Good News for Women? – Sarah Hill

Good News for Women? – Sarah Hill

What impact has the spread of Christianity had on

the position of women in society over the last two

thousand years? A big question to ponder, and of

course any answer (or answers) we might arrive at will

be multi-faceted. In general terms, much will depend

upon the particular era and the particular society we

are considering, and it may be problematic to

attempt to attribute particular social changes to the

Christian faith per se rather than to the actions of

those professing to be Christians. On an individual

level, sweeping through the ages since the rise of the early church,

women have been elevated to high office and martyred for

their faith alike, and everything in between.

Christian feminism is an academic discipline in itself,

encompassing both theological and historical

studies. The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘feminist’ have come to

mean many things to many people. The former has been

around since the first century AD, the latter only it

seems since the late nineteenth century. But if a

Christian is simply someone (man or woman) who seeks to

follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and a feminist someone (again, man or

woman) who believes in the fundamental equality of

the sexes, then I would suggest that the two appear

to sit well together.

Jesus was a radical. First century Jewish religiosity

largely excluded women from public life. Jesus

repeatedly affirmed the value of women in a society

that was very far from equal. The Jesus we see in the

gospels regularly spoke to women in public, ate with

them, stayed in their homes, healed them,

confronted them with their sin, called them to

repentance and ministered forgiveness to them. He

clearly treated them as individuals (regardless of their

marital status) who were able to take responsibility

for their own state before God. Perhaps that doesn’t

sound like a big deal to our modern ears, but in first

century Jewish culture it was revolutionary.

Furthermore, it has often been pointed out that it

was the women followers of Jesus who were last at

the cross, first at the tomb to see the risen Lord, and

the first witnesses to be entrusted with the gospel- extraordinary in a

society where the testimony of a woman would not be accepted

as evidence in a court of law. Is Christianity then ‘good

news’ for women? Has it altered our position in

society for better or worse? A good deal of ink could be

spilled on each of these questions by those much better qualified

than me. Many things have been done in

the name of Christianity (and in the name of

feminism) that have been nothing but the

actions of flawed and sinful human beings.

We need to confront the more troubling

aspects of our western Christian history more

than ever today, in an age where class systems,

deference, and statues tumble from

significance. Powerful professing Christians

have clearly not always been good news for

those less powerful than themselves in society,

women or not. The gospel, however, is good news for

all people for all time. The church needs to grapple

honestly with the issues of the day, with the

compassion and humility of Christ, to spread that

good news.


Sarah Hill is a mental health lawyer and

(occasionally) an ecclesiastical lawyer.

Sarah’s note: “Neither a theologian nor a

historian- all views expressed my own!”