For Christianity, gender is both important and irrelevant. God creates, Christ redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies men and women alike, along with Jews and Greeks, rich and poor, black and white. But, apart from salvation, gender possesses a special importance in Christianity that cannot be viewed as either accidental or superficial.Trying to remove the importance of the feminine is, in a way, trying to remove the foundation of God's love for us. Mainly, that we are the ones pursued and that we are God's bride (the one who accepts His love; a love we haven't earned nor deserve).
Both views flow from the fact that God is understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition as being fundamentally, if mysteriously and non-genitally-male. God is "He." True, God is also seen in some sense as transcending gender or at least as containing both male and female principles. Otherwise, he could not create both man and woman "in his image."
But the fact remains that the Lord, the unique "I AM WHO AM," is a Father God, not an androgynous divine entity. Indeed, the entire Trinitarian Godhead is male: Christ is the Son, physically, genitally, as well as ontologically. And the Holy Spirit, though in some respects linked to the Old Testament theme of "Wisdom," has been, since the dawn of Christianity, understood in male terms. The Holy Ghost is not an "it," or a "she," but a third "he," united to the Father and the Son in the intensely loving but non-erotic union of the Trinity.
Human gender is unimportant to the Christian tradition in the sense that all human souls are "feminine" animae in relation to God, the husband and the lover of each soul. In the larger sense, this view derives from the understanding of Israel as not merely God's chosen people but as his wife. The Old Testament expresses this eloquently. The Song of Songs evokes the deep love, indeed the intense, almost embarrassingly erotic desire of the lover and the beloved, allegorically or symbolically understood to represent God and his people. The prophets, Isaiah in particular, speak sometimes poetically and idealistically of Israel as God's beloved bride-Jerusalem is "wedded" to the Lord.
Looking at the New Testament, we may as well begin with the obvious fact that Jesus Christ chose twelve men as his Apostles; these were his original followers and his commissioned emissaries to the entire creation. Presumably, he did not choose them because men are better than women. One of the Twelve was his betrayer, a fact which Jesus knew well in advance. Moreover, no human can ever be as perfectly good as the Blessed Virgin. Mary is honored as the Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, Queen of Saints, etc. She is the Queen over and not the Queen among the Apostles. "Goodness," then, is not the issue.
Can it be that Jesus couldn't choose women because of the low status of women at his time? This argument has always struck me as ridiculous. Or rather, and quite simply, only those who do not believe that Jesus is God can hold such a view. As the punchline to an old joke goes, "A 500-pound gorilla can sleep anywhere he pleases." Well, God made those gorillas. God makes the rules. Are we really to believe that Jesus/God did not -- could not -- do something he wanted to do -- pick women to be Apostles -- because he was worried about what people would think?
If he did all these things, it must be because that was precisely what he, as the Son of God -- as God himself -- intended to do. No other view is even seriously worth consideration. Since women as priestesses were common in other religions of the time, it can hardly have failed to dawn on God that this was a possibility.
And what of Mary? God honored women by calling his Mother to a perfection that no one else -- and in particular, no man -- can achieve. Mary, imitated for centuries by both sexes, has been the very definition, not of worldly power, but of compassionate motherhood, of devoted service, of willing obedience. We are told that, from the depths of her loving heart, she "pleads for sinners." I sometimes think that that is women's most important function on this planet: like Mary, like the mother who reminded Jesus that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall under the table, like the woman with the unjust judge, like Martha and Mary who wanted their brother Lazarus back, we women are here to love and to plead.
What are the advantages of accepting such a Christian, specifically Catholic, view of gender and its importance? It is worth emphasizing the advantages of such a vision of gender as compared with Protestant views. The original Protestant reformers eliminated, along with many other things, the religious dignity of the female and the feminine: they got rid of the Church, the Bride of Christ. They demoted the Blessed Virgin to an only temporarily-virgin mother of Jesus -- a nice lady, to be sure, but nothing extraordinary; no special crown in heaven for her! When they disbanded the Catholic Communion of Saints (all the redeemed being equally both wretches and holy), they sent into exile, along with the male cohort, such great female figures -- friends of men and women alike -- as Agatha, Agnes, Barbara, several Catherines, Cecilia, Christine, Dorothy, Elizabeth, and on through the saintly alphabet. In the insistence that all should marry, they eliminated the special vocation of consecrated virginity, which had given a special dignity and spiritual authority to nuns and other religious, as brides of Christ. They also attacked the indissolubility of marriage, which has -- as even many feminists now recognize -- protected women far more than men. Many holy nuns and abbesses have exercised remarkable power in the Church -- even in the world -- with a spiritual influence extending far beyond the confines of their convent. One thinks of Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila-of their eloquent but forthright letters to popes, kings and emperors; their wide and effective travels; and their unflagging zeal for renewal in the Church.
It is important to stress the fact that no other religion in the world, no branch of Protestantism, nor any secular ideology, has such a tradition. In Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy alone do women and feminine principles play so vital and positive a role. In traditional Christianity alone are women praised and prayed to every day by millions of the faithful.
By the time the Reformation was over, the female -- and indeed all honor paid specifically to women and femininity -- had been expunged from Protestant Christianity. The only important "female" left was the Whore of Babylon. Only males and masculinity were given important roles and glorified. The original result was that men were not only the leaders of churches, they were everything. It is not, of course, that salvation was closed to women, but women had nothing but bit parts and walk-on roles in traditional Protestant society and church.
I also want to share a comment left by Tony Esolen that is a great thing to think about as well:
The thing that men and women need to ask themselves is, "What do I lack, that I need from the opposite sex?" And then, "How am I myself made to assist the opposite sex?" That is because the worth of manhood is in its gift to women, and the worth of womanhood is in its gift to men. Once men and women understand this, machismo and feminisma look pretty paltry, and disordered.