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Published Date: August 3, 2023

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God’s World Is Not a Man’s World

Editor’s Note: This is a 2022 CBE Writing Contest Honorable Mention!

This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

You see, man made the cars to take us over the road
Man made the train to carry the heavy load
Man made electric light to take us out of the dark
Man made the boat for the water, like Noah made the ark

This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl

Man thinks about our little bitty baby girls and our baby boys
Man made them happy, ’cause man made them toys
And after man make everything, everything he can
You know that man makes money, to buy from other man

This is a man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing, not one little thing, without a woman or a girl
He’s lost in the wilderness
He’s lost in bitterness, he’s lost, lost . . .

The song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”[2] was written by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome and recorded in 1966. It soon became a number-one hit on the charts. The lyrics describe man as the inventor of all the wonders of modern civilization, like cars and trains, going back as far as Noah who built the ark. The men in the song concentrate on making money to buy toys for their babies but fail to see the importance of relationships until they realize that all this would “mean nothing without a woman or a girl.” However, it is still a man’s world, and the song ends in a fadeout with the words, “He’s lost in the wilderness. He’s lost in bitterness, he’s lost, lost . . .”

Patriarchy Defined

Patriarchy is a system that values men and their achievements more than women and their achievements. A patriarchal society is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centred. The male person is the centre of attention and everything else—or everyone else, including women—are defined by their relationships to men. Oppression of women and girls is often a result of this system. We see it, we feel it, we hear it, we taste it, and we smell it. This is the world we live in, where women have lived for as far back as history goes. I can fight for justice and equality, but it feels as if my efforts have done little to dislodge the patriarchal attitudes entrenched in our culture and thinking. I am becoming weary and tired of this “man’s world.”

It is true that some countries have achieved a higher level of equality between women and men than others. Women there may be respected and appreciated.  In many countries, though, women still live in abject oppression and dependence. We were shocked when the Taliban came to power and revoked all the progress that had been made toward women’s rights and empowerment in Afghanistan. The death of Mahsa Amini in custody of the Iranian police because a few strands of her hair had escaped her scarf caused an uprising calling for women’s freedom.[3] And even in our modern Western world, women lived for a long time in a patriarchal world that men designed for their own profit, controlling what women were allowed to do. Women had to fight male prejudices to be able to pursue higher education and work in professions once considered the masculine domain. Even now, it is difficult for many people to let go of patriarchal traditions that reserve control of society, politics, the church, and the family for men. Prejudices against women are so subtle that even women often fall prey to them without realizing how sexist they are.

Historical Patriarchy Versus Early Christianity

Inspired by the egalitarian attitude of Jesus in his interactions with women, his earliest followers accepted women as equals in all aspects of life in the kingdom of God. Jesus ignored the cultural restrictions placed on women by allowing them to become disciples. The Gospels tell of many encounters he had with women and how he treated them with respect. Jesus noticed women and wanted them to be seen and remembered—even the woman who anointed his feet (Mark 14:8–9). Some of his most important theological discussions were with women, and he told his female disciples to proclaim the resurrection and trusted them to fulfill the commission. In Acts 2:4, we see the Holy Spirit descending on all who were assembled at Pentecost. All were filled with the Spirit and started speaking in other languages, including the women, who were a vital part of the group of believers. The Apostle Peter quoted the Old Testament to defend why even women were proclaiming the good news (Joel 2:28). In Romans 16, the Apostle Paul mentioned many female co-workers in his greetings to the church in Rome, showing how much he appreciated the work they were doing in leading the church and teaching men and women. It is no wonder that Christianity was attractive, particularly to women in the Roman man’s world![4]

Men like Cato the Elder considered women’s equality a risk to male power.

Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal, and it is useless to let go the reins and then expect her not to kick over the traces. You must keep her on a tight rein […] Women want total freedom or rather—to call things by their names—total licence. If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters.[5]

But the New Way, as Christianity was called at first, was a faith that liberated women from the shackles of the oppressive, man-made culture of the time.

