By Tayo Fasuan (Bible Scholar)
The recent unguarded statements of the Monarch of Auchi in Edo State of Nigeria, concerning women and inheritance have once again pricked me in more ways than one. Those statements and the subsequent fallouts and responses have once more shown the inherent desires and wishes of the society to continually shove women to the background. It is a reflection of historical attempts to put the role of women into the dustbin of history.
While I won’t go into the social roles of women, I want to delve into the context in which that monarch spoke: the religion context. He was referencing the Quran when talking about women and inheritance since the nation is now a religion-infested nation where every decision made must somehow have a religion undertone. He even made veiled threats of starting a Jihad if his twisted wishes are not granted. So, I’ll go into the perspective of whether women are supposedly to be relegated into societal obscurity by religious teachings or not.
I’ll start with Christianity.
One of the most annoying and disturbing quotes of Paul according to his first writings to the people of Corinthians is found in chapter 14 verses 34 – 35. There, wives and women are told to be mute in churches and submissive according to the law. I don’t know why but that statements stick in my craw. According to the Jewish history and biblical references, especially the Old Testament, women weren’t treated as such. The vociferous claims by many men that they are the de facto head of the house, without the appropriate knowledge of how and why, are some of the issues springing up from these verses and others as well.
Although recent evidences are showing that some writings of Paul were grossly misinterpreted during translation, this didn’t stop the early churches, especially the Roman Catholic, in starting and propagating an agenda against the relevances of women in the church, the home and the society. Although subtle, these men-initiated laws ultimately led to the women-are-witches crusade that lead to the execution of millions of women in the past. It led to cruel manipulations and even deaths of notable women such Joan of Arc, Catherine of Aragon and Mary I of England to mention a few in histories.
Let’s forget about the recent canonization of some women by the Catholic Church. They are saving face after centuries of absolute neglects and disregard for the role of women in the Church and the society. It was perhaps the advent of Empress and Saint Helena of Constantinople, mother of Emperor Constantine that made the church and even the medieval world to start giving women importance. While some people are quick to erroneously point to the Old Testament laws as the sources of their beliefs, the writings in the Bible don’t even support these claims. Women of all hierarchies played different active roles in the Bible, whether positive or negative.
Eve gave the apple to Adam, and during the accusation, it was shown that he regarded his wife as an equal and not his stooge. Sarah was so powerful she made her husband send out Haggai and his only child Ishmael as at then. The daughters of Lot influenced history by having children and nations through their father. Tamar had to stoop to conquer against her father-in-law in the face of eternal widowhood, and she was justified. Rebecca and Zipora were both in charge of their fathers’ flocks. Pharaoh’s daughter went against his father’s decree and saved Moses. Miriam was a leader during israel migration from Egypt. Rahab the harlot took a greater risk to save her family.
Deborah physically and spiritually led a war against her country’s enemies. Delilah was a spy for her country, helping to bring down a seemingly invincible Samson. Ruth took the bull by the horns, making Boaz proposed to her and saved his ex-husband legacy. Hannah gave up her child Samuel to serve God, despite her years of barrenness, making Samuel the most powerful prophet and leader after Moses. Abigail and Micah saved their husbands from certain deaths. Jezebel ruled the land of Israel even more than her husband, killing many prophets and sending Elijah into exile. Athaliah killed the whole royal household and ruled Judah for seven years. Basheba ensured that her son Solomon was crowned the king of Israel. The Queen of Sheba was reported to be the richest woman of her time, even initiating an affair with the wisest man ever liveth. And finally Esther saved her entire generation from being annihilated.
The Old Testament somehow subdued the role of women in their writings, visibly aided by the early church pre-mediated editing of the gospels and Paul’s writing in order to propagate their idea of men’s superiority and upperhandedness. However, Jesus Christ’s closest friends as reported in the Bible was not even Lazarus but his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary Madgalene was reportedly and perhaps the most powerful or second most powerful after Peter of all his disciples. Curiously, these women contributions ended in those first four gospels despite the role they played in Christ’s ministry, with nothing reported about them starting from the book of Act.
Was this omission a deliberate action or these women just ceased to be relevant after Christ’s death? Was it the Church that removed their names during their massive editing and collation of the Bible or it was the actions, teachings and belief of Paul, Peters and the remaining apostles that sped up their non-inclusion again in the history of Christianity up till now? Or what could have been the precedence for that incredible I Corinthians 14: 34-35?
Because whether we believe it or not, some churches and some communities based on some churches’ teachings, still believe that women should never be recognised for the important role the play at home, church and the society. The Orthodox Churches still don’t ordain female priest up till now, and they took their time to finally start appointing female deacons. And even the so-called protestant churches and Pentecostal assemblies still find it difficult to appoint women as head pastors of their branches, promoting the wrong assumption that women cannot be the spiritual heads of Christian assemblies or their individual homes.
The bible didn’t even deny that there were no female disciples, leaders and heads. Why are the followers of Christ and professed children of God rejecting this? Even God’s curse on woman for the fall of man in Genesis 3:16 that say in part “…your husband shall rule over you” didn’t mean a woman cannot rule over others either in her own world or the larger society. It doesn’t mean a woman cannot be head somewhere else apart from her husband’s house. Hey, it doesn’t mean an unmarried woman cannot be a leader since that verse was talking about a husband’s house anyway.
Society should stop using religion to chain women down to a spot, quoting biased portions of the Holy Books and historical writings whenever they want to drive home their points. It’s one of the reasons we are not moving forward in Nigeria. I’m not a feminist and I don’t even like the movement in Nigeria because of the twisted version being pushed around. But there is need for us men to recognize the differences between women who can lead and be relevant in the society and those noisemakers who don’t even understand the meaning of feminism anyway.
See you later in subsequent parts where other religions’ attempts to subjugate and/or liberate women would be discussed succinctly. Cheers!