As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, high-profile Christian defender Amy Orr-Ewing says that Christianity is overwhelmingly good news for women – and anyone concerned about sexism or the value of women in culture.
While acknowledging that Christ’s followers haven’t always lived out his values or priorities, she believes Christ subverted the cultural norms that led the gospel writers not to count the women when Jesus fed the 5000.
“Actually the Bible provides a coherent intellectual foundation for the value of women and Christ specifically subverts sexism,” she tells Eternity.
As director the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Orr-Ewing does not follow the stereotypical pattern of a pastor’s wife, although that is what she is. She is also a powerful preacher, author and international speaker.
Based in Oxford, England, where she pastors at Latimer Minster with her husband Francis (Frog), she often speaks out against the increasingly potent cultural consensus in the West that religion in general and Christianity in particularly have held women back or kept women down.
“Christ specifically subverts sexism.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
“If you look at Christ himself and what the gospel writers record about Christ, he teaches women directly – women are the major recipients of doctrinal and historical truth … and even in his teaching he draws on the kind of life experience of women as well as men.”
Orr-Ewing, who will speak on this subject later this month at meetings in Sydney and Melbourne staged by the Centre for Public Christianity, believes the church should fight these misconceptions about what the Bible has to say about women.
Even Paul, who is often seen as a key obstacle to women’s progress in the church, accepted that women could teach and prophesy, she points out.
“What’s interesting in 1 Corinthians where Paul mentions about women being silent in the church, two chapters earlier he’s talked about how women should behave when they prophesy, which means get up and speak in front of everyone.
“The whole of Luke’s Gospel really draws on Mary’s testimony.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
“So obviously, when he says be silent, he doesn’t mean all women for all time should never say anything. He turns to a specific group of women who are disrupting services and he’s asking them to be silent, but in general he’s saying when women do teach or prophesy in the church they should cover their hair. And the reason he says that is your hair was incredibly seductive; it would be like saying don’t wear an incredibly short skirt when you get up in front of people in church today. He’s not saying ‘don’t get up in front and prophesy.’”
She said this is a classic example of people taking a verse out of context and applying it to everyone for all time.
“It’s absolutely clear if you read the letter in its entirety that it doesn’t mean that,” she says.
“If we want the resurrection we need women.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
“Women clearly taught in the New Testament and Paul understood that and actually records that in the Bible. So we know that Priscilla and Aquila together were teachers and there’s a woman called Phoebe, who at the end of the letter of Romans is called the president of the Roman church, the leader, and she was clearly commended by Paul for doing that, so women were to prophesy.
“The whole of Luke’s Gospel really draws on Mary’s testimony; her incredible song, The Magnificat, contains amazing Christian teaching, so I would say we see all sorts of examples of women being involved in that.”
She adds that women were the primary witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, “so in terms of Christian tradition it’s absolutely integral, if we want the resurrection we need women.” Mary and other women were also the primary witnesses to the incarnation and to Jesus’ death on the cross because the male disciples had deserted him.
“It’s actually incredibly counter-cultural when you look at the evidence,” she concludes.
Amy Orr-Ewing has made a practice of speaking the gospel in a counter-cultural way. In 1996, when she and Francis “Frog” Orr-Ewing were 19-year-old students in love, they and a friend made a mission trip to Afghanistan under the guise of being journalists.
“The Magnificat contains amazing Christian teaching.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
At that time the Taliban controlled three-quarters of the country and would go on to capture the capital, Kabul, shooting or kidnapping those who flouted their harsh enforcement of Sharia law.
“A group of us went there as journalists to interview them about their ideas and theology,” recalls Orr-Ewing.
“We took Bibles with us in the local language and we got into the military headquarters of the Taliban.
“At the end of our interview we gave them Bibles and we expected to be shot – I mean, they were all massively armed with Kalashnikovs and obviously at that time they were renowned as the most violent and intense Islamic group although they didn’t have any political power in the world at that time.
“We took Bibles with us in the local language and we got into the military headquarters of the Taliban.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
“So we met the education minister, the foreign minister and the religion minister, who styled himself the keeper of the Holy Quran, kept the Bible and said ‘thank you for this, I’ve been praying to God for years that I could read the Bible, I’ll read it every day.’
“So my experience is that all over the world and in surprising contexts there are people who are wanting to hear the truth and wanting even to read the Bible.”
Orr-Ewing’s visit to Australia this month is the first since she left here at the age of three, having been born in Sydney while her father was working as a lecturer in politics at the University of NSW.
“My parents were converted from atheism in their 30s. My father hadn’t been raised as a Christian at all, in fact, raised as an atheist – his father was an East German scientist, and it was only as an adult, well into his career as an academic, that he was converted.
“I’ve found wonderful grace and liberty and truth in following Jesus for myself.” – Amy Orr-Ewing
“My sister and I were children but we were very much encouraged to investigate for ourselves and to make our own decision, and explore whether this was really true or not.
“I’ve absolutely come to those conclusions for myself, and found wonderful grace and liberty and truth in following Jesus for myself as well as a rational intellectual foundation for life and truth and goodness and beauty and all of those things.”
As well as directing the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, Orr-Ewing has been involved with Ravi Zacharias Ministries since 1998 and is now its European director. She has written two books: Why Trust the Bible? which was shortlisted for the 2006 UK Christian Book Awards, and But Is It Real? She writes a column for Christianity magazine, is a regular commentator in the media on theology, and is on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group for Evangelism.
Having met her husband at university, Orr-Ewing now helps him to steer and lead Latimer Minster in Oxford. Because of her job leading RZIM in Europe, she preaches in other churches more often than in her own but she does lead youth work.
She also spends a lot of time taking her three energetic sons, Zachary, Elijah and Benjamin, to sporting matches.
“We are a very close family, they’re close to each other and they’re the delight of my life, really,” she says.
Tickets to the CPX Sydney event are sold out. However, tickets are still available for her talk in Melbourne on March 25 from 10am-1pm. Book here.
Tickets are also available to a talk on Is God a God of Violence? on March 27 from 6.30pm-8pm at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. Book here by March 24.
Is God a God of violence?
5:30 pm - 8:00 pm
St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney