Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2010-03-23

Christianity’s double messages have caused confusion for men and women for centuries, a church history specialist told Samford University students Tuesday, March 23.

The result is that men struggle with a “sin on the throne” image while women attempt to see through the fog of a “sin on the pedestal” image, said Carolyn Blevins.

Blevins, retired religion professor at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., spoke as this year’s Marie NeSmith Fowler lecturer at Samford.

The same young boy who learns that Christians should not try to sin, but that some sin is expected of males, also hears that since men are best suited for leadership in religious matters, he must become an authority in the faith that he is periodically excused from obeying.

“The church folk who insist over coffee on Monday that ‘boys will be boys and sow their wild oats’ are the same folk who on Sunday insist that men are the unquestioned religious authorities,” said Blevins, a specialist in Baptist history and writer on topics related to women in religion and Christian history.

The double message, although not biblical, began early in Christianity and shaped the thinking of early religious leaders such as Augustine and Aquinas, who influenced the doctrine of the medieval church. Aquinas went so far as to excuse Adam’s sin by saying that he took the fruit out of love for and solidarity with his wife, said Blevins.

“Perhaps that is where we get the idea that if a woman lures a man into sin, he is to be partially excused,” she said.

Young girls face a similar dilemma when they are reminded that because a woman invited the first man into sin, women are weak to temptation, inferior and unfit for some forms of Christian service. Early church leaders were confident that a woman’s sinful nature limited her usefulness in Christianity, said Blevins.

The church has a long history of perpetuating the image of woman as sinful, she said, and in the process also made a statement that woman has a power so great that she can destroy man and the church. So, to the young girl it seems that Christians should not try to sin, but if you are female, you can’t help it, it is your nature.

“And that is a wretched predicament for a young woman who takes her Christianity and her femininity seriously,” said Blevins, noting that Christian women are also expected to be saints. “But how can you be a saint if you have a sinful nature? The image is a confusing double message."

That double message often keeps women distanced from church leadership, from men and from meaningful relationships.

The sets of double messages for men and women are not consistent with the biblical message that in Genesis states that God created man and woman in his image, and that each was very good, she said.

“Goodness, not sin, was God’s design and image for maleness and femaleness,” she said, adding that the biblical story later shows how far and how often God’s creations turned their backs on their creator.

Paul, she noted, wrote to the Romans that men and women had developed patterns of sinning, and that the person who sins is held directly responsible.

When the church teaches its youth that it is the irresistible nature of men to be sinful or the predetermined nature of women to be sinful, it has erred in teaching biblical truths, and gives its youth easy excuses for poor behaviors and programs them for a lifetime of excuse making.

We must become aware of the confusing double messages that we impose on each other: the indirect messages that script girls and boys, men and women, to behave in ways contrary to the gospel, said Blevins.

The lecture series, sponsored by Samford’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center, honors the late Mrs. Fowler of Hartselle, Ala. A Samford graduate, she was one of the first female pharmacists and pharmacy owners in Alabama.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.