I remember the first time I blogged about International Women’s Day it was quite by accident. I had been on my way to the refectory at university to buy some lunch when I was approached by numerous girls telling me which way I should vote in the day’s student elections. I knew nothing about the issues on campus but I knew a good smile when I saw one and voted accordingly.
On my return to my desk I posted my experiences along with the inevitable conclusion that Emmeline Pankhurst had not went far enough: Men should be disenfranchised because we were far too easily swayed. If an extremist party happened to have the prettiest canvassers we could wake up the next day in a totalitarian state. I was joking; okay, I was half joking. I hadn’t even realised it was International Women’s Day until people started to comment on how appropriate it was and I decided to keep quiet and pretend it was deliberate.
Years on and I am far more aware of the day. There has been a lot in the media recently about gender equality; a high profile campaign has been launched called This Girl Can, a campaign runs on to banish page three, and the first female bishop in the Anglican church was ordained. Even as I write this my twitter feed is telling me about the corporate pay gap in certain careers, it seems that everywhere there is a concerted effort to raise awareness of, and combat, inequality.
Sometimes religion can be seen as one of the enemies of equality and inclusion and honestly? I understand why. I understand because in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth His followers have not always lived up to His example as a radically inclusive man. There are times when organised religion has been dominated by men and excluded women. The truth, however, is that if you’re a woman? Jesus was and is on your side.
The truth is that if you’re a woman?
Jesus was and is on your side.
You want someone who believes in treating all people fairly? Who tirelessly defends the rights of oppressed people, furthers the cause of women, and pursues a truly radical manifesto of change? Jesus Christ. At a time where women were often either marginalised for their gender or deified for their sex appeal, He treated them in a radically counter cultural way. He treated them as people.
In the gospels we see Jesus encounter women many times and His interactions with them are never what the culture of the day expected. In an age where orthodox men did not speak to women in the street we see Jesus not only speaking to them but caring for them, healing them, valuing them, and at one point going so far as to stop the execution of one by a group of men (John 8:2-11).
He ignored ritual impurity laws, commended women publicly, constantly reinforced the responsibility to care for widows, and told men to stop divorcing their wives for no reason.
While the prevailing attitude of the day was that women should not be educated – with one first century Rabbi writing in the Mishnah that he’d rather see the Torah burned than taught to women – Jesus allowed Mary to sit and learn and commended her for it (Luke 10:38-42). It was to a woman that we first read Him say that He was the Messiah (John 4:25-26) and to a woman that He first appeared after the resurrection.
As the early church got under steam we meet Lydia (Acts 16:11-15), a successful business woman who converted to Christianity and the first European church meets in her house. We meet Priscilla who serves teaching and instructing leaders. We hear of Chloe, Nympha and Apphia all of whom were leaders with churches meeting in their homes. The early church was a place in society where women were empowered.
Writing to the church in Galatia Paul wrote the following:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
– Galatians 3:27-29
I firmly believe that the church should be at the forefront of fairness, it should be leading the way in it’s loving, valuing and empowering all people. It’s not about feminism, but about the value of every human being regardless of gender, race, social status, etc.
When I see the posters for This Girl Can I can’t help but smile at all of those women two thousand years ago, during the life of Jesus and the early church, who were pioneering in a male dominated society.
If you’ve been brought up to believe that God sees women as second class citizens let me tell you that He does not; With God, truly, the girl can.