Evidence or attitude?

10 Apr

CerulaI managed to catch most of Channel 4’s Sunday night special, ‘Jesus’ Female Disciples: The New Evidence’. I guess I’m not your average Sunday night Channel 4 viewer, but there wasn’t a lot of new evidence for me. In fact, I reckon there’s a whole lot of old evidence that could happily have added to their case – though perhaps not made quite as watchable television. (If you missed it, never fear, that’s what catch-up in the modern watch-on-demand TV world is all about; you can find it for the next 28 days at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jesus-female-disciples-the-new-evidence.)

But that’s “evidently” not really what the programme is about. Even a cursory reading of the gospels, Luke in particular, makes it pretty obvious that Jesus sought out, welcomed and encouraged female disciples. Obvious, that is, to anyone whose understanding of history and notions of the Jesus movement have not been moulded by centuries of patriarchal rule or its related anti-women tradition and dogma that have dominated church culture.

But that’s not the world we live in. As can be seen in the ongoing scandal of the “wage gap” between men and women, there’s a fundamental breakdown in the way women are treated that seems to be written into the way we view the world. (Talk to any teacher and you’ll realise that it’s not getting any better; despite gallant attempts to the contrary, anti-female thinking is rife and growing amongst teenage lads.) Of course, this won’t be seen in the PC declarations of the majority, but it stands out loud and clear in the unspoken – and often unrecognised – attitudes that shape our ideas and actions.

Unfortunately, none of us is exempt from the influences that mould our perceptions and convictions. A long history of wrong assumptions mean we project a skewed and potentially harmful bias onto our understanding of reality. The church is no exception – and may even be more guilty than society at large; religious fundamentalism has a habit of making cultural values into divine absolutes.

We read Scripture with our minds already made up, or at least predisposed to certain conclusions. Take Christmas, for example. What is enacted in nativities across the world bears little relation to historical reality or even what is actually recorded in Scripture. Yet we still cling to the essentially absurd idea that Jesus was born in a stable.

jesus-disciplesAnd so, of course Jesus didn’t have women disciples. He had twelve – all men. We’ve seen them walking across the Judean countryside, like Robin Hood and his merry men, having left Maid Marion back at camp preparing supper. Jesus may have healed an occasional woman, spoken with a couple and even taught one who refused to do the dishes, but disciples? Twelve men.

Take this programme for what it is – a challenge to us to systematically and deliberately work to remove from our minds and hearts the male-dominated thinking that makes the notion of Jesus having female disciples so surprising. And as a result, perhaps also to be in a place to convey to the wider world a different experience of church that models genuine gender equality.

I’ve little doubt that Jesus’ contemporaries were shocked by his unashamed embracing of women as disciples and (yes!) apostles. Wouldn’t it be great if we managed to do the same.

PS It was TV, so inevitably a bit sensationalist, but kudos to Channel 4 for a decent documentary, well worth the watch :)

PPS The Telegraph’s article prior to the programme going out also makes a good read – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/31/early-church-found-place-female-bishops-experts-claim/

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