It is ironic that feminism is contributing to the decline of Christianity when the movement can greatly enrich our understanding of Jesus’ divinity and deepen our relationship with God, argues theologian Dr Niamh M. Middleton
Countless surveys tell the same story: There has been a dramatic falloff in religious practice and a large rise in atheism in the Christian West.
Why? According to a World Values Survey Association report, its partly due to the West’s relatively high standards of living, gender equality and technological development.
The contribution of feminism and science to the decline of Christian practice in the West is ironic.
In my new book, Jesus and Women: Beyond Feminism I show how insights from feminism and evolutionary science can greatly enrich our understanding of the divinity of Jesus and, in so doing, provides evidence for it.
As with the great strides being taken in bridging the perceived gulf between Christianity and science, the rift between Church and feminism - which has been largely responsible for the falloff in female church attendance - can, likewise, be healed.
Jesus’ attitude towards women was revolutionary. The early Pauline church reflected this, with women sharing a diversity of ministries with males, including supervision of the Eucharist.
This situation regressed when Christianity began to spread into the surrounding patriarchal cultures whose male leaders had to be appeased, with the division between the sexes fully taking root when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Religion and politics evolved in tandem to support male patriarchal power structures and to ensure that religion would be used as a force for social control, especially of women.
An important distinction must therefore be made between religion as a phenomenon and the defining characteristics of individual religions while they are under the control of their founders.
Christianity was radically unique while under the control of Jesus, who was the ultimate exemplar of social justice for all. Jesus’ radically loving and egalitarian treatment of women is in stark contrast to that of the inherently sexist institutional Church.
Feminism as a movement could only have arisen in the Christian West, due to the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women that gradually worked its way outwards from institutional Christianity into secular society.
Secular Christianity is now way ahead of institutional Christianity in its treatment of women, which is why there has been a massive falloff in female practice and why a radical reform of Church power structures is needed. Only Christian women, guided by feminist theology, will be able to initiate such reforms by campaigning to regain their early Church status.