We live in a country where women have won legal rights, but in this country the majority of Christian women have surrendered their Christian rights. The church is the last holdout for female equality. The first place where a woman should have been equal is proving to be the last place where she will find equality.
We should never forget those women who bucked the system and who demanded their rights. It was not just for equality for themselves that inspired them to fight. These brave women were looking into the future to a time when all women would be equal. They would be heart-broken to know that 21st century Christian women willingly give up their spiritual rights.
It was 1920 before women were given the right to vote in national elections. But the battle was only half over. Women still were not full citizens of the United States with the same privileges and responsibilities that men took for granted. After 1920, women could vote, but they still could not serve on juries. It was not until 1975 that all states allowed women the privilege of serving on juries. Or to be more exact, it was not until 1975 that all women in the United States could be judged in a court of law by a jury of their peers instead of by men only.
Girls today are legally able to make choices, and they have a reasonable expectation that the government will not prevent them from doing so. As children, many of us believed that our country was founded on equality for all. We recited the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We did not know that those words were not written for women, and would not apply to women until 1964 with the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
It was September 17, 1787, eleven years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that the Constitution of the United States was signed. We get goose bumps with the words of the Preamble, which begins “We the People.” It makes us feel as if we are family with the whole United States, and all those who came before us. It is a powerful statement. Today that sentence includes you and me, and all citizens of the United States, but like the Declaration of Independence, that was not the original intent.
“We the People” meant white males and it was understood that while they brought with them wives, children and servants, those wives, children and servants were not part of “We the People.” Only white males could vote; only white males could make laws; only white males could enforce those laws; only white males could serve on a jury; and only white males could run for offices in the governing body.
Legal equality for all people in the United States did not come easily as Americans fought against each other in the Civil War, and in the courts, for the rights that should have come with “We the People.”
It wasn’t until February 3, 1870, that black males got the right to vote with the signing of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Women were seeking their right to vote, but it was felt that the most important fight at that time was for black men to get that right first. Women were pushed aside. It would be another 50 years, August 26, 1920, before white and black women were given the legal right to vote in the United States. So it was 133 years after the statement “We the People” before women were included in that statement.
Why do you think that our country denied women the right to vote until 1920? Was it because they did not know better, or were they responding to a white male culture? It is impossible to believe that they did not know better. Women had been advocating for equal rights since right after the Revolutionary War, and were very active up through the Civil War. Voting was just one of the equal rights denied women.
To repeat, it is inconceivable that the United States did not know better. This is a country that thought outside the box. This new country would not be led by kings who had power over them, but by a man who would be the President elected by an electoral college. That was extraordinary thinking, not envisioned by any other country.
The book, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, by Cokie Roberts (Harper Perennial, 2005) will dispel any idea that women were not speaking and engaging in the founding of our country during the Revolutionary War and the aftermath of that war.
Today, we turn to our Bibles and see that in the beginning God declared that women were equal. Women’s Declaration of Independence is right there in Genesis with these words, “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” What happened between the pages of the Bible that took away women’s equality? The answer is that nothing happened between those pages to change women’s status. But much happened in man’s heart, and women have had to contend with inequality ever since.
But it should not be that way. The Bible doesn’t demand it, or even recommend it. Like everything else that women need, we will have to fight for true equality for women.