The Invisible Power of Culture to Oppress: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Gender Justice

Mimi Haddad
Lecture, Christians for Biblical Equality Lecture Series
Campbellsville University
1 September 2015

With astonishing tenacity, nearly every religious or philosophical tradition, including Christianity, has advanced the innate superiority of males throughout history. While women consistently provide the highest moral, spiritual and intellectual rescue,[1] it was not until the late 1700s that Christians, particularly the early evangelicals, lent their enormous intellectual, spiritual  and social talents to evangelism, abolition and the leadership of women. Their work shaped the first systematic biblical challenge to the devaluation and marginalization of humans based on gender and ethnicity. This article will consider the historic devaluation of females philosophically and its daily consequences, celebrating moments of triumph for gender justice, which is where we will begin.

In 2011, three women won the Nobel Peace Prize for their courageous activism in advancing democracy and justice for women.[2] Days later, a blog appeared that offers a helpful introduction to the power dynamics between men and women. The daughter of missionary parents, Jenny Rae Armstrong was raised in Liberia. She writes:

I haven’t stopped grinning since I heard the news. See, it was in Liberia that I first witnessed the true ugliness of gender injustice, first understood that a tiny seed of pride and superiority dropped into the heart of a man would blossom not into a sheltering tree but into an ugly, invasive weed that choked . . . life . . . around it.

My “Damascus road” experience happened when I was nine years old, peering out the window of our second-story apartment in Monrovia. Just outside our gate, a woman was curled up on her side under a palm tree, [a] tee-shirt stretched thin across her torso as she shielded her head with her dusty black arms, her lappa-clad knees tucked close to her chest. The man kicking her wore camouflage, and had a government-issued machine gun slung over his shoulder.

I was horrified. It wasn’t that I hadn’t witnessed beatings before, they were common in Liberia. But this was different, an armed man beating a helpless, cringing woman. And I had heard the whispers, the muted conversations adults thought I was too young to understand, about what men with guns did to women.

I heard my father approaching and froze, expecting to be shooed away from the window.  But he stopped a few steps behind me. . . , watching the scene unfold over my head. Then he sighed and walked away without a word.

The tectonic plates in my young soul shifted. For the first time, I realized there were some things my father . . . couldn’t fix. That if he went out there and did what every fiber of his being was undoubtedly screaming to do, he would only make things worse. To rush into the street and put himself between a murderous mob and a thief was one thing, and he did it [before] . . . . But to put himself between a man and a woman would constitute such an insult that the woman could very well end up dead.

That’s when I realized that violence against women isn’t a social problem; it is a spiritual problem, a highly-contagious disease that eats away at hearts, souls, minds and bodies. . . . You can’t address the problem by treating the symptoms—you have to go deep under the surface and neutralize it at its root, that . . . pride . . . and superiority allowed to germinate in the soul.

That is precisely what the women of Liberia have been doing for the last decade, recognizing their God-given worth, claiming their voices, and banding together to demand not just national, but [also] personal shalom for themselves and the next generation. Consider the words Leymah Gabowee as she led hundreds of women to the capital of Liberia in 2003.” [She said,] ‘We the women of Liberia will no more allow ourselves to be raped, abused, misused, maimed and killed! Our children and grandchildren will not be used as killing machines and sex slaves!’

Liberia still has a long way to go. We all do. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and this hope makes us very bold.[3]

According to Jennifer Rae Armstrong, gender based violence is, at its root, a highly contagious spiritual problem that fuels pride and superiority. Too often humanitarians invest inordinate efforts in treating the symptoms while neglecting a focus on root issues.

In search of the core causes to gender violence, we remember the work of a Christian humanitarian, Lyn Lusi—a recipient of the 2012 one-million-dollar Opus Prize award. Working initially as a Baptist missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lusi met and married a Congolese doctor. Together with her husband, Dr. Jo Kasereka, they ran HEAL—an organization delivering Health, Education, Action and Leadership to women and youth in the DRC—where 42,000 women and children live as survivors of rape and HIV/AIDS.[4] According to the United Nations, the DRC is one of the most challenging places on earth “to be a woman or girl.”[5] It is also the second largest country in Africa.

