We live in an extremely patriarchal world. This is evidenced by the ways that marginalized groups—such as women, people of colour, the poor, the disabled, the uneducated, etc—must consistently fight for rights that have been automatically given to others; others being the ideal white, educated, wealthy, able-bodied man.
Patriarchy is a system of governance in which men are exclusively given power and privilege. As a woman, I am very aware of the ways in which our patriarchal society has wounded myself and marginalized grounds. While I have many experiences in which I have been mistreated because of patriarchal systems in the workplace, healthcare and education, nothing has come close to hurting me as much as the patriarchal institution of the church.
Let me say this before we go on: I am madly in love with Jesus. In the last three years in particular I have experienced the love, faithfulness, grace and peace of Christ in many, many ways. The one thing that resurrected my relationship with God after all the pain the church has caused me was Feminism. Strange, right? But here’s the beautiful thing: Jesus was the ultimate feminist. Don’t believe me? Here is my favourite example of Jesus being a badass feminist that fought for women’s rights and equality:
In Luke 10:48-32, Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha with his disciples. Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing a meal for her guests, doing exactly what the patriarchy would tell her was her duty: domestic work to serve men. Mary, on the other hand, sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him teach. When Martha questioned this, upset, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (NIV).
In this brief exchange Jesus teaches us that women deserve a seat at his feet, a place that historically has been exclusively for men. He affirms a woman’s right to education; he did not subjugate the women to kitchen, he encouraged them to learn from him so they could go out share the gospel. Finally, he stood up for women: their place next to him would not be taken away from them. What a beautiful testament to the breadth of his love and his belief that we are all made equals.
Still, after everything Jesus did to affirm women, the church continues to perpetuate patriarchal ideas regarding women. What is most unsettling about women’s experiences dealing with a patriarchal church is that patriarchy was never part of God’s perfect creation. In Jesus Feminist, author Sarah Bessey writes, “patriarchy [was] not God’s dream for humanity” (14). What was God’s dream for humanity? Equality.
In the beginning, God made Adam and Eve, they tended to the Garden of Eden together as equals and “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). It was not until sin divided the people of the Earth from God that a power imbalance was introduced. The two major ways women have been made to feel less-than their male counterparts within the church is through relationships and leadership. Women are told to be quiet and subservient to men. This is 100% unbiblical. If we are ever to get back to the Garden—back to God’s perfect creation—the church must cease to perpetuate patriarchal values that directly defy God’s word.
Patriarchy was introduced after The Fall of Adam and Eve. Following their sin, God explicitly said to Eve that her husband would henceforth, “rule over [her]” (Genesis 3:16). Christian feminist theologians point to this moment in history as when patriarchy was introduced to the world. This stripped Eve of her autonomy and made her subservient to her husband. This was never God’s perfect plan.
The patriarchal belief that women were designed solely to be wives does not align with the creation story. God did not create Eve so that she would be Adam’s wife. He created Eve because God saw that there was no suitable helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18). Adam was lacking; he needed a partner. Genesis 2:18 says that God recognized “it is not good for the man to live alone,” so He decided to, “make a suitable companion to help [Adam].” The word “help” does not denote passive existence (Genesis 2:18). It is a call to action. God created Eve, and every woman who would follow, for a very specific purpose. Women were designed to be equals, to be productive members of society, not simply to be wives.
I feel the need to make something clear here: I am not saying that being a wife is not a worthwhile cause. I got married last summer and I absolutely love being married. I embrace the role of wife as part of my identity. However, it is not my whole identity. I am also an author, a lover of puppies, a businesswoman, a crafter and a total badass feminist. Being a wife is a beautiful part of who I am, but it is not all that I am.
Just like with marriage, patriarchy was not introduced into the workforce until the fall of Adam and Eve. Before the fall, men and women worked together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Eve was created to be a “helper” for Adam and they were both given dominion over all other creation (Genesis 2). Men and women were created to work together in harmony as equals. After the fall, when sin divided creation from their creator, God gave men and women different punishments. Men were sent out to “[painfully] toil” (Genesis 3:17) away at the ground, while women were cursed with “pains in childbearing” (Genesis 3:16). Ever since then, the patriarchy has made a clear distinction between men’s work and women’s work. Men and women no longer worked in harmony as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24); they were forced into strict binaries that silenced and restricted their potential.
This division of labour has been perpetuated by a patriarchal church that denies women the right to enter ministry leadership positions. In one church I attended there was an accredited, educated woman who led the children’s ministry. She should have been the Children’s Ministry Pastor. However, her official title was ‘Children’s Ministry Director.’ This meant she got paid less, did not get a vote during executive meetings and had to run everything she did past the male senior pastor.
Churches who deny women the right to hold official leadership positions often point to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 where Paul writes, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Let’s take a deeper look at this verse, because it requires a lot of context:
First, Paul was writing to a church that was not functioning efficiently. Thanks to Jesus’ recognition that women deserved to be part of the church, churches were being flooded with women hungry for knowledge—something that they had historically been denied. These women had questions, suggestions, and this influx of voices was getting out of hand. It would be like putting a brand new Christian in an upper-level theology class; they would inevitably have some questions. Paul was not saying women were not allowed to hold leadership positions in the church or to speak at all, forever and ever amen. He was saying, to these specific women, settle down, go home and get your husbands to catch you up on what you’ve missed, then you can come back and be productive contributors to the conversation. Paul wasn't restricting women; he was encouraging them to learn!
Again, Sarah Bessey proudly proclaims, “patriarchy [was] not God’s dream for humanity” (14). According to the gospel, Jesus came to save humanity from sin and to restore The Garden. If we wish to be accurate reflections of Christ we cannot believe the patriarchy’s lie that women were created to be less-than their male counterparts. Where in the Bible does it say that women are less valuable than men? Jesus consistantly affirmed the value of women, and yet as soon as he was resurrected the church defaulted back to patriarchal ideas regarding women.
Sarah Bessey writes, “Jesus made a feminist out of me. It’s true. I can’t make apologies for it, even though I know that Jesus plus feminist might be the one label that could alienate almost everyone.” She’s right; I often find myself having to defend my feminism to Christians and my Christianity to feminists. Through it one thing remains: God’s crazy love for each and every single one of us. Perhaps this is radical to say, but I believe that if you genuinely read through the Word with the lens of Christ’s crazy love, you will see this: women are fully human, fully autonomous, fully capable of doing extraordinary things, fully equal—different, perhaps, but equal—to men. Patriarchy was never God’s dream for humanity. Patriarchy is not an ally of the church, but a destroyer.
God’s perfect creation is feminist, through and through.