Unfortunately, in later times, the Christian church, which should proclaim God’s love, has contributed to this degradation of women.  In fact, we are so used to seeing the church today led by men that we don’t realize that for a couple of centuries women in the early church participated in liturgical leadership, as proved by early manuscripts and works of art that depict women raising their hands in blessing and serving at the altar.[6] So when did women lose their voice and leadership role? When the church was granted legal status by the emperor Constantine,[7] becoming more powerful and influential in society, the church fathers became concerned with retaining their power. The council of Laodicea in 363–364 A.D. took steps to forbid the ordination of women as presbyters and successive councils reinforced those restrictions.[8] Ever since, the majority of women have been restricted by the church from holding leadership roles.

A Call for Today’s Christians to Return to Their Roots

Today, women in my church denomination work as commissioned pastors, but ordination is required for top leadership positions, making it impossible for a woman to be elected president. Women’s ordination has been discussed and debated by the denomination for more than fifty years. In fact, it was approved in 1881 but subsequently forgotten! It has been sacrificed to the fear of endangering the global unity of the church. The church is still a man’s world, even though many men support women’s ordination and full involvement in leadership.

Humankind was created for mutual love and respect; the church needs the input of the female mindset to be a healthy body. The Apostle Paul knew how important women were in the church and compared it to a body with many parts, all depending on each other to function well. “As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (I Corinthians 12:20–22). Just a few verses later, in the famous I Corinthians 13 passage, he exalts love and respect as the basis of our existence without which we—and the church—would be lost. Even James Brown realized how impossible it is for men to exist without women.

How I wish that this world could be a world for women and men, where both are valued and respected and where they work together to take care of the world that was entrusted to them at creation! It is high time for the church to follow its Master, who gave us a wonderful example of inclusiveness and who came to save all who believe in Him. Women have gifts, vision, and perspective that could profit the world and the church. If Jesus and his earliest disciples saw how much the church needs the influence of women, the church today should follow the path he laid down. Otherwise, we will remain “lost in the wilderness.”

Photo by Mikhai Nilov on Pexels.

[1] James Brown, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” February 16, 1966, only track on It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, King, 1966, record.

[2] James Brown. “James Brown – It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” YouTube video, 2:45. August 20, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd1-HM234DE.

[3] “Iran: A really simple guide to the protests.” BBC News. October 26, 2022. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-63240911.

[4] “Christianity dispelled conventional Roman social barriers, so it isn’t surprising that Christianity was especially successful among women; converts tended to be upper-class and conversion was effected through the women in the family.” In Joseph Manning, “A Woman’s Status under Roman Law and in the Early Church.” AncientWorldTour. July 30, 2012. https://ancientwordtour.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/a-womans-status-under-roman-law-and-in-the-early-church/. See also Margaret Mowczko, “Wealthy Women in the First-Century Roman World and in the Church.” Priscilla Papers 32, No. 3 (Summer 2018). https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/wealthy-women-first-century-roman-world-and-church/.

[5] From a speech of Cato as reported in Livy’s History of Rome, book 34, sections 2-4. Quoted in Quotes of Famous People. June 3, 2021. https://quotepark.com/quotes/1823193-cato-the-elder-woman-is-a-violent-and-uncontrolled-animal-and-it/.

[6] Ally Kateusz, Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). See also Christine Schenk, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: 1517 Media, 2017). See also Ally Kateusz, “Women Leaders at the Table in Early Churches.” Priscilla Papers 34, No. 2 (Spring 2020). https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/women-leaders-table-early-churches/.

[7] In 313 CE, the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity legal status.

[8] Robynne Healey, “Where Did All the Women Go? The Erasure of Female Leadership from Church History.” (Un)settled: Exploring Gender in History. December 8, 2020. https://issuu.com/robynne.healey/docs/magazine_final_issuu/s/11448741. It is to be noted that, while the Council prohibited ordaining women to the presbyterate, the exact meaning of Canon 11 has been debated. See also Kevin Knight, “Synod of Laodicea (4th Century).” New Advent. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3806.htm.