Christian Fundamentalism, Conservative Evangelicalism, and the Abuse of Women

Christian fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, and their church-going adherents are well known for a long history of low-rating and abusing women and girls. In my opinion, this sordid pattern of behavior toward human females comes from two sources: (1) the usual poor fundie understanding of holy scripture and (2) certain male-centrist elements of Scots-Irish-English secular culture that evolved and ran wild in the social anarchy that attended the late 18th-early 19th century migration of poorly educated Americans west through the Cumberland Gap to settle in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and the rest of the Great American West.  I know quite a bit about the former and much less about the latter, but one thing seems intuitively clear to me.  Both were a bound double-helix, like DNA, that fed on each other and made the lives of many American women and girls miserable.  I will focus only on the former (No. 1) in this post.

I would like to recommend that you read Jacques Ellul’s book entitled The Subversion of Christianity. In particular, please read Chapter IV entitled “Moralism.” This whole Gordian knot about the Bible and abuse of women, which has had so many fundie women in such a bind for so long, is unraveled in about 10 minutes of reading. If you fail to read this book, you may die poorer in Spirit and knowledge about this subject and the whole history of the Christian faith in general—particularly how so much of original Christianity was later turned on its ear by evolving misunderstandings of scripture and by the slow adoption of foreign cultural and religious notions into the Christian faith.

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) was not an American. He was French ( Ellul was a Christian who wrote many books about theology and the Christian faith, but he was not a gospel writer like these lay men and women who fill Christian bookstores to bursting with what I regard as fundie pulp here in the United States. He was very different, and I think he was a man God blessed with extraordinary spiritual discernment and insight. Ellul was the Professor of Law and the Sociology and History of Institutions at the University of Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France. His books have been translated from French into English, and they are probably available through Below is a series of excerpts from Chapter IV in The Subversion of Christianity where Ellul takes on the fundie misunderstandings of holy scripture and how it has hurt women.  The notes in brackets are mine:

[Creation in the Bible goes from the simplest creatures first to the most complex creatures last, and we have whole libraries in evolutionary biology and genetics that pretty much back up and verify that this more or less linear evolution toward more and better biological complexity is true. In other words, that which is created the very last is the culmination, the end result, the pinnacle of all creation―and the last thing created in Genesis 1 was Eve.]

Here are the Ellul excerpts in logical order as set forth in his book:

“More theologically, if we return to the Genesis text, we are astonished at the usual misunderstandings: Eve is inferior, it is said, because she is created after Adam. This superb logic makes Adam inferior to the great Saurians after which he was created. Creation is in fact an ascending act, and Eve, who is created last, comes at the climax as its crown and completion. Again it is said that Eve is inferior because she is not made out of primal clay but out of a part of Adam. This is equally absurd reasoning, for Adam, who carries the name Earth, is made out of inanimate matter, but Eve, who carries the name Life, is made out of animate and hence superior matter.”

“There remains, of course, an argument that is repeated again and again in later Judaism and some branches of Christianity. Eve, it is said, was the first to sin. She gave sin an entry into the world. She is thus guilty and must be subject to her husband. Again, this is absurd reasoning, for it is hard to see how Adam can have any claim to superiority when in this test he shows himself unable to rule his wife, falls into the simplest of traps, and is in no way worthy to be the head. But was not the woman tempted first?  Indeed she was. And this leads to the invoking of absurd arguments according to which she is less intelligent, easier to seduce, weaker, etc.”

“There is in fact a better theological reason for her [Eve] being tempted first. If she is the supreme achievement and perfection of creation, it is through her that the serpent must attack the rest. She does not resist. But neither does the man. We may simply recall the famous Chinese proverb that it is by the head that the fish decays. We should consider this to get the point of the story. But was she not also a temptress? Indeed she was. But to understand and evaluate what this means, we ought to refer to two other elements. In the first creation story there is no distinction or hierarchy between the two (Adam and Eve], who are two in one or one in two. We do not have on the one side the female temptress who is the source of evil, etc. No, we have only “one” being, and if evil is done, it is done by this one being, no matter by which aspect it commences. The woman is not without the man, nor the man without the woman, as Paul reminds us.”

“The second basic truth is that the woman, as the same Paul also reminds us, is the glory of the man (1 Cor. 11:7). This passage has often been misconstrued as teaching a hierarchy from God to man and man to woman. But this is not its point or purpose. The question of that is the relation between powers, and of mediation. The text I want to focus on here is the one about glory. Following Barth (and others), I have often recalled that glory is revelation. God glorifies himself when he reveals himself as he is. Jesus Christ glorifies God when he reveals him to us as the God of love who is also the Father. We ourselves are called upon to be the glory of God as we are his image, as we show by what we are who is the God to whom we bear witness. In this passage Paul then adds that the woman [Eve] is the glory of the man: she reveals him; she shows what a human being truly is.”

“If we relate this to the temptation, we learn that by what she says the woman brings to light the fundamental reality of Adam. She shows him to be weak, undiscerning, fluctuating, ambitious, desirous of equality with God, etc. She simply reveals this. Both are equally at fault, and the condemnation (as commentators and theologians should remember) is more severe for the man, since he is given no hope, whereas the woman has a double promise and carries a double hope, namely, that she will transmit life [by bearing children] and that her posterity [Jesus Christ] will crush the serpent. It may be noted, too, that although the status of women is generally positive in the Old Testament, a few texts, on which we need not dwell, do arouse suspicion, such as those that relate to impurities. Yet, we should not forget the many passages that also deal with male impurities.”

“Insistence has often been placed on the positive attitude of Jesus toward women. Jesus receives both men and woman on equal footing. He cures sick women as well as men, and does not repel the adulterous woman or Mary Magdalene. Naturally it has been noted that he chooses only men as his disciples. But to this one may make the radical reply that he first reveals his resurrection to women. Both in the Synoptists and in John, women are the first to receive this supreme revelation. Women become the evangelists of this resurrection by carrying the news of it to the disciples [men]. Women receive the first witness to eternal life. This is theologically consistent, for it is a fulfillment of the name Eve [Life] and of the promise about [her posterity Jesus crushing the head of] the serpent. Compared to this, all else is secondary.”

Take heart women and girls trapped in Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism.  God really does love you in the ways that all people really want to be loved and need to be loved.  If you feel your Christian faith is misogynist and it has defined you as a unique second class citizen here on Earth by virtue of your gender, you have not been a victim of God the Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit.  They love your intelligence, your aptitudes, your gender, and your femininity.  But most of all the Holy Trinity understands, knows, and loves the complex, life-creating, glorious climax of all creation on Earth they made you and evolved you to be.  You are no second class citizen on this planet and were never meant to be one.  As Abilene tells the little girl in the movie:

The oppression women and girls have been subjected to under Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism is not of God.  It is of man.  It comes in part from a convenient misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Holy Bible, and in part it comes from a long-standing male prejudice against women that has its roots deep in secular human culture—and this prejudice and all the bad fruits that flow from it are evil masquerading as salt and light in this world.

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