Holiness and patriarchy
What kind of woman comes to mind when you think of a Holy, or a Godly woman?
I recently asked this question to several of my friends and these were some of first words they said, modest, pious, chaste, and passive.
When I asked myself this question I kind of imagined a painting of Mother Mary. A renaissance era type, where Mary has very soft facial features, kind eyes, and her head is just delicately tilted to one side.
These responses and imageries left me to wonder, is our conception of what it means for women to pursue holiness more bent towards patriarchy than how it’s understood in the Bible?
I think for many of us the answer is, yes. (We could probably also say something similar about a godly man being perceived as hyper-masculine, but that’s for someone else to talk about.) The archetype of “patriarchal holiness” for women is held behind layers of misconceptions in what holiness is and what it means to be a woman.
First, we have to see that the broader understanding of holiness has been strewed. Today, the word “Holiness” is out of vogue. If you were out to lunch with a group of friends, and you told them that this year your goal is be more holy, I think many of them (even the Christian ones) would be bemused.
Or, if I went out on the streets and asked random people, is holiness good for you? I think that many of them would say, “no”. Holiness is no longer an attractive quality of a person.
It’s because meaning of the word has changed. It’s been corrupted. The modern understanding of holiness has become disreputable for so many reasons and actually it’s all quite understandable.
We’ve seen allot of “holiness” that was bad for people. We’ve all met a prude and bossy person who masqueraded as a moral master. Mark Twain made mention of this kind of person when he wrote, “He was a good man, in the worst sense of the word.”
Holiness can be especially repugnant for women. Within the patriarchal paradigm of the past holiness became misconstrued and contorted to a conception of chauvinism. The very essence of holiness was reduced to an adherence to a system of external restraint.
Women were expected to exercise spiritual devoutness by restriction and compliancy- dressing in conservative ways, acting in impotent manners, and only associating themselves with like minded people ( or in some cases, only associating with other like minded women).
It’s no wonder that now we’re faced with overbearing ideals in the complete opposite realm.
The Christian nuance of the feminist movement is that woman should pursue their God given purpose. One of those purposes is to pursue holiness. “Be holy just as I am holy?” (Lev 19:2 / 1Pet1:16).
So what do women have to aspire towards if holiness has been marred to restraining methods of external control?
Well, the Bible illustrates God’s holiness as the immense creative force that made the entire universe. God is the only being with the power to create and fill the world with beauty and life; and this power is what makes God utterly unique, set apart from everything else that exists.
The very being that created the universe created us, female kind, in His image. His power gives us a regenerated life through grace, by faith, in Christ. We don’t ascent to holiness. We accept God’s descent in to us as Christ. We receive him and reflect his holy nature.
What would Jesus say to people who try to oppress women with restraining control, veiled as a moralistic duty to holiness? “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” - Matthew 23:27
Holy women are defined by their desire God. They emulate the nature of Christ through trust. Her will is aligned with Lord’s. She mirrors God’s creative innovation, bold love, dedication to forgiveness, active justice, and gentle spirit. Her modesty comes from love for her neighbour.
I currently work for Michael Jensen and St Mark’s church in Darling Point, as a researcher / outreach minister. I’m a Korean American immigrant to Australia. I was born and raised in the Bay Area of California and in 2010 I moved to Sydney to study Pastoral Ministry, at Hillsong College. Afterwards, I completed a BTh at Alpha Crusis College. Growing up in the most secular city in the USA, I always had an interest in objections to the Christian faith. This led me to go study Apologetics at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and Theology and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.