At a banquet in her honor, Lusi “threw down a gauntlet,” reporters said, calling churches to stand with abused women. At her Opus Prize Award acceptance speech, Lusi noted the vital role played by churches in DRC communities:

[They] provide what amounts to the only services and social safety net available. They can be the real glue of the society. But she also told a sobering story . . . as several congregations came together for discussion and training . . . ,  [but] they did not agree that women who were raped should NOT be excommunicated [from church]. . . . [T]he attitude that women invite, even deserve rape extends so deep [within] . . . the church communities and leadership that they could not see their way to compassion and support. Where women should be able to find comfort, consolation, and support instead they met rejection and blame.[6]

“This story points to the crying need for deep reflection and change within Christian communities. . . . [T]he Opus Prize will allow [Lusi] to work for that goal.”[7]

Why do churches in Africa and in many other places blame victims? Individuals like Lusi have been looking for answers. But they are not alone. In the last decade, more and more Christians are working together to address the violence and abuse perpetrated on females globally. To borrow a headline from Books and Culture, the church today is on a “Justice Mission.”[8] While this may seem like a new and exciting event, the truth is, the evangelical tradition is one with a long-standing commitment to gender justice.

Consider the social reform led by the early evangelicals. Their energies drove abolition, suffrage and what we now call the Golden Era of Missions—perhaps the largest expansion of Christian faith in history. It was “golden” not only because of the large numbers that came to faith.[9] It was significant given the theological vision that animated their evangelistic zeal. Strikingly, their passion for evangelism was inseparable from a commitment to social justice. Those who had crossed the deepest line in life, from spiritual death to life in Christ, were expected to make the world more just.[10] Today’s younger evangelicals follow a similar pattern. They too stand in solidarity with the oppressed because social action is the fruit of their own Christian conversion. Like the early evangelicals, they too are devoted to similar causes like abolition and dismantling the global sex trade. For this reason, the early evangelicals and today’s Christian humanitarians make excellent dialogue partners, because as I hope to show, they are working to address the spiritual roots that feed gender injustice. What might those roots be?

After decades of exposing and suppressing the sex-industry, the early evangelicals believed that their efforts, though necessary, would inevitably fail without addressing the root causes that had been routinely dismissed. These Christians perceived an integral correlation, an inescapable relationship between viewing females as inferior and their subsequent marginalization and abuse. Those in positions of power often legitimate their oppressive actions by defining their victims as morally impoverished, and this allows perpetrators to justify their abuse. This is a pattern we see throughout history, as Mirslov Volf demonstrates in his impressive work, Exclusion and Embrace.[11] Volf documents the correlation between declaring a people group innately inferior with their marginalization and abuse. Unsurprisingly, it is often the voice of religion that provides the most exalted, convincing, or irreproachable devaluation of people groups, whereby their abuse is justified.

We are learning, for example, that as slave traders travel the world searching for children to lure from families and communities, they carefully observe gender dynamics particularly in religious communities. If they notice preferential treatment of males by religious leaders, this establishes the value difference between males and females, and these are the very communities that are least likely to resist the capture and sale of its girls. For this reason, cultural leaders, particularly faith leaders, are asked by humanitarians to be especially careful to demonstrate equal regard for females.

As the above example suggests, communities routinely demonstrate value associated with embodied qualities such as gender or ethnicity. These evaluations, then, influence the daily lives of individuals. Thus, an analysis of gender justice must consider the philosophical and religious assumptions that attribute value (ideas) and therefore purpose (consequences) to females and people of color. Imputed at a fixed and unchangeable attribute—gender and ethnicity—the value assigned to individuals is not based on their moral choices, character or intimacy with God. To assign blame or culpability to individuals for events beyond their control is a gross miscarriage of logic and also justice. It cannot be sustained by a consistent reading of Scripture. Even so, nearly all religious and philosophical traditions justify the marginalization of females through a devaluation at the level of being (gender). Could this be a core spiritual problem that has choked the life of girls and women throughout history?

To consider this question, we will observe how philosophical and religious traditions demean females at the level of being (ontos) thereby diminishing their purposes (telos) and human flourishing. Beginning with the Greek philosophical tradition, we observe a correlation between the being and purpose of females as it creates systems and patterns of injustice.

