What do I think of Rachel Held Evans’s book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
This book has been quite the talk lately and I’ve had an interest in it particularly since on Chick-Fil-A day, Evans came out with a post urging Christians to not participate and feeling like she was on the edge of apostasy because of this. This is an example of emotional tyranny, as I stated that day. It’s an area of concern because Evans does hold a place of high popularity on the web and yet, her methodology and approach is the kind that is a threat to the church today.
My ministry partner is J.P. Holding of Tektonics and he and I both decided to write a review of this book on the same day having read it independently. J.P. is egalitarian in his approach to men and women. I am more complementarian. This is an area where we are free to disagree with one another. We both agree that this book is one to avoid, and this is important since it cannot be said the reason people oppose this book automatically is that they are complementarian.
Of course, there are some points Evans does get right. These seem to be more incidental than the result of any real study. It is true that a woman should seek to be a woman. Perhaps in some areas Evans wanted to express some concerns of the complementarian view most expressed in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which will be called CBMW from here on. CMBW would have welcomed honest critiques, but this is not that.
If you want to know what reading Evans on the CBMW is like, just go read Richard Dawkins on what faith is and then you’ll get a pretty good idea. The danger is that in reading something like this, the reader could think “CBMW thinks that? How absurd!” If CBMW did have the opinions Evans gives in a number of places, then yes, there would be concern. This is not the case and I am going to include at the end links that point to critiques from women on this work, one of which is from the CBMW.
Evans’s approach was to go through the Bible and take as many passages as she could in the full literal sense which means calling her husband “Master” and being at the gate of a city with a sign saying “Dan is awesome!” At one point, she even gets on the roof of her house and has a picture of it. Evans may think she is demonstrating the opinion that the CBMW gives us an absurd approach, but no member of it would agree with her hermeneutic. People who might have seen her doing this would not have thought “Wow. The CBMW is crazy,” but rather “That lady is crazy.” Worse, they might have thought Christianity is crazy, but who cares about bringing embarrassment to the cause of Christ when feminism is on the line?
Numerous places in the book indicate that Evans is pushing her own neuroses onto the world. For instance, on page xviii she says her parents both loved the Bible but “they seemed to know instinctively that rules that left people guilt-ridden, exhausted, and confused were not really from God.” Evans doesn’t bother to consider that maybe the rest of the world isn’t like her. The idea that for some people, and most of the world in fact, guilt is not the reality but shame is. It is the understatement of the year on page 9 when she says “I’m kind of a whiner.”
Evans also makes statements on page xx such as “It is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father, biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist, biblical for her to remain silent in church, biblical for her to cover her head, and biblical for her to be one of multiple wives.” Thank you Evans for demonstrating once again the mindset that exists in the fundamentalists atheists I encounter regularly. Absent is any idea about giving a historical context to the passages. Instead, assume the worst about them and make a mockery of the text as a result. People like the new atheists will certainly be appreciative for Evans at this point.
The assumption throughout her book is that women often get the shaft. For instance, on page 10, she says it is interesting that in the case of Miriam and Aaron, that Aaron was not punished for speaking out about Moses’s wife. Absent is any thought that Aaron was the high priest and his being unclean would have put all the people in jeopardy. Note also that as the brother, it would have brought great shame to him to have his sister in that way and know that he was responsible. Furthermore, does Evans want to give her readers that all the sexism she thinks she sees in society extends to God Himself?
Her misreading is further shown on page 17. She writes “I’d been reminded about a million times that the Bible didn’t explicitly command contentious women to sit on their roofs, and that rooftops in the ancient Near East would have been flat and habitable anyway, but I was determined to engage in some kind of public display of contrition for my verbal misdeeds.”
In other words, who cares about the context?! We have an agenda to push! Sure, the Bible never says to do this, as CBMW knows. Sure, roofs in those days were an extra room of the house. It doesn’t matter. She had to publicly show everyone that she’d done wrong. Evans could have done something like going to a soup kitchen or she could have got online and donated some money to a charity or worked at a children’s hospital. Nah. Sitting on the roof is much better.
On page 22, Evans says that the idea of homemaking being a woman’s highest calling is the centerpiece of the biblical womanhood movement. This was news to a lot of people in the CBMW. As Mary Kassian says:
“Homemaking as woman’s highest calling is our critical centerpiece? Hmmm. Maybe I didn’t get the memo. I found myself curious about which “proponent of the modern biblical womanhood movement” used “strong, unequivocal language” about homemaking being woman’s highest calling. And which complementarian in her right mind would even remotely assert that “the only sphere in which a woman can truly bring glory to God is in the home.” I am personally acquainted with virtually everyone at the core of the modern biblical womanhood movement. If anyone in my yard is saying this, I want to know about it.”
