Rumours of Grace: Trump, gender inequality, churches and a glimpse of God
While gender inequality can mean a number of things, for now I am using the term only as it relates to the differences between men and women in their status and capabilities. Trump appears to represent a view of women that sees them as suitable company only if they meet certain standards of appearance.
His famous ownership of the Miss Universe/ Miss USA organization came to an end in 2015 (after NBC refused to broadcast his pageants because of remarks Trump made about Mexicans). However, that former ownership has not won Trump any credit with those who are fighting for gender equality.
It has often been said that the church has contributed to gender inequality by supporting the subjugation of women. However, the church’s attempts to restrict the roles of women have overall been half-hearted. I will say a bit about that and then suggest a fatal flaw in the church’s slowness in keeping women out of key leadership roles such as the priesthood.
The reason I say that the church only half-heartedly has withheld from women some status and roles is that, far from the record being clear on this, it is mixed.
Take for example the Catholic Church. It is typically accused of an unequal treatment of gender because it has refused to allow female priests. However, as many historians have noted, the Catholic Church found a way to give women positions in leadership and religious life through the establishment of convents and orders of nuns such as the Sister of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy. This occurred at a time when society had little else to offer women who wanted to lead and serve their communities.
A second example: Pentecostal Churches, which comprise the largest and fastest growing religious movement of the last 100 years, have been successful because, among other things, in the early days women preached and led. One of them, Aimee Semple McPherson, by 33 had already established the first Christian radio station in the early 1900s in Los Angeles. Her church seated over 5,000 people and thousands became Christian believers under her preaching and teaching.
It is true that in later decades the freedom of Pentecostal women to preach and lead has been questioned. But it was not that way in the beginning and there are many other examples within the world wide Christian community of great inconsistency in the restrictions placed on women.
Ultimately such inconsistency is well founded. This is because the opening page of the Bible holds men and women in equally high regard.
That page addresses a simple question: how and why is advanced human culture possible?
Many people today mistakenly believe in naturalism, which assumes that our capacities for leadership, organization, culture and art are a happy by-product of evolutionary processes; that we are capable of amazing feats of the imagination, organization and construction is completely unnecessary for the raw survival of the species.
It’s all accidental in the end that we can create and construct to the extent that we do, but we get to enjoy it all nonetheless.
The response to the question of the source of our staggering capacity to create and build what we find in the opening page of the Bible is much more rewarding and promising. Human beings have been created in the image of God or as a youth said to me recently, “We are all created to be a picture of God.”
But when it comes to gender equality, here’s the thing, and I’ll let the writing speak for itself:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
I can expect to see a glimpse of God in Christine as well as Christopher, in Joanne as well as John, and in Francoise as well as Francois. All have been created in the image of God. We all share some of God’s capacity for creativity, work, rest, celebration, sociability and wise rule. Sometimes people ask for a sign that God is real and present, but what people do not realize is that we are the proof.
This doctrine that each person reflects God, without any gender-based exclusion, is pivotal to a correct understanding of gender (in)equality. It relativizes and puts into liberating context the parts of the Bible that assume inequality. It undermines the (half-hearted) gender inequality that is found in significant parts of the Christian tradition. It cuts the legs out from any religious or social tradition of gender inequality. And it is a powerful motive for gender equality.
Actually, the term “gender equality” sounds a bit lame. It sounds lame compared to the hints of brilliance and glory conveyed by the understanding that you and I, whatever our gender identity, are created to be a picture of God.