Gender Equality: The Biblical Perspective
Gender: Issues or Burdens?
Gender issues and burdens govern human thoughts and actions all over the world. Gender considerations are prime in the policies and practices of Governments, businesses, politics, religious and voluntary organizations and in all places where man and woman meet, mingle and socialize, and in all human activities. In some spheres, they enjoy equal rights and status, and in some others, they have separate territories to dwell on. In many countries, a woman has special privileges whereas in some they are treated at par with men. However, it is ironical that those who crusade for gender equality enjoy special privileges and treatments in certain spheres to have an advantage over others. The conflicts in this sphere are largely because we do not look at it from the divine perspective but from the finite human angle.
Even though the Bible is crystal clear on gender issues, Christianity had its share of controversies on issues related to gender over the years. These issues are seriously discussed, debated and disputed on many a forum, but sadly these have not converged much. All those who are involved in these deliberations remain dissatisfied about the policies on gender in the Church and in the society.
One may look at the issue of gender equality from God’s perspective rather than from human, to understand, accept and follow on so that there can be a satisfactory disposition on it. At the same time, we must also look at these issues from a human point of view to make it relevant, pragmatic and situational to apply these in our daily lives and in our immediate context.
It is pertinent here to note that Christianity has played a major role in bringing about gender equality in the various cultures of the world. The Church and the modern missionary movement have fought to bring about the dignity, status, employment, education, health and development of the so-called weaker gender. Thus Christianity, the Bible and the power of Gospel have been major catalysts in liberating the weaker gender and help them come to the forefront of modern life even in religiously conservative cultures and countries.
Despite the general impression of the woman being the weaker vessel, she has been, more than once, emperor, Prime Minister and political leader of several countries of the world including the empire where the sun never set at least for some time. In many other cultures, she has been the queen like in many African tribal groups. Women have been powerful in many kingdoms in Asia and they were great fighters like the Queen of Jhansi. In some cultures, in India, women held the wealth and property of the families and thus controlled families and communities.
Gender: The Epitome of the secret of creation
The idea of gender and its differences has its origin with God. There are divine wisdom and purpose in humans being of two genders which have a lot of differences and an equal number of similarities that make them complementary rather than contradictory. But we can’t discount the subtle and cunning ploy of the enemy to create a false impression that there is a third gender called ‘transgender’ which is influencing nations, humanity and even the judicial system. Transgender is the impact of abuses of various nature the enemy instilled in humans during childhood and puberty years to create an ungodly way of life. American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have conducted a series of studies to ascertain this. Moreover, it has been proved that a clear majority of transgenders have moderate to serious mental aberration like depression, obsession, mania and other mental disorders reflected in their behavior and attitude (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA; American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 14: 13–39, 2011). Others are forced into repeated mind manipulations through the media and social media. The Bible emphasizes these as deviant behavior (Romans 1:26-27). But the enemy of our souls repeats the lie that transgender is for real several times through the media and fake studies like Kinsey Report to make even innocent people think that there is some ‘truth’ in these lies. Lately, the enemy has successfully invaded into the legislative and legal processes in many countries including India.
When God created humans, He made them male and female, in His own image and they both had His breath in them (Genesis 1:26-31). Their duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges were the same. They were one person made into two and then were blended together (Genesis 5:1-2). They were given the same spiritual and earthly blessings equally. They both were granted unique roles in building up future generations.
When sin entered human life, man and woman lost many of the privileges given to them by God. Their mutual relationship was also ruptured. Thus, they developed the desire to control and rule over each other (Genesis 3:16). Thus, there have been conflicts, competition and consequent problems in human life which resulted in suppression, oppression, and complexes of the various type which affected their relationship the world over. Their roles get reversed in some cases and each fighting for its own rights, recognition, privileges, importance, prominence, and relative satisfaction.
