The scriptures were written in our patriarchal cultures. The story of the bible is about God coming to meet with us within our own cultures and incrementally drawing us to his image as we see it in Christ. Christ is how we ought to see God, not through the lens of our own cultures. How did Christ treat women?
We often read the scriptures through our own cultural lens, not recognizing they were written in cultures God came to transform. Recently someone asked about Genesis 3, where it says that the man would rule over the woman. I was surprised that people still thought that was addressing God’s role for men/ women relationships.
The passage in Genesis 3 describes the curses that would come upon the creation due to the change within the human heart in the fall. God originally made strength to serve weakness, meaning that we were each made in community, for each of our differing strengths to serve each other. This is the way we are made complete together, as one.
But the fall is the breakdown of that community. It splits us into individualism. If anyone has a strength, then they use that strength for themselves, or for their ethnic group, or nation. If they have physical strength, then that is used to dominate the physically weaker. It they have governmental strength, then it is used to gather benefits for themselves and oppress the weak. The fall turns us from community to self-centredness.
The gospel is largely about renewing these world powers, so they serve others, rather than self. The cross of Christ is the central point for this renewal. This is where God, who had power to destroy, instead allowed the “strong” to destroy him. This is the only way he could show the strong their true weakness, their self-absorption. It’s an amazing event in our human history, that God would humble himself in this way, to renew the way we see power.
The next step is to allow this to renew our cultures. This is what must happen if our creation is to be made new. The way we treat our enemies, the way we treat our weaker neighbours, the way government leads in self-giving, the way each person uses their particular strength to serve others, the way we treat the environment. We turn from using things, to restoring the environment and restoring people.
This Christian ethic has permeated our societies to a certain extent already. Looking back at the days of Rome, you see the worship of brutal strength. The church changed this. The weakness of Christ on the cross taught us to restore the weak, to care for the victim. But our cultures still have a lot of the “old” in them, and we as the church sometimes forget what side we are on. Sometimes it is to our advantage to go along with the old ways, but they never work to restore community. If we are witnesses of the true God, the one who suffered for us on the cross and rose from the dead, then we must put our hopes for new life in living out the same cross ourselves.
Patriarchalism is part of the old world. It is men looking for “holy excuses” to justify their privileged place in society. It isn’t difficult for us to read scripture in this way, but this isn’t God’s intention. When we look at Christ we see lots of things about how we should read scripture, that we didn’t know before.
In the Old Testament they killed their enemies. Christ loved his enemies. He killed no one. Neither did his disciples. Christ restored women to equality in society. Paul adopted this as his motto: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female, rich nor poor, slave nor free.” Paul was particular about this list. It doesn’t include things like sexual orientation. The scripture consistently holds to a creational view of sex, family and our personal identity. That is, our identity is found in the community, not in our self. But this does not mean that we employ power against those we disagree with. We are called to serve the world, and that is the power of God for transformation, for salvation. There is no other power.
There are several passages, even in Paul’s letters, that could be read in a patriarchal sense. I won’t discuss those here. I have referred to them in an article about Genesis and Marriage. Going by the fact that Paul had many women on his ministry team, several as apostles (“servants”), there is a strong indication that we have misread Paul, and that he was rather correcting patriarchalism in the churches.
Patriarchalism is one of the curses of our societies globally today. It makes us largely mute in the face of domestic violence, male infidelity, male abuse of family finances, and the suffering for the children this brings, and the inequality in daily community life between males and females.
In some nations we see the violence of terrorism that takes many lives, destroys communities, displaces large numbers of people and ruins futures. This violence and destruction normally settles down after a while and the suffering subsides. But the greater violence stems from other issues and goes on continually from generation to generation.
These longer-term issues are to do with corruption and patriarchalism. Both of these are an abuse of power. Corruption destroys so many lives. Unjust social orders are a kind of violence that in the longer term are so much more destructive than terrorism. The inequality of income in the world causes more deaths than war does. And this corruption is largely the cause of terrorism when it finally arises and adds to the death toll.
And patriarchalism brings largescale injustice upon women. This continues year on year, bringing a greater toll of suffering in our global communities than the brutality of terrorism. The “body count” in the long-term is greater, and yet it is mostly not covered by the media. It is women raped, women married early, women circumcised, women dying of sexual disease and underaged childbirth, from malnourishment, women made sex slaves. It means women denied education, not given opportunities boys receive, seen as second-class citizens. The toll from this is very high in the world.
This is something the church must address. Our call is to address power. This is what God did in Christ. He addressed the way we use power and called us to love and serve our neighbour. This includes all parts of our cultures that abuse power and the weaker people. It includes the way we see disabled people, and the place we give to children in our churches and societies. The world should see the church as the place where the stronger serve the weaker, and this witness should renew our cultures, everywhere the church is found.
It includes the way we use power in the workplace and in the ministry. Does the church reflect the world, where bosses exercise a kind of corrupt control over the people who work there? This kind of control is high level corruption in our communities. Youth in universities suffer from it. Our churches must put a stop to it. The misuse of ministerial power in the church is the source of most of the corruption in our societies. It starts at the church. What the church does, becomes the way of the society. We don’t seek to change the world. We seek instead to change ourselves.
- Recognize the side the church is on: the renewal of global powers – to serve.
- See the impact of patriarchalism in our societies. See the suffering it causes. See how the misuse of power is not reflecting the true nature of God we see in Christ.
- See how the church has often been following the society instead of following Christ to renew the society.
- Take the side of the weak, to restore them to their proper inheritance in Christ.
- Don’t be selfish. If we worship power, power will fill our society and then come back to destroy us.
- Seek to change our society, by modelling that change in our churches.
- Lift up the women and children, and men, in our societies that are left behind.
God made us to love each other. The Greek word often used is agape. The Hebrew word is hesed, or covenant-faithfulness, loving-kindness. This is power as God reveals it. It is laying down our own life for the good of the other person. When society is built on this new kind of power, we can say we have a new creation, a new world in which lives, and our environment are restored to the vision Isaiah saw about our future.
Let’s start restoring the lives of those around us, instead of using power for own own advantage. Then we could say we are followers of Christ. He restored the weak, the sick, the sinner, the foreigner, the outcast. Let’s use any power we have to do this also. Then we will be good stewards of God, and his children, who bear his image in the world. Let’s use his power to make peace, to feed the hungry, to bring justice to the poor, to educate the unemployed, to shelter the oppressed.
The church has often failed in these areas and that is one reason some have forsaken the church: because the church, sometimes in many ways, hasn’t looked like God. But the answer isn’t to forsake the church. The church is still the place where the image of Christ stems from. Without this, we would eventually have paganism taking over, like in the days of Rome. It is in the church that we see the image of God on the cross. At least, it should be in the church we see this. Without this, the world has lost its renewing salt. The world is doomed without the church. The hope is in the church. But the church must be renewed in the true image of Christ, not in reflecting the fallen image of our cultures. Culture is good, but not the fallen aspects of it.