Ancient Greek Culture

Aristotle said “. . . the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.”[12] Thus, within Greek culture, females were marginalized and easily abused. For example, girl babies were abandoned more often than male infants. Females were excluded from public gatherings with men. They had little influence in political and philosophical spheres, and limited control over their children, property and self.[13]

Brahman Culture

Brahman teachings and culture follow a similar pattern. According to the writings of Manu—a Brahman social commentator, females possess a temper or nature that is capricious (or inconstant). Said to be destitute of strength and knowledge, females are viewed as impure as falsehood itself and this is a fixed rule.[14]

A diminished view of women’s character has an impact on their daily life. Hence, in many Brahman communities, females are forbidden to read the sacred texts.[15] They are accountable to male authority throughout life, their fathers, husbands, sons and grandsons.[16] The gods are rarely evoked when a girl is born. Ultrasound is used to select for gender. Girls remain sex-slaves in Hindu temples: They are called Devi Dasi or Devil’s whore a term that imputes blame to girls.

Islamic Culture

Islamic teachings also devalue females at the level of being. According to the Islamic social commentator Bukhari, the character of women is like a crooked rib. They possess a crookedness that is inherent and incurable.[17] The Qur’an reads: ‘“Men have authority over women because God made the one superior to the other (Surah 4:34).’”[18]

Because of these teachings, some Islamic communities give men authority over women. Honor killings (by male family members) occur when sexual promiscuity is suspected or proved; genital cuttings have been performed to preserve marital fidelity. (Christian communities also practice FGM for the same reasons.) Females are not considered reliable witnesses. Medical treatment for females is provided only by female health care workers. Females are frequently excluded from public education and from working outside the home.[19]

Nazi Germany

Females are not the only group marginalized and abused through a devaluation at the level of being. Before Nazis could convince Germans to round up Jews and send them to death camps, they had to first redefine Jews as separate from the so called Aryan or German race. Notice how the Nazis declared triumphantly:

. . .there are only a few people left in Germany who are not clear about the fact that the Jew is not, as previously thought, distinct from ‘Christians,’ . . . only in that [Jews are] of another religion, and therefore German like the rest of us, but that [they] belong to a different race than we do. The Jew belongs to a different race; that is what is decisive.[20]

In Nazi Germany, value was assigned to an unchangeable condition—ethnicity. As a result, six million Jews died in the holocaust.

U.S. Slavery

Similarly, slavery in the United States was founded on the belief that those of African descent possessed an inferior being compared to white Europeans, and this devaluation justified the purpose or destiny of Africans in the U.S. as slaves. Thornton Stringfellow, a prominent Baptist from Virginia and a noted Bible scholar, said that the “African race is constitutionally inferior to the white race.”[21] Writing from Europe, the French humanitarian, Comte A. de Gasparin said that “slavery, in the United States, is founded on color,” [22] it is based on the native and indestructible inferiority of race.

Devalued at birth because of ethnicity, Africans suffered evil and cruelty as slavery mocked biblical morality in manifold ways. Work was forced and unpaid. Marriages were ignored, girls and women were defiled, and murder and maiming were common. The Emancipation Proclamation did little to eliminate ethnic-abuse, because the root—the devaluation of African ethnicity—was not exposed or addressed. Therefore, freed by legal decree, African Americans encountered Jim Crow laws. In fact, it would take many years before Americans recognized their racist assumptions had fueled a distorted reading of Scripture. Consider the following example. has reported a social shift that may represent a larger leap than our election of an African-American president. Bob Jones University, perhaps the most fundamentalist and segregated Christian school in the U.S., issued an apology for its practices and policies of racial segregation. In 1986, a member of the Bob Jones’s Bible department had articulated the school’s position. Separation of the races, this faculty member wrote, was God’s design. The school was submitting to the authority of Scripture in its policies. Now the school says something other than ‘biblical obedience’ shaped its racial practices. The statement reports that policies were “‘. . . characterized by the segregationist ethos of American Culture.’” President Stephen Jones said,

‘We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it. In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandments to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry.’[23]

The failure to interpret Scripture accurately and to regard African Americans as equal members of the human family made it possible for slavery advocates to ignore the profound ways in which slavery transgressed biblical ethics.

