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Does CMI think women are inferior?

The recent article The Bible’s high view of women rooted in the creation account generated a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. Deb H., Australia, wrote in, saying:

I felt sad as I read this article. As an egalitarian Christian, I am disappointed to see CMI take a preferred position on the issue of ‘gender roles’ other than the obvious biological ones. This has taken the shine off CMI for me, although we have been steady supporters for about 30 years. I don’t feel comfortable being associated with an organization that favours an hierarchical church.
Under the New Covenant, we are all priests of the kingdom (1 Pet 2:9). We are also free in Christ, to serve with all our gifts, whatever they may be… gifts which have not been distributed according to gender, skin-colour or privilege.

By limiting women in Christ’s service, CMI does no better than the evolutionists who argued that dark races were inferior and only suited to service, or that women had not been subject to sufficient selection of the fittest, and thus were not optimally evolved.

As Creationists, we hold the higher moral ground in accepting that God has made of one blood all nations of men (Act 17:26), but do we include women in this generous anti-discriminatory edict, or do we say they are "equal…BUT"? If some members of a group are restricted and operate under bans, then they are NOT equal, despite all affirmations.

Many golden Christian principles are violated by arbitrary limits and rules, such as:

"love your neighbour as yourself"

"do unto others as you would be done unto"

"esteem others as better than yourself"

"in honour, prefer one another"

"submit every man to his neighbour"

Who is my neighbour? Anyone but a woman?

She also wrote a reply to the related article London Times reports that the Bible is not anti-female: is this news?:

[URL deleted per our feedback rules]

"The sages extended the period when sexual relations between a husband and wife are prohibited to seven “clean” days following the menstrual period." The instructions in Lev 15:19ff require this in cases of bleeding lasting longer than 7 days, and are ambiguous regarding periods of less than 7 days. This means that the total period of separation was about twelve days a month assuming a menstrual period of five days. For a woman who bleeds for a week (common), one half of her month was taken up in ritual uncleanness and a ban on sexual relations. This is not only a great practical inconvenience for her and the family, but it also imposes a ban on sex in the very 2 weeks of the month when her libido is highest, from shortly after menstruation, up to and peaking around ovulation. After ovulation around the 14th day, a woman’s sexual interest declines.

I find this (and other unequal law-burdens on women) very hard to reconcile with the notion that the law is pro-women. The very idea that a woman is unclean during menstruation is scientifically absurd. Menstrual blood is of no danger to anyone, and to assume an arbitrary (lengthy) ‘holiday’ from sex and cooking as a welcome advantage to all women is patronizing. It is not hard to think of circumstances where this would produce considerable conflict and hardship. The luxury of the presence of other non-menstruating women to help a woman during this period is also (often wrongly) assumed. And to portray a woman as a defiling presence in the home, not only to all the family members who touch her, but the furniture and utensils she must necessarily touch, is quite depressing. It would be a disincentive to have more than one fertile woman in the household, and a matter of frustration for a very devout husband with pubescent daughters. An added incentive to marry them off young, perhaps? :-(

From the above source again: “Thus, the lengthy periods of seclusion mandated by their ritual uncleanness, as well as their responsibilities at home, led to a general non-participation of women in the public activities of community religious life.” This is de facto exclusion by discrimination… you can assert that the law was pro-women all you like, but the outcome of purity laws regarding women is that their community participation was decreased. If you think long and inventively enough, you can come up with a ‘silver lining’, Pollyanna style, for just about any religious restriction (as in your footnote #10 above) but this does not make a convincing case for the law being pro-women. It may well have been in some aspects better and kinder than what was common in other nations at the time, but it was formulated and expressed in an era of heavy tribal patriarchy… and moderated, but did not prevent, war, slavery and polygamy.

It would be better if we stopped trying to defend the patently offensive, and make such observations candidly and humbly, pointing out instead how things have improved under the New Covenant, and continue to improve as we extensively apply the Golden Rule of loving and treating others as we would like to be loved and treated, to ALL people who are poor or oppressed… even women!

