Learning from our History

nMviGdWAs an old history major, and as someone who cares deeply about issues around gender, faith and the church, I was intrigued this week when I stumbled across this post by my friend James Choung. It’s a post about the effect that early Christianity had on women of its day.

Specifically, for women in the first several centuries after Jesus, the church provided a place of safety, personal affirmation and ministry empowerment. As James notes, “It seemed that Christian women enjoyed far more privileges and status than other women in the Greco-Roman world.” 

This agrees with several of my previous posts; for example, hereherehere and here.

For me, the reality of how the church once functioned with regard to women provokes this question:

In our day, why is the church a too often place of pain for women?

Here’s an excerpt from James’ post, and I recommend the entire piece:

“My main question came from the subtitle of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: how does the obscure, marginal Jesus movement become the dominant religious force in the Western world?

In his book, he takes a sociologist’s lens on Christian history, and says that without mass conversions or events, Christianity could achieve 5 to 7.5 million adherents by 300 AD just by having 40% growth each decade through relational evangelism.

Then, with each chapter, he unpacks a counter-intuitive reason why the Christian faith was growing. Christianity reached the middle and upper classes, and not just the poor. Their mission to Jewish people was rather successful, instead of unsuccessful. Christians offered basic care to the sick during plagues when their own pagan relatives left them for dead, increasing the chance of survival nine-fold instead of just relying on miracles. Christians were concentrated in urban areas where they could welcome the steady inflow from surrounding areas, and they could minister to the urban chaos and grind, due to the strength of their community. And during persecution, the way martyrs would face their death greatly impressed the Greco-Roman world.

But there was one more factor: women had an elevated standing within the Christian community.”

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