It was missionaries working in Africa, who routinely decried the presumed inferiority of Africans upon which the system of slavery rested. One missionary wrote that nowhere in his experience had he observed any evidence of the so called ‘“native inferiority which many good and learned men suppose to exist.”’[24] In fact, the deplorable condition ascribed to Africans has been created by the slave trade. If you can control for opportunity, you can also control for ability.

The idea that biology is destiny: that being shapes character was challenged biblically by early evangelicals. After decades of exposing sex-slavery, as part of their activism, these Christians realized that their efforts were anemic without expunging the root—the idea that superiority is established through fixed and unchanged conditions (like gender or ethnicity) rather than through one’s regeneration. Incorporated into the teachings and practices of the church is the belief that gender determines character: that females are innately inferior—an idea that was accepted as self-evident. In fact, Christianity has consistently advanced the depravity of females to this day. Here are a few examples:

Christian Patriarchy

Augustine (A.D. 354–430) “Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule [emphasis added] over women, than women over men.”[25]

John Chrysostom: (A.D. 347–407) “The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. . . . for the sex is weak and fickle [emphasis added]. . . .”[26]

John Calvin: (1509–64) Woman should not hold “authority over the man; for the very reason, why they are forbidden to teach, is, that it is not permitted by their condition [emphasis added].”[27]

John Knox: (1514-1572) “Nature [emphasis added], I say, does paint [women] forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel . . . [thus] women ought not to bear rule nor authority.”[28]

Mark Driscoll: “When it comes to leading in the church, women are unfit (purpose) because [in their being] they are more gullible and easier to deceive than men. . . . [W]omen who fail to trust [Paul’s] instruction . . . are much like their mother Eve. . . . Before you get all emotional like a woman [emphasis added] in hearing this, please consider the content of the women’s magazines at your local grocery store that encourages liberated women in our day to watch porno with their boyfriends, master oral sex for men who have no intention of marrying them . . . and ask yourself if it doesn’t look like the Serpent is still trolling the garden and that the daughters of Eve aren’t gullible [emphasis added] in pronouncing progress, liberation, and equality.”[29]

While teachings like these, advanced by Greek philosophers and Christians alike, assert the supremacy of males. It was Christians working to shut down sex slavery, led by an army of women leaders, who came to see the hazards of religious patriarchy, especially girls and women.

The Early Evangelicals: Catherine Booth, Josephine Butler and Katharine Bushnell

A tour de force of social action on behalf of gender justice included evangelicals like Catherine Booth (1929-1890)—cofounder of the Salvation Army who freed females from brothels while working to raise the age of consent from 13 to 17 years of age; the prominent British activist Josephine Butler (1828-1906) who exposed the military’s enslavement of females in brothels throughout India; and the American physician Dr. Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946) a leading Christian activist with the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU).

Katharine Bushnell

It was Katharine Bushnell who successively exposed the theological assumptions that fueled gender-injustice. One of the youngest women to graduate from Chicago Woman’s Medical College, Katharine Bushnell worked briefly as a medical missionary in China, returning home to head the Social Purity Department with the WCTU.[30] Here she interviewed girls enslaved in sex-camps in the iron mines of Michigan and the Lumber Camps of Wisconsin. Bushnell visited these brothels personally to collect first-hand accounts from girls held as sex-slaves to expose and prosecute perpetrators before the Wisconsin state legislature as an expert medical witness. On one occasion, as she attempted to present her testimony at the courthouse in Wisconsin, Bushnell encountered a violent mob of men. Why were these men so enraged? Should Bushnell succeed, it would end their lucrative work prostituting females. Moreover, because women had not yet gained the vote, efforts to shape laws was considered an affront to men’s domain. Despite their anger, Bushnell successfully uncovered the enslavement of innocent girls, deceived and held against their will that confined them to a life of debauchery. Her testimony pressed for a higher value for females, by showing how females were victims rather than depraved culprits. In challenging their innocence, Bushnell opposed a deeply held devaluation of females in American culture.


