An Affirmation of Dignity

The world is again in the grip of yet another realization its ways are bankrupt. The sexual revolution of the 60’s has born more bitter fruit in the ever-growing sexual harassment scandals rocking one industry and institution after another. Like falling dominoes, leaders, athletes, and celebrities face career-ending accusations.

In the midst of that scandal, The Gospel offers an attractive option. While secular society has objectified women, the Community of Christ is called to honor them with dignity as joint heirs of glory and spiritual sisters.

This difference is seen in God’s commands to ancient Israel. In Deuteronomy 21, a policy was laid down for how a Jewish man was to treat a female captive. The act of sex was already limited to marriage, so rape of captives was prohibited. Any Jewish man who wanted to marry a foreign captive couldn’t just “take” her. There was a process that aimed to help him realize her dignity as a human being. Before he could marry her, she was to shave her head and cut her nails, exchange her clothes for modest wear, and mourn her family for a month. It was only after all that, if the man still wanted her, that he could make her his wife. If he declined, she was to be set free; not sold off as a slave, as compensation for the humbling she’d endured over the previous month.

The culture of that time accounted a woman’s hair as a major part of her physical beauty. Her hair also served as a sign of being under the authority of her father or husband. She wore a veil over her head and only exposed her hair to her husband in private. By shaving her head, the captive removed a significant source of her sensual appeal. Her captor was now faced with why he wanted to marry her. Was his motive purely sensual? With shaved head, he was moved to look past her physical beauty to see the person he’d be marrying. And with shaved head, the message was clear: She was under no authority and had no protection. That put her captor in the position of having to continually watch out for her. He began to realize the on-going role he’d bear as her husband. All of this aimed to make that man realize he was taking a person, not a plaything, into his life. That person possessed dignity he was to honor. She was someone he owed respect to. That month of mourning for her family reminded him he’d taken her out of her life and was installing her in his. He was to recognize what it all cost her.

A similar idea lies behind the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth in his instructions about head-coverings. They served as symbols of authority and offered protection for women in a culture where sexual predation was rampant. Some pagan women eschewed such coverings in a bid for self-determination. The trend had influenced some ladies in the Corinthian fellowship. But going out in public without covering was inviting unwelcome attention; it was dangerous. Paul didn’t enforce a rule of head coverings to subject women to a tyrannical patriarchy. He encouraged the entire fellowship at Corinth to make the protection of women a priority. Men and women both were to realize the dignity inherent in being children of God and behave in a way consistent with that dignity.

Far from the Bible being a manual on misogyny as its critics often paint it, it begins by declaring both male and female bear God’s image. While different physically and having different roles in the various spheres of life, they are equal as image-bearers of the divine and ought to honor each other as such. Sin shattered God’s original plan, but The Gospel of Christ restores it. As the Redeemed and a redeeming community, we must offer an alternative to the world’s dehumanizing of women by relegating them to mere objects of prurient desire.

A practical way to do that is found in 1 Timothy 5. Paul says older women are to be regarded as mothers while young women are to be esteemed as sisters. In Christ, we’re family.

Men can protect women by treating them with respect and dignity as daughters of God. That protection begins by turning the “lure of lust to a hankering for holiness.” They can also stand guard by keeping an eye out for wolves. Mature women of faith can encourage new believers and those struggling with the world’s ways to more helpful habits that yield the beauty of genuine femininity rather than the world’s cheap counterfeit. While shaming has a long history in church discipline, it’s not a means of either the grace or truth we’re to operate in. The Spirit alone brings conviction from within. We’re not to shame from without. Rather, we encourage and exhort one another to walk in holiness and humility.

As we do, we show the world a better way; where one-time victims and victimizers are saved out of their past into the dignity and honor we, and they, were created for.