In this clip from the 2017 Richard Johnson Lecture, Amy Orr-Ewing explains how Jesus affirms the full humanity of women.
AMY ORR-EWING: And so the question comes to us this evening: What will we do with the testimony and witness of those first women who have passed on to us the story of the incarnation of God, his atoning death, and his resurrection? And in our context of women objectified as objects, susceptible to self-objectification, and increasingly pursued as targets of sexual aggression, the humanity of women is what is at stake. And it is into precisely that question that Jesus Christ speaks, upholding the Genesis ideal of male and female, created in the image of God. Human life is sacred, precious, having transcendent value as male and female. Christ enacted that truth in his treatment of women.
So when we see that religion, or Christianity in particular, has been patriarchal, or has been invoked to justify abuse of women, we need to ask ourselves a really important question: Is that violence a logical outworking of this worldview? Jesus was radically countercultural in his positive treatment of women. Patriarchy is not a logical outworking of his teachings, and that is why faithful Christians in every generation have resisted it.
You know, truth matters. Ideas have consequences. If male and female are equal image bearers of the divine image, underpinning the sacredness of human life, the outworkings of that will be practical. In the same way that if we’re just slime, here by chance, the strong having eliminated the week, there is no reason to be overly concerned about domination or subjugation – we just need to make sure we’re not on the receiving end of it. The specifics of life are directly impacted by the patterns, the worldviews, that we apply. If, rather than male and female equally reflecting the image of God in their shared humanity, women and men are both demeaned by a reductionist view of women as a separate class, economically dependent on men or restricted in their spheres of activity or creativity, on the basis of arbitrary cultural prejudice.
The Christian claim is that a divine pattern for humanity, male and female, equally human, reflecting the image of God is upheld in the ministry of Jesus. God incarnate in human history, invited women to be first at the cradle and last at the cross. And he underpins therefore an expansive vision of human flourishing, in which the value of all human life is underpinned by this transcendent source. Where the church has failed women, Christ as the truth incarnate gave humanity the perfect pattern as to how to affirm the full humanity of women.
On one level, we shouldn’t be surprised to be disappointed by Christianity. After all, my great friend Dr Elaine Storkey points out, the church recruits from the human race. We perhaps ought not to be surprised or shocked by the negative behaviors of institutions and individuals. But I suggest to you this evening that you will not be disappointed by Christ. The promise of Christ is that coming to know him is the key, and that real change is possible when it is wrought by him. Many people may claim to represent him, but we can test whether that rings true – and in this era of fake news, we all resonate with that instinct to rigorously check our sources. Is Christianity bad news for women? Is it bad news for human beings? We need to check the sources for ourselves. We may be surprised by what we discover.