August 4, 2016

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

A few years ago, 'A Knight's Tale' re-introduced the world to Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the great English writers of his day - in the 1400s. He invented words such as 'femininity' and 'womanhood' in his works such as 'The Canterbury Tales.' By the time he invented such words, the concept of 'manhood' had been in existence for only two hundred years. Women tended to live as either unmarried maidens, wives, or widows. Between 1200 and 1400, the Black Death swept through Europe - wiping out either one third or two thirds of its population. It happened in several waves - taking out a few hundred million people. That's a lot of men and women, fathers and mothers, workers and home-makers who were killed; creating two problems - lots of job vacancies and incomplete families. So women entered the workforce, primarily as textile workers and farmers. It took until the 1700s for the population to return to pre-plague levels. At any rate, for the first time we had a word for the collective experience of women.

So the word/concept of "womanhood" and "femininity" dates back to the 1400s. At that point in history, only Rome had been a democracy and it wasn't an egalitarian one. For the span of known history for almost the entire world, one word could describe the nature of the relationship between men and women: patriarchy. Exceptions were few and far in-between, and generally remembered as myths - such as that of the Amazons. Women were a second-class citizen, who didn't have nearly as many or the same rights as men; and most rights they did have were to a lesser degree than men. Most laws were written with men in mind; "If a man ..." "he may ..." Women could expect some legal protection if they went through their husbands and their husbands were so inclined. One book I read explained it like this: "Women were fenced in, or bordered. Men were the fences / borders that kept the women safe." Women who were single and without the protection of their fathers were like cities without walls - vulnerable and easy targets. As such, they were frequently exploited - usually by men.

Now Biblical Womanhood is a big teaching; but the Bible dates back to 1300 B.C. to 100 A.D. - it was written in a patriarchy that didn't have a concept of womanhood other than that women are to be wives and mothers. We can see from the stories of Leah and Rachel that the number of children women had affected their status. We can see from the stories of Rebekah and Jezebel that they had to manipulate people in order to achieve their goals. We can see from the stories of Sarah that she had little choice but to obey her husband even when it put her life at risk. We can see from the stories of Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilhah that being a second-class woman, a slave woman, meant that you were even more-so disadvantaged. By the time of the New Testament, women were only slightly better off - Lydia had her own business empire and household. But when Sapphira obeyed Ananias and followed his lead, they both were killed by the Holy Spirit. So it was a no-win situation for her. But it also limits God to specific time-frame, as if it were the Golden Age that we've slowly spiraled away from. If only we could return to the second-class status of women and the institution of slavery in a biblical, God-honoring way, then we will have been like the Ninehvites and repented from the error of our democratic, egalitarian ways.

But what if 'womanhood' isn't the same yesterday, today, and forever? What if it was meant to change and be shaped by various cultures over hundreds of years - what if 'womanhood' tomorrow could include all sorts of things that just wasn't possible yesterday? What if 'womanhood' is more than being a wife and a mother? That would be something, wouldn't it? In the last few decades, women have won rights that Biblical women could only have dreamed of - the protection of the law and not having to go through their fathers/husbands, ability to work outside of the home in a safe environment, becoming more equal with men every day. But there are still some places where change has been slow in coming; Christian circles are a strong-hold for some of them.

"Patriarchy is Biblical ..." They teach. And so is genocide and slavery. "God is sovereign, he has his reasons for ordering men in positions of authority and women to submit to them." God is a perfect creator, if he made some flaw in women that they can't preach or teach men without causing deception or being deceived then that mean's the problem's not in the product but in the manufacturer. Does this really mean that "as it was in the Bible ... so it is to be until the end of time"? No one - would want to live in that sort of world. For one, 2/3 of the world population was enslaved to another. There were different degrees of rights and protection and status for different classes of people. Old, wealthy, men, who were full citizens and were patrons would have as much power as was possible to make decisions and get things done. Young, poor, women who were partial citizens and clients had pretty much no say at all in anything. Humans have never existed in a pattern of authority/submission and not abused their power over others. People still do this day - it's only our rights that holds them accountable. Such rights didn't exist in the Bible.

In 1 Corinthians 6 - Paul says that: "... you yourselves cheat and do wrong, even against your own brothers!" Twice in Thessalonians, Paul warns the believers not to wrong one another or take revenge (which he says he had previously warned them about.) In Ephesians 4, he tells them that those who steal must stop stealing. In Titus 2 Paul instructs slaves not to steal from their masters. In order to have things as they were in the Bible, not only must we destroy the rights and freedoms generations of our ancestors fought and died in wars to gain; making them null and void - their deaths for nothing. But hey, being biblical is more important, right?

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