Friday, September 10, 2010

Biblical Morality -- Women's Suffrage

Ninety-two years ago this week, President Woodrow Wilson announced his support of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which banned all sex-based restrictions on suffrage. Today women enjoy the right to vote.

I am often annoyed by Christian fundamentalists who claim to base their morality on the Bible. Do Christians consider what bearing the Bible might have on the matter of women's suffrage? Do they not realize how far removed biblical ethics often are from their everyday "God-given" moralities and human rights?

Let me ask you--What does the Bible say about women's suffrage? Do the scriptures give women democratic rights--the right to vote and to hold authority on par with men?

A few passages to consider are Numbers 30:6, 9 / Isaiah 3:12 / I Corinthians 14:34ff / I Timothy 2:11,12


Tandi said...

Well, since this topic is on your mind, I will need to become informed on yet another subject. I always appreciate your prompts to more learning....and an opportunity to earnestly contend for my faith and the wisdom of the Bible.

Fizlowski said...

I know what David Bowie has to say about Suffragette City. Does that count?

Tandi said...

I found this article for some background:

Interesting and informative

Tandi said...


(still learning to do these links right)

Peter said...

are you saying that women should not vote?

Tandi said...

I'm saying that I am considering the points brought up in the article and weighing the Biblical evidence. I do not have an opinion yet.

Tandi said...

I don't know if I agree or disagree with the points in this article yet, but i find it fascinating. I love reading thoughts from past centuries.

What do you make of this point? I find it insightful and possibly true.

"Hence it is always dangerous to enter upon intellectual discussion of any kind with women, for you are almost certain to offend them by setting aside the sentiments of veneration, affection, love, which they have in great strength, in order to reach accuracy in matters of fact, which they neither have nor care for.”

It is easy to see how this characteristic, which all must acknowledge to be true, disqualifies woman for impartial judgment of questions to be decided by the ballot, for sitting on juries, for the bench, and for almost all political action where measures and policies and not men are in question. It is no discredit to woman that this is so. It does not argue an inferior, but only a different type of mind and nature. Being formed for man, and not for the State, for clinging affection, and not for legislation or debate, persons are everything to her, and all questions and policies are of interest only in their individual and personal bearings. As Milton truly describes this difference:

“Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed:
For contemplation he and valor formed,
For softness she, and sweet attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him.”

Peter said...

women and men tend to exhibit different ways of thinking. men tend to be more compartmentalized; women tend to be more integrative. these differences do not justify the imbalance of power between the sexes which is accepted in the biblical documents. it is obvious that western christians have accepted the cultural shift away from patriarchy (to some degree), and it is clear that this has led to the amelioration of women's rights to the point that women's suffrage is even deemed a women's God-given right.

How odd, though, that christians so frequently latch onto Lev 18:22 when they ignore other sex or gender based norms in the book they claim they need to make up their minds about morality. it is so clear to the thinking mind that morality is constructed apart from reference to holy book artificiality.

Tandi said...

I can agree that "morality" is often determined apart from Biblical standards. That's why I don't like words such as porneia translated as "sexual immorality" as in some Bible versions (see 1 Thess. 4:3 NASB). That is too vague and changes with the times.

Biblical standards are spelled out very clearly in precise in Leviticus 18:22-23 (KJV). There is no ambiguity and does not depend on societal norms.

Peter said...

Leviticus 18:22 is precise with regard to specific behaviors. I consider it one of the most sexually immoral verses of the Bible in that it proscribes and discriminates against the sexual identity of gays.

Peter said...

...but there also is precise language such as Numbers 30:9 which show that a wife's voice or autonomy is nullified in her husband.

Tandi said...

and Leviticus 18:23 discriminates against another class of sexually active citizens. Do you consider that immoral also?

Numbers 30 has to do with vows and the headship of the husband. I see no problem with it.

Peter said...

Leviticus 18 need not be an all-or-none source of morality. All-or-none approaches, which are characteristic both of Christian fundamentalists and of the "new atheists," make it difficult to appreciate the texture of the biblical documents--a texture rich in genuine beauty and wisdom but also peppered with elements best viewed from a distance.

If you are willing to accept Lev 18 (in biblical context) as a final arbiter of your morality, do you accept the polygamy that this text assumes? Lev 18:18 reads:

"And thou shalt not take a woman to her sister, to be a rival to her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her lifetime."

Why does this prohibition exist? Why not just state, "And thou shalt not take a woman to the first..." which would prohibit having more than one wife? Obviously this passage (and others in the Pentateuch) allows for polygamy. Are you willing to accept polygamy as an ethical option?

Obviously Christians use other sources of moral reasoning that are not anchored in the biblical texts.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

Numbers 30 nullifies the wife's religious autonomy vis-a-vis her husband. The Pentateuch does not know of a separation of church and state--all is a unified civil-sacral order, a theocracy. Hence, if a woman only has voice when she speaks in agreement with her man (her father or her husband), then the "ethical" conclusion is to assume that women are not allowed to express disagreement with their husbands in sacred and civil matters. Paul seems to be on board with this thinking.

