My One and Only Post on the Recent Hoopla Regarding #BiblicalWomanhood

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.

  • http://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com/ Charity Jill Erickson

    Right on, Amanda. Preach it. I am guilty of being rather defensive when it comes to my Christian “tribe,” but the violence of the speech that has come to characterize the “biblical womanhood” polemic has shocked me into rethinking my habits…the love of God is not found in casting aspersions upon our brothers & sisters in Christ.

  • http://twitter.com/sometimesalight hannah anderson

    Really appreciate this. Like you, I’m more conservative than RHE and I have serious concerns about the approach of YBW, but I think we all would do well to judge ourselves first. Evans’ frustrations are not simply the result of an overactive imagination–there are some very real, very serious issues in what we communicate about Christian womanhood and this is a tremendous opportunity to re-evaluate what younger women are hearing. For me the solution comes in pursuing a robust, nuanced understanding of ALL that Scripture teaches about personhood (not simply gender), keeping the main things the main things, and extending grace when we disagree.

  • Dr. David Tee

    Maybe I can offer you some advice that will help you.

    1. are the lay people doing this kind of teaching misguided or not? In other words are they really teaching what the Bible is saying or are they simply teaching their own ideas or the misguided thoughts of others?

    2. Is what you are being told the truth? you are allowed to question what a spiritual leader is saying in order to get to the truth of what God wants you to do.

    3. are those people correct? Are they following the Holy Spirit to the truth or are they using the Bible to bully people into their way of thinking? women are allowed to compare what is being taught to what scripture is really saying? Both Jesus and God said to follow them NOT other people, so you need to compare what the people are teaching with the Biblical texts.

    4. are YOU praying for your husband so that God will keep him from succumbing to and following bad teaching? are you praying that your husband will find the truth via the aid of the Holy spirit and that he will be strong enough to follow that over peer pressure? are you praying that he will not fall into temptation?

    5. are you praying that you will not follow secular culture and disobey God? biblical teachings apply to women just as they do to men.

    6. it is good for women to have an education that enables them to better instruct their children and answer their questions. but the woman needs to include her husband in those questions so he isn’t made to look foolish etc. in the eyes of his children (but that education should be toward the truth so your children are not lead astray or misguided).

    7. no a woman should not have to greet her husband at the door with a kiss BUT she should realize that just because she had a bad day doesn’t mean that her husband’s day was a picnic. when a man gets home from work, he needs time to adjust from the work environment to the home one and not be met at the door with a host of problems and how bad the kids were. a woman should learn how to discipline their children properly and not make the father look like a bad guy.

    I could go on and and correct a lot of those misconceptions you have been taught but this gives you an idea of how things should work. there are only two people a woman has to please–God and their husbands. if anyone has a complaint they better have the correct biblical meaning behind the texts they use and they need to know that what they are complaining about is really biblically wrong before they try to interfere in a family’s life. the husband is head of his family not the neighbor or other church goers.

    • The_L1985

      No, the parents are head of the family. If the mother has no authority then her children will not respect her.

      • Guest

        The New Testament is pretty clear on the point that the husband is the head of the family. They are held ultimately accountable if the family fails.

        • The_L1985

          I don’t think it’s clear at all. For example, the verse that says women are to obey their husbands is immediately followed by a verse that says that husbands are to obey their wives!

          Also, what does the failure of a family mean, exactly? Are we talking about a family that falls apart? That stays together, but fails to love? A family in which the children end up following a different religion than that of their parents? And since both parents take responsibility for their children, shouldn’t both be accountable if the children grow up to be cruel and selfish?

          • Loo

            Dr. Tee, Christ is the head of the family, and a wife only needs to please Christ.

            Guest,
            Women will have greater earning potential in the next decade, due to more educational attainment then men, they will be less dependent on men, and culture will shift. In the meantime, it would be good to brush up on your Greek and your New Testament, the NT says the Father-in-law is the head of the family (not the husband of a young bride). The adult sons were subject to their fathers and Paul commands children to obey their parents – he is talking to adult children in this verse, since it was a given kids obeyed.

