It should not be a big surprise that the churches spawned from Herbie Armstrong’s teachings would choose to interpret the bible in a way that generally denigrates women. Much of the doctrine of “the church” seems to have stemmed from his own personal misgivings about things such as going to the doctor, military service, and—of course—women. After all, women in the bible typically fill the roles of wives, mothers, and daughters. In their relation to male figures, they are given their own unique voice within the biblical realm, but it is one that mostly revolves around familial ties and responsibilities. The vast majority of women in the bible are characters who act in supporting roles while the men produce action, and the teachings of the COGs reflect that about women.
The assumption that the bible discriminates against women is largely based on two accounts: Eve’s creation and the words of Paul in books such as 1 Corinthians and Colossians.
Eve is a given, since she is the first and foremost wife and mother figure to appear in the bible. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created.” To me, this says that God created Adam and Eve together in his image—maybe one after the other, but certainly without any rib nonsense. Later, in Genesis 2:21-23, is the account of God putting Adam into a deep sleep in order to create Eve from one of his ribs. These two accounts are conflicting, but the COGs have always only taught the story of Adam’s rib which promotes ideas of the lack of female importance—or at least the greater importance of males since in that case they would be more closely tied to God.
Paul’s words about the role of women in churches and families have played a large role in the COG culture surrounding female responsibilities. Paul is often exalted above other prophets in the bible, including Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul says that women must remain silent in churches. I think there was probably a particularly obnoxious woman whom Paul wanted to cut off from speaking, so he needed to discriminate against all women as to not single her out. How considerate of him! Many women are talented public speakers, and it would probably benefit the insanity of the COG doctrine to allow all of their adult members to become potential ministers instead of just half. But alas, then they would have to pay them and it might seem like word prostitution since, after all, they’re women. Also, in Colossians 3:18-19, Paul writes that “wives are subject to their husbands.” He goes on to say that it is a husband’s responsibility to love and protect his wife, but he does not say that husbands are “subject” to wives. So, while there is a certain give-and-take in the biblical descriptions of marriage, the connotations greatly differ between what it means to be a husband and what it means to be a wife.
Jesus is more fair toward women, generally, especially since he has women in his entourage, so the COGs tend to focus more on other characters in order to perpetuate their bias against women. (They are generally more of a God-worshiping church rather than a Jesus-centric faith.) How convenient that this would involve lifting up harsh male figures such as Paul while practically ignoring uplifting female figures such as the Virgin Mary! The relationships between Jesus and female characters in the bible appear to be more egalitarian than with Eve, let’s say, but examples such as Jesus calling his mother “woman” sometimes give one reason to wonder. While the Virgin Mary can be seen as one of the main examples of the woman who plays the vessel role, she is also described as “blessed among women,” potentially making her a great role model for young girls (all things considered). But in the COGs, the Virgin Mary is not dwelt upon as much as she is with other churches. After all, they don’t want to seem too Catholic or too mainstream. The COGs always need to appeal to their brethren as some kind of outsider faith in which they have special insight that other churches don’t have.
Despite gender bias against women in the bible, there are actually very few cases of female characters whom girls can look up to in admiration for how they fall outside of the box of stereotypical gender roles. In the cases of Deborah and Ruth, independence can be seen in their characterizations as a prophetess and a widow, respectively. Deborah is called a “prophetess” in Judges 4:4, and Judges 5 contains a song devoted to her importance and service. In the book of Ruth, Ruth and her mother-in-law are widowed and, despite their cultural differences, Ruth remains loyal to her new matriarch. Boaz, Ruth’s future second husband, honors Ruth’s devotion with protection; he apparently falls in love with her for her personality and not for her appearance or so that she would produce him an heir. (Although, alas, she becomes hitched to a man despite appearing to be a strong and independent female character.) Both Deborah and Ruth fall out of the archaic structure in which women are typically placed, and acknowledging this is important in understanding the full spectrum of female characterization in the bible. Conveniently, the COGs like to, for the most part, ignore Deborah.
If you are someone who is kind, fair and generally “open minded,” particularly as a female, staying in the COG will only create a dichotomy within the self: feelings of duty and community affiliation but also a deep sense of destruction. It is not only women who are psychologically affected by the COG traditions and culture, however. Gays and lesbians are taught that their whole sense of self is complete sin, which is extremely destructive. And African-Americans were (and to a lesser extent still are) taught to “keep to one’s own kind,” which is highly destructive as well. Children grow up within a culture of “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Also, men receive a certain amount of higher expectations than the women in the COGs: as ministers, whose words the church members consider to be blessed by God; and husbands, whose final say in a marriage means full accountability whether good or bad. These expectations come with their own set of psychological ramifications.
At the end of the day, the COGs are prone to reading as far into bible verses as possible in order to suit their outdated notions of what it means to be a human being. Everyone, especially young people, should read their bibles and attempt to justify what is in there and what their church teaches. (I know, I sound like Herbie—my sincerest apologies, but hear me out.) If you cannot justify your own existence with what is in the bible, then maybe that can be the first step toward deconversion, which is so desperately necessary for living a fulfilled life. And even if you can make that justification, you should decide if that kind of thinking, basing your life off one supposedly sacred book, is moral and makes you a happy woman (or man) in a 21st century kind of world.