Women's Liberation, or the Feminist Movement, has been effectively changing the society we live in so that women are treated without discrimination based on gender. We can't deny that gender has been the basis for discrimination in various areas of life. But what does the Bible say about such discrimination? Does it actually encourage discrimination on the basis of gender?
We should state the obvious... God created men and women differently. Most obviously they are physically different. A woman is designed for child bearing, but a man is not. And we'd be foolish to deny that a man is not created with greater physical strength than a woman. These physical differences already affect the roles that men and women assume in society. Due to physical strength, men are naturally going to be the ones who build things. And when women have babies, they become dependent upon the help of others, which naturally will fall primarily upon their husband. But God also made men and women emotionally different. Who can deny that women feel more empathy than men, and are far more open about their feelings in conversation than men? But men are typically far more interested in solving problems than expressing their feelings. I don't think these differences are learned. If you try to raise a girl to think like a man, you will try in vain. And the same goes in the other direction. In fact, as a parent, I've learned that a child's personality seems to have very little to do with parental input. My daughter's personality reminds me of myself, whilst my son's actually reminds of my brother in law. But I haven't changed my approach to either of my children which would cause this difference, and my brother in law lives in another part of the country and almost never sees the children! And of course, my daughter is very feminine – she likes dolls and pony's, and she cries when she sees an injured animal on TV. Nobody taught her to feel that way, whilst teaching my son not to.
Since God has created men and women differently, this will naturally affect the roles we play in society. And God has even said that men and women should take on different roles. As mankind will always fail to do, we often fail to understand the wisdom of God in setting His creation up this way. But before we talk about the things that God has determined should be different, let's first stop and see that there is a lot about the Feminist Movement that we can affirm. In the earlier part of the 1900's, for example, women were given the right to vote. Now there really was no Biblical basis for denying women the right to vote. We've also seen how women are now far more accepted into roles which were once considered to be for men only. These are changes we should all applaud.
But the Bible does have a few things to say about the role of women. There are two in particular which cause the most controversy today. Firstly, we want to consider what the Bible means when it says “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:24). And we want to consider what the Bible means when it says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:12). Both of these issues are really explained by the same thing... When Adam and Eve sinned, we read:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
Paul explicitly alludes to this verse in the 1 Timothy passage:
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Timothy 2:13-14)
The authority of men over women in the Church has nothing to do with women being less able, or more prone to sin, or being inferior in any way. I think the point here is that Eve did not submit to God, so the lot for women is to learn submission by being in submission to her husband. Now most will complain that this isn't fair; “Why is the punishment due to Eve “my” punishment as well?” And didn't Adam also fail to submit to God? Let's stop and consider this... Jesus Christ was in submission to the Father, right? (John 5:19). The idea of submission to one another is not a punishment that will some day be taken away; it is a part of Godly relationships which we even find in the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has put men and women in our particular roles in order to teach both men and women about Godly relationships, and the right order of things. Christ submitted to the Father but was no less God than the Father is. Submission has nothing to do with inferiority. We continue this pattern of headship and submission because God wants marriage and Church relationships to forever teach His people about the nature of God. Just as the woman demonstrates submissiveness, the man is charged with demonstrating sacrificial love...
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25)
In a Christian marriage we learn from women how the Church should submit to Christ, and from men, how to be Christ-like in our love for others (Ephesians 5:24-25). The headship of man should be Christ-like, and it damages the witness of the Church when it isn't. Likewise, however, the submission of women should be Christ-like, and will likewise damage the witness of the Church when it isn't. So whether in marriage, or in the offices of the Church, we show the world how Godly relationships ought to be, showing the character of Christ Himself in those relationships.
Until tomorrow, let's pay attention to how Paul has told us all in this very same Ephesians chapter to be both sacrificially loving and submissive to one another...
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise … submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:15, 21)