            We don’t follow Greco/Roman patriarchy anymore, that is clear. The Bible is not a how-to for modern nuclear families despite certain church leaders desperation to make it so. Not all families have fathers, so The L1985 is right, parents (and if none are capable/available then guardians) are the legal and moral head of the family, not fathers per se.

        • MaryLouiseC

          But what does “head” of the household mean? In reality, the word ‘head’, used several times in the Bible, “is never given the meaning of authority, boss or leader. It describes the servant function of provider of life, growth and development. This function is not one of top-down oversight but of bottom-up support and nurture.” (Gilbert Bilezikian,
          http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/i-believe-male-headship )
          If we don’t start with the correct understanding of the word, we end up with the wrong application of it. That’s what’s wrong with the complementarian viewpoint.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Dr. Tee, I think you are completely missing the point of the above blog post. Was Amanda saying, “Oh, I’m so confused! If you’re a man, especially one with “Dr” in your name, please come give me advice!”

    I don’t think so. I think she was making a point that complementarian ministers need to listen to and absorb. If you don’t think women in your church should be hearing the messages above, then don’t just ignore the fact that this is happening. Preach live-giving, grace-affirming messages about women. Support them from the pulpit and counteract the “power cocktail of stress and anxiety.” Don’t just come along after the fact and tell a woman on a blog who already recognizes that these teachings are bogus, that you’ve come to set her straight.

    • CWtheology

      Thanks Kristen!

  • Eric Ortlund

    Wow, good post, Amanda. It’s easy to download our own forms of patriarchalism, isn’t it? To take our own 1950′s-type culture and assume that that must be what Paul is talking about. (That’s part of what you’re saying, right?) Surely Paul’s command to submit to one another – that husbands should be submitting to their wives – that must have been a shocker in his own Roman context.
    I’m one of those who feels like RHE is, if not attacking a straw man, at least painting with a broad brush. But, as an American, I know first hand of certain American forms of cultural Christianity which are oppressive and guilt-trippy and refuse to let themselves be questioned – they treat themselves as absolute, and you have to conform to them. Surely the gospel makes it possible to create a different kind of environment for us all to live in? Right?

  • http://twitter.com/CathParks Catherine Parks

    This is a great perspective, and a needed call to those who, like me, are not on board with RHE’s look at Scripture. I know Rachel’s heart, though, is drawn to those women who have been abused in ways I can’t imagine and there are things for us to hear from her perspective. We go to women’s conferences and are bogged down with rules and lists and ways to ensure our kids become believers. The amount of pressure we put on ourselves is incredible already, so to feel the church is adding to that, even at a lay level, is so disheartening. Thanks for writing this.

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  • Amanda B.

    Apologies for being late to the party, but I just had to say: THIS. So much this.

    Many times, I have read prominent complementarian leaders saying things like, “But no one ever is teaching XYZ…” and I wish I could reply, “Tell that to my old pastor/Sunday school teacher/youth minister/women’s ministry director/etc.”

    Things can really go off the rails at the lay level. Just because the main leaders aren’t espousing a particular error doesn’t mean no one is teaching it. The fact that the error occurs at the lay level doesn’t make the struggle any less meaningful for the women scrutinized and condemned by it.

    • Jessie

      THIS to the article, and THIS to this comment.

      If you’re a younger woman, and you’re not buyin’ what the unofficial lay leadership is sellin’, you’re not so much friends with the other ladies or invited to their things. It’s super fun, especially when you’re a young mother who could really just use some help with the baby and someone to talk honestly with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Smith/100002020333790 Greg Smith

    I’m fairly certain Amanda and I will not get along, but I am curious if there’s a place where I could read what her not as Satanic as the egalitarians, but not as biblical as the true complimentarians view of “biblical womanhood” actually is. I have never heard even one of the errors (some could use clarification) above advanced by anybody.

    • CWtheology

      Greg, thanks for stopping by. Just a word of note, just because you have never heard even one of the errors does not mean that they don’t exist. As I stated in the post, these things aren’t necessarily taught by the theologians and celebrities of complementarianism, but they are being taught at the lay levels, in the women’s groups etc.