In early Christianity there was no separate roles prescribed for men and women and women were not distinguished separately from men. This was despite the fact that the society in
Women in Christianity: The early Christian prophets
From West Asia, Christianity spread to ancient
Women in Christianity: Development of the patriarchal thought
But the initial belief of the immediate "second coming" of the Christ did not happen. From hereon Christianity slowly started to evolve as a systemized religion with the churches enjoying enormous clout and power. This led to the development of the patriarchal thought in Christianity which abolished and discarded the earlier view that men and women should not be distinguished separately. The havoc of the power of churches continued for the next two thousand years during which women were not only treated as inferior to men but great atrocities were committed against independent women who were branded as witches and hunted down mercilessly.
Women in Christianity: Wave of change in twentieth century
Only in the twentieth century things started changing in Christianity. With the churches loosing much of their clout and power in the twentieth century, with democratic governments firmly established in many countries in Europe as well as in America and with religion getting separated from politics things.It all started with the early feminist movements and peaked with the second wave of feminism from the period of 1960s. This period saw a profound change in the status of women in Christianity as a religion. Women's rights came in the forefront.
Women in Christianity: Feminist Theology
Feminist theology was established as a branch of feminism to study the role of women especially in Christianity. The feminist theological movement influenced the development of the Wisdom literature that expressed God through a feminine image.
Women in Christianity: Women's liberation movement
The period of 1960s and thereafter can be considered as the beginning of the "women's liberation movement" in history which advocated social, cultural, political and religious equality of the gender. Though the women's liberation movement went full throttle in this period the patriarchal set up did not vanish as such and the concept of sexual dualism still existed. This concept not only viewed the differences between men and women in mere biological terms but it also ranked and applied values to these differences. For instance, men were considered to be more idealistic, spiritual, and psychic than women. On the other hand, women were thought to be more emotional, instinctive, and physical than men. This was a senario of absolute "gender stereotyping" and it existed from last two thousand years. In fact this kind of sexual dualism originated from the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Christianity had adopted it since then. It was only the women's movement in 1960s that challenged these kind of thinking to some affect.
Women in Christianity: Marian devotion
The patriarchal Christianity surprisingly also witnessed another phenomenon that is the Marian devotion. Catholics were highly influenced by this whereas the Protestants rejected this phenomenon. Marian devotion even affected the feminist movement in both ways. One school of thought believed that the Marian devotion helped to offer the feminine view on God where as the other school of thought believed that the Marian devotion in fact harmed the feminist movement. They said that proclaiming Mary as Virgin Mary and worshiping her in fact in this form is damaging to the cause of women as "women and womanhood" are elevated to the "high pedestal of morality" and they are inhibited or discouraged to express or explore the more humane side of their nature. The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1970s and 80s precisely wanted to break free from this high pedestals of morality attached to women and womanhood.
Women in Christianity: The two parallel movements
After 1960s the emergence of two parallel movements took place in Christianity as a religion and the society in general. These two movements were the liberal and conservative movements. These two parallel movements exist till date. The more liberal feminist theological movement is influenced by the goddess worship, wisdom literature, Jesus' movement and Marian devotion. On the other hand the religious right within Christianity works on the principal of sexual dualism. The religious right tries to find values only within an established tradition and they resist change of any kind to an established order. The religious right opposes the liberal reproductive rights of women especially the right to abortion, it rejects cloning technology, it rejects homosexuality and it seeks reestablishment of traditional family ideals based on the patriarchal system. Initially the religious right was only involved with the faith but after the 1970s they have increased their presence in the matters of politics so that they can influence mainstream culture and society in a more profound manner. This is especially true in
However, from the viewpoint of feminists, gender roles are never absolute or essential. They feel that these were formed within society, and that the concept of "gender" was established to analyze and distinguish the differences in the roles of men and women.
Women in Christianity: The religious right and the liberal feminist theological movement
It is quite natural that the Religious Right criticizes feminists, who challenge the superiority of men. They in fact resist everything about the feminist movement. For example they even dislike the liberal welfare policies for women because under such policies, single mothers who need to raise their children and the economically destitute are assisted financially. The Religious Right view such assistance as preventing the establishment of traditional families. They also reject the relativism of human existence and therefore they are intolerant to other views, cultures and religions. They believe in the absolutism and purity of Christian values and tradition. For the religious right "Patriarchal Christianity" is the central core of all existence. Anything outside this central core has to be resisted and absolutely rejected.
In relation to the role of "women in Christianity" we can see that now we have two parallel schools of thought that exits within the religion as well as in the society. These are the liberal feminist theological movement and the conservative religious right movement. Though this being the current scenario it is not a static situation and there is a continuous evolution that is taking place in regard to the "role of women in Christianity" as it had happened in the last two hundred years or so.
By: 10A07; Teo Wee Shiuan, Liu Li, Neoh Jia Xin