So, where do American Protestant Christians get the idea that women's suffrage is a "God-given" right when the book that they deem to be God's Word mitigates against this idea? Aren't you glad that morality and ethics aren't so wishy-washy and relativistic but instead grounded in the Eternal Word?

Fizlowski said...

There was a time when Islam was the peak of civilization. When western Christians were wallowing in the mud of the dark ages, Muslim scholars had achieved great feats of mathematics, engineering, philosophy, etc. They even preserved the Greek texts which would later be considered the cornerstone of Western civilization. Nowadays the Muslim world represents only the smallest percentage of world's scholarship. Why is that?

There is one school of thought that states that the Western world gained its current edge because it acknowledged (however gradually) women as intellectual equals and accepted their input in topics that were otherwise considered "men's work" (Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, to name a few).

So, I find it a little disconcerting when modern women (and men, for that matter) look to ancient texts (the Bible, the Quran, or whatever) for their information on how to think and act. 1 Timothy 2:12 is a great example of the potential harm to society that can be found in scriptures.

Peter said...

Hey Fizlowski,

good points...

I must interject, though, that the rights granted to women in the Quran are often and in most cases better developed than those in the Pentateuch. For example, women in the Quran are permitted to own property, to keep their own wages, and to maintain religious commitments independent of their husbands. Yet, this is not to assert that the Quran is completely out of the also prescribes wife beating, etc.

Fortunately, most fundamentalists discriminately and arbitrarily accept that which suits them from the Bible. When it comes to voting rights--they are "God given" even though their holy book would tell them otherwise.

Tandi said...

Voting rights are "God given" in the sense that God has given us America. It is a civic duty and privilege to vote in this country. Since God has Sovereignly chosen American citizenship for us in these times in which we live, both men and women should avail themselves of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Peter said...

Hey Tandi,

Everything about your comment was entirely ad hoc and arbitrary. You have made no significant contributions to this discussion with this comment.

Tandi said...

How is my comment irrelevant to the discussion? You keep talking about "God-given" voting rights that fundamentalists supposedly believe in. I have not heard this expression in my circles, but maybe you hear it on Fox News? I'm just offering a possible sense of the term "God-given" for your consideration.

Peter said...

Hello Tandi,

There are several ad hoc components to your comment.

First, if God sovereignly "gave" America to "us," then would not your theology require that we abide by the Bible as a source of ethics? And if the Bible silences women, is it ethical to give them voice?

Second, if God sovereignly "gave" American to "us" that implies that God also soveriegnly gave the one billion people who live in poverty their third-world countries of origin.

Third, if the morality of women's suffrage is situational despite what the Bible says, what other ethical questions are you as a fundamentalist willing to answer at variance with the Bible? Why do you fault Christians who insist that the sexual-gender cultures of the Bible are so different that we can lay aside the Bible's statements about homosexuality?

just a few of the ad hocs that do not address the issue of the Bible.

Tandi said...

The Bible does not "silence" women or forbid them to vote. It is a living Book, applicable to every generation when understood properly, like the Constitution of the United States. Neither is a dead letter, rigid document. Both can be misinterpreted.

Yes, this country was founded (however imperfectly) on Biblical principles. Godly statesmen like Abraham Lincoln and others tried to clarify Biblical principles. I like this:

The meaning of the Declaration was a recurring topic in the debates between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Douglas argued that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration referred to white men only. The purpose of the Declaration, he said, had simply been to justify the independence of the United States, and not to proclaim the equality of any "inferior or degraded race".[182] Lincoln, however, thought that the language of the Declaration was deliberately universal, setting a high moral standard for which the American republic should aspire. "I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere", he said.[183] According to Pauline Maier, Douglas's interpretation was more historically accurate, but Lincoln's view ultimately prevailed. "In Lincoln's hands", wrote Maier, "the Declaration of Independence became first and foremost a living document" with "a set of goals to be realized over time".

(continued below)

Tandi said...

Like Daniel Webster, James Wilson, and Joseph Story before him, Lincoln argued that the Declaration of Independence was a founding document of the United States, and that this had important implications for interpreting the Constitution, which had been ratified more than a decade after the Declaration.[186] Although the Constitution did not use the word "equality", Lincoln believed that "all men are created equal" remained a part of the nation's founding principles. He expressed this belief in the opening sentence of his 1863 Gettysburg Address: "Four score and seven years ago [i.e. in 1776] our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Will address more of your points if I have a chance later today......

Peter said...


You have yet to confront the issue of the biblical texts which silence women.

Tandi said...

"Women keep silent in the church" means "don't be talking amongst yourselves during the service." It also means "don't usurp authority over the designated leader" (who should be male). This is God's order of things and is no more unfair or discriminatory than you as a male teacher expecting a classroom of children to be quiet, not to be talking and whispering during class, and not to "correct" you publicly and usurp your authority in the classroom.

There is the example of Priscilla "talking" and "teaching" in the assembly, along with her husband, and this is not rebuked. Priscilla was a valued colleague of Paul's (and possibly jointly penned the Book of Hebrews).