Christianity’s Role in Perpetuating Sexism
Christianity’s Role in Perpetuating Sexism
Religious Women have played an important role in advancing the struggle for gender parity, economic equity and defying stereotypes over the years. However, as much as the world seems to be evolving with #girlpower and #womenempowerment recognisable hashtags, the restrictive beliefs and structures constructed by religion have hindered the advancement of feminists movements.
A review of the first sin committed by Eve and the punishment meted out to her in the Bible justifies the “rationalisation” and punishment assigned to Women. These gender disparities and stereotypes are pervasive in many societies as scholars, religious and political leaders use this reference as justification for the limitations on and status of Women around the world.
It is imperative to note that many of the political forces that seek to control Women and perpetuate sexism are based in religious ideologies which have been considered normal in our everyday lives. Therefore, there is a pressing need to extensively address Christianity and how it impacts Black Women, especially in the application of biblical doctrine.
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus stating: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the saviour” (Ephesians 5:22-33).
He also laid out rules for husbands in 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
In both scriptures, the words “submit” and “weaker vessel” are conspicuous and troubling. The notion that Women are “weaker vessels” that should submit to the superiority of men is rooted in the age-old patriarchal system, which relegates Women’s status to second-class.
Though God adorns Women with kind words in the Bible, one cannot help but see that Woman is an afterthought, only created after realising God needs a helper for man.
In Christianity, it is believed that God is male. Christians of today defensively deny this, saying that God has no gender. However, male pronouns are exclusively used for God, and most Christians – in fact, majority of the devotees of Abrahamic religions – think of God as an ancient, wise old man in the sky. This has been debunked recently by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is not the first church leader to embrace gender neutrality. “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes,” says the Catholic church catechism of 1993. “He is neither man nor woman: He is God.”
Jesus Christ, who, according to the Bible, is another manifestation of God, is also male. In a world where many believe God is male and male pronouns are used to address “The most high and supreme being”, naturally, we are all subconsciously indoctrinated to believe that men are the ‘head, and not the tail’. Thus, in God’s creation, man is divinely first in the social order. Woman, on the other hand are second place “helpmates”. Though God adorns Women with kind words in the Bible, one cannot help but see that Woman is an afterthought, only created after realising God needs a helper for man.
Women are still subjugated through religious structures
In 1 Timothy 2:12, the Apostle Paul commands that a Woman is forbidden to “teach or to exercise authority over a man” in the church. The verse dictates:
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Some churches restrict Women to only Sunday School, where they teach only children. That is to imply, Women are not worthy of impacting Christian doctrines to men.
It is quite disturbing that some church denominations hold on to some of these teachings. They do not only implement them, but actively and blatantly preach these regressive ideas, which work to restrict Women from reaching their potential – even in the church institution.
It’s also quite interesting that witchcraft seems to be a Woman’s act; the exposed charmers are only ever Women.
Women have been locked out of full participation in religious institutions, and this extends to the society at large. Founder of Living Faith Church Worldwide, Bishop David Oyedepo advised his members against joining the feminist movement because “it leads to frustration and devastation.” His wife, Faith Oyedepo defended her husband’s view on feminism as she believes “feminism is inspired by demons”.
It is also hard to overlook that some real-life stories of gender-based violence that we hear and see daily, are perpetrated in the name of religion, as people base their worldview on religious teachings, and try to uphold ancient biblical beliefs as normalcy.
There are more Christians in Africa than any other continent. By 2060 six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015, according to a new Pew Research Center report. The size of the Christian population in Nigeria alone, already the largest on the continent, is projected to double by 2060. In total, the Christian population in the six African countries on the list alone will account for just under a quarter of the projected global Christian population of three billion people.
In Africa, it is common to see stories of Women labeled as “witches” and being stoned to death or exiled. Christianity holds on to and is intertwined with the patriarchal system that dominates and oppresses Women. It’s also quite interesting that witchcraft seems to be a Woman’s act; the exposed charmers are only ever Women.
Christianity and feminism are at parallels because; where feminism sees a problem, Christianity does not see one. What feminism demands; Christianity is often reluctant to give.
Christianity doesn’t allow full bodily autonomy for Women with regards to abortion laws which mostly stems from religious laws . The catechism of the Catholic Church and practices of Roman Catholic Christians, states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.” This stance oppresses Women as several countries have banned access to safe abortions based on this archaic religious stance. These laws stem from religious ideologies that restrict family planning, emergency contraception, stigmatise abortion decisions and undermine comprehensive reproductive health care for Women.
A Christian denomination known as the Oriental Orthodox Christianity follows the rules laid out in the holiness code section of Leviticus which says “women undergoing menstruation are perceived as unclean for seven days and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.” The misogyny of proclaiming that by menstruating – a completely natural process – inferring that a Woman is filthy during her cycle, cannot be overemphasised.
Menstruation is part of almost every Woman’s life. However, Women are being conditioned to see themselves as unclean and contaminated because of religious doctrines and verses in the Bible. Women shouldn’t be shamed or restricted by their biological makeup.
Christianity and feminism are at parallels because; where feminism sees a problem, Christianity does not see one. What feminism demands; Christianity is often reluctant to give. Arguably being raised in a Christian home mostly affects a young girl’s assertiveness which is an important tool for her success as a valued and productive member of society. Christian doctrine does not help such Women, since it teaches them to be inferior from day one. Religious Mothers push this belief down their little girl’s throats. At the end of the day, patriarchy is not only advanced by men, but also by indoctrinated religious Women.
To close the gender gap and inequality, defy stereotypes, strengthen economies, and empower Women, religious discrimination needs to be addressed. Religious freedom should be taken seriously and acted upon swiftly for women and by women globally.
Written By: Deborah Dzifa Makafui – a budding young writer, author, student journalist, creative words-weaver and a big lover of knowledge from Ghana. Her central niche lies in Journalism but her interests cut across more than one field. You can read more of her writing here and connect with her here
Header Illustration By: Arielle