Women and the Bible

A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker on the local Christian radio station sharing the results of a recent study about Americans and the Bible. To him, one of the most “interesting” findings was that more men than women believe that the Bible is a Holy Book: 90% of men vs. 78% of women. There was a hint of smugness in his voice when he said, “Huh, I wonder why that is.” If I’d had a phone number, I would have liked to call in and give him a few theories about the discrepancy — theories that have nothing to do with the idea that “through woman man fell.”

Just so that we’re on the same page: if I had been included in that survey, I would have been in the 78% that believes the Bible is a Holy Book. But I don’t believe that it’s error-free, that it shouldn’t be questioned, or that I must adhere to everything written in its pages. I do not believe it’s got the final word on God’s thoughts, opinions, and wishes for and about humanity. And one of the reasons I don’t believe all those things is because, as a woman, it’s much harder to reconcile what we know in our hearts to be true — that we are created in God’s image, perfect, wondrous, loved, gifted, and full of dignity — with what we find in the actual text of the Bible: that our names aren’t worth recording in family trees, that we’re unclean during menstruation and after childbirth (even though we’re expected to spend an inordinate amount of time childbirthing or wringing our hands because we’re not childbirthing), and that we’re meant to submit to the men in our lives. Not only that, but we have to work much harder to make patriarchal stories universal stories: there are only about 100 women named in the Old Testament, where there are almost 1500 men. The ratio of women in the New Testament is twice as high, but anyone who can do a little math knows that still doesn’t come close to equal representation.

We have to work harder to believe the stories and lessons in the Bible really apply to us: we have to accept that every time we see the word “men” it means “everyone,” except when we see it associated with priestly duties, in which case men definitely means men (and women means men, too).

I’m reading the Bible cover-to-cover for the second time in my life; the first time I did it, I was in high school. And my patience for the litany of wars and conquests and men begetting men is thinner now than it was when I was 16. I’m not one to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and I do still believe that God reveals truths that are eternal in the Bible, that the Bible is a Holy Book. But I have to say, if the Bible were mostly a book about women like me, about stories and histories that I could relate to, well, I’d probably be a lot more apt to call it a Holy Book without qualifications, too. But as women, it’s a lot harder to justify our allegiance with the Bible, because it has been and will continue to be used against us. And if that means that 12% less women than men believe the Bible is Holy, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to someone who even takes a cursory glance beyond the statistic.

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About Lacey Louwagie

I'm a feminist, a writer, an editor, and a seeker. I co-edited "Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics" (ACTA 2012) and authored "Where I First Met God" in "Unruly Catholic Women Writers II" (SUNY Press 2013). You can learn more about me at www.laceylouwagie.com.

3 thoughts on “Women and the Bible

  1. Love this!! Thank you. I wish you HAD been able to call that guy and share your perspective. Why are we such competitive people? I’m thinking of this guy’s smugness about men’s percentage being higher. I’m no statistician but 1) how many women were asked, 2) context 3) who were the surveyors, etc. Its not like we are so beyond lack of proper representation for women and minorities, as much as people would like to think they make balanced and inclusive decisions. We’re even taught self hatred, internalized sexism, and there’s little to keep that in check if someone is unaware.

    I’m trying to think of an example of something on the flip side of this for men, but am coming up blank. But I think you are so right that of course the number is going to be lower for women considering how dismissive the Bible can be of us. We make a real leap of faith, one to celebrate and call upon its strength.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Lauren. I’ve been thinking this morning about whether there is a parallel experience for men, and the one that comes to mind is the way men become invisible in many resources that have to do with “parenting.” In actuality, I think most books, workshops, etc., about parenting are being created with a female audience in mind, unless something is created specifically for fathers (I think there’s less created specifically for mothers, since they’re sort of considered the “default” parents). I think of how often as adults we say things like, “Ask your mom if that’s OK” rather than, “Ask one of your parents.” And I think that this negligence of a father’s role in raising and nurturing children is incredibly damaging to all involved: female caregiver, male caregiver, and child.

  3. Perfect example! Thanks! And leaving out fathers from the parenting is a loss for the children and their partner. I wish more dads would be stay at home parents because I think kids need more experiences of caregiving by their fathers. And so many dads will say that they don’t feel relevant to the parenting. How sad.

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