For a few years it appeared Jane Fonda – the Angelina Jolie of my generation - had become an evangelical Christian. Embracing biblical faith was an astonishing volt face for the liberal leftist 'Hanoi Jane'. Tragically her faith in its initial form was not to last. All too soon she saw conflict with her liberal left feminist agenda and something had to give. What gave was her commitment to a biblical faith. She saw quite clearly that biblical faith was not compatible with her militant feminism and regrettably her feminism trumped her faith, at least in its biblical manifestation. She still describes herself as a Christian but finds the Gnostic gospels more appealing and more in line with her liberalism and feminism.
I admire her honesty. She faced the message of the Bible squarely, saw its patriarchy was not merely a context but a conviction, and rejected its message. In this she shows more integrity than an army of evangelical feminists who manage by magical hermeneutical dexterity to convince themselves that the Bible supports their egalitarian agenda. This despite the following and much more.
The Bible is composed of two testaments. The NT writings are written exclusively by men. The OT is probably written exclusively by men (two books are named after women but are written in the third person).
In a world of both male and female deities the Deity of the Bible, OT and NT, is emphatically masculine. In the OT, Yahweh is accompanied by male pronouns. He is King, not Queen. When he takes on human theophanous form he is invariably male. In the NT, God is ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ both demonstrably male titles. He is also ‘Spirit’ always defined in masculine terms. When God becomes human in Jesus he becomes a man.
In Genesis we discover that when God creates human beings he creates a man first. More, the woman he creates is derived from the male and is made to be a ‘helper’ of the man. In fact from Genesis forward patriarchy is inescapable. The concern of the early chapters of Genesis is with the male children. Genealogies are traced through males. God calls Abraham and promises that through him and his seed (Jesus) the whole earth will be blessed. The major players in Genesis thereafter are male – Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons (with his daughter gaining only a fleeting mention). The tribes of Israel are named after the sons not the daughter.
The same could be said of the rest of the OT. Moses the leader of God’s people is male. Aaron the leader of the priesthood is male. Indeed only males were allowed to be priests. The Judges in Israel who led before a King was given were all male bar one, Deborah, and she only reluctantly became a judge because of the weakness of the men. In fact she makes explicit that her leadership brings shame on the men (Judges 4). When God appoints a King he appoints, as the title reveals, a male. And all the prophets reveal that the Messiah to come will be male.
In the NT the Messiah arrives and is indeed male. When he chooses his alternative Israel he chooses twelve apostles to represent the twelve tribes – all are male. Leadership in the NT church was male – elders had wives not husbands. The teachers of the church were male... but hear I will stop for we get into disputed territory.
Now of course I am not saying women had no place or are not prominent from time to time in the biblical narrative. Think of the four great women specifically included in the genealogy of the birth of Christ. However, they are there for a specific purpose and are the exceptions that prove the rule. My point here is not to address the relative roles of men and women but simply to point out the highly disputed, indisputable fact of patriarchy, or male leadership, a fact only too obvious to Jane Fonda.