Terrorism is a worldwide issue, not specific to one religion. While we attribute the atrocities of 9/11 to Islamic extremists, Christianity has a long history of imposing terror, especially on women. Phyllis Trible’s book Texts of Terror describes texts in the Old Testament that causes harm to women, i.e. abuse, betrayal, torture, rape/gang rape, and mutilation (See Genesis 16, 21; 2 Samuel 13:1-22, Judges 11:29-40, 19:1-30). Texts such as these are used to validate violence against women, because of the fundamental view that the text is divinely revealed or God’s own words.
This phenomenon is not specific to the Old Testament. Writings in the New Testament are used to put women in their place, define their role in church, family, and society. The remedy for disobedience allows for violence to be committed against the offender. The most damning of these texts are derived from the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Here, women’s place and role in society is defined. Women should be silent, submissive, and subservient to men. Women are to be veiled, dress modestly without adornment, no gold or pearls. Finally women are not permitted to teach and have no authority over men (See 1 Timothy 2:9-15).
The Pastoral Epistles became the means of condemning a female philosopher/teacher in Antiquity in the movie Agora. This movie demonstrates how the early Christians terrorized non-converts and women in the name of Christianity. When hearing the words of Timothy read by the Bishop in order to incite an uprising that called for the death of this teacher is, in a word, disturbing. These Christians, converts that were formerly her students, were now her enemy ready to strip her, take advantage of her, and torture her by cutting off parts of her body piece by piece. The portrait of Christianity in this film is not positive, but emulates the extremism and violence that occurs in the name of the Bible.
Beyond the Pastoral Epistles, Mary Daly in The Church and the Second Sex shows that women, viewed as naturally defective, were terrorized by custom and law that stemmed from the Bible and Church teaching. Canon Law permitted a husband to beat his wife. It also allowed for a dowry system for marriage that rendered a woman defenseless. Legally women had no voice, could not testify in court, and were prohibited from owning property. In fact, women were considered property (Daly, 97).
In the United States, through fundamentalism and extremist interpretations of the Bible as it is applies to woman’s role, husbands have full authority and control over their wives. The Bible becomes a means of submitting to abuse and prohibits women from escaping. In The Truth Book, Joy Castro describes the atrocious abuse that she, as well as her brother and mother, endured at the hands of a respected member that belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, her step-father. While her brother and mother were physically abused, she was sexually and physically abused over and over again. Another chilling and horrifying story of terror and abuse, the fact that he was esteemed in the church made his words more credible. In fact, at age 14, Joy escaped. Joy’s story is just one example of the multitude of stories that show physical and sexual abuse being committed against women in the name of the Bible. Books have been written and counselors are trained to assist these women through their abuse and their relationship with God.
While we try to move away from these extreme views, it becomes challenging with woman throw their hats into the ring to support the patriarchal, literalistic, skewed understanding of the Bible. In 2009, a group of women gathered together promoting the True Woman Manifesto. This is a petition that calls women to be anti-feminists, to adhere to the teachings of scripture, support their husbands in ministerial roles, and serve their husbands obediently, just as the Bible calls for. The group, True Women, blames the downfall and problems of society on feminists that go against God’s world. This petition collected just under 3,000 signatures and this group had four conferences with a recorded 20,000 attendees. True Women goes so far as to offer makeovers that will create you into a perfect Christian woman.
Promotion of views that harm women, especially by your sisters, is heart wrenching. To create an “ideal” is dangerous. Many examples in history exist where dictators or fascists attempt to create an “ideal” or perfect race. True Women argues that feminism is the downfall of culture and society. I suggest that allowing women to be degraded, abused, and otherwise terrorized in the name of Christianity defines the downfall of a culture and society.