To a large extent the answer to this question depends on which branch of Christianity one is talking about, though it is safe to say that women's roles are contested in virtually all of them. Part of this has to do with the ambiguous nature of women in both the...
To a large extent the answer to this question depends on which branch of Christianity one is talking about, though it is safe to say that women's roles are contested in virtually all of them. Part of this has to do with the ambiguous nature of women in both the Old and the New Testament, an ambiguity that has been reflected by a number of later Christian thinkers. In some parts of the Bible, women are portrayed as subjects rather than actors, and indeed their roles in the Old Testament in particular are circumscribed. And the role of Eve, created for Adam as his companion, and as the one who is tempted, is not to be downplayed. On the other hand, there are a number of strong female characters in the Bible, including Ruth, Esther, and of course Deborah, who is also a political leader. And it is also the case that Jesus, particularly in the Book of Luke, converses with and treats women in many ways as equals.
The pre-Reformation Church tended to emphasize the alleged weakness of women, who were thought to be easily led astray. At the same time, the power of women to corrupt men was also a theme of Christian teaching. Protestantism, with its emphasis on a more direct relationship between God and man, at least theoretically placed women on a more equal footing in a man-wife relationship. But some of the most strident tracts against the corrupting influence of women were written by Protestant leaders, for example, John Knox of Scotland, whose First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women took, as the title indicates, a rather dim view of women:
Woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. After the fall, she was made subject to man by the irrevocable sentence of GOD. In which sentence there are two parts: (a) A dolour, anguish and pain as oft as ever she shall be a mother;(b) A subjection of her self, her appetites and will to her husband and his will.
Later Protestant leaders would emphasize the role that women ought to play in giving their children a moral education. The assumption here was that it was actually men who were more easily tempted, and that women ought to avoid worldly pursuits such as business or politics and focus on imparting virtue. For similar reasons, women were often viewed (perhaps, admittedly, most often by themselves) as the logical source of reform impulses. Women, often motivated by religious belief, played important roles in the abolition, temperance, and urban reform movements. By the late twentieth century, the role of women remained ambiguous. On the one hand, few churches still held the view that women were inherently more or less sinful than men. On the other, many churches still refuse to ordain women as ministers, and many still hold that the proper, divinely-ordained role of women is as the subject of their husbands.