Half the Church, Half the Sky, Half the Human Race
Rachel Held Evans has up a post announcing a new edition of Carolyn Custis James’s book Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. She makes the comparison, if also by title, to Sheryl WuDunn’s and Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and the film as shown on PBS, a very very necessary social movement.
In the course of human events, I’d like to take us back to where we were as the human race, in two halves. In our earlier literature, in Plato’s Laws specifically, two men were arguing over how to equitably legislate women, despite how they might resist. Below is a salient quotation:
Listen now, so that we may not spend much time on the matter to no purpose. Everything that takes place in the State, if it participates in order and law, confers all kinds of blessings; but most things that are either without order or badly-ordered counteract the effects of the well-ordered. And it is into this plight that the practice we are discussing has fallen. In your case, Clinias and Megillus, public meals for men are, as I said, rightly and admirably established by a divine necessity, but for women this institution is left, quite wrongly, unprescribed by law, nor are public meals for them brought to the light of day; instead of this, the female sex, that very section of humanity which, owing to its frailty, is in other respects most secretive and intriguing, is abandoned to its disorderly condition through the perverse compliance of the lawgiver. Owing to your neglect of that sex, you have had an influx of many consequences which would have been much better than they now are if they had been under legal control. For it is not merely, as one might suppose, a matter affecting one-half of our whole task—this matter of neglecting to regulate women,— but in as far as females are inferior in goodness to males, just in so far it affects more than the half. It is better, then, for the welfare of the State to revise and reform this institution, and to regulate all the institutions for both men and women in common. At present, however, the human race is so far from having reached this happy position, that a man of discretion must actually avoid all mention of the practice in districts and States where even the existence of public meals is absolutely without any formal recognition. How then shall one attempt, without being laughed at, actually to compel women to take food and drink publicly and exposed to the view of all? The female sex would more readily endure anything rather than this: accustomed as they are to live a retired and private life, women will use every means to resist being led out into the light, and they will prove much too strong for the lawgiver. So that elsewhere, as I said, women would not so much as listen to the mention of the right rule without shrieks of indignation; but in our State perhaps they will. So if we agree that our discourse about the polity as a whole must not—so far as theory goes—prove abortive, I am willing to explain how this institution is good and fitting, if you are equally desirous to listen, but otherwise to leave it alone.
This is the English translation of the Greek by R.G. Bury in the 1960s. Here’s the Greek and this early discussion for the improvement τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος, by attention to half of the human race. Notice how far from that we’ve come. But please notice how much further we all have yet to go.