With diatribes about entertainers who invite rape and moms who are destroying America by supporting their families; with ignorant arguments about fetuses that masturbate, and females who might as well if they use contraception, it’s tempting to think Christian conservatives have reached some new pinnacle of hating women and sexuality. But the sad reality is that even the media’s most unabashed misogynists like Michele Bachmann, Michael Burgess, Lou Dobbs and Juan Williams are actually tame compared to their ideological ancestors, including some of the biggest names in Christian history.
In past centuries, men who were hailed as church fathers, patriarchs, doctors, and even saints boldly expressed their views that females are inferior and loathsome, and they explained at length why God shared their perspective. Lest we fall into the conservative trap of thinking that the past was somehow better than the nasty messes we face today, it’s worth pondering some of the lovely tidbits the Church has thought fit to preserve and promote in the centuries since Christianity was founded. Here are some of the most savory. They come from three waves of religious leaders: “Fathers” of the Catholic Church, Protestant reformers and American patriarchs who inherited the mantle of both.
Church Doctors and Fathers
- [For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame. —Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215) Pedagogues II, 33, 2
- In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die... Woman, you are the gate to hell. —Tertullian, the "father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)
- Woman is a temple built over a sewer. —Tertullian
- Woman was merely man's helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God. —Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)
- Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one. —Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)
- Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. ... Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. —Saint Albertus Magnus, Dominican theologian, 13th century
- As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence. —Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, 13th century
- The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. —Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)
- No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. —Martin Luther
- Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. —Martin Luther
- Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude. —John Calvin, Reformer (1509-1564)
- Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me....of what importance is your character to mankind, if you was buried just now. Or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God. —John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791), letter to his wife, July 15, 1774
American Patriarchs (Puritan, Mormon, Baptist, Evangelical)
- Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband....For if there be not fear and reverence in the inferior, there can be no sound nor constant honor yielded to the superior. —John Dod, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements, Puritan guidebook first published in 1603
- The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection. —John Dod
- The root of masculine is stronger, and of feminine weaker. The sun is a governing planet to certain planets, while the moon borrows her light from the sun, and is less or weaker. —Joseph Smith, founder of LDS movement (1805-1844)
- Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed....And if I am not a good man, I have no just right in this Church to a wife or wives, or the power to propagate my species. What then should be done with me? Make a eunuch of me, and stop my propagation. —Heber C. Kimball, venerated early LDS apostle (1801-1868)
- A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. —Official statement of Southern Baptist Convention, summer 1998 (15.7 million members)
- The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. —Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist leader (1930–)
- The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands. —James Fowler, Women in the Church, 1999.
- Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture. —Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill nondenominational mega-church franchise. (1970-)
Why has the main current of Christianity produced a steady diet of misogyny for over 2,000 years? The answer may lie partly in human biology and culture. But it also lies in the Iron Age texts of the Bible itself. The Judeo-Christian tradition of building up men by tearing down women goes all the way back to the most ancient parts of the biblical collection, to the opening pages of Genesis, and continues unabated through the New Testament. (I’ve written elsewhere about 15 of those Bible verses because they partly explain the conservative assault on women.) As Driscoll likes to remind his followers, “Every single book in your Bible is written by a man.” Say no more.