ARLINGTON, Virginia — Contrary to a widely held assumption in the secular world, the Christian faith is not harmful to women and in fact, elevates them, according to female apologist Jo Vitale.
Speaking before hundreds of attendees assembled in a Saturday afternoon session during the annual Wilberforce Weekend, Vitale, dean of studies at the Zacharias Institute and an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, sought to answer the question: Is Christianity Harmful to Women?
She recounted the words of Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald's popular novel The Great Gatsby, who said that the best she could hope or expect for her daughter was for her to be a "little fool." Vitale added that she sometimes wondered if that was true of Christianity's expectation of her, that her purpose was to be "ornamental" or "decorative," that she was to be seen and not heard.
She recalled a time where she was giving a talk at the University of California, Berkeley, which coincided with International Women's Day. Amid the rallies and protests occurring on campus she encountered a girl who had a paper bag over her head with eye holes cut out, was topless, and was wearing fishnet stockings and a short denim skirt.
Onlookers and passers-by appeared to not know what to do but as Vitale and her group got closer they saw that written across the paper bag on her head were the words: "All five of my rapists are getting away with it."
"And then you looked into her eyes, and they were just completely haunted," Vitale said, calling the girl Rachel, which was not her real name.
Vitale found herself wondering what Jesus Christ would say to Rachel in that moment. And she simultaneously found herself feeling grateful that He was real.
Only God gives intrinsic worth, she said, because when viewed from a purely naturalistic perspective it is hard to justify why what happened to Rachel was a big deal.
"After all, if all of our lives are just cosmic, evolutionary accidents, on what basis are we going to assign value or significance to another person, let alone equal value? We talk about women's rights but what are they grounded on? And what if we are just dancing to our DNA and the name of the game is survival, that one life is of greater worth than the other, or that might makes right?" she asked.
Yet the Bible paints a different picture, starting from the very first page, she said, noting that human beings are made in the image of God as male and female. In the Christian faith, no one is a random accident; each is made in God's likeness.
"How sad that those who claim to be too feminist for Christianity rarely see that the very equality that they long for is ultimately grounded in the very same God that they are rejecting. There is simply no other statement of gender equality like this in the ancient world," Vitale said.
It was the early church that helped end the Roman practice of exposure and the killing of infants, which were disproportionately female, she elaborated.
When considering Rachel's story, then, "if Christianity's teaching about worth is true, then it also means that no matter what happens, no matter what she does or what has been done to her, nothing can strip her of her dignity or make her less than because her worth is defined by the God who made her in His image and who fiercely loves her."
Moreover, it is God who guarantees justice, she said.
Vitale found it fascinating that on that day on the Berkeley campus, the students, though they identified as moral relativists, were nevertheless fully committed to their pursuit of "social justice."
"If there is no such thing as right and wrong, why do we care so much about righting the world's wrongs?"
"And in a culture that increasingly denounces the moral aspects that undergird justice, and yet at the very same time, these days, people are quicker than ever before to point out that the goal of the Bible is not only immoral but unjust, and not least in its treatment of women," she explained.
If Christians are honest with themselves they will have to admit that the Bible contains some stories that are legitimately shocking and seemingly sexist, she said, such as the one in Judges 19-20, which feminist scholars have labeled a "text of terror."
In that scriptural passage about a Levite and his concubine, the concubine is gang-raped by a group of wicked men through the night and the Levite cuts her body up into 12 portions and sends the pieces of her flesh into all the areas of Israel. But the account is not in any way a celebration of the brutality, Vitale stressed.
"Feminist commentators are right. This really is a text of terror. But what they typically overlook, however, is what it is intended to be. This story is written as a fierce indictment against a society that has turned against God and begun to do only what is right in their own eyes," she explained.
When people ask her how this story could be included in the Bible she responds: "How could it not be?"
"At a time when victims of domestic or sexual abuse not only feel unheard but unseen, the public record of this account in Scripture stands as an undeniable statement that even though her rapists don't see her, even though the Levite doesn't see her, even though God's own people fail to properly see her, God will not allow this woman to go unseen," Vitale said.
"Instead, He puts her story front and center. He immortalizes what happens in Scripture and therefore He ensures that it will be witnessed down the centuries until even thousands of years later we are still talking about it."
Such a story exemplifies the horrendous reality of a culture that opts to do what is right in their own eyes, she reiterated. And God demands that in remembrance of the murdered and exploited concubine, humanity does not go and do likewise.
"Contrary to the accusation of the #metoo movement, there is no cover-up here. This text instead serves as firmer evidence of why, far from being left to our own devices, we need an all-seeing God who enacts justice," she said, adding that it is especially notable that God uses women, like Deborah, to be the vehicles through which justice is administered.
In the New Testament, Jesus routinely went up against culturally enshrined attitudes toward women and overturned them, Vitale explained.
The RZIM apologist concluded her remarks, noting that one of the women with her that day in Berkeley felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to reach out and speak to Rachel and share with her about God's love and commitment to justice, that though her rapists may be getting away with their crimes, there is a God who sees her.
As she did so, Rachel began to weep and then threw her arms around Vitale's colleague and held on tightly. Her colleague then prayed for her.
"That was the day that Rachel was introduced to the living God of the Bible for the very first time, a God who sees women as valuable, a God who is committed to justice, and a God who loves every one of us so much that He is willing to lay down His life for us. You could not be more pro-women than that. And He gives us a new life, a life of dignity and strength and purpose, the purpose that He made every one of us for."
"When I look at Jesus Christ, I see exactly the kind of man that I want to spend time with and exactly the kind of God that it is a privilege to worship," Vitale said.
The theme of this year's Wilberforce weekend was "Is Christianity Still Good for the World?" The conference began with a Socrates in the City Thursday night at the Museum of the Bible and concluded Sunday.