In a similar way, rage was unleashed on women who marched for suffrage in 1913. Why did gangs of men throw bottles at suffragists, kicking, punching and pulling women to the ground? Could it be that suffragists, by demanding political equality, challenged an American patriarchal ethos? To exclude women from shared authority, not because of their moral choices, their education, experience, or intimacy with God, but solely because of gender—an accident of birth—was an injustice with daily consequences for girls and women. Notice, after women gained political equality, their lives and those of their children were vastly improved. One year after suffrage passed, infant and maternal mortality plummeted drastically.[31] Ideas have consequences.

Like suffrage, Katharine Bushnell’s testimony in the Wisconsin courthouse was successful and led to a bill dubbed the ‘Kate Bushnell Bill’ by newspapers. It sent perpetrators to long prison terms for enslaving girls against their will.[32] Riding the momentum of her success in the U.S., Bushnell traveled to India where she infiltrated brothels established by the British military. Her autobiography describes how she

walked through the lines of encampments . . . and went on to the little tents for women . . . and took down the women’s testimonies. . . . Hearts melted, tears flowed, and they were eager to tell us how they had been brought against their will, or by trickery or thoughtlessly, into such a horrible life. More than once . . . they would not let us go till they . . . prayed . . . to help them to get out of virtual imprisonment.[33]

Bushnell and her team interviewed about five hundred women.

In reflecting upon these experiences, Bushnell asked key questions about Christian complicity in the sex industry:

‘How can officials of high standing as Christian gentlemen be so indifferent to the wrongs of women and girls, so complacent in the dealings with the sensuality of men and so ready to condone their offences against decency?’ [Men who had sent orders] to under-officials to secure ‘younger and more attractive girls’ for the British soldiers . . . .

Sir John Bowring, who wrote those beautiful hymns, ‘Watchman, Tell Us of the Night’ and ‘In the Cross of Christ I Glory,’ by his legislation at Hong Kong, brought into existence an ordinance making it punishable for any Chinese girl to live but with her owner, who kept her for immoral purposes . . . [and implemented official] acts which cannot but sweep hundreds, perhaps thousands, of girls into prostitution.[34]

After decades working with sex-slaves, Bushnell turned her attention from exposing sex-slavery to addressing its root causes. Freeing girls from prostitution will never earn the support of Christian leaders like Bowring—until they perceive a higher value and purpose for women on the pages of Scripture.[35] Toward this goal, Bushnell analyzed, in the original languages, every passage in Scripture that concerned females. In 1908, she published her findings under the title, God’s Word to Women: 100 Bible Studies on Women’s Place in the Divine Economy.[36] Her work is the earliest, systematic challenge to scriptural arguments used to devalue and justify the marginalization of females. To explain her effort, Bushnell insisted that until people “. . . understand that a woman is of as much value as a man; and they will not believe this until they see it plainly taught in the Bible.[37] For Bushnell, the church will remain a weak vessel of justice until Christians interpret Scripture without reading a devaluation of females on its pages. In her words:

Just so long as men imagine that a system of caste is taught in the Word of God, and that they belong to the upper caste while women are of the lower caste . . . the destruction of young women into a prostitute class will continue.[38]

Unless Christians make known the biblical basis for women’s equal value and purpose, the Church will remain complicit in the destruction of females. Because ideas have consequences, gender-justice begins as a biblical value imputed equally to males and females.

Bushnell’s interpretation of Scripture, especially the early chapters in Genesis, offered an entirely new Christian worldview in support of biblical gender equality. Her scholarship separated her from previous generations of Christians who assumed women’s moral culpability was established by these texts. By showing how Scripture teaches that females are created by God with equal value, purpose, and agency. Bushnell gave biblical teeth to her humanitarian work. She thus removed all biblical justification for women’s subordination and cast a vision for their higher purposes.

Today’s Evangelicals

What about evangelicals today? Do they support interpretations of Scripture that fuel patriarchy’s devaluation and marginalization of females? In 2011, Christians for Biblical Equality International (CBE) convened a summit with Christians working to end sex-abuse globally. Beside these leaders, CBE considered the ideas and consequences of female degradation. Here is a summary of our discussions.