CMI-US’s Lita Sanders, the author of both articles, responds:

Dear Deb,

I’m sorry for the misunderstanding if you felt that my article demeaned women in any way. Being a woman myself, I would be very against any view that I thought of as demeaning us in any way. In fact, in a Journal of Creation round of letters, I thoroughly debunked the view that women were not made in the image of God, but the image of man (this view is based on a mis-reading of 1 Corinthians 11). I fully affirm the ontological equality and dignity of men and women based on their being equally made in the image of God. Furthermore, women are equal partakers in the free gift of salvation—as I’ve said before in my articles, women are called equally “sons” of God. This isn’t misogynist, this is actually an important theological point. In that culture, daughters didn’t inherit; sons did. Now, if the women are called sons, this is saying that women have equal inheritance rights as children of God, the same as men.

Women are called equally ‘sons’ of God. This isn’t misogynist, this is actually an important theological point. In that culture, daughters didn’t inherit; sons did. This is saying that women have equal inheritance rights as children of God, the same as men.

But I believe an equality in dignity doesn’t require an equality in function. For instance, we don’t say that if men are to be thought of as equally valuable, they must also be able to be mothers. It is biologically impossible for men to be mothers, no matter how we rail against such unfairness. Just as there are some differences in function that are part of the biological design of our bodies, I believe that God has built in spiritual differences that are just as important regarding the roles of the sexes in relation to each other.

Now, I’m not going to get into the usual hokey stereotypes of “women are more emotional, women are more easily deceived, women are more relational,” etc, which make most educated, logical women retch. If this were the basis of the biblical commands, the moment a women with less emotion and more discernment comes along, the biblical commands go out the window. This isn’t the case. Rather, every time the Bible says, “A woman should be like this, a woman should not do this” the basis is in the very created order. So it isn’t a matter of individual gifting or ability—I could probably preach circles around some of the guys who were with me in seminary, but if Paul has his basis in the created order when he says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man”, my ability to deliver a 3-point sermon is irrelevant to the argument (or at the very best secondary), no matter how we interpret Paul’s actual command.

I want to emphasize that whatever God’s commands are for gender roles, God has put them in place for the benefit and blessing of both men and women.

I want to emphasize that whatever God’s commands are for gender roles, God has put them in place for the benefit and blessing of both men and women. And Christians, both men and women, should want to understand and obey these commands. Egalitarians and complementarians have different interpretations of these commands, but we have in common a belief in the authority of Scripture, and the importance of obeying its commands.

That being said, CMI takes no stance on the complementarian/egalitarian debate. It’s probably impossible for me to hide my own view completely when I write on things like this, but we have staffers who hold the opposite view. The emphasis of this article was not gender roles, but how the Bible’s overwhelmingly pro-female stance is based in the creation account which has man and woman equally created in the image of God.

As for the examples you brought up, no one would argue that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ or the others applies less if the neighbor happens to be a woman. The passages which this debate centers around only have to do with places of authority in the church, dealing with a rather small portion of the believer’s life and experience. It has nothing to say about what a woman can teach outside of a setting of church authority.

Regarding the sages’ interpretation of the Law, it is not equated with Scripture itself. It is also important to understand that the Jewish traditions contained in the Talmud and Mishnah reflect mainly the Rabbinic Judaism which is largely thought to be the descendant of Pharisaism. But we know that the majority of the Jewish people did not belong to the Pharisees, or to any sect, so it is unlikely, even if only for practical reasons, that most Jewish people followed the law of the sages.

I think you’re also assuming a bigger burden of ritual uncleanness than was actually the case. Most Jews are never commanded to avoid ritual uncleanness, and ritual uncleanness is never sinful; it only prevents participation in Temple sacrifices and certain festivals. There are times when a Jew would be obligated to become ritually unclean, for instance, when preparing a family member’s body for burial. This incurred a very strong form of uncleanness that required a special purification, and the preparation of the purification itself incurred uncleanness on the priest!

In the case of the menstruating woman, many people assume a monthly week-long holiday from cooking and chores. I find this unlikely, if for only practical purposes. The family would incur ritual uncleanness, but it would go away at evening without requiring washing. Her husband is commanded not to sleep with her, but he is not prohibited from any other form of contact with her.

I am afraid I cannot agree with your comment about how we should stop trying to defend the Old Testament and instead point out how much better things are under the New Covenant. The same God who sent His Son to die for our sins gave the Law to Moses. So if God is unjust in mandating ritual uncleanness in menstruating women, this calls all of His character and revealed morality into question. The Old Testament is not less inspired or authoritative than the New Testament.


Lita Sanders

Published: 5 February 2011