1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
As a follow up to my commentary on the Jimmy Carter Center’s forum on religion and women’s rights, I’d like to go where the delegates feared to tread. I’m going to spend some time discussing women’s role in Christianity, and I’m going to use the Bible as my guide.
The passage I quoted is the beginning of Ephesians 6. As you can see, it’s about how men should treat their children and slaves. The text is unequivocal. Children and slaves are subservient to men. There is no asterisk encouraging us not to have slaves. The author of this text is writing plainly. Men, the children and slaves are yours. But do try to be nice to them.
Here’s the passage you’re more familiar with:
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
The topic at hand is good Christian families. Wives are the first topic of conversation, but children and slaves are the next two. That’s conveniently left out of most sermons.
What is a believer to believe? There’s no metaphor here. It’s plain instruction. If you’re going to be a good Christian family, be in charge of your wife (wives?), children, and slaves. Wives are lumped in with children and slaves. This is Paul talking. The father of Christianity. The closest and best link to Jesus.
Notable Female Characters in the Bible
The overwhelming majority of characters in the Bible are male. When women are mentioned, they’re usually auxiliary characters — someone’s wife, daughter, or slave girl. Here’s a quick sampling of some of the more notable broads in the good book.
Eve – The gal who started it all. Death, sin, expulsion from paradise, pain in childbirth, men breaking their backs in the field… All her fault.
Hagar – The slave pressed into “extra special service” for the father of Israel when he couldn’t manage an heir with his wife.
Lot’s Wife – Turned into a pillar of salt for the crime of glancing back at the old family home.
Rahab – The hooker who betrayed her people to Joshua.
300 Concubines – King Solomon’s playthings.
Miriam – Had the audacity to question Moses. God made her a leper for a week to keep her from getting uppity again.
Midianite women — good for raping after a hard day’s slaughter of their husbands and children. IF they’re virgins. Otherwise, kill em.
Your Brother’s Widow – Your next baby mama. It’s your God-given obligation, dude. And she’s hot, so that’s a plus…
Jepthah’s Daughter – Virgin Sacrifice to the Lord God. Who is also Jesus. Who Christians worship. Jesus approves of virgin sacrifices. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Delilah – Poor Samson.
Jezebel – Synonymous with hooker. A newer, flashier version of Eve, leading her man into destruction.
Some Dude’s Daughter and Concubine – Rape ’em, kill ’em, leave em on my doorstep. Just don’t engage in buttsex with my male houseguest.
Michal – David’s wife. She got uppity and God punished her by making her infertile.
Tamar – A virgin, raped by her brother and shunned for the crime of being raped.
Pregnant Women – Good for ripping open and performing field abortions. At God’s command. Never let them tell you God hates abortions. He custom ordered them. And made the abortionist king of Israel.
New Testament Lessons
Mary is Eve’s foil — the full circle completion of the Christian story. Man was corrupted by a woman. Naked. Sexual. Seductive. Man was saved by the non-sexuality of the perfect woman. Covered. Demure. Obedient. Virgin.
God apparently had a bit of a change of heart when he sent himself to earth to sacrifice himself to himself. The Jesus incarnation of Yahweh wasn’t so much about ripping open pregnant women and killing their fetuses. But he wasn’t exactly woman-friendly, either.
Jesus forgave a woman for adultery. It was a nice gesture. But he didn’t address the custom of stoning women for adultery. He had the perfect opportunity, but he passed it up. He also didn’t mention the man who had fornicated with her. He didn’t mention the unfairness of letting a man go unmolested while killing the woman, which was the law in those days. He just forgave one adulterer. Not exactly a crystal clear message of egalitarianism and women’s rights.
Mary and Mary. This is one of the more convoluted Christian messages, but ironically one of the most powerful. Mary Magdalene has been traditionally regarded as a prostitute, though the precise function of the demons Jesus exorcised from her is never clearly articulated. Even so, the prostitute label stuck, and she is seen as the “reformed harlot” taken under Jesus’ wing. There’s an underlying and very misogynist message here: Jesus was such an awesome dude, so forgiving, so unbelievably wonderful and godlike that he actually let a formerly promiscuous woman hang around with him! Isn’t that amazing?
Mary the Mother of Jesus is the most revered woman in the Bible. And what was her claim to fame? She managed to have a child without defiling herself by having sex. The “perfect woman” according to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is perfect by virtue of not repeating Eve’s mistake and corrupting a man.
Mary and Eve. Mary is Eve’s foil — the full circle completion of the Christian story. Man was corrupted by a woman. Naked. Sexual. Seductive. Man was saved by the non-sexuality of the perfect woman. Covered. Demure. Obedient. Virgin. Just look at the pictures. They tell the whole story. Eve vs. Mary. Evil vs. Good. Sex vs. Chastity.
Paul. There is precious little reference to women in the New Testament besides Mary and Mary. Paul instructs women to keep their damn mouths shut in church. He recommends that men not marry, if possible. Sex with women is presented as a necessary evil. Jesus backed him up on this, recommending that those men who are able should just cut their balls off to remove the temptation completely.
And this brings us back to our original passage. If you have to have sex, and have to get married, be sure to get some slaves, and treat your wife (wives?), children, and slaves as your subordinates. But try to be nice to them. And if you need examples of how God treats women, just open your Bible.