Confronting the Other Devil: Misogyny in the Church by Dr. Admiral Ncube
Coming from a region where institutionalized racial segregation is a legacy of colonialism, I have no kind words for racism in whatever form. I consider the Black Lives Matter movement as an important and necessary moment in history where people of colour can again stand up and challenge racial injustice. Over the past few months following the killing of George Floyd in the United States, I have seen quite a lot of debate around the role of the Christian Church in confronting social injustice. It has been refreshing to hear prominent voices in clergy and laity agreeing that fighting social injustice, racism included, is part of the gospel.
Of course, there are some Christians who still feel that issues like racism belong to the realm of politics such that the Church should focus on its mission of preaching Jesus. What is more worrying for me is not just the silence of the Church, but when the Church perpetuates racial segregation through maintaining colonial race-based structures. In this case, the Christian Church becomes the culprit in promoting sin. History has shown that the Church has been slow in addressing racial segregation, and in fact, politicians have always led the way.
That racism has no justification in any society is beyond dispute. What racial injustice has done to the black man, misogyny has done to the woman. The two evils are sides of the same coin all steeped in prejudice and hate. In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus goes to the root of the sin of murder by stating that the same spirit of murder is found in hate. While one may not go further to murder, hate cherished in the heart is no less evil. The same principle can be applied to misogyny; while for some it may not lead to violence, that does not make it less of a sin. On the path to gender-based violence is misogyny. Sadly, while Christians (men and women) may not commit murder or violence perhaps, cherishing misogyny does not make them better than those who murder and rape women. So as we stand up against racial injustice, we ought to remember that misogyny does equal, or more, harm to the woman. The worst form of misogyny is that which is practiced in church circles, in the very place where love and equality are preached.
From the onset, let me state that fighting misogyny is not a feminist agenda (a common phrase you hear during debates about women in ministry), but it goes to the question of the ethics of equality which cannot be relegated to political or secular movements. On the contrary, equality issues are kingdom issues rooted in the struggle over holiness and fallenness, good and evil, Christ and Satan. As we champion racial equality, with the same energy let’s fight for gender equality. This means as Christians we cannot afford to ignore these issues or hide behind an “escape theology” that finds comfort in a world to come as a way of avoiding confronting present issues related to the treatment of women in the Church.
History has demonstrated that in many cases, what happens in society finds itself reflected in the Church, of course under a religious guise. In other words, since members exist in a society that views women in a certain way, they are not insulated from expressing the same attitudes in church. We’re all implicated, even if we’re not aware of it, so this article seeks to highlight the subtle ways in which male privilege and misogyny find expression among church members.
What is this thing called misogyny?
Misogyny simply put, is a dislike, contempt, or ingrained prejudice against women. It is not common to hear this phrase among Christians as it represents something deplorable and assumed to be non-existent in the body of believers. In some places, the headship theology is used to hide misogyny which means misogyny in church circles comes disguised, making it difficult to confront. Thus, misogyny is something practiced almost unconsciously as it is often embedded in the customs and social norms. Of course, while men, I mean Christian men, are the main culprits some women play a part in perpetuating it. For us to appreciate the extent of the problem, I will share a few examples of how misogyny manifests itself in Christian circles.
- She needs a MAN
In many local churches, there are women who come up as assertive, vocal, questioning, and who challenge some decisions. These women love their local church but unfortunately, this love is often diagnosed as a need for a male figure. Instead of harnessing her positive energy and interest, fellow men and women see such a woman as having a problem that is solved by being in a relationship with a man. Such attitudes make it seem as if having a man is the ultimate need for a woman and those with men in their lives are at another level of existence.
- Oh, it’s a woman preaching today
It’s shocking to notice that in 2020, we still have men who deliberately decide not to attend church if a woman is preaching or leading the main service. Consequently, women rarely get to speak or preach or do so when it’s a special day set aside for them or as part of a children’s programme. Of course, some men while being physically present, become disengaged which is a manifestation of a, “What can you expect from a woman?” attitude. Such thinking stems from an incorrect reading of texts like 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
- Women submit and learn in silence
This is a manipulation of the headship theology to buttress prejudicial attitudes towards women. Texts like Ephesians 5 where the Apostle Paul writes about submission are used to infer inferiority on the part of a woman and promote male privilege in the Church. In other things, there is a desire to return to Edenic ideals but when it comes to the relationship between men and women, texts like Genesis 3:16 are used to argue and confirm negative attitudes towards women. Submission is equated to silence even on issues which affect the welfare of women. Hence women are only useful if taking instructions from men without questioning. Funny enough, despite preaching that men and women are equal their attitudes betray deep-seated misogyny.
