As we draw to a close the discussion of gender issues, I want to step back and take a look at this issue in a global context. Our studies of New Testament culture have shown us a world with inequitable and often oppressive patriarchalism. Some elements of second-temple Judaism gave husbands power to divorce their husbands at a whim, and the Jewish society generally excluded women from significant roles in education, economics and certainly from religion or government. Greco-Roman culture allowed men full authority over all in their household, so that they even had the right to expose their infants so that they would die, and mothers could not stop this action. Women slaves (and men, for that matter) could be sexually exploited by the man who owned them with no recourse. Aristocratic women, however, would be strongly punished if they were unfaithful in the same way, because they were threatening the purity of their husbands’ line of descendants. Greek and Roman philosophers gave various restrictive rulings regarding women like that they should not speak in public or be educated. Into two restrictive patriarchal settings Jesus and Paul spoke and acted in a way that allowed women to play a significant part in their ministries. Thus the New Testament account of Christ’s ministry and the development of the church is sprinkled with the names of women who were prominent and influential in the work of spreading the gospel. Jesus shocks his disciples by speaking with a Samaritan woman. Jesus interacts in a compassionate way towards ritually unclean women who were prostitutes or had “bleeding” issues, ignoring cultural stigma and prejudice to lovingly respond to their needs. Paul greets many women by name in his letters, commending them for their ministries to the saints. They were believers in women’s rights, in spite of the fact that they never caused any dramatic social upheaval to change up the structure (or held any bra-burning events).
It seems that the element of Western culture that incorporated the Christian view of the value of each individual life, as that idea developed over time, has resulted in women in Europe and North America enjoying a higher level of self-determination, right to self-expression, and material prosperity than women have at any other time in history. The battles being fought now for women’s rights in our context are no longer over injustice, but over unfairness.
I find the fact that American women with the same amount of responsibility often get paid less than men annoying, because it’s unfair. It should be addressed. However, I find the fact that women in many developing and under-developed nations get treated like property and abused as sexual objects appalling, because it is unjust.
Rape is a daily, terrifying reality in war-torn regions of Africa such as Darfur and Congo. Many women deal with physical pain and emotional fear because of this. Women struggle to feed their families throughout rural Ethiopia and Kenya, often sacrificing their own food to feed their children and husbands. Meanwhile governments ignore investments in agricultural improvements and play political games that make foreign aid more difficult to receive. A steady flow of heart-wrenching stories come out of Southeast Asia regarding women and girls trapped in sex-slavery. The recent brutal murder in New York city of Muslim wife by a husband seeking to defend his honor reminds us of the repressive reality found in many Muslim nations.
There is a great chasm between the reality of Ne-Yo’s Miss Independent, the woman is free to own a home, pay her bills, and manage her prosperity, and the reality of Delirious’ Mothers of the Night (from the "Kingdom of Comfort" album) who have found no other option but to sell their bodies to feed their children.
I pray that battles for fairness never cause us to forget about battles against injustice. God has made men and women in his image, and he loves them dearly. Let us stand up for the rights of all.