Some ways the church has hurt both women and men over history

Friday, August 30, 2013

The oppression of women in the church has hurt men, too
In another of his incisive cartoons for his Naked Pastor blog on Patheos, David Hayward shows how, over history, women’s oppression and restricted roles in churches have been harmful to men as well as women. To illustrate his point through one extreme example, he refers to a time when churches took literally (and out of context) the Bible verse that women should keep silent in churches, which (among other restrictions) meant women were not permitted to sing in church choirs. To provide a supply of soprano voices, some boys were surgically mutilated before puberty so they would not develop certain sexual characteristics and the deepening of their voices.  The higher pitch and resonance was considered to be all the more powerful in a man’s body.  These men were called the castrati, and although the practice was finally outlawed, it continued for a long period of time. (I remember how shocked I was when I first read about the practice during a college music class.)  Hayward uses this example to start a discussion on ways the church hurts men by attitudes toward women. In the castrati case, women were hurt by being forced to keep silent, and as a result, many men were hurt by what was required of them by the church because women were kept silent.  I can think of additional ways that the whole Body of Christ suffers by churches not permitting the use of everyone’s gifts; by interpreting scripture in ways that hold people back, rather than moving them forward to grow into all they could be; or by teaching rigid stereotyped ideas about masculinity and femininity.  You can probably think of other ways people are hurt by how Christianity is presented in some churches.

Related: It wasn’t just the church that placed a high value on castrati singers.  They were also sought after for opera roles. This article from the BBC talks about this phenomenon, including the shocking number of boys whose parents were willing to have them surgically altered for church and operatic careers in 17th and 18th century Italy.   See also an article from a physician’s perspective, which provides more information about the Catholic Church’s history with the practice, including the conflicted feelings voiced by some church leaders about such surgery and the decision by one pope to permit women to sing.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni (1935-2024) was an independent scholar, writer, and editor, and the author or coauthor of nine books. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992). Letha served as editor of Christian Feminism Today in both its former print edition (EEWC Update) and its website for 19 years until her retirement in December 2013.


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