- Beware of leading brothers to sin
Have you ever noticed that many discussions on dress and modesty focus on women? Their conclusion centres on prescribing what to and what not to wear for the sake of the weaker men in the Church. Hence women become the custodians of morality and modesty as prescribed by men. This approach overlooks the fact that lustful thoughts don’t require revealing, short, or tight clothing. When Jesus warned about lust in Matthew 5:28, the dress style in the middle east during that time was loose and long – very modest by today’s standards – yet men of that time would still lust. This reveals that it is the perverted heart of men that requires cleansing from deep-seated lust. The problem with this attitude is that it goes on to see women as instruments of sin, creating unfounded prejudices. In fact, blaming women for inappropriate dress is the same argument used by rapists and sexual perverts. They objectify women and instead of accepting responsibility to control their lusts they blame women as a defence. I would add that it is those who struggle with impure thoughts and lust that want women to take responsibility for their perversity.
- Women should take care of kids
In many church gatherings, retreats, or camps, women are made responsible for the care of kids while men spend time “feasting” on the word and chewing biblical bones. Some men find it demeaning to be taking care of children such that without exerting any effort they hide behind the phrase “women are nurturers by nature”. But in a world where traditional roles on what makes a man or masculinity are changing, Christian men who should be leading by example by also taking more nurturing or child care roles. While some can look at it as a role issue, denying men a nurturing role because it is a “womanly thing” robs men of an opportunity to intimately connect with their children.
- The job of a man is to provide
Generally, society expects men to be the breadwinners, the sole providers in a home. A lady, wanting to be married, will have to check if the man is financially stable enough to “take care of her”. However, in a world where women are increasingly finding recognition and granted more access to opportunities, the traditional thinking around men being a sole provider is questionable. The notion of a man being a sole provider creates an expectation in young ladies that they have to have a man to provide for their needs. We seem to forget the diligent woman in Proverbs 31 who provides more than her husband; who we only hear that “he sits among the elders” in verse 23. By emphasizing that the man is the sole provider, we inculcate a thinking in the male child that to be dependent on a woman is dangerous and this makes him feel vulnerable. No wonder our young men are unable to embrace a successful woman who is financially independent.
“Misogyny is when women finally start reporting sexual assaults and the country’s response is to say we must protect our boys from the accusations.” – Unknown
A more sinister expression of misogyny is the biased reading of biblical texts. For example, the Samaritan woman in John 4 is criticized for having had many husbands. The picture painted is that she is the one who had a problem, forgetting the five men who left her. You hear preachers using her as an example of infidelity and carelessness. So, you find biblical passages being manipulated in subtle ways to demean women or portray them as inferior to men. To my fellow brothers, we need to be careful that we are not hiding misogyny by trying to portray it as faithfulness to scripture. Deep-seated misogyny that comes dressed in misread biblical texts ought to be challenged. The world is waiting for us to show a better way of how women are treated. As we should with Black Lives Matter, we ought to, with equal energy, dismantle attitudes rooted in male privilege, and distorted perceptions on masculinity.
That Jesus is a lover of women is often missed in the Church. To my sisters, as you read through the Gospels, you will see that Jesus would always elevate a woman above her station. In a world in which women were either invisible or treated like second-class citizens, Jesus shared meals with women, answered their questions, challenged them, rebuked them, healed them, protected them, and called them beloved. In fact, one of the most radical aspects of Jesus’s life is how he didn’t treat women differently than men. It cannot be overstated how subversive this was in a hyper-patriarchal culture of that time. What is needed is an acknowledgment and admission — that misogyny dressed up with Bible verses was (and is still) misogyny.
More practically, from an early age, our boys need to be socialized not to see girls as competition and that expressing emotions and vulnerability is not unmanly. Let the gospel of equality be preached and lived in our midst, unleashing women to equally contribute to the building of His kingdom here on earth. Sermons that manipulate scripture to demean women ought to die; we need a fresh theology that goes beyond celebrating patience and silence to highlighting women of valor in the bible. The choice is ours to either show the world a better way on how to treat women or continue baptizing injustice and power in sacred language while reinforcing long-standing, pre-existing power prejudices.
Dear Christians, misogyny is real, it is a sin and ought not to be tolerated just like racism!
Dr. Admiral Ncube is a Zimbabwean Development Professional based in Gaborone, Botswana. He is married to Margaret and is a father of 3 boys. Dr. Ncube has had the priviledge of working in the development sector in Asia, Middle East and Africa, with over 15 years of experience.
Thank you Dr. Ncube for tackling a topic in the Church in such a powerful and succinct way. It is so refreshing to find that there are men in our society who recognize the value in women and sees them as equals in our society.
Please feel free to leave your comments, questions and encouragement for Dr. Ncube in the comments below. Thank you as always for reading, and remember never to give up the fight for justice and equality.
We continue praying for you.