It was easy to abandon the path that Jesus set out for them

Christ-followers today might be at a loss to explain how the church could have even participated in, much less led, the destructive scapegoating of women in the past. Questions abound; How did clergy justify words and actions that were dehumanizing and even deadly to women? How could Christians have strayed so far away from the example of Jesus found in the Gospels? How could a religion founded on the conviction that the Holy Spirit empowers both men and women reduce women to powerless victims of blame? Answers to these questions are not clear-cut. In its earliest expressions, Christianity had maintained its countercultural roots. The baptismal confession taken from Galatians, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, not male or remale,” made a fit description for the priorities of Christ-followers. Women played key roles in the leadership of the church because in Christ, all were equal. According to Acts and the letters of Paul, women served as house-church leaders and teachers, as prophets and even apostles. It didn’t take long, however, for the early Christians to shift away from their more egalitarian practices regarding women, effectively enacting a “patriarchalization” of the church. The most powerful church leaders from the early centuries of Christianity used their writings and influence to force women out of the picture, circumscribing their roles and restricting their participation in leadership. Then when Constantine legitimized Christianity in the Roman Empire in the 300s CE the patriarchal and hierarchical power structure of the church became codified. The unholy alliance of church and state, which infused the clergy with unscrupulous societal power, assured that female leadership would finally die out. With great power comes great social adaptation. Only men ruled in the public and political sphere of the Roman Empire, and so only men would be able to rule in the church.  Bishops and elders had the opportunity to gain influence in the political echelons of the empire, and they took it. It was easy to abandon the path that Jesus set out for them and trade a kingdom that was open to the leadership of both men and women for a patriarchal kingdom that eliminated half the population as rivals for influence and power.

From “Scapegoats: The Gospel Through the Eyes of Victims” by Jennifer Garcia Bashaw – Fortress Press