Where did gender inequality in the church start in the first place?
Genesis 3:8-20 (especially 16)
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labour you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
When the story exploded about domestic violence hidden in the church, our hearts broke to consider that God’s Word could and had been used to justify abuse. In the wake of our response, I was even more shocked when distant relatives privately contacted me and insisted that we were over-reacting, and that really the problems weren’t “that bad.”
I wonder if you’ve asked “why is there gender inequality in the church?”, even on a less dramatic scale. Who makes the decisions in church, and why? Why are women represented in senior leadership roles in my workplace, but not in my church? What roles are men and women meant to play in church? How and why are their roles different? These were especially sensitive questions when I was single for most of my 20’s. I genuinely wanted to know how I could serve God and his people with my whole life, but felt confused, and if I’m honest, sometimes restricted, by virtue of my gender.
Where did gender inequality come from in the first place?
Gen 3 shows us that the devastating consequences of sin entering the world were far and high-reaching, and the relationship between men and women was not untouched. When previously there was equality (male and female both made in God’s image – Gen 1) as well as diversity (woman was made to be man’s “helper”, more literally “strong ally” – Gen 2), now we’re faced with this confronting picture:
“…your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.” Gen 3:16
The word for ‘desire’ is the same word that will be used in Gen 4:7, when God says to Cain that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” In the same way sin wanted to dominate Cain’s heart, so the word used here in 3:16 might express that the consequence of sin is that women will want to dominate men. And tragically, a man’s authority might no longer be a good thing, but something used to dominate or even abuse. No longer the good picture of a healthy, flourishing team, but division, competition and a struggle for power.
Sin has broken the way men and women relate, including in the church, and we both need the cross of Jesus for forgiveness and the power to change. There are still questions about gender inequality in the church that should be asked; but the discussion will be so much more helpful if we’ve first considered how our sin has changed the way we ask the question, and earnestly seek together the unity that can only come through Jesus.
Head: Read back over Gen 2. What did the relationship between men and women look like when God made it? What has changed now in Gen 3?
Heart: What do you really wonder about gender inequality in the church? Is there any way you can relate to the experience of wanting to dominate, or of being dominated in an unhealthy way?
Hands: Who could you talk to about your questions or experiences? In what ways could you change the way you relate to men/women in the church?
Prayer: Father, sometimes your Word is confronting when it exposes things in our hearts that we feel uncomfortable about. We’ve all wanted to do things our own way, we’ve all wanted to be at the ‘top’ in some sense. We know it must grieve you to see that the way we relate to each other in church is so often still a product of our striving to be first. Please forgive us, and fill us with a vision of the perfect sacrificial life of Jesus, giving up all his rights to be first, to serve us even to the point of death. Transform us by the power of your Spirit, and change the way we relate to each other, so that others will see how great you are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A song to listen to: Who You say I am
Mel Dehnert- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- South Bank