It is then that God provided a new equation between man and woman where the old self is crucified and made to die and a new person to emerge in its place. This is what the Bible calls ‘Rebirth’. In the new life, the two persons, both man and woman, crucify their craving for control, rule, competition, winning over each other and to oppress, suppress and become slaves to various complexes. They subsequently lose these desires as they allow the Spirit of God to control their hearts, thoughts, desires, likes, and dislikes. The Bible speaks about this as ‘newness in Christ’ without any feeling or sense of superiority or inferiority (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17). When man and woman become a new creation, their relationship becomes one of mutual responsibility and complementarity (Galatians 3:26-29). Each tries to understand his or her roles in this relationship and tries to fulfill the role to the best of one’s ability, effort, commitment and submission (Ephesians 5:21) and live in humility. The Bible reassures its readers in general and believers that man and woman cannot be independent of each other as they are in the new creation through rebirth (1 Corinthians 11:11). They are interdependent. This is the gender equality the Bible teaches and helps its followers to practice in families, church and in the society at large.
Equality through centuries
History reveals that equality and equity are fought and sought after through the centuries by humans. At the same time, biblical influence worked to help woman gain security, safety, equality and dignity in the various cultures of the world. Bible has influenced to change a lot of superstition and taboos of the various cultures in the realm of gender especially in Africa and South Asia. The Bible thus practically demonstrated its power in influencing the world. But we must bear in mind the fact that despite all that the Bible has done for the woman, its impact can be felt only through the right attitude of both man and woman.
Equality in the New Testament
In the New Testament, we read that Jesus dealt with women as much as He dealt with men. Jesus revealed that He was Messiah, first to a Samaritan woman. The resurrected Lord Jesus appeared first to a woman, thus giving so much privilege to womenfolk. We also read that women were actively involved in the church in various ministries (Romans 16)
The New Testament gives specific instructions about the involvement of women in the church. Even though there is no gender difference in salvation (Galatians 3:28), as far as ministries in the church are concerned, women are instructed to remain silent or inaudible, in the sense of instructing men (1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34). Scriptures also give reasons for such an instruction. It is because the woman was used of the devil to mar the first creation by succumbing to temptation while in the garden of Eden, that God wanted women to be restrained from marring the second creation, the church through taking a leadership role. The Bible reminds its readers that men were given the leadership role in the church whereas women’s role is mostly among sisters (Titus 2:4-5) and in the homes to bring up children. Here we can clearly see the different roles attributed to the woman in the church and at home where man is the head and woman is in a support role. But both these roles are equally important and that they are complementary to each other. They are like the two sides of a coin and together their roles make human life in society and family possible. In the absence of such a converging of roles and responsibilities, there will be anarchy in the world, church and in homes.
Genders coexist for a divine purpose
It is to be reiterated that there is perfect equality between man and woman in God’s economy of things. They are given equal importance and status in the way God deals with them. But surely there are differences in their roles and responsibilities just as we find a difference in the parts played by different organs in the human body. When each part recognizes this truth, there is no conflict in the functioning of the human body. So, when the Bible commands the woman to submit to the man in a husband-wife relationship (Ephesians 5:22), we are all also admonished to submit to each other in the fear of Christ (verse 21; 1 Peter 5:5). Thus, there is no cause for clamour and battle to gain equality which is already recognized by the Bible in the church, in homes, and in the society. Added to this, submission of the wife to the husband is envisaged as a loving and passionate attitude in response to the unconditional agape’ of the husband towards the wife rather than a compulsive and authoritarian demand placed on the wife. If the Eternal Son of God submits to the Eternal Father voluntarily, the secret of submission needs to be understood in the like manner (1 Corinthians 11:3). The head covering given to the woman is a practical demonstration of this truth.
We must remind ourselves of the fact that the difference and distinction of gender are functional and not positional, as nature itself teaches humans. Along with this, man and woman are given specific roles and responsibilities with corresponding accountabilities in the creation and in the church, which are complementary, conciliatory and congenial. Both man and woman need each other for God to fulfill His purpose in creation and in the new creation. May the readers receive the grace to meet the attitudinal challenges in these spheres and try to recognize our place and importance in fulfilling the purpose for which we are placed here on earth!!