February 6 marked the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. The World Health Organization estimates more than 200 million women and girls across the globe have been subjected to this violent practice, which forcibly cuts or mutilates a woman’s sexual organs as a so-called “rite of passage.” Not only is FGM a gross violation of the human rights and dignity of these girls, most of whom either do not consent to it or are not old enough to understand what’s being done to them, but it’s also incredibly dangerous.
Diverse people groups practice FGM, including unfortunately, a few remote tribes who identify as Christian. However, far more Christians have fought the practice than committed it, including missionaries, Christian aid organizations, and many local African Christian communities. These Christians are motivated by a biblical view of humanity, that includes the inherent dignity of women and children.
Nevertheless, a common accusation is that Christianity is an oppressively patriarchal religion that either subjugates women or, at least, devalues them. This accusation is almost exclusively Western and modern. The first Christians were actually criticized for teaching that women were equal in value to men, and accused of being “incestuous” for referring to fellow believers as “brothers and sisters.”
It was when Christians distorted the Scriptures and used them as justification to devalue women that real harm was done. Cases of sexual abuse in the Church, of domestic violence, of charges of abuse going unheard or dismissed, of keeping women from learning theology, and of otherwise cruel and demeaning treatment of women by some Christian men are a horrible stain on Church history. Church history has always been marked by human sin.
Still, just as the bad behavior of Christians does not disprove the truth claims of Christianity, neither can the sexism, misogyny, or even abuse committed by some Christian men prove that Christianity itself is sexist. In his new book More Than a White Man’s Religion: Why the Gospel Has Never Been Merely White, Male-Centered, or Just Another Religion, apologist Abdu Murray confronts this accusation head-on. Murray combs through the Bible, including verses that have been misinterpreted in the past as demeaning to women, to demonstrate that women are consistently portrayed in Scripture as having full human dignity and who are, in Christ, indispensable members of the kingdom of God.
For the writers of Scripture to specifically name and honor women like Rahab, Ruth, Naomi, and Deborah, as well as the women who served alongside Jesus and the apostles in the Gospel accounts, was to make a radically bold statement in an era of human history that more often erased women than included them. Scripture records their bravery, honor, intellect, and service, not to mention first arriving at the empty tomb.
When Jesus told parables, he used both male and female characters as metaphors for God. He repeatedly spoke directly to women, even teaching them theology. Paul addressed his letters to entire churches, not just men, and frequently called out specific women by name.
Solomon says in Proverbs 1 that “wisdom cries aloud in the street,” available to anyone willing to seek her, and that anyone who refuses—man or woman—will be in “dread of disaster.” In other words, the Bible not only invites women to know and serve God, thereby implying they are intellectually capable of doing it, but also radically dignifies women by commanding them to do it.
That is why Christians have long fought for women’s access to education. It is also why Christians defend the human rights and dignity of women across the world today where others won’t.
Biden administration agencies issued statements condemning female genital mutilation, while not only defending but also promoting the same practice at home under the euphemism “gender-affirming care.” Last summer, days after the Dobbs decision, President Biden issued a statement vowing to do “everything in his power” to expand abortion, which leaves women vulnerable to the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage that abortion causes. This kind of deadly confusion is only possible in a worldview without a coherent picture of the dignity of all people as they are made, male and female, by God.
To learn more about how Christianity dignifies women, ask for a copy of Abdu Murray’s new book More Than a White Man’s Religion when you give a gift of any amount to the Colson Center this month. Just go to ColsonCenter.org/February.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Maria Baer. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.
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