“The bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s emancipation.”
It was this quote by Elizabeth Cady Stanton which prompted me to write this post about her. She came from a Presbytarian background. It began early in her life when she attended Troy Female Seminary. Charles Grandison Finney, one of the most prominent revivalist preachers terrified her with his preaching about sin, the devil and damnation. She became ill and left school for a short time to recuperate at home. Even there she felt the terror. At her brother-in-law`s encouragement, she read books and articles on science and `religious superstition gave place to rational ideas based on scientific facts.“
It was not Elizabeth`s intention to abandon religion altogether. She held a regard for Jesus’ teachings and respected people whose religious beliefs drew them into many reform causes. She believed that the emancipation of women was the one step needed to bring a corrupt, superstitious church back to its true origins. In The Evolution of Womanhood`, she wrote: To change the woman in dogmatic theology, where she is represented as the central figure in Paradise Lost…is to revolutionize the system; hence all who believe in progress within the Church should hail present movement for woman`s emancipation, as that brings us to the next onward step in the new religion.“
Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully to find a religion in which men and women were seen as equals. As she grew older she become more radical in her opposition to organized religion. She launched a project to reinterpret and critique biblical texts and recruited a small committee of women to work on it. The Woman`s Bible was published in 1895 but received a hostile reception. Many of the women`s rights`activists were opposed to the publication because they feared that it would harm the women`s suffrage movement. They issued a formal denunciation of the book and worked to distance the suffrage movement from Elizabeth. A female reader decried the book`s radical statement that the Trinity was composed of a `Heavenly Mother, Father, and Son and that prayers should be addressed to an ìdeal Heavenly Mother`. Elizabeth`s response to the attacks of the women readers was, `The other difference between us is, we say that these degrading ideas of woman emanated from the brain of man while the church says that they came from God.` The controversy surrounding the book made it a best seller but it effectively ended Elizabeth`s influence on the suffrage movement.
The Woman`s Bible is a two-part non-fiction book challenging the traditional position of religious orthodoxy that woman should be subservient to man. It was Elizabeth`s aim to promote a radical liberating theology, one that stressed self-development. She was not alone in her efforts.
Lucretia Mott used the Bible to asnwer those who argued for women`s subservience. In 1849 she wrote Discourse on Woman in which she discussed Adam and Eve, the activities of various women in the Bible and argued that the Bible supported a woman`s right to speak aloud her spiritual beliefs. After a while, she became an expert at disarming men who used Scripture against her. In 1852 and 1854, she came prepared with Scripture in hand to debate men at the National Women`s Rights Convention.
Lucy Stone believed that the male-dominant interpretations of the Bible must be faulty so she learned Greek and Hebrew to gain insight into the earlier Bible translations which she believed would have wording more favorable to women`s equality. Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote Woman, Church and State, a book which challenged traditional Judeo-Christian teaching that women were the source of sin and that sex was sinful. She wrote that the double standard for morality hurt both sexes. She did not believe that the Bible, even when it was re-interpreted, could support women`s rights.
The Bible does not degrade women. It teaches that women should be loved as Christ loves the church. It is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It teaches that women ought to respect their husbands. In marriage, love and respect ought to go hand in hand. And it is a fact that it was Eve who was deceived and not Adam. And the Bible does not teach that sex is sinful. It is something that God created to be enjoyed between a husband and wife. God never intended for women to be mistreated, subservient. They were created in His image. They supported Jesus`ministry and there were many women serving in the church during Paul`s time. Deborah was a prophetess and judge and wife. God delivered Sisera, a mighty army general into the hands of a woman. Some professed teachers have misrepresented the teachings of the Bible to excuse inequality and racism.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women who shared her views had the right to question what they believed to be sexist teachings of the Bible and the Church but they failed to realize that things were different in biblical times. It is true that religion has been used to oppress women. There is the assumption that women are sinful and dangerous to men because of Eve since she was responsible for the fall of man. It can be argued that Adam didn’t have to sin too. He didn’t have to listen to Eve and that is what God told him. He was responsible for his own actions just as Eve was for hers. Both of them sinned. Both of them disobeyed God and both of them were held accountable by God.
The Bible paints an honest picture of both men and women. Women were virtuous, industrious, strong, resourceful, wise, caring, loyal, faithful, devious, dishonest, adulterous, wicked. God encouraged Abraham to listen to Sarah and follow her advice when she told him to send her handmaiden, Hagar and her son, Ishmael away. Pontius Pilate’s wife offered him advice regarding Jesus’. Nathan went to Bathsheba to ask her to speak to King David about his son, Adonijah’s usurpation of the crown because he believed that she had influence with the king. She was instrumental in securing the throne for her son, Solomon. Belshazzar’s mother advised him to consult the prophet Daniel about the handwriting on the wall. In the genealogy of Jesus, women are mentioned. In the book of Kings, the mothers of kings are mentioned. In Proverbs 31, we read about the wise sayings which King Lemuel’s mother taught him.
And nowadays, we have female pastors and ministers. Granted there are some who don’t believe that women preach the Word of God. Both men and women are opposed to women in the role of teachers. However, it is God who determines who will stand in the pulpit. Most of the prophets were male but there were female ones too like Deborah as mentioned before, Moses’ sister, Miriam, Huldah, Noadiah who was false prophetess, Anna and Philip’s virgin daughters. God will call men and women who are willing to serve Him.
Women had a voice and some influence in the lives of their families. It is those who have twisted or misinterpreted the Bible who are the stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation. The Bible and Christianity should not be blamed for the actions of those who use them to perpetuate sexism, racism, oppression and violence.
Sources: Wikipedia; Brainy Quote; History Net; CBE International