04/11/2012 01:05 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

Christianity Is Not Bad For Women

Saying Christianity is bad for women is like saying science is bad for children. One has taken an entire category of values, practices, history and heritage and made a blanket statement apply to an impossibly exhaustive, undifferentiated category of human beings. Sure, there have been times in the history of Christianity when people supposedly practicing that faith have acted contrary to the faith's core values. Yes, for much of the faith's 2,000 year history, the role of its women has been overshadowed by that of its men. None of the world's religions have fully lived up to the ideals they espouse. And granted one can take particular and often isolated verses from the Bible: Christianity's sacred scripture, to prove that Christianity is bad for women, just as people at one time in our history proved, using scripture, that it was all right for some human beings to own others.

But at its core, Christians are not a people of the Book. We are a people centered in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we know as the Christ. Jesus, in his life on earth, was equally comfortable in his relationships with women as with men. Women were clearly among his followers and participated in what Dr. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza has called a discipleship of equals. Women were the first to bear witness to Jesus' Resurrection from the dead. From its inception, Christianity was a radically egalitarian faith in which women, slaves and other persons of low status in the ruling Roman Empire were given equal status with men. Even as the Apostle Paul traveled the Mediterranean world sharing the good news that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) and there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28), it was clear that there were many women leaders in the fledgling Church.

The problem of the repression of women, especially in leadership roles, developed as the Church institutionalized itself over time, melding its practices within cultures of increasing male dominance. Even so, there are women in Christian history that managed to exercise leadership in significant ways. Helena (255-330 C.E.), mother of the Emperor Constantine, was a public supporter of the Christian cause. Hilda of Whitby (614-680 C.E.) was Abbess of a monastery for both men and women, and was host to (some believe presider over) the Synod of Whitby in 664 -- a conference of Christian Bishops during which Celtic practices squared off against Roman practices -- the Roman way winning.

We are not centered in the particular events that happened over 2,000 years ago in a tiny outpost of the Roman Empire. We are centered in the life of the living, risen Christ as it is expressed through the life of community today! A former Archbishop of Canterbury (symbolic head of the Anglican Communion in the world), William Temple (1881 - 1944), was fond of saying that compared to the life of the universe, and even other of the world's religions, the Christian faith is a young religion, and we're still working on getting it right -- which is to say -- working to truly live out the values of radical egalitarianism, total inclusion, and healing and reconciling the world to God. As we do that, women are playing increasingly critical roles as leaders of Christianity today.