9 reasons to reclaim International Women’s Day

March 15, 2019

In the minds of my secular friends, historic Christianity is not a pro-women movement. Last Friday, as International Women’s Day took the social media stage, there was something of a spirit of resistance: let’s throw off the shackles of misogynist religion and create a secular world where women can thrive.    

I understand how they’ve got that impression. As in every other ethical area, we Christians have not lived up to the standards of our Savior. But if we dig beneath the surface, we’ll find a different story. Indeed, we find that Christianity is the most effective pro-women movement in all of history. Here are nine reasons why:

  1. The early church was comprised mostly of women

Due to selective infanticide and maternal death in childbirth, the Greco-Roman world was disproportionately male. But the early Christian movement was majority-female, and by some estimates, nearly two-thirds female. In the early days Christianity was ridiculed for its appeal to women. The second-century Greek philosopher Celsus snarked that Christians, “want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, only slaves, women, and little children,” while the third-century Christian apologist Minucius Felix records critics saying Christianity attracted, “the dregs of the populace and credulous women with the inability natural to their sex.” In line with the stereotypes, when the early second-century Roman governor Pliny the Younger wanted to find out more about Christianity, he interrogated, “two female slaves who were called deaconesses.” From the first, Christianity attracted women.

  1. Early Christianity benefited women

In a world that typically held women down, Jesus lifted them up—and Christianity benefited them in tangible ways. Roman families often gave their prepubescent daughters away in marriage, but Christian women could marry later. Christianity also condemned many male prerogatives that left women marginalized, abandoned, abused, or dead, such as divorce, incest, adultery, rape, polygamy, and female infanticide. Indeed, the radical expectation that men should be faithful, loving, and sacrificial to their wives was a key social innovation of the Christian movement.  

When Christians finally gained political power, laws started to come into place to protect women and their children from abuse. For instance, the first Christian emperor of Rome outlawed infanticide in 315 and provided a nascent form of welfare in 321 so that poor women would not have to sell their children. In 428, the Eastern emperor issued a decree condemning “pimps, fathers, and slaveowners” who forced women into exploitative sex, and offering protection to “slaves and daughters and others who have hired themselves out on account of their poverty.” To be sure, progress toward equality was slow. But it was Christianity that fueled that progress with the idea—not at all self-evident in the ancient world—that women were equal in value to men.

  1. The global church today is comprised mostly of women

What about today? If Christianity began as a majority-female movement, the church today is similarly skewed. Across the globe, women are generally more religious than men, but the gender gap is most pronounced for Christianity. Indeed, women of color are the most likely to identify as Christian and to engage in Christian practice, such as church attendance and prayer. Yale law professor and black public intellectual Stephen Carter has observed “a difficulty endemic to today’s secular left: an all-too-frequent weird refusal to acknowledge the demographics of Christianity.”

  1. The church in America is comprised mostly of women

  In line with global norms, the church in America is also disproportionately female, and disproportionately women of color. The racial gap is even larger than the gender gap, but the gender gap persists across racial difference. African American men are significantly less likely to practice Christianity than African American women, but significantly more likely than white women. Likewise, Latina/o Americans are more likely to be Christians than whites, while Latina women are more religious than Latino men. Black Christians are also strongly skewed toward evangelical beliefs and practices.  

When we think of a church-going, Bible-believing, daily-praying, Jesus-loving Christian in the U.S., we should think of a black woman. Conversely, atheism in America is significantly overrepresented by white men: 68 percent of atheists are men and 78 percent are Caucasian (compared to 66 percent for the general public). Professor Carter cautions secular liberals, “When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are. [Y]ou’re mostly mocking women [and] you’re mocking black women in particular.”

  1. Christianity promotes education for women

Christians invented the university and Christianity has been a tremendous force for education globally. A primary reason is because the centrality of the Bible has pushed Christians toward literacy. It should therefore not be a surprise that Christianity is positively correlated with educational attainment of women. If you sort the world by religion, Jews (who represent 0.2 percent of the world’s population) are the most educated with an average of 13.4 years of formal schooling for both men and women. Christians (the largest global belief system claiming 31 percent of the world’s population) are the second most educated group, with the second smallest gap between genders: an average of 9.4 years for men and 9.1 for women. The religiously unaffiliated (16 percent of the world’s population) come in next, with lower averages and a larger gender gap—an average of 9.2 years for men and 8.3 years for women—though those averages are rising and that gap is closing for younger generations. Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims have substantially fewer years of education on average, and substantially larger gender gaps.

  1. Christian sexual ethics benefit women today

The sexual revolution of the 1960s promised women more sexual freedom and therefore more happiness. But reported happiness for women in America has actually decreased, and changing cultural expectations around sex are likely part of the reason. A variety of studies have found a correlation between women having multiple sexual partners and decreased happiness and mental health. For example, one study found that “the prevalence of sadness, suicide ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts increased with the number of sexual partners across all racial/ethnic groups.” Another found, “a strong association between number of sex partners and later substance disorder, especially for women.”

This is no disparagement of sex itself, or of women as sexual beings. Faithful marriage is correlated with more sexual frequency and greater sexual enjoyment, and a 2004 academic study found that the “happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year” is one. Moreover, while cohabiting before marriage is typically seen as a wise investment in future marital bliss, it is actually associated with increased risk for divorce and marital distress. This lines up with New Testament sexual ethics that call both men and women to keep sex within marriage, but also to enjoy sex in that space—with as much concern for the wife’s sexual needs as the husbands (see 1 Cor.7:3-5).

  1. Christianity opposes gendercide

In the East, abortion has resulted in massive gendercide. In China, due to selective abortion and female infanticide, an estimated 34 million women are missing from the population, while for the same reason, men outnumber women in India by approximately 25 million. China and India have the largest populations of any country and historically among the lowest proportions of Christians. That situation is changing rapidly, though, and China is expected to have more Christians than America by 2030, thanks in large part to the missionary activities of Chinese Christian women.

  1. Church-going men are less likely to be violent

Eliminating domestic violence is a top priority for advocates of equality for women. The fact that many women are not safe in their own homes is a tragedy and a disgrace. But far from Christianity enabling men to abuse their wives (as is sometimes claimed) Christian teaching on marriage should make Christian men the least likely to commit the sin of violence against women.

And while any level of spousal abuse is unacceptable for Christians, multiple studies have found correlation between regular church attendance and significantly lower levels of domestic violence. For instance, a 2001 study found levels of domestic violence were almost twice as high for men who did not attend church versus those who attended once a week or more.

  1. Feminism began as a Christian movement

The ministry of Jesus radically changed the status of women. He consistently lifted women up—from reaching out to women who were social outcasts, to protecting women from sexual objectification, to encouraging women to learn alongside his male disciples, to holding them up as moral examples. As in every other area, the church’s history has often failed to live up to Jesus’s standards. But there is a real sense in which equality for women was a Christian project from the first.

In more recent history, so-called “first-wave feminism” in the early 1920s, which gained American women the right to vote and inherit land, was due in large part to Christian activism. While some elements of “second-wave feminism” are at odds with Christian ethics (most notably with regard to abortion) the drive to ensure that women are treated as having equal value, empower women to pursue their various vocations in the world, and protecting women from denigration and exploitation, is at heart a Christian project.

Let’s reclaim International Women’s Day for Christianity, the greatest international pro-women movement in all of history.

Rebecca McLaughlin

Rebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. in renaissance literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is the cofounder of Vocable Communications and the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today's 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year, and 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24