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On how the church has failed women

Summary

Judith Lieu says that Christianity has been used to control women – but not always successfully.

Summary

Judith Lieu says that Christianity has been used to control women – but not always successfully.

Transcript

As in many things, Christianity doesn’t necessarily have a good story to tell over the centuries in its treatment of women, as in other things. And we do get emerging within some early Christian rhetoric the idea that women represent danger and they represent instability. Now, partly that has got roots in early Jewish and Graeco-Roman thought, where women were associated with instability, with hysteria, irrationality, the passions. Partly it goes back to ideas we already find in Scripture where women are seen as seductive and therefore as a sort of image of the seduction that might draw a man away from his faithfulness. And some of that then gets projected onto women along with a sense that therefore one needs to control women because it’s a way of controlling their sexuality and keeping men safe.

You begin to get a growing sense that those who hold office within the church can only be men, and that there’s a sort of parallel between being able to control one’s family and being able to sufficiently control the church, and women are part of that.

And then one also gets a tradition that develops of what we would call – of asceticism, of the desire to control the passions of the body, to uphold not just chastity but abstinence. And women become, to some extent – I was going to say both the victims, but also perhaps benefit from that. Because we get many stories after a while of women actually exercising their independence, their autonomy, by rejecting conventional marriage. Now modern-day women will debate as to whether that is a benefit, or simply reinforces the associations that led to it.