Today, many Christian writers and pastors lament the lack of men in the church. Despite all the books written on the subject and all the programs designed to draw men into the church, congregations remain stubbornly and overwhelmingly female. Experts estimate that between 55 and 70 percent of churchgoers are women–a statistic that confounds the people who claim that the Bible and church are hateful toward women.
Of course, there are sociological, psychological and other reasons for why so many women are drawn to Christianity. (See “Why are Most Churchgoers Women?” for a scholarly overview of these various reasons.) However, I’d like to provide one simple explanation of why the gospel appeals so strongly to women–perhaps one that hasn’t been explored in much detail. But first we have to go back–way back–to the beginning of history.
When God made man and woman, He created them in equality. Though woman was taken from man’s rib, both man and woman were formed in the image of God. The Bible says,
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
However, that equality was soon lost. When Eve enticed Adam to eat from the tree God had forbidden them to touch, she brought a curse upon herself and all women. Part of that curse stated that her husband would rule over her (Genesis 3:16). For thousands of years, the curse held true. Women were made the property of their fathers and husbands, subject to all kinds of oppression and unfair practices. Men beat, raped, and divorced women at will with impunity. Women were often denied education, property rights, and legal representation. Even their natural functions, such as menstruation and childbearing, were considered impure. The Mosaic law of the Old Testament offered some concessions for women, including punishment for rapists, but it wasn’t much. Women were still treated as second-class citizens (and, in many ways, still are).
Now enter Jesus Christ. Jesus shares the gospel with women, educating them on the scriptures even though doing so was taboo (Luke 10:38-42). He turns the concept of purity on its head (Matthew 15:10-11). He condemns men who divorce their wives for petty reasons (Matthew 19:3-12). He redefines adultery as simply looking upon another woman lustfully (Matthew 5:27-28). He welcomes female followers. He shows mercy to female sinners and prostitutes (John 8:3-11). He demands love and justice for the least of society, including women (Matthew 25:31-40). He upsets the oppressive hierarchical structure of society by claiming “the last shall be first” in his kingdom (Matthew 20:16). Then with his redemptive work on the cross, Jesus destroys the curse of both Adam and Eve–offering victory over death and equality over dominance, respectively. Women are the first to receive news of his resurrection (Luke 24:1-8).
The precedent Christ set for promoting the equality of women continued in the Early Church. Taking their cue from the Savior, Jesus’ apostles made it clear that God wished to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit on women as well as men (Acts 2:17-18). They accepted women as deacons, ministers and fellow apostles (Romans 16:1-4, 7, 12). They ended polygamy (1 Corinthians 7:2). They commanded husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). Sure, some scriptures taken out of context have been used to keep women relegated to lesser roles in both church and society. But that’s not the tenor of the gospel. Christ sought to restore equality to women–equality that even secular society would have denied us! Those who say the Bible is hateful toward women apparently haven’t read beyond Deuteronomy!
The curse of Eve was the natural consequence of sin. It wasn’t God’s will, design or intention for women to live forever in oppression (read here for a Jewish perspective on the matter). If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have offered salvation to all. Is it any wonder, then, that women flock to the church?
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Despite what a few misguided ministers might preach, our inner spirits testify to the equality of grace. My own heart roars within me as I write these words. I firmly believe the reason our modern society promotes justice and equality for women is due to the words Jesus spoke concerning them. The gospel was the world’s first feminism movement!
As a result, women have almost always outnumbered men in the pews. The Early Church drew so many female congregants that some Roman scholars called Christianity “the religion of women and slaves.” Christ’s most loyal followers were also women. While his twelve hand-picked disciples fled at his crucifixion, his female followers stayed nearby (Matthew 27:55-56). A woman anointed Jesus for burial with a jar of precious perfume worth a year’s wages while his male followers decried the “waste” (Mark 14:3-4). Women were the first visitors to Christ’s tomb. Women financially supported the ministry of Christ (Luke 8:1-3). Almost anytime you read of Jesus in the gospels, a woman isn’t far from his side. Why?
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:40-47)
She whom Christ has freed from oppression is free indeed. And very grateful.
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