Was Jesus a feminist?

"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him."
-Sojourner Truth, 1851

Christians are the only social group against whom it is culturally acceptable to make fun. Political correctness has touched everyone except us. It's gotten so ridiculous that when an actor called a homosexual castmate a derogatory epithet recently, he was forced by the network to go to rehab. Yes, rehab. Now, you need rehabilitated just for calling someone an ugly name. Apparently, being a jerk is as addictive as heroin.

Prejudice against evangelical Christians is exceedingly frustrating, so much that I often want to the un-Christian thing and lash out. But there's that pesky "turn the other cheek" admonition from Jesus, so I begrugingly accept that as gospel (which, of course, it is. Literally.)

So, the next best thing is to refute some of the misconceptions about Christianity. Today, we'll look at gender issues.

First, some background. The role of women in the Church has changed dramatically in recent decades to mirror cultural shifts as well. After largely being dead following the women's suffrage movement in the early 20th Century, feminism hit its stride in the 1960s. In 1963, Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique," a book whose thesis was that women are more than homemakers and mothers -- indeed, the book "criticized the idea that women could only find fulfillment through childbearing and homemaking" and "hypothesizes that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children." This, Friedan argued, meant that women had no identity apart from that forced upon them by marriage and family.

Then, in the economic boom of post-World War II America, more and more women entered the workforce to supply their families with additional income. Thus, more and more families could now live in more luxurious settings than was possible a generation before. Suburbia flourished.

So, my generation is perhaps the first to fully integrate women into the larger cultural landscape -- in the workplace, in political life and, yes, in the Church.

(That's not to say it's been a smooth transition. There are still some wide disparities among denominations and what roles those differing groups assign women.)

It's safe to say, then, that my generation -- and, by extension, the generations that will come after -- view women much differently and with more reverance and a greater degree of acceptance than those that preceeded it dating all the way back to the genesis of American social life.

But you know what's funny? If you look at today's attitudes toward women compared with those of a certain Jewish carpenter living in Palestine in, say, the first century A.D., you'll find that Jesus was ahead of His time -- a true renaissance man.

See, Jesus broke all sorts of barriers, and that was part of the reason He was so threatening to the religious establishment. He hung out with tax collectors and lepers, poor people and prostitutes. So it should come as no surprise that He embraced women as a vital part of His ministry and His inner circle.

Trivia time: according to John's gospel, who was the first person to whom Jesus explicitly revealed He was the Messiah? It wasn't Peter, it wasn't James and it wasn't John. It was a woman -- and, just for good measure, she was from a social group that was discriminated against and, at the time she met Jesus, had been divorced five times and was in a sexual relationship with a man that wasn't her husband.

"The woman said, 'I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.' Then Jesus declared, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:25, 26, NIV ... read the entire story here.)

What's more, remember the first person Jesus met after His resurrection? Yep, it was a woman. After Mary Magdalene encounters the empty tomb, she retreats to the garden, weeping. Jesus appears to her even before a reunion with The Father!

"Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, ESV)

So we see that two of the key moments in Jesus' earthly life -- the revelation of His divinity and His resurrection -- were first revealed to women.

Other key moments from the life of Christ in which women were prominent include Mary's anointing of His feet (see John 12:1-8; in other gospels as well), Jesus' teaching that His mercy overrides Levitical law (see John 8:2-11), an eldery, widowed prophetess being rewarded in her dedication to prayer and fasting by meeting the baby Jesus (see Luke 2:36-38) and the pure face that women were an integral part of His inner circle (see Luke 8:1-3). And this is by no means a comprehensive list.

And those attitudes didn't end with His ascension. Among the apostle Paul's key people was a husband/wife ministerial team, Priscilla and Aquila. You can read about them in Acts 18 in general but Acts 18:24-28 specifically (which is a great story and you should read it to see their importance to the early church.) In that passage, Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. Coincidence?

Further, Paul writes reverently about women in Colossians 3:19 -- "Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them;" Ephesians 5:25 -- "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her;" and, in regards to equality, Galatians 3:26-28 -- "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith ... there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis mine)"

Of course, Christians throughout history have not always followed the plan. Man is always twisting and corrupting scripture to his own ends.

But looking at the biblical ideal and the intent of Christ, women aren't just valued as much as men. They are realized as the true treasures of God that they are.

(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail ephesians514@gmail.com for reprinting information.)