From the beginning of human history, the sovereign God planned to reclaim the world from the chaos of sin. He wanted to restore shalom to his creation, and he chose to use people to accomplish this divine purpose. The whole story of God reaching out and redeeming his people as recorded in scriptures at various instances included instruments of men and women. Unfortunately, women are given little attention in the literature of earliest Christianity even though there are scriptural texts in which they are seen as active participants in the mission and expansion of the church.
When we begin to notice the parts women played, we can never read the bible in the same way. For example, we can read the gospel of Mark almost to the end without realizing that there were women accompanying Jesus and his male disciple. Then we get to Mark 15:40-41, where we find at the cross “women looking on from a distance; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of the Joses, and Salome. These used to provide for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.” The effort of scholars to give a voice to the silent partners of Jesus as well as Paul, and to tell their stories is important. But we have to remember that we (Christians), not these silent women, are the writers of the stories we tell, and it is our voices, not theirs that we use in the telling.
Like any other faith, Christianity is practiced within cultural contexts. And most contextual/cultural values or norms, either consciously or unconsciously filter their way into what is held as Christian faith in that context. We live in societies and cultures marred by patriarchy. In these societies and cultures, or at least, in my context, boys learn they should be tough, disagree, and/or contradict anything that feels uncomfortable; it is assumed as an insult to their masculinity or identity. In the same patriarchy, girls are taught to seek approval and validation through submission and meeting expectations; as stipulated by society or culture.
It is worth noting and should be taken seriously that women equally bear God’s image with their male counterparts. But they are simultaneously taught that female subordination is the inherent order of creation and that their gender disqualifies them for leadership and full participation in the work of the kingdom. Women need to be freed from the false restraints that limit their gifting and calling in the home, the church, and the society. They need to be freed from the nagging, gnawing, and sense of inferiority that is the inevitable residue of the patriarchal perspective. Both men and women are disciples of Jesus Christ. When men disqualify or limit the full contributions of their creation partners, it becomes impossible to fulfil the mandate that the creator/redeemer had given in the great commission (Mathew 28: 18-20).
This piece is not about equality in sex/gender roles. Rather, it is about giving each individual, male or female, as created and gifted by God, the opportunity to use their giftedness in the service of God, notwithstanding the person’s gender. If we believe God became fully human, then we must also believe in a human essence that surpasses the male-female divide. Human beings are intended to move beyond Eden and be conformed to the image of Christ. And in Christ, there is no distinction, male nor female (Galatians 3:28).