Monday, April 1, 2019

Good news for women: Jesus!

By Christine Sheller

Feminism and women’s studies has been good for raising awareness of equality of women, but it is interesting that if we go back to the New Testament, Jesus was a proponent of respect for women two thousand years ago. 
However, even today, there are women who don’t know what they like about being a woman.  Jonalyn Grace Fincher underwent a five-year study on women and Jesus, and found when interviewing teen-age and adult women, many said, “I don’t know what I like about being a woman.” (221, Fincher, “Defending Femininity:  Why Jesus is Good News for Women,” Apologetics for a New Generation)  How can we change this?  I think it is good to frame it in terms of Jesus, the giver of new life!

Fincher writes, ‘Jesus came to renew every aspect of our humanity including our gender,” (221, Fincher.) The New Testament verse might come to mind:  “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female.  For you are all one in Christ Jesus,”  (Galatians 3:28).  In her essay, Fincher wanted to address this not only as a women’s issue but also men’s, as men, too, are not always clear about what makes them men.  (221, Fincher)  Fincher follows Jesus, and Jesus valued women, so she was led to do a study, also with the encouragement of her husband.

A couple of questions come up for Fincher.  One:  “Is there only one biblical role for women?”  Second, “What does Jesus have to say about women?”  Last, “How does Jesus compare with other religions founders in his treatment of women?”  Fincher cites Thomas Webster saying in his book Woman: Man’s Equal: “Christianity is the special friend of women.  This elevation is the natural outgrowth of the example & teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.” (221, Fincher)

Fincher studied religious founders of several large world-religions in her essay:  Islam’s Muhammad, Buddhism’s Guatama Siddhartha, Mormon’s Joseph Smith, and Jehovah Witness’ CT Russell. (222, Fincher)

First, Islam’s Muhammad lived from 570 to 632 AD.  He claimed marital faithfulness to his first wife, Khadija, who was a wealthy woman, fifteen years his elder.  After her death he married a woman each year after.  They were often widows.  He married some for family status, some for political statements, most for beauty.  One wife was Aisha, and she was married at age 7.  He did wait til she was 9 for marital relations. (223, Fincher)  He did act to protect females, and prohibited practice of infanticide upon baby girls, but his words about women were not always consistent. (223, Fincher)

He allowed beating of “wayward wives.”  He said, “Wives are fields to seed as you please.”  He also said women were a distraction in prayer: “Prayers are annulled if a dog, donkey, or a woman pass in front.” (223, Fincher)  This is compared to Jesus where his female financial backers did not feel a need to marry him (Mark 15:40).  Jesus protected women and widows, not through polygamy but through miracles (Mark 5:24-34), teaching (Mark 12: 38-40), interpretation of the Law’s meaning (Matt 19:3-9 & Mark 14:6-9), and noticing them when they were marginalized (Mark 12: 41-49).  (224, Fincher)

Next, in comparison, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), in his role of founding Buddhism, treated women differently too.  He was a prince born near India in 563 BC.  At age 29 he awoke among his harem and realized his concubines no longer lured him with their beauty- he left them, with one look at his wife of 12 years and newborn son, and abandoned everyone to find enlightenment. (224, Fincher)  Some might say that Jesus said to do the same (Luke 9:57-62), but a close reading shows he never commanded this.  According to Jesus, man and wife were “no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” Matt 19:6.  There is no exception for a spiritual quest.  (224, Fincher)

Next, we will examine the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.  In 1843 he betrayed his wife by secretly marrying 12 women, and 2 were already married to other men.  He married a young girl, 15 years old, as he thought “God had commanded.”  Her name was Lucy Walker, and she has written an autobiography (224, Fincher).  Most of Smiths’ wives were teenagers who testified Smith’s spiritual pressure enticed them to marry him.

Smith’s spiritual coercion & polygamy were defined as biblical because the Bible cites several instances of polygamy.  But God never commanded- these stories are only record of what happened.  He did the exact opposite.  Deut. 17:17 says, “The king of Israel must not take many wives, or his heart will led astray.”  Joseph Smith records God saying the opposite.  Jesus consistently supported monogamy.  (225, Fincher)  He discusses faithfulness to one spouse in Matthew 19:4-9, and spoke about God’s original intent (as discussed earlier.)  (225, Fincher)

Last, Charles Taze Russelll was founder of the Jehovahs’ Witnesses.  He lived from 1852 to 1916.  He married Maria Frances Ackley with agreement of a union of celibacy for sake of partnering in ministry.  (225, Fincher).  Within ten years, Maria was not agreeable with the marriage, and in divorce proceedings testified to witnessing a sexual relationship between her husband and foster child, Rose Ball, a teenager. (225, Fincher)

The courts ruled in favor of Maria, and required Russell to play alimony.  He refused to pay and fled out of state.  Russel’s refusal to pay and reconcile with his wife stands in contrast to Jesus relationship with women. For example, he wasn’t wary of a Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery. (John 4, 8)  (226, Fincher)

“Jesus never hindered women from inheriting all he could offer them, and He allowed a woman to change his mind (Mark 7:24-30).

Again, Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of Christianity, was given opportunity to take advantage of women throughout his ministry, but did not.  Women longed to touch him, to serve him, to pour perfume on his feet, and support him with money.  (226, Fincher)  “Jesus trusted women, treating them as if they offered more to the world than their seductive charms.”  (226, Fincher)

He directed Mary Magdalene to preach the good news (John 20:17). (226, Fincher)

Blaming women for church’s problems and humanity’s problems is “an ancient maneuver”.  (228, Fincher)  Church fathers did the same as soon as 200 AD.  However, throughout the Bible, strong women sharpen and strengthen strong men (Naomi & Ruth & Boaz- Ruth 3:9; Lydia hostessing Paul- Acts 16:14-15; and Priscila and Aquila’s instruction to Apollos in Acts 18:24-28.)  (228, Fincher)

Today, many like Jesus but not the church.  Many people believe the church is dominated by males and oppresses females.  (228)  In constrast, “Jesus knew that women and women reflect the wholeness of God.  Both male and female must be visible, active, and influential in His church.” (229, Fincher) The church needs to change!

God used images of women when referring to himself.  God is like a mother in Isaiah 66:12-13, and has labor pains like a woman, (Is. 42:14.)  There are numerous other comparisons. (230, Fincher).  In John 3:3, Jesus uses the concept of being born again to illustrate how God is at work in a messy, intimate process.  (230, Fincher)

Another issue in the church relates to the question, “Is God male?”  Girls, when asked to draw pictures of God almost always draw a male figure.  More biblical pictures show God weaning his child (Psalm 131) or behaving as a hen gathering her chicks (Matt. 23:37).  (231, Fincher)

These points, according to Fincher, are not to say that we should overemphasize God’s use of female metaphors for himself, but that the thought of God in terms of gender “leads to a dead end.”  (231, Fincher)

In scripture, we know God made both male and female for the same planet, and God originally intended men and women to work together using our differences to serve one another.  (233-234, Fincher)

Fincher says, “I have found that Jesus, above any other religious founder, can make a real, life-changing difference to women today…”

Source:  Fincher, Jonalyn Grace.  “Defending Femininity:  Why Jesus is good news for women,” Apologetics for a New Generation (ed. Sean McDowell).

Christine Sheller is editor and coordinator at Iowa Peace Network.  She is an M.Div. graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary.

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