Oppressing Women: It’s Not Just the Taliban

I hope that you were shocked and outraged by the execution last week of an Afghani woman. As the story has unfolded, it appears that two Taliban commanders had a relationship of some kind with her and in order to save face, they accused her of adultery, set up a mock trial, condemned her to death, then shot her nine times while a group of men cheered.

According to a CNN posting, this public execution is the latest and among the most shocking examples of violence against women in Afghanistan, but it is far from an isolated case. Hundreds of students and teachers at girls’ schools in the country have been hospitalized with suspected poisoning this year alone. Girls were forbidden to go to school when the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. Nearly nine out of 10 women suffer physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage at least once in their lifetimes.

The way in which women are viewed and treated by the Taliban is appalling! But the appalling view and treatment of women is not limited to some who follow Islam; it is also a problem in the Christian church. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not accusing some in the church of condoning abuse, but I am without apology saying that the view of many in the church toward women lays the foundation for degrading treatment of women.

When leaders and theologians state that women are not permitted to hold positions of leadership in the church, that women are not permitted to serve as pastors in the church, that women are not even permitted to teach when men are in the audience in the church, the church is declaring that women are less valuable than men, less important to God and His kingdom than men, the church sets the stage for women to be disregarded, mistreated, even abused by men.

I realize that the argument for limiting women’s roles in the church is based on scripture. Paul makes a couple of statements about women not speaking in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:11-13). But for every explanation of these passages that limits the role of women in the church, there is a clear and sound exegetical explanation that encourages the role of women in the church. (For one powerful example, see Paige, Terence. “The Social Matrix of Women’s Speech at Corinth: the Context and Meaning of the Command to Silence in 1 Cor 14:33b-36.” Bulletin of Biblical Research 12.2 (2002) 217-42). Instead of basing an entire theological case that limits the ministry of God’s creatures and leads to degrading opinions of and behavior toward God’s creatures based on a couple of passages from one person, why wouldn’t we base our theology on God’s practice which includes, among others, Deborah, God’s representative and mouthpiece, leading the entire nation of Israel and Huldah, a priestess to whom the leaders of Israel come seeking to hear a word from God.

My concern is that the moment we limit the role of women to do anything in the church, we are subtly declaring that women are less valuable than men. We may argue that this is not what we are saying, but our actions speak louder than our words because it’s exactly what we are doing. It’s a blatant act of male arrogance to say that God could never speak to a man through a woman. It’s degrading to women. It’s detrimental to the kingdom. It’s contrary to the heart of God. I have witnessed this mindset in men who treat women as second-class citizens, but the most tragic result of this mindset is listening to women who have been indoctrinated by this perspective and now as young adults actually believe that they are second-class citizens and that despite their obvious God-given gifts, they refuse to use them. I have seen young women throw away dreams that God placed in them, become angry and bitter toward the church and God, and use manipulative tactics to gain a sense of value that has been stripped away from them by a biblical opinion that demeans them.

Letting women be all that God created and gifted them to be is an important issue for me because it is about valuing all people that God has created, called and gifted. Why is it such a watershed issue for those who refuse to allow women to be all that God created and gifted them to be?