Church Tradition and the Marginalization of Women

Jesus didn’t do it. Paul didn’t do it. None of the Apostles did it. Organized religion did it. In the 2,000 years since the Apostolic era, institutional religion has been on a power grab. The thing about a power grab is that those without the power get marginalized and/or abused while those with the power gain more power and control. That’s been the case with women in the church. Jon Zens notes,

The retrogression that occurred with reference to women in the post-apostolic age can be compared to what happened in other doctrinal and practical areas. For example, the Lord’s Supper was transformed from a time of the brethren remembering the Lord in a meal together to an elaborate “Holy Sacrament” officiated over by a clergyman. The monumental difference, however, between such things as the Lord’s Supper and what happened to women was that half of the church was rendered inferior and marginalized for nearly two millennia. Jon Zens, What’s with Paul and Women: Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2 Ekklesia Press, 2010, p. 53. Kindle Edition.

Jacques Ellul adds this to the conversation,

All that represented weakness or inferiority [physical, social, etc.] was put in second place. Women are the most spectacular instance of this. After a period of independence that came with the spread of Christianity, they were relegated to a lower order…[ T] he more feminine liberty was suppressed, the more women were accused (of being the temptress of Genesis, etc.), [and] the more they were reduced to silence. Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, Eerdmans, 1986, pp. 33-34.

Zens adds,

The Council of Toledo in A.D. 400 “decreed that [clergy] had the right to beat their wives more severely than ordinary fellows: ‘A husband is bound to chastise his wife moderately, unless he be a [clergy], in which case he may chastise her harder.’ A later passage states that ‘if wives of clergy transgress their [husbands’] commands, they may beat them, keep them bound in their house and force them to fast but not unto death.'” Zens, op. cit. p. 56. Kindle Edition.

In the time of the Reformation, John Calvin continued the tradition..

We have a special sympathy for women who are evilly and roughly treated by their husbands… We do not find ourselves permitted by the Word of God, however, to advise a woman to leave her husband, except by force of necessity; and we do not find this force to be operative when a husband behaves roughly and uses threats to his wife, not even when he beats her, but only when there is imminent peril to her life… We exhort her to bear with patience the cross which God has seen fit to place upon her; and meanwhile not to deviate from the duty which she has before God to please her husband, but to be faithful whatever happens. Zens, op.cit. p. 57. Kindle Edition.

With 2,000 years of religious tradition behind it, is it any wonder that such abuse is assumed to be normal in marriage?

At a meeting in the Wesleyan Chapel in July, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, a Declaration of Sentiments on behalf of women noted that “in the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master —the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty and to administer chastisement.” Again, we see that the physical “chastisement” of a wife was built into assumptions about marriage and protected by the law. Zens, op. cit. pp. 58-59. Kindle Edition.

Some food for thought,

Photo by Claudia Soraya on Unsplash