The Bible needs to be re-read from the viewpoint of women so as to shatter "institutionalised patriarchy", which is reinforced by "conservative" biblical interpretation, says a leader of a prominent group of women theologians - writes Maurice Melanes.
"Many conservative Filipinos, both women and men, believe that women must submit to their husbands because a verse in the New Testament [Ephesians 5:22] says so," Maureen Loste of the Association of Women in Theology told Ecumenical News International. "But we must always read the whole historical context of the verse."
Loste heads a chapter of the association covering Baguio City and the neighbouring Benguet Province. The organization is an ecumenical group of women pastors and clergy, and lay leaders in this predominantly Catholic country of 91 million people.
She said she was exposed to feminist theology when she worked with a programme of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines ministering to indigenous peoples in the 1980s and 1990s. Loste described Jesus Christ's example and teaching as being liberating to women. She cited the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman drawing water from a well.
"Despite the unfriendly relations and the cultural barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans at that time, Jesus showed how to break and transcend these barriers so both Jews and Gentiles, including women, could be freed from certain prejudices," Loste said.
According to the New Testament account of St John (John 4:1-30), Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at what was called Jacob's well in Samaria on his and his disciples' journey back to Nazareth. Jesus asked for some water to drink from the Samaritan woman, which surprised her because Jews, she was made to believe, would rather go thirsty rather than ask for water to drink from Samaritans, and more so from a despised woman like her.
"Jesus did not only enlighten the Samaritan woman about what he called 'living water'. He also showed how to treat people equally, including women," Loste said.
The Rev Judith Aniceto, a pastor in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines agreed with Loste. "It is really important to read the Bible in its proper context instead of just randomly picking certain verses to suit some patriarchal tendencies," she told ENI.
"When it comes to women, the Bible itself teaches us about gender-sensitivity," added Aniceto, who is also a member of the Association of Women in Theology. "Galatians [in the New Testament] actually teaches us that there is no male or female in the eyes of God [Galatians 3:28]."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]