Sexist attitudes do not exist in a limbo; they are embedded in larger belief systems associated with specific hierarchies of values. In particular, manifestations of benevolent sexism (Glick and Fiske 1996, 1997, 2001) can be perceived as a social boon, not a social ill, both because they are experienced as positive, and because they reward behaviors that maintain social stability. One of the strongest social institutions that create and justify specific hierarchies of values is religion. In this paper, we examine how the values inherent in religious beliefs (perhaps inadvertently) propagate an unequal status quo between men and women through endorsement of ideologies linked to benevolent sexism. In a survey with a convenience sample of train passengers in Southern and Eastern Poland (N = 180), we investigated the relationship between Catholic religiosity and sexist attitudes. In line with previous findings (Gaunt 2012; Glick et al. 2002a; Taşdemir and Sakallı-Uğurlu 2010), results suggest that religiosity can be linked to endorsement of benevolent sexism. This relationship was mediated in our study by the values of conservatism and openness to change (Schwartz 1992): religious individuals appear to value the societal status quo, tradition, and conformity, which leads them to perceive women through the lens of traditional social roles. Adhering to the teachings of a religion that promotes family values in general seems to have as its byproduct an espousal of prejudicial attitudes toward specific members of the family.
The roles of women in Christianity can vary considerably today as they have varied historically since the third century New Testament church. This is especially true in marriage and in formal ministry positions within certain Christian denominations, churches, and parachurch organizations.
Many leadership roles in the organized church have been restricted to males. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, only men may serve as priests or deacons; only males serve in senior leadership positions such as pope, patriarch, and bishop. Women may serve as abbesses. Most mainstream Protestant denominations are beginning to relax their longstanding constraints on ordaining women to be ministers, though some large groups, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention, are tightening their constraints in reaction. Most all Charismatic and Pentecostal churches were pioneers in this matter and have embraced the ordination of women since their founding. Christian traditions that officially recognize saints as persons of exceptional holiness of life do list women in that group. Most prominent is Mary, mother of Jesus who is highly revered throughout Christianity, particularly in Roman Catholicism where she is considered the “Mother of God”. Both the apostles Paul and Peter held women in high regard and worthy of prominent positions in the church, though they were careful not to encourage anyone to disregard for the New Testament household codes, also known as New Testament Domestic Codes or Haustafelen. They were efforts by the apostles Paul and Peter to encourage the brand-new first Century Christians how to obey the Patria Potestas (lit., “Rule of the Fathers”) of Greco-Roman law. The New Testament written record of their efforts in this regard are found in Colossians 3:18-4:1, Ephesians 5:22-6:9, 1 Peter 2:13-3:7, Titus 2:1-10 and 1 Timothy 2:1ff., 3:1, 3:8, 5:17, and 6:1. Christianity emerged from Judaism and in the Greco-Roman culture, patriarchal societies that placed men in positions of authority in marriage, society and government. The New Testament only records males being named among the 12 original apostles of Jesus Christ. Women were the first to discover the Resurrection of Christ. Since clerical (clergy) ordination and the notion of priesthood post-dates the New Testament, its 27 books contain no specifications for such ordination or distinction. Subsequently, the early church within Catholicism developed a monastic tradition which included the institution of the convent through which women, developed religious orders of sisters and nuns, an important ministry of women which has continued to the present day in the establishment of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and monastic settlements. In one of her several books, Linda Woodhead notes the earliest Christian theological basis for forming a position on the roles of women is in the Book of Genesis where readers are drawn to the conclusion that women are beneath men and “that the image of God shines more brightly” in men than women”. The following New Testament passages and more recent theological notions have contributed to the interpretation of roles of women in Christianity through the centuries:
- “Women will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.”[1 Timothy 2:15]
- “The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command. He rules the home and the state, wages wars, and defends his possessions…. The woman, on the other hands, is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home…. She does not go beyond her most personal duties.” (Luther, Lectures)
- “Properly speaking, the business of woman, her task and function, is to actualize the fellowship in which man can only precede her, stimulating, leading, inspiring.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics)
- “I believe that ultimately the effective authority of Scripture to govern our lives is at stake in this controversy. The issue is not whether we say we believe the Bible is the Word of God or that we believe it is without error, but the issue is whether we actually obey it when its teachings are unpopular and conflict with the dominant viewpoints in our culture. If we do not obey it, then the effective authority of God to govern His people and His church through His Word has been eroded, concludes Grudem.” — Wayne Grudem (emphases original), Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth
- Christian leaders through history have been patriarchal, taking names which underscore male leadership in the church. These include “father”, “‘abbot’ (abba = father)”, and “‘pope’ (papa = father)”. Linda Woodhead notes that “Such language … excludes women from the exercise of such roles”. She also notes a sentiment in 1 Corinthians which “exemplif[ies] a pattern of Christianity of all varieties”, where Paul “explains that women should be veiled in church to signal their subordination to men because ‘the head of every man is Christ and the head of a woman is her husband’, and that ‘women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.’”
- Conservative Christian theologian Gilbert Bilezikian points out that throughout the Old Testament era and beyond, just as God had prophesied, men continued to rule over women in a patriarchal system which he sees as being a “compromise” or “accommodation” between sinful reality and the divine ideal. The coming of Jesus is understood as moving forward from Old Testament patriarchy, re-instituting full equality of gender roles, as succinctly articulated in Galatians 3:28.
- New Testament passages, such as “22Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands”[Eph. 5:22-24]
- Gilbert Bilezikian writes that “the poison of hierarchy generated by the fall (of mankind) had permeated relationships to such an extent that those very disciples Jesus was training in the ways of servanthood insisted on substituting hierarchy for servanthood. They kept competing among themselves for the highest status and for positions of preeminence. Bilezikian continues: “To settle the issue once for all times, Jesus sharply delineated the basic difference between social organization in the secular world and in the Christian community”. He concludes that “Consequently, there is no mandate and no allowance in the New Testament for one adult believer to hold authority over another adult believer. Instead, the overall rule calls for mutual submission among all believers out of reverence for Christ”.[Eph. 5:21]
- complementarians teach that male priority and headship (positional leadership) were instituted prior to the Fall[Gen. 1-2] and that the decree in Genesis 3:16 merely distorted this leadership by introducing “ungodly domination.” Complementarians teach that the male leadership seen throughout the Old Testament (i.e., the patriarchs, priesthood and monarchy) was an expression of the creation ideal, as was Jesus’ selection of 12 male apostles and New Testament restrictions on church leadership to men only.[1 Tim. 2:11-14]