The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, with inaugural president Elizabeth Webb Nicholls on the left.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, with inaugural president Elizabeth Webb Nicholls on the left.

Faith-based sexism a misguided reading of Bible

CONTRARY to the claims of Shane Budden in these pages last week ("#MeToo has failed due to enshrined religious misogyny" C-M, Jan 11), Christianity has inspired women to activism since the time of Jesus.

Christian women have been vocal against oppression of all forms and have fought for equality wherever that has been denied.

Take for example, women being given the right to vote and to stand as candidates for election.

This was first achieved in South Australia.

An important aspect of this historical campaign was a petition of more than 11,000 signatures, 8000 of which were collected by the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

This impressive petition, a massive scroll more than 100m long, is on display at the Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

It was the Honourable George Hawker who presented the petition in August 1894, there being no women allowed in Parliament.

However, when the Bill reached the second reading in December, women had taken over the public gallery.

The Adelaide Observer reported: "Ladies poured into the cushioned benches to the left of the Speaker, and relentlessly usurped the seats of the gentlemen who had been comfortably seated there before. They filled the aisles and overflowed into the gallery."

Two of the prominent co-ordinators of the petition and the takeover of the parliamentary gallery were Elizabeth Webb Nicholls and Mary Lee, both of whom lived and practised their Christian beliefs.

They saw, as Christian women have throughout history, the undeniable connection between faith and political, social and economic concerns.

When Christians argue God wants men and women to be equal, they make this claim on good grounds - the authority of the Bible and the words and teachings of Jesus it contains.

Using the Old Testament's Genesis 19:8 as evidence to back up claims of misogyny in religion is to misrepresent the story of Lot and his two daughters.

The presence of this #MeToo moment in the Bible does not indicate endorsement.

The Bible is an honest account of history, which does not gloss over atrocities.

Misogyny is a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Yet Christians throughout history have been at the forefront of the fight for women's equality, pioneering women's higher education, the right to vote, the right to stand for office, the right to own property and work outside the home.

In the pages of the Bible is a strong affirmation of the intrinsic equality of men and women.

Jesus' regard for women was countercultural and revolutionary in his male-dominated era.

All scholars agree that women had an unusually high profile in Christ's life and work.

Women then, and now, have found the movement that Jesus established both compelling and liberating.

It is also no coincidence that the safest countries in the world for women have the benefit of the Judaeo-Christian ethic as the foundation of their culture. The most dangerous countries do not.

There is no doubt that the Church throughout history has frequently failed to live up to the teachings of Jesus. But there is also no doubt that Christianity has given voice to women to oppose oppression in all of its forms in the sure knowledge that God intends for men and women to be equal.

Wendy Francis is the state director of Australian Christian Lobby.