It’s apparent in scripture that Jesus was what we today would consider a feminist; meaning he cared about establishing equality for people of all genders. And to me, that is really what being a feminist Christian is all about: My faith informs my feminism; I am a feminist because Jesus was a feminist. There are a multiple stories in scripture where Jesus completely overturns socially established gender roles showing a new way for the Kingdom of God: There is the story in John 8 where Jesus refuses to condemn a woman caught in adultery and instead convicts the hearts of the male teachers and the Pharisees condemning her, there is the story in Luke 7 where Jesus validates a poor women’s choice to wash His feet in a culture where having a sinful woman touch a rabbi would have labeled the rabbi contaminated, and of course the very popular story in Luke 10 where Jesus affirms a woman’s agency in choosing how to respond to His teachings over being limited by society’s expectation of her behavior due to her gender. These are all great stories that show Christ’s love and passion for social justice for those marginalized, but there is so much more within scripture that shows Jesus’ compassion for women and refusal to live by a sexist social discourse. One verse in particular is easy to miss, but there is so much depth when you dig deeper.
When Jesus and his disciples were traveling between villages and towns teaching to all those willing to hear, it was recorded that “the twelve [disciples] were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases” (Luke 8:1-2). While this brief mention of women traveling with Jesus seems unimportant and almost negligible when trying to understand Jesus’ relationship to women, deeper prodding reveals that there is much to say from this simple statement. In Jesus’ culture in first century C.E. Palestine, a woman’s place was in her home and with her husband. That’s it. Women were not fighting for reproductive rights or for equal pay; women were not even legitimized enough to be considered second class citizens to men. Women were deemed more as property than people, and no one was fighting to change their position. For a Jewish woman to leave her home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. This “indecent” situation is only proved more provocative when the women traveling with Jesus were not recorded to have been accompanied by their husbands or fathers. In this simple act of simply traveling with women in public, Jesus abrogated the socially constructed gender etiquette recognized in first century C.E. Palestinian culture. Jesus welcomed both men and women to be a part of his following and did not police women out of his ministry based on the social norms of his culture’s time. He didn’t say, “Hey ladies, see, the thing is, by having you here it sort of makes me look like a pimp, you like sluts, and makes my overall message less powerful and legitimate; so you gotta go.” He didn’t try to work within the harmful and problematic gender discourse of his time, he simply taught the new way to those willing to listen and didn’t care about his reputation within an inherently problematic culture.
In this story, I find spiritual conviction in critically engaging with socially constructed gender roles and analyzing the deemed “appropriate” spaces for men and women. For instance, I have seen firsthand that Christian guys and Christian ladies won’t form close friendships or hang out one-on-one because of “what other people will think.” Now don’t get me wrong, if you don’t want to hang out one-on-one with someone of the gender you are attracted to because you are afraid it will complicate things, that’s totally understandable. My issue is when it is simply done because Christians don’t want to give off the “wrong” impression. And really, that stems from social norms that say if guys and girls hang out one-on-one, it must be because it is a sexual or romantic relationship. But should Christians let socially constructed ideas of gender roles and worldly visions of “proper” relationships between people of different genders dictate their life? We can see from Luke 8:1-2 that Jesus didn’t let gender norms or this idea of false propriety limit his ministry and friendships. He didn’t forbid women from traveling with him or being his friend because of “what other people will think.” And he didn’t do this to simply be a rebel or throw caution to the wind, He did it because friendships formed between Christian men and Christian women are valuable in spreading the gospel and useful in building a community rooted in Christ.
I have a guy friend that I was very close to in college and we were able to talk and really relate about issues going on in our life and encourage each other with the struggles we were facing because we were struggling with the same things. Unfortunately, I was questioned about our relationship enough and that I sort of stopped engaging with him and we haven’t been as close since. That to me doesn’t represent Christ. That doesn’t seem rooted in a Lord that wouldn’t allow social norms to dictate the Church. Again, I am not saying we shouldn’t take sexual sin seriously and just put ourselves in tempting situations, but to make a blanket statement that any sort of friendship between men and women isn’t proper simply isn’t a conviction from Christ; it’s falling into a trap set by the world. And most importantly, it limits how the gospel can transform our lives, our friends’ lives, and a world that so desperately needs Jesus.
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