Christianity’s acceptance of the central doctrine of creation—that of God creating man in His own image—has been one that in the mainstream adopts the Hebraic belief that that image is intended to encompass both sexes. God is said to have created both male and female in His image in order to imbue His creations with the ability to propagate His world by being fruitful and multiplying. What is perhaps most surprising about the entire concept of Christianity presenting an obstacle to the struggle of women to achieve empowerment is that Jesus Christ was actually a revolutionary in the acceptance of women’s equality. In a period in which women were especially subject to the domination of the patriarchy from both the Jewish religious structure and the Roman political structure, perhaps nothing Jesus Christ accomplished was less striking than the assertion of female equality. Even those who posthumously wrote His story appeared to keep Jesus’ perspective intact. The writer of the Gospels, who could almost certainly have manipulated the stories to the effect of increasing the role of the male apostles, instead appear to be maintain the veracity of the heightened importance of the women in orbit around Jesus. The insistence upon the fact that it was women that stayed with Jesus after His death while the males hid in fear was undoubtedly a prime selling point for women in the early days of Christianity’s spread into the pagan and Hebrew civilizations.
Indeed, as the vying sects of early Christianity finally coalesced into the Catholic Church, it is supremely important to recognize the church founders quickly recognized the vital function of the mother of Jesus. The Virgin Mary’s prominent role in the foundation of the church was based more the possibility of inculcating piety and other qualities termed feminine. The women who remained committed to Christ and His teachings served to heighten the understanding and acceptance of Jesus’ humanity, and this is further served by the elevation of the Virgin Mary to a holy state. In some ways, the Virgin Mary is often seen as a new Eve, in fact; capable of undoing the damage done to the female sex through the concept of original sin as it applies to the original Eve. Just as Jesus represents a new Adam and a new hope for salvation, so has the canonization of the Virgin Mary been seem to offer a renewed blessed state upon the female sex at large.
Despite the assumption of the female to a more blessed state in the wake of the Virgin Mary, however, there has been a concerted effort through the years to point to such elements as the refusal of the Catholic Church to allow women to become priests as evidence that the stultifying patriarchy still stands as an obstacle to Christianity’s empowerment of women. In fact, in recent times, consistent with the women’s movement, extreme factions have even called for an overhaul of the hierarchy of the not just the Catholic Church but Protestant denominations as well. The argument in favor of this view has centered not only upon the exclusion of women from key church roles, but the systematic devaluation of women as progenitors of the original Eve, carriers of the title temptress of man.
What this argument conveniently overlooks, however, is that while women may never have been presented opportunities equal to men when it comes to certain church roles, women have always been not only allowed but encouraged to take the lead at more grass roots levels. The orthodox exclusion of women as priests can be viewed from one perspective as actually encouraging empowerment. In this perspective, one must view the bureaucracy of the church structure as being at odds with the lineage of Jesus; He did not preach in a church, he went into the streets and fields. In just this way have women taken up the role of Christ in ways far richer than many of the most holy of men in the most sacrosanct of positions. While Bishops and Cardinals and Popes have represented the Church from cloistered arenas free from the human touch, the world has witnessed any number of women truly carrying on the spirit of Christ’s teachings.
From the earliest days of the spread of Christianity, one of its central tenets has been to spread the word of God through conversion of non-believers commonly referred to as heathens or pagans. In the earliest history of the formation of Christianity all followers of the Way were called upon to spread the Word. As the Catholic Church formed into an institution and begin embarking upon a tightly structured hierarchy, and applying ever more intense applications of its power toward codifying laws and creating dogma and doctrine, women found themselves being called upon ever more to take up the evangelical role. This became even more so following the Protestant Reformation.
If one were to judge Christianity’s effect to empower women based solely upon the rejection of certain offices within the church structure, one might well assume a perspective with a certain factual foundation. The truth, however, is that it is mainly due to the rejection from the stultifying bureaucracy of the church hierarchy that women have not only been empowered by Christianity, but may even be said to have assumed a far more Christlike position than men.