Christian Women's History: What a Cloud of Witnesses!

March is Women's History Month, and one of the things I am finding out about Christian women, is how woefully ignorant we are of our own history and heritage. 

Now, that is not necessarily due to any deficiency on our part. During much of the twentieth century, in our public schools, other than Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale, many of us were taught very little about women's historical contributions to our cultures or about women's rights. And in our Churches and Sunday Schools, contributions to the Women's Rights movement from Christian women were, well, mum was definitely the word. 

And mum is still the word in many Christian circles, but added to that is misinformation connecting our Christian heritage and early Christian reformers with radical elements of the modern feminist movement. 

But records are too easily accessed for any of us to plead ignorance in this age of information, so it is time to sit up and take notice of the fact that Christians are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both male and female, who believe that women's rights and complete autonomy with men in every area was biblical, and every bit as urgent and valid issues in their day as it is in ours, today. 

It is touted among evangelical TRADITIONAL "ROLE" RELIGIONISTS (TRR'S) that women who desire equality with men are simply clamoring for "selfish" rights that do not belong to them, and that the more radical aspects of modern feminism, such as self/goddess worship, LGTBQ, and abortion are the end result of pursuing more than a theoretical, non-tangible, equality-that's-not-real-equality between women and men. 

Men who live with their wives as equals are looked down upon and contemptuously called "passive" and "wimps" by Christian leaders. Complementarian (TRR) writings are full of such things, but historical facts simply do not back their conclusions. 

Credited with being the first woman in history to take a public stand for the right of women to proclaim the gospel and be involved in the leadership of the church, was Margaret Fell, co-founder of The Society of Friends, better known to us as the Quakers. In the 17th century, Fell wrote her treatise on, "Women's Speaking Justified...." Her argument was compelling and based entirely on scripture. Fell was not known as a "selfish" person, she never abandoned her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor did she embrace a lesbian lifestyle--as women today are warned may very well happen if they begin to suspect that the Bible teaches equality between men and women, functional equality and autonomy, and not the theoretical, philosophical, and ethereal, equality preached from so many pulpits today. Men and Women, both black and white, have much for which to be grateful to Margaret Fell and the Society of Friends.

Looking down the road a bit, we see another Quaker named Elizabeth Fry campaigning for prison reform in England and eventually all over Europe. Additionally, she advocated for the education of women prisoners, arguing that they could not better themselves and stay out of prison if they remained ignorant. Fry boldly stepped out of the accepted "role" of women for her day. Eventually becoming mother to 11 children, Fry based her activities and activism fully on scripture. 

Two of the most effective voices in the cause of abolishing slavery were Theodore Weld and the woman who became his wife, a Quaker at the time, Angelina Grimke. Angelina was the first women to appear before a legislative body in the United States. She did this, not to gain "selfish rights," for herself, but to gain the right of freedom on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves and were trapped in a heinous system of chattel slavery based solely on the color of their skins. 

During the course of Angelina's abolitionist activity, she was heavily criticized for speaking publicly--women simply did not do that. Consequently, she found herself advocating for the equality of women, as well as freedom for slaves. Fortunately for her, the man she married was a man among men (being known as "The Most Mobbed Man in America" for his stand against slavery, he could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called, "passive."). Theodore Welde was in complete agreement with his wife, Angelina and with his equally pious, independent, and vocal sister-in-law, Sarah Grimke. 

Today, TRR (Traditional Role Religionist) leaders, such as Tim LaHaye and John Piper, tell their followers that they have never seen a happy marriage where full equality was practiced between the couple. But the marriage of Rev. Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke refutes that statement. 

Sarah Grimke, a Bible believing Christian, is known as the first woman in America to write and publish a fully developed theological argument defending the equality of men and women in the home, church and society. Was Sarah a "self-centered" person? Her brother-in-law, whose home she resided in for the duration of her life after the marriage of her sister, did not believe so. On her death certificate, in answer to the question "occupation?" Theodore Weld penned the words, "Doing Good." 

Theodore and Angelina based their marriage on absolute equality and personal autonomy. They lived their entire lives that way and, by all accounts, lived happily. Angelina's husband rose up to call her blessed in his writings about her after her death. 

Fredrick Douglas, an escaped slave, an abolitionist, a great orator, a man who rejected the religion of the slave-holders of the South (and their Northern business partners), was an ordained minister of the gospel who highly praised the Jesus of the Bible, the "Christ of Christianity." He not only seconded Elizabeth Cady Stanton's resolution at the first women's rights Convention, "that it was the duty of the women of this country to secure their sacred right to the elective franchise (right to vote)," but was also a friend of Harriet Tubman. 

Tubman advocated for the right of all women to enjoy equality with men. Both having experienced the oppression of slavery, Douglass and Tubman recognized the ungodly prejudice and oppression against women prevalent in both society and in the church. Tubman was personally responsible for making 19 trips back into the South to lead approximately 300 slaves to freedom. Those who knew her say that she never missed a women's rights meeting if she could help it. 

Harriet Tubman was an American Hero and an incredible woman of God who spent her entire life advocating for the rights of blacks and women in addition to personally caring for the physical needs of others. Her integrity and Christian testimony remained unimpeachable until her death. 

These are but a few examples of great Christians who believed in equality for all men and women, and much work still needs to regarding Christians and gender equality, but what a cloud of witnesses we are surrounded with! 

Women indeed have a rich history. And Christian women have nothing to be ashamed of or to fear by following in the footsteps of the men and women who began blazing the trail to equality for us. Women have just as much an inalienable and God-given right as men to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. 

Jocelyn Andersen writes and speaks about many subjects including Bible prophecy and equality of the sexes. She is best known for her advocacy in domestic violence awareness. Her book, Woman Submit! Christians & Domestic Violence, is a staple in the library of resources on the subject.  

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Great article. It makes me even that much more determined to keep being a voice in the issues I have been writing about. :)