Staff from Chab Dai, a humanitarian organization working to abolish sex trafficking in Cambodia, observed that in their culture, men are said to be “pure gold and women as white cloth.” When a gold ring falls into the mud, it can be washed and resume its luster. In contrast, when a white cloth is muddied, it is never truly clean again. Therefore, women are inferior to men in their being. For this reason, women rarely work outside the home. When females leave the sex industry, they often feel unwelcome and marginalized in churches. They are viewed as tainted by their “sins.” Churches in Cambodia tend to support male-only models of leadership. The question remains: does this practice reinforce the idea that females are inferior?

Kenya and Uganda

According to Anglican Bishops from East Africa, most of African culture is patriarchal and males are viewed as innately superior and more valuable than females. Scripture has been used to support this idea:

  • Genesis is believed to show male preference because Adam was created first.
  • Head in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:3-4, Ephesians 5:23) is understood not as source but as authority.
  • Head-coverings for women symbolize male authority, and this practice supports the idea that females are innately inferior. Christian churches teach that females are more easily deceived because of Eve.

In African religions—creation myths always underscore the superiority of men. As a result, in African religions women were punished in order that they submit to men.

The primacy of males is noted by the celebrations observed when a boy is born. Boys are given priority in education and nutrition.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is widely practiced because it is believed that women are innately promiscuous. For this reason, few women work outside the home.

In many cultures throughout Africa, women are not often allowed to own property. Though Kenya has changed its constitution, laws are not enforced. Women do not often hold property. Rather, they themselves are property held by men.

There is no word for “domestic violence” in African culture. Rather, we speak of men as “disciplining” females, which means they exert force and violence over them. To “discipline” females rests on the assumption that men are superior and women need their authority and scrutiny, an idea used to justify domestic violence and abuse.

Christian mission organizations that hold male only models of leadership do less to address the abuses of females: they seem to have less opportunity to understand or empathize with the challenges females face. The greatest challenge is when the subordination of woman to man is taught within the body of Christians; advocacy goes hand in hand with biblical interpretation.


Christians working with sex-trafficked victims and within a large network of Chinese churches in the U.S. and abroad observed that among Christians, male superiority is taken for granted and viewed as God-ordained. Genesis 2:18 is interpreted to teach that women are created to be a helper, like an inferior or a servant. First Peter 3:7 is used to emphasize women are the weaker vessel.

Among Buddhists, a woman can never become Buddha unless she is reincarnated as a man. Many Chinese characters associate bad luck and evil with the female gender and we are still using those words. During the demise of the Ching Dynasty (late 19th century and early 20th century), leaders sought ways to release the gifts of women because they comprise half the population. Even so, in China where women are believed to hold up half the sky, under the one-child policy, parents prefer boys, and many girl babies are aborted.

Sadly, in Christian churches, abuse and sexual harassment are not taken seriously. When women start a Christian organization, men take the credit in their autobiographies. One leader said: “Now we understand why there are so few women in church history.” Leadership in Chinese churches, especially in the U.S., is based on gender. Men are often placed in leadership even if they lack maturity, education or the necessary gifts. Many women from China are accustomed to equal treatment but when they came to the U.S., hear the Gospel, accept Christ, they are shocked by the ‘inequality of gender’ in teaching and practice. As a result, many women leave the church.


According to a CEO of a national evangelical organization, a seminary professor and nonprofit executive, the superiority of men is advanced by Hinduism which teaches that there “is nothing else that is more sinful than women. Verily women are the root of all faults.”[39] There is a saying in Hindi: “drums, uncivilized illiterates, lower castes, animals and women are all fit to be beaten.”[40] As a result, women often wait on her husband as a god, and surrender her own will completely to his.

Among Christians in India, churches do not approve of egalitarian marriages and all oppose divorce, even in the case of abuse. Women’s voices and bodies are often demeaned. Women are told they are impure during menstruation; that their voices are not to be heard; that they should not laugh in public.

Childlessness is viewed as the woman’s fault and is considered a curse. Widows are assumed to bring bad luck and therefore do not attend engagement services, marriages, and christenings, and are rarely remarried. Divorce is believed to be the woman’s fault because she failed to keep her husband happy. There are very few Christian organizations in India that are led by a woman.

