By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
On October 15, 2017, when the actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet that said, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet,” she woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used the hashtag #MeToo. Within 24 hours, it rose to 12 million.
#MeToo has been used millions of times in at least 85 countries. It resulted in a very public reckoning as women were emboldened and empowered to come forward. Time magazine said that the #MeToo movement unleashed one of the highest-velocity shifts in our culture since the 1960s. In their article on naming the “silence breakers” their Person of the Year, they wrote:
“Women have had it with bosses and coworkers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, or being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women…. [And so they have] started a revolution.”
The classic definition of sexism is the economic exploitation and/or social domination of members of one sex by another. And specifically, of women by men. It’s when women are discriminated against—when they are stereotyped, when there is prejudice—just because they are women. Misogyny, or having a misogynistic attitude or being misogynous in your behavior, all relates to having a negative attitude toward women. The word misogynist literally means someone who is a hater of women.
What is disturbing, in the minds of many, is the perception that the Christian faith is deeply sexist.
Is it true?
While the Bible doesn’t flinch from recording the sexual misdeeds of the men and women in its stories, it doesn’t flinch from its denunciation of them either. There is no place in God’s economy for sexual harassment, assault or rape. There is no place for using positions of power or influence to coerce or pressure for sexual favors. And the call to how we should interact with people of the opposite sex—as men—on a daily basis, is also clear. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy as his mentor in life and leadership, he said, “Treat… older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1–2).
But what of women being seen as inferior to men? Again, this is often assumed to be part of the fabric of the Christian faith. The truth is you can’t get past the opening page of the Bible without things related to sexism being denounced and God making it very clear that it has no place in our lives. Consider the creation narrative itself. In the opening pages of the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, you read these words:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26–27)
When God created mankind, He made us male and female. And both were made, equally, in the image of God. There’s not more of the image of God in one than the other. And we were given a mutual charge to steward the world. This means there is not an ounce of sexism in what God created, how God created, or the intent of God’s creation of us as men and women.
When sexism became entrenched due to our sinful natures, God wasted no time in addressing its fundamental disorder. Supremely, through the coming of Jesus to Earth. During the time of Jesus, sexism ran rampant. Let me give you a picture of how devalued women were in the Greco-Roman world. If a couple had a baby girl, they had the option to discard her simply because she was a girl. People wanted sons, so if they had a daughter they could just put the baby girl on the doorstep. Then people would come around and take these infant girls and raise them up to be slaves or prostitutes. There was even a prayer in which Jewish men thanked God that they were not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.
Women were treated as mere objects that could be used for work and sexual fulfillment, and then divorced in a heartbeat without any penalty or societal concern. A man could get a divorce from his wife for anything from a badly cooked meal to the mere fact that he found her less beautiful than another woman. And then he could remarry at will and leave her—much like the baby girl on the doorstep—to fend for herself without any support or any hope.
Jesus didn’t treat women that way. He didn’t view women that way. He invited them to follow Him and be among His burgeoning church. He treated them with respect and honor and enormous sensitivity. And He made it clear that they were anything but second-class citizens.
For example, Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus appeared to following His resurrection, and He gave her the charge of telling his male followers that He had indeed risen from the dead. That was a cultural bombshell. The Bible records that the first witness to Jesus after He was raised from the dead was a woman! And not only the first witness, but the one person Jesus tasked to go and tell all the men what happened. In the ancient Near Eastern culture of that day, women were extremely low on the societal totem pole. So low that their testimony was not accepted in the Jewish courts of law. Even if multiple women were eyewitnesses of the same event, their testimony was not accepted.
Yet Jesus purposefully went, first, to a woman and chose her to be His eyewitness. And not simply to other women, but to men! He could have appeared to anyone, tasked anyone; He purposefully chose Mary. In other words, He purposefully chose to take a baseball bat to any and all sexism. He purposefully and powerfully dictated that sexism had no place in His kingdom.
Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the value of their witness and role in the life of the revolution He came to unleash. From the very first moments of the early Christian church, the unheard of took root right away: women were involved and treated as equals. Men and women may have different roles, different responsibilities, but they are on completely equal footing before God. In the New Testament we find them speaking in the church, teaching in the church, helping to provide leadership to the church, with church groups meeting in their homes. Names such as Phoebe and Priscilla, Mary and Martha, became as prominent as any man’s.
So let’s close this conversation with what I hope is now clear: sexism, in truth, is not part of the Christian world. At least, not the world (much less church) Jesus came to establish. Sexism manifests itself as part of the sin-stained, sin-soaked nature of all of humanity, Christ followers included, but it is not endemic to the Christian faith. It is precisely what the Christian faith seeks to eradicate from every human life and every human community.
James Emery White
Adapted from the author’s work Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians (Baker) available on Amazon.
James Emery White delivered a series in 2017 called #MeToo. You can get the .mp3 and .pdf versions of each installment HERE.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.