One of the interesting things I have been following in the reviews and discussions of Rachel Held Evans’ new book, besides the almost tribalistic battlelines (complementarians don’t like it; egalitarians do), is the common complaint from complementarian reviewers that RHE creates a strawman. “It’s not what we teach!” is the common phrase.
To these bloggers, pastors and complementarian celebrities I will trust you when you say that you don’t teach a rigid understanding of biblical womanhood. But, my question is this: even though you may not teach/believe it, is it being taught at the lay levels of your churches?
It’s prevalent in your women’s bible studies, in your mom’s and babies groups, in your college and career women’s socials. There are older women in your churches who are mentoring the younger women (Titus 2) and are giving them copies of Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Help Meet. They are teaching the young single women that the only way that they will find fulfillment is if they get married and have babies. They are holding up Proverbs 31 as a rule rather than as a testimony.
Pastors, sometimes you encourage this through not through direct preaching but through actions. If a young woman approaches you after service and asks how she can service the congregation do you, without even considering her gifts and talents, automatically point her towards the nursery and children’s Sunday school?
Bloggers, in your polemics against all things egalitarian, do you for a moment stop and consider that the women with whom you disagree are your sisters in Christ?
Celebrities, do you actively and respectfully engage with the arguments of the other side, or do you yourselves set up straw men (women) arguments to knock down, because it brings in the web hits and the book deals?
I’ve been a Christian for 17 years now. I became a Christian at the age of 16. I have wrestled with the question “what does it mean to be a biblical woman” for all of those 17 years. And while I am probably (definitely) more theologically conservative than Rachel Held Evans, she does have a real point to make.
For 17 years I have struggled through the minefield of messages and advice, trying to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. And yet, I have also learned that much of the “advice” that is given out by well-meaning lay leaders in the church is loaded with spiritual guilt and peer pressure. Not only is there a desire to be a faithful servant, but there is a social need to fit in. And when those pressures are combined with “biblical” wisdom, it becomes a power cocktail of stress and anxiety, one that leads to a salvation by works rather than a salvation by faith, as women try their best to live up to the expectations.
Here are just a few of the pieces of advice I have heard over the years by well-meaning older women eager to guide and mentor the younger generation of women, from a variety of congregations:
A woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother.
If you don’t invest 100% of yourself in your kids every single day, you are failing to show Christ to your kids.
If your kids walk away from the faith, it means that you weren’t obedient in your calling to disciple them.
If you work outside the home you bring spiritual unrest to the whole family, most importantly to your husband. Having a career demonstrates that you are selfish and have an unteachable spirit.
A woman should never have more education (especially theological education) than her husband, because it means that she is unwilling to submit to his authority.
College education is a waste of time since a mother doesn’t need a college degree to raise babies.
If more women would give up their careers and take their rightful place in the home then stress and worries of life would disappear, all their problems would be solved and they would live happily ever after.
Women’s bible studies don’t need to be deep and theological because women aren’t deep and theological.
Having sex is the ultimate act of wifely submission because women weren’t created to like sex; women have sex to show love to their husbands.
Men were born not knowing how to love; women were not born knowing how to submit. They have to learn it.
Make sure you greet your husband at the door with a kiss every evening, because he’s had a hard day at work.
Likewise, make sure that the house is tidy and the kids are quiet, because husbands don’t like coming home to chaos.
Indoor housework must be done by the woman; outdoor housework must be done by the man.
Post-partum depression is a sign that you are fighting your God-given call to motherhood.
These things were never preached directly from the pulpit. But they were a part of the mentorship and discipleship of several churches that I have been a part of. And what’s worse, is that when these things are wrapped in biblical proof-texts and “words from the Lord” there is no opportunity to think through, question or evaluate the claims. They are Gospel. They are Biblical. To question these nuggets of wisdom is to question the Bible or worse, God himself. And we are not called to question but to faithfully obey. And so while the spokespeople, the pastors, bloggers and celebrities may say that “this is not what we teach” please take care to realize that there are lay leaders and lay ministries directly under your authority and using your resources that are in fact teaching the very things that Rachel Held Evans is addressing.