At this special time of the year as our thoughts turn to the birth of Jesus Christ, charges of the sexual abuse of women are proliferating against many men in positions of power and authority in the United States. Individuals would do well to study the teachings of Jesus in order to better understand the way forward in today’s often ethically and morally confused world.
Throughout his mortal life, Jesus was deliberate and intentional in sharing eternal truths that, if obeyed, would create equitable and just communities and lead his disciples to salvation. His teachings more often than not contrasted sharply against well-established, often false and perverse laws and religious and social customs that harmed and denigrated women.
He spent a significant amount of time — in a world where women were less valued than men — teaching the absolute equality of women and men before God. He endeavored to elevate women’s earthly status and treatment and sought to help women recognize their divine potential and possibilities.
Amid Jesus’ myriad interactions with women, here are three that illustrate his timeless teachings and are pertinent to conditions today. In the first instance, Jesus condemns rich, powerful or influential men who use their power and authority to prey upon women. He notes the men’s sense of self-importance and entitlement to act viciously toward women as he denounced, “Scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, (and) the chief seats in the synagogue …. Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater damnations” (see Mark 12:38-40). On another occasion, keenly aware that, just as today, men in Jesus’s time controlled the vast majority of resources in the world, Jesus articulates every man’s duty to protect and to provide for women.
When Jesus entered the city of Nain, he observed a widow in her only son’s funeral procession. Knowing the inevitable slide into poverty for the widow — who is now left with no one to provide and care for her in her waning years — and with the ability to mitigate her suffering, “(Jesus) had compassion on her …. He came and touched the bier: and … said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak” (see Luke 7:11-16). Her son, once dead, could now see to his mother’s needs.
Just as Jesus, while nailed to the cross, gave over care of his mother to the apostle John, (see John 19:26), here too, Jesus made it clear a man’s duty to protect and provide for women.
Jesus also unequivocally reiterated the law of chastity. Different punishments for sexually profligate men and women under Jewish and Roman customs and laws — invariably a lesser, if any, punishment for men — find no support in the teachings of Jesus Christ. God’s standard of chastity applies equally to men and women. Exodus 20:14 doesn't specify gender when it reads, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
In his exquisite, timeless, Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded his command to individuals to even purify their thoughts, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery; But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). The sexual double standard in Jesus’ — and our day — is man’s invention and is an offense to God. Sexual purity for both men and women is God’s standard.
On several occasions, Jesus interacted with women guilty of sexual misconduct. When a woman “taken in adultery” (see John 8:3-11) was brought before him he neither condones nor mitigates the sin but uses the occasion to preach repentance as requisite and available to women and men on an equal par.
Jesus also reiterated the sanctity of the marital relationship when he condemned Jewish leaders for their quickness to cast their wives aside (see Mark 10). Jewish law allowed only the man to initiate divorce proceedings and made the option possible for the most menial offense. Greco-Roman law legalized prostitution, which inevitably demeans and objectifies all women. Jesus, however, denounced adultery and fornication, which prostitution is, and taking one’s marital vows lightly. He established his law — marriage as a joint union, a holy and serious commitment — when he instructed, “They are no more twain, but one flesh …. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (see Mark 10:8-9).
Adherence to these three eternal commands — men’s refusal to prey on women, men seeking to provide for and protect women, and honoring God’s law of chastity and one’s marital vows — would dramatically transform today’s world for the better.
Jesus Christ’s birth into mortality was sung and praised by both mortals and angels. His Atonement was the most important event in the history of humankind. As Savior of the world, his example still stands as a powerful witness in our day of the respect, honor and protection due women by men. Nothing would benefit humankind more than to study, share and live by the teachings of Jesus Christ, paying special attention to the respect he extended all women, then and now, in a world where the status and role of women is yet under siege.