In Conclusion

The deep roots of patriarchy have been nurtured by philosophical and religious teachings, including Christianity. Together they advance the superiority of males and subordinate females to the authority, scrutiny, and impunity of males—a structure that diminishes human flourishing. Yet, women continually rose above devaluations made of them. Ultimately they built alliances within the evangelical movement to generate momentum spiritually, morally, and socially, shifting power dynamics by exposing distorted biblical interpretations that devalue and marginalize humans because of gender and ethnicity.

Yet, the struggle for equality of being and purpose continues to the present day. With ax in hand, evangelicals today continue to cut away at the roots of religious patriarchy. Consider the observations made by an American evangelical philanthropist, working to end sex-slavery in the Global South. Lance Robinson writes:

. . . No matter how I tried to slice it, spin it, or soften it; at the end of the day, however much the gap was minimized, . . . by making the husband the default tie-breaker within the home, even in the best of marriages, there is still the subtle message that the wisdom of a woman is less than that of a man. By making the position of leadership within spiritual community inaccessible based solely on gender, a glass ceiling is imposed that speaks volumes to the souls of women and where they stand in social order, and even perhaps before God. . . . Ideas do have consequences, and . . . holding this theological position became a problem of injustice for me.

. . . [As] my vocation began taking me to various parts of the globe dealing with issues of injustice[,] time and again I encountered cultural practices that subjugated and subverted women, most always justified through long standing traditional or religious values and mores. Whether through a process or an abrupt change, it was not until those values were challenged and replaced that breakthroughs for women were realized. I began challenging my own beliefs.[41]

Another Christian humanitarian, working with sex-victims for nearly twenty years, makes a similar observation: “When one type of human being is deemed lesser, it provides license to treat them as less. No matter how subtle, dehumanizing ideas of people leads to dehumanizing actions.”[42]

Through our biblical teachings and social advocacy, we can show that biology is not destiny, that character is not determined by skin color, class or gender, and that females like males are equally created in God’s image with equal authority in caring for the world (Genesis 1:26-28). In working to end racial and gender violence and discrimination our own history as evangelicals can give the U.S. much strength, wisdom and inspiration remembering that ideas have consequences. A dignified treatment of all people begins with a consistent reading of Scripture.

[1] See Mary T. Malone, Women & Christianity, Vols. I-III (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001-2003).

[2] See, “The Nobel Prize for 2011 for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman,” Press Release, Posted October 7, 2011, [accessed July 25, 2016].

[3] Jenny Rae Armstrong, comment on “Liberia, the Nobel Prize, and Me,” Jenny Rae Armstrong, Confessions of a Wannabe World-Changer Blog, posted on [October 10, 2011] [accessed May 24, 2016].

[4] Opus Prize, “Lyn Lusi, 2011 Opus Prize Laureate,” [accessed July 25, 2016]. See also Katherine Marshall, comment on “The Modest Heroine of the Opus Prize: Lyn Lusi,” The Huffington Post Blog, comment posted November 8, 2011, http://w [accessed July 25, 2016].

[5] PBS NewsHour, ‘The Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman,’: Healing the Eastern Congo, [Transcript], March 7, 2012 [accessed May 24, 2016].

[6] Marshall, comment on The Modest Heroine of the Opus Prize: Lyn Lusi, The Huffington Post Blog.

[7] Ibid.; Elizabeth Andrew and Katharine Bushnell make the same observation, that perpetrators blame those they abuse. According to Andrew and Bushnell, the British officials believed that the girls confined in brothels were immoral and therefore deserved abuse. Bushnell said, “. . . this form of villainy is always excusing itself by slandering the oppressed women. . . . Most of these women are prostitutes by caste. . . .” Caste determines destiny. Elizabeth M. Andrew and Katharine C. Bushnell, The Queen’s Daughters in India (London: Morgan and Scott, 1899), 54.

[8] Amy L. Sherman, “The Church is on a Justice Mission: On the Front Lines of the Battle against Sex Trafficking and Forced Prostitution,” Books and Culture: A Christian Review (July/August 2010) [accessed July 29, 2016].

[9] Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon: GA: Mercer University Press, 2005), ix

[10] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A Brief History from 1730s to the 1980s (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 5-12. Bebbington notes that a “converted character would work hard, save money and assist his neighbor,” p. 5.

