At the core of Christianity is the Person of Christ. That might sound basic, but it’s critical. The Bible is an important and inspired book, a book that tells us who Christ is and how He interacted with men and women on earth. But the Bible is not the core of Christianity; Jesus is.
Why start a post on sexism with this distinction? Because many people read sexism into Christianity based on a few passages in the Bible. When these passages are understood in light of who Jesus is and how He interacted with men and women during His ministry, sexism is unidentifiable. It’s not there.
Jesus’ behavior toward both genders was twofold: perfectly righteous, calling for repentance from sin; and perfectly loving, reaching the rejected. In a society where women were viewed as lesser people, Jesus gave them equal standing. He surrounded Himself with women like Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene and many more. Women were also the first to witness His resurrection—and their witness flew in the face of a culture that deemed women “unreliable” in a court of law. Jesus was not sexist—and because Jesus and God are one Person, God isn’t either.
These arguments alone should be persuasive, but there are other indicators that show us Christianity has never been sexist when it has been true to the character of Jesus and the actual Word of God. Here are a few.
God created man and woman equal from the beginning.
When Adam and Eve are created in Genesis 2, God makes Adam first. Eve follows shortly after as God says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” In other words, man could not effectively complete his God-ordained mission without woman; it was not good for man to be without her. They were equally needed on earth. Equally valuable before God. Any inequality that occurs in our world today is not because of God’s design, but because of sin.
The early church fathers embraced women in the church, and women were integral to the establishment of Christianity.
Flash-forward several thousand years to the founding of the church, and we see women taking a significant role in the furtherance of the gospel. The church was supported by wealthy Christian women, and many of them served within the church itself. But as the church approached the third century, a cultish worldview called Gnosticism threatened the truth about Jesus. People were mixing Gnostic views with Christian doctrine. In Gnosticism, women took a dominant role and were even elevated to the level of demi-god. Because of this confusion, the church likely began limiting the roles women could take in church leadership (outside of lead pastor, bishop and elder, which Paul designated to men because of the family structure) and this did not change for many hundreds of years.
Some of what Scripture says was directed to the culture in which it was written.
Certain passages of Scripture can seem sexist at first glance, but this is because most modern readers look at the text through their Western cultural bias. They don’t stop to ask, “What did this mean to the original audience? What was the culture like at the time?” For example, many of the instructions of the Corinthian church (1 and 2 Corinthians) took into account the extremely pagan, Greek culture in which the church operated. As Greeks followed Jesus and merged into the Jewish Christian church, those differences in behavior came to light and had to be addressed. Things like head coverings and women remaining silent in assembly were cultural commands with spiritual implications.
Sexism happens when people choose selfishness over God’s design.
So what about real sexism in the church? It does happen, and we can’t ignore that reality. When people demean women in the body of Christ, it’s not because Christianity is inherently anti-woman. It’s because sinful people have missed the point of the gospel, choosing selfishness over God’s design.
God’s heart is unity. His heart is more than equality. He expects us to attribute value to each person who bears His image. He has never commanded people to demand submission, to command silence or to force modesty on one half of His human creation, but He has called us to follow His Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit, we will choose behavior that reflects God’s heart for people—men and women alike.