Jesus was a feminist


The campaign for the “16 Days of Activism for no violence against women and children,” run annually at this time by the South African government, was launched on 25 November 2018 in Kwazulu-Natal. Francis Tuson looks at Jesus’ attitudes towards women in the Scriptures and believes that these showed him to be a ‘true feminist’.

Countless essays exist on the topics of patriarchy and feminism (many far more eloquent than I will ever be) yet patriarchy still dominates our global culture. None of us can afford to stay silent.

Patriarchy permeates many aspects of virtually every culture on the globe. Through its insidious toxicity it poisons human interactions, ultimately harming everyone. When relationships are subject to innumerable minute power-plays of domination and submission, coercion and manipulation; love, genuine intimacy and empathy are very hard to find.

Most people — although men more so than relatively liberated women — still react viscerally when confronted with the terms ‘patriarchy’ and ‘feminism’. This is sad because many of these same people, once they’ve had the terms clearly explained, are not actually hostile to feminist rhetoric. Especially when they are framed as purely philosophical and removed from the much propagated and antagonistic associations that global culture has assigned to them.

Patriarchy exists, is perpetuated and is promoted in our churches, schools, workplaces, homes, and — almost ubiquitously — in the media.

All of us, men and women, almost from birth, are indoctrinated with this unnatural ideology. Even when raised in families where patriarchy is formally opposed, children are subject to passive indoctrination from peers. It is pervasive and more often unconscious than blatant and intentional.

To paraphrase an excerpt from one of Fr Russell Pollitt’s weekly Gospel reflections earlier this year: In the Gospels, although the Twelve are called the apostles, they are most of the time desperately imperfect in their discipleship. It is the women who embody the humility, dedication and other essential qualities of disciples.

Jesus was undoubtedly a true feminist. He treated women with perfect equity — despite the obscene oppression they suffered at the time. The first healing he performed was on a woman (Simon’s mother-in-law). The first people he appeared to after his resurrection were women. And despite the understandable adoration lavished upon him by his female followers, he never took advantage of them. He attempted rather, by his example, to show his male followers how women should be treated.

Perhaps last month’s Synod of Bishops on Young People shows a slight shift towards being more like Jesus in respect to the treatment of women. Pope Francis and the world’s bishops openly speak of the injustice being done to women in the Church and suggest that they are ready for a greater representation of women within Church structures. The final Synod document dedicates itself to the struggles that women face when looking for their role in the Church’s governance, “even when these processes do not require specific ministerial responsibilities.” Recognising this the bishops admit that “the absence of women’s voice and point of view impoverishes the discussion and journey of the Church and removes a precious contribution from discernment.”

Combating our global, toxic, patriarchal system — even its pervasiveness in our Church — requires the concerted and coordinated effort of all of us. It requires that we acquire an educated understanding of the reality of the situation. How and where it has affected the way we interact with others needs to be carefully discerned. Through a complete surrendering to the love preached in the Gospels, true love where there is no place for domination, will emerge.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Jesus was a feminist