[11] Mirslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN.: Abingdon Press, 1996).

[12] Aristotle, Politics, 1254 b 12.

[13] Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (New York: Schocken Books, 1995).

[14] Manusmriti, trans., Laws of Manu, Pt. 2, Ch. IX.15-17, [accessed July 29, 2016]. See also Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati, The High-Cast Hindu Woman (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1901).

[15] Manusmriti, Laws of Manu, Pt. 2, Ch. IX.18. See also Sarasvati, High Cast Hindu Woman, 81.

[16] Manusmriti, Laws of Manu, Pt. 2, Ch. IX. 2, 3.

[17] Sahih Bukhari, Arabic-English Translation Vol. VII Hadith No. 1113-114.

[18] The Koran, trans. N.J. Dawood, 5th rev. ed. (London, Eng.: Penguin Classics, 1990), 64.

[19] Nicholas D. Kirstoff and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Knopf, 2009), 149ff.

[20] Reconnaissance and speaker-information of the Reich Propaganda Directorate of the NSDAP, “Our Battle Against Judah,” Lieferung 20 (August 1935), German Propaganda Archive, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI [accessed July 27, 2016].

[21] Thornton Stringfellow, quoted in Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 62. Stringfellow was a Baptist from Virginia who offered some of the most influential biblical arguments supporting slavery.

[22] Comte Agenor de Gasparin, The Uprising of a Great People, trans. by Mary Booth (New York: Scribners, 1862), 103; quoted in Noll, Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 119.

[23] Robert Parham, “Bob Jones Apologizes for Racial Policies,” Editorials,, November 24, 2008, [accessed October 21, 2016].

[24] Quoted in Noll, Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 118.

[25] Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence 1.10, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, ed. Philip Schaff [hereafter NPNF] (1886-1890; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), 267.

[26] John Chrysostom, “Homily IX,” Homilies on 1 Timothy, vol. 13 of NPNF, 436.

[27] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1856), 37.

[28] John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Dallas, TX: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1993), 20-21.

[29] Mark Driscoll, Church Leadership: Explaining the Roles of Jesus, Elders, Deacons, and Members at Mars Hill, Mars Hill Theology Series (Seattle, WA: Mars Hill Church, 2004), p. 43; quoted at Denny Burk, “Mark Driscoll on Women in Ministry,” Denny Burk: A Commentary on Theology, Politics, and Culture, entry posted on July 5, 2007 [accessed July 28, 2016].

[30] God’s Word to Women, “Timeline of the Life of Katharine C. Bushnell, 1855-1946,” [accessed July 28, 2016].

[31] Grant Miller, “Women’s Suffrage, Political Responsiveness, and Child Survival in American History,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, no. 3 (August 2008): 1287-1327, [accessed July 28, 2016].

[32] Katharine Bushnell, Dr. Katharine C. Bushnell: A Brief Sketch of her Life and Work (Hertford, UK: Rose and Sons, 1930), 5 [accessed August 2, 2016].

[33] Ibid., 9.

[34] Ibid., 12.

[35] Ibid., 13.

[36] Katharine C. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women: 100 Bible Studies on Women’s Place in the Divine Economy (Grapevine, TX: God’s Word to Women, 1943), [accessed July 28, 2016].

[37] Bushnell, Dr. Katharine C. Bushnell, 13.

[38] Ibid., 14.

[39] Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section XXXVIII, Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli. The same text appears also in Sri Shiva Mahapurana Uma Samhita, Ch. 24.

[40] Harihar Sahoo and Manas Ranjan Pradhan, “Domestic Violence in India: An Empirical Analysis,” Man in India 89, no. 3 (June 2009): 2 [accessed May 25, 2016].

[41] Lance Robinson, “A Matter of Justice: My Journey towards Gender Equality”, Arise, CBE International, entry posted October 5, 2011 [accessed August 1, 2016].

[42] Cited from an e-mail from a Christian American humanitarian.This individual has granted permission to be quoted but has requested to remain anonymous.

Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality International. She earned a Ph.D. in historical theology from the University of Durham, UK. She has written extensively on issues of the Bible and gender equality.

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