The evolution of a cultural phenomenon can often be tracked by
its response to independent thought, minorities, and women. The early
Christian church is a good example of this. In its initial stages it
sought acceptance by recruiting from the disaffected and those who had
nothing to lose by repudiating the status quo.
However, as it moved through the different stages of growth within
the culture, it became less of a resistance movement to some established
situation, and more a part of the environment from which it sprang. Its
final position was to be an integral part of the culture, and
thus very interested in maintaining the same status quo it earlier
sought to disrupt.
By examining the status of women within the church, we can see the
assimilation of the church by the culture. This is shown by the culture's
norms being slowly and forcibly applied to the emerging establishment
church, in spite of the fact that these very norms contradict (often
violently) the earlier, actual teachings of the church's founder.
Thus the letters of Paul, while somewhat contradictory on the subject
of women, do allow for women priests, apostles, and traveling teachers.
The Pastoral letters, on the other hand, are written by male members of
the establishment church and reveal a very different view of the place
of women both within everyday life and the church.
If one looks at the members of a sect, one sees those who do not fit
into everyday life. Thus Jesus is accused (not congratulated)
on being friends with tax collectors, Samaritans, and prostitutes. All
of these people are considered non-people in one fashion or another by
the Jewish culture. Some of these non-people are women. Note that Jesus
believed all these people deserved a chance at being saved, and treated
them all well, with a shocking disregard for the mores of the time. All
he asked was for them to depart from the established cultural norms.
As these very norms were what condemned these people to positions
of powerlessness and alienation within the culture, it was easy to
reject them. Indeed, the disaffected, joined together in faith in Jesus'
preachings, found a new security and strength in their numbers. Because
of their new-found freedom from the old norms, they were able to create
new norms for themselves.
Thus women, a large percentage of the disaffected, became free from
the cultural chains Judaism imposed upon them. They were not free from
persecution for their beliefs, but they made that very persecution
a bonding experience for all of them. Indeed, Jesus' imminent and
apocalyptic return would be the beginning of life everlasting for them
all. This was part of the message of the new christ -- all are welcome
in the kingdom of heaven; all can be saved.
As Christianity became more established, and moved into the cultic
phase of its growth, more women were attracted to its teachings. The
church was beginning to have more and more "hero" teachers, women and
men who could do miraculous things. This was in appearance a somewhat
egalitarian situation -- all one seemed to need was faith in Jesus Christ,
rather than a particular set of sexual organs. However, the first seeds
of cultural assimilation can be seen within the writings of the time.
Paul is an excellent example. On the one hand he declares all equal
before Christ; on the other hand he sets down restrictive behavioral
standards for women concerning their status both within the church, and
with their husbands and other men. The church is still not an established
part of the dominant cultures of the time -- persecution is still a bond
for the members of the budding cult, and Jesus' apocalyptic return is
still believed to be imminent.
However, one must keep in mind what one is studying. The situation
for women may have been either better or worse than is actually shown
by the included books of the accepted New Testament. It is a sure bet
these books have been either edited or selected by men to fit
their conception of what the established church should be. Thus we are
studying the sectarian and cultic phases of the emerging Christian church
-- through the filter of the establishment Christian church.
Bearing this in mind, we can move on to consideration of Christianity
as both a church and an established part of the dominant culture. This can
be easily shown by examination of the Pastoral and Catholic letters. In
Ephesians 5:22-23, women are told they are subject on Earth to men, just
as men are subject to god. There is no thought to women being subject
to god rather than man. Women occupy a position analogous to that of
animals -- perhaps it was thought only men can be that close to god.
In 1 Timothy 2:8-15 the law is spoken of as more important than
faith. Jewish law is not an equal opportunity experience. In 1
Timothy 3:11 and 5:1-15 women are given standards of behavior to which
they must aspire. These are unsurprisingly close to Jewish law of the time
concerning the status of women. In 2 Timothy 2:4-7 the status quo,
of all things, is used to show the correct form of behavior. This is
the very status quo against which Jesus railed!
In Titus 2:1-5 more "ethical" (read "correct for the times") behavior
is shown as examples for the good Christian. Faith is not a part
of these instructions. Finally, in 1 Peter 3:1-7 one could consider
the metaphorical nail to have been hammered into the coffin of women's
freedom within the church. Peter, the "last word" on Jesus' teachings,
the metaphorical rock upon which the Christian church is built --
the one who supposedly actually spoke with the Messiah -- is used as
a thoughtless mouthpiece to say women should have no more freedom or
self-determinism within the church than without.
Thus we find the situation today. It is merely a dispirited and shadowy
copy of the moral standards of the Jewish culture of the time. Now we
have a church of "glorious" monuments to materialism, the status quo,
and hierarchical politics. The bible has been carefully combed and edited
so its message fits what this very patriarchal hierarchy desires to
have taught as the literal "Word of God." It is unsurprising the bible
trumpets the message of patriarchal superiority -- it was written and
edited by men!
The excitement, newness, and freedom of the religious self-determinism
residing within god's will, as taught by Jesus, has become a sad and
tattered memory of what might have been. This very excitement resides
today only in occasional snatches of the bible which have miraculously
avoided the above-mentioned male editors.
If one were to try to actually follow the teachings of Jesus, it
would be a difficult road to discover, let alone follow. It is perhaps
ironic that in order to do this one would have to start the cycle again,
with a sect rebelling against the established, monolithic church which
self-proclaims itself the inheritor of the teachings of Jesus.