and significance came through a patrilineal system -- through the authority and inheritance possessed only by one's father. Jesus taught us to pray "Our Father," such as in the Lord's Prayer, not only to show us that we are loved by the God through whose authority everything in heaven and earth is created. But when we address God as Father, it also reminds us that we are heirs of all that is God's -- his love, his forgiveness through Jesus, and his eternal kingdom. As any good Middle Eastern person in the first century would realize, such an offer from one's kin would require a decided response! That response was one's total and complete love and obedience, as Marianne Meye Thompson observes in The Promise of the Father.
Christ's mission was to inaugurate something entirely new, of which women were welcome and most grateful recipients! His treatment of women was a first! And this newness of life in Christ is observed in the writings of the apostle Paul, most notably in Galatians 3:28. The social equality that slaves and free, Jews and Greeks, and males and females enjoyed in Christ was the outer manifestation (sanctification) of an inner reality (redemption). And while incomplete in this life, its beginnings reveal that God's kingdom has come! The new wine of Christ is on hand and ready to burst our old wineskins of patriarchy, prejudice, and oppression. Let us leave the old behind, and embrace that newness of life that is ours in Jesus.
And Jesus said to them, "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved" (Matthew 9:16-17, NRSV).
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.