A Christian Perspective on Gender Equality
Kohm, Lynne Marie, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy
Gender equality in American jurisprudence is an important objective. The Supreme Court of the United States has tried to remedy gender disparity in education by affording women a quality military education, (1) and the United States Congress has funded protecting women from violence, (2) yet inequitable treatment of women persists. (3) Gender equality and religion have both been important to the law, as evident by the effective transformation of law by women of faith in the suffrage movement. (4) Christianity motivated these women and influenced the debate on the right of women to vote, an important factor in any election year. (5) The paramount question, therefore, is not whether Christianity influences gender equality, but to what extent. This article will highlight Christianity's rigorous impact on gender equality with the understanding that law is based on inherent principles and inalienable rights, and will thereby examine and offer a Christian perspective on gender equality.
The late Professor Harold Berman focused his scholarship on the law and Christianity because "Christianity has had such an important influence on the origin and development of our legal institutions." (6) Noting the significance of moral philosophy in law in an academy devoted to legal pragmatism, Professor Berman advances the need to consider "the weightier matters of the law" (7)--what is right and just--as well as the "the technical subject matter of legal practice that helps to maintain order in society." (8) But he also notes that Christians have been reluctant to integrate their faith with their study of the law.
With rare exceptions, American legal scholars of Christian faith have not, during the past century, attempted to explain law in terms of that faith. Indeed, in the vast majority of scholarly writings on the vast majority of legal subjects, and in almost all classroom teaching of those subjects, Christianity is not mentioned. Is this because most contemporary American legal scholars see no connection between law and Christianity? Or is it because Christianity has been a taboo subject in twentieth-century American legal education? (9)
Within the legal academy, law and gender are both considered social constructs. (10) Feminist theorists call direct opposition to treating gender as a social construct the "naturalist" error. (11) "Within critical legal perspectives, to commit the naturalist error is to assume the existence of certain inherent or natural principles, rather than socially constructed ones, on which law is, or should be, based." (12) Those inherent or natural principles, however, are customarily dismissed to the immense detriment of gender equality. A Christian perspective examines how this "higher law" (13) influences our legal system, including legal aspects relating to gender.
An examination of gender equality from a Christian, rather than a constructionist feminist, perspective reveals whether our positive law reflects Christian beliefs and values based on transcendent principles, or the notion of law as a social construct. This article considers the history and ideas presented by Christian scholars and their foundation in the revolutionary treatment of women by Jesus Christ.
Some may doubt that Christian scholarship has any merit, (14) as "[r]evivalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism have long been plagued by accusations of anti-intellectualism." (15) The fact that Christian women scholars are generally not included among meritorious Christian scholarship particularly reflects gender inequality in scholarship. "More recent historians largely have discredited this thesis [of Christians as anti-intellectual], but not in regard to women in American evangelicalism, who have been depicted as the bulwark of the church because of their activism and piety not because of their intellectual contributions. …