Kassian points out that the sources Evans cites are not representative of CBMW. These include Debi Pearl (More on her later), who is seen as extremist and fringe and her teachings have led to the deaths of children by abuse. Next is Stacy McDonald, part of the Vision Forum and Biblical Patriarchy movement, which is also not representative of CBMW. The last is Dororthy Patterson from something she wrote twenty years ago. Kassian did something unorthodox at this point. She contacted Patterson. Patterson clarified that she would point out she doesn’t do all the chores herself and family-obsessed was not the best choice of words. Family-impassioned is much better.
Kassian is right then to say that this is not the highest calling. She goes on to say that one of her friends, Nancy Leigh Demoss, who she wrote a book on womanhood with, has never been married or given birth to biological children. If it was all about homemaking, then it would seem that DeMoss is failing miserably, yet no one in the CBMW seems to think that this is the case.
At many points in the book, Evans’s anger towards anything masculine reaches the point of absurdity. For instance, in talking about Christmas, she asks who does all the work in cooking and filling out Christmas cards and filling stockings and making sure toys have batteries? A woman does that. Who is it that gets all the credit? Santa does. A man.
Oh come on!
For one thing, in my own family growing up, my parents did the Christmas stuff together, aside from the cooking, seeing as my Dad is a disaster in the kitchen. My Dad was an active part of Christmas in his own way. I seriously doubt any child is thinking on Christmas about how much better men supposedly are than women because it is Santa Claus, a man, who brings them their gifts. I suppose Evans could also discount my review since it’s written by a man then.
Throughout the book, Proverbs 31 is shown as an example. Evans doubts that such a woman ever existed, and she’s right. (As one woman I remember reading long ago said “How does she have time for sex?!”) Still, that doesn’t stop Evans! She writes on page 77 that “I decided to take a page from the literalists and turn the whole chapter into a to-do list based on various Bible translations, divided into daily tasks and tasks to be accomplished by the end of the month.”
As one who has to deal with fundamentalist atheists who insist that everything has to be taken literally and when it’s literal, the Bible is absurd, therefore it’s not the Word of God, thank you very much Rachel Held Evans. It is an approach like this that only makes the task of the apologist harder. You know, who they are? On page 53, Evans writes about these people that actually study the Bible and look at the Laws and why they are the way they are and says “These are useful insights, I suppose, but sometimes I wish these apologists wouldn’t be in such a hurry to explain these troubling texts way, that they would allow themselves to be bothered by them now and then.”
Forget the intellectual truth that is of concern here! Go with the emotions!
Of course, the problem is the literalism that Evans embodies. On page 87 she says “Here’s the thing. Christians seem to think that because the Bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally.”
Perhaps if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalist you do, but a generalization like this is not helpful to Christians. In fact, in writing something like this, I get the impression that Evans is writing hoping non-Christian will read this. If so, then thanks again for providing fodder for the fundamentalist atheists out there. Evans might wish I was bothered some by biblical texts. I wish she would be bothered by embarrassing the faith.
On page 145, Evans says that the first proclamation of the resurrection on Easter was by women, and yet most services begin with a man telling that truth to the congregation.
I find it more concerning rather that instead of thinking about the message that is being given, Evans is more concerned that the message is being proclaimed by a man. Now if a congregation wanted to have a woman saying it, I would not have a problem, but I’m not going to make a big deal.
On page 208, we see an example of Debi Pearl who we mentioned earlier. Evans writes that about Pearl’s book that “At one point, she encourages a young mother whose husband routinely beat her and threatened to kill her with a kitchen knife to stop ‘blabbing about his sins’ and win him back by showing him more respect.” Evans says she threw her copy across the living room seven times.
Why yes. I’m sure that that kind of attitude is certainly representative of the CBMW movement.
I am complementarian and I would tell that woman to get her and her child or children out of there and get them where they can be safe and call the authorities on a scummy man like that. My view as a complementarian has been that if a man is the king of his castle, then the woman gets treated like a queen. To make such a statement as this and say it is representative of the CBMW movement is an incredibly serious charge, and as Kassian’s statements would show, one easily disproven, yet that doesn’t stop Evans from publishing it, and sadly, few people will probably research to get the other side.
On page 255, Evans says “I’ve watched congregations devote years and years to heated arguments about whether a female missionary should be allowed to share about her ministry on a Sunday morning, whether students should have female Sunday school teachers, whether girls should be encouraged to attend seminary, whether women should be permitted to collect the offering or write the church newsletter or make an announcement…all while thirty thousand children die every day from preventable disease. If that’s not an adventure in missing the point, I don’t know what is.”
Indeed! In fact, I have heard an account about a woman who while these children were dying, was blogging regularly, sleeping in a tent during her period, and ordering an electronic baby to practice the idea of motherhood, all of this while these children are dying! In fact, this person spent a year doing this kind of work. All that time spent in a tent, on a rooftop, at the city gate with a sign saying “Dan is awesome!”, and being a young Martha Stewart, could have been spent caring for those children instead. If that’s not an adventure in missing the point, I don’t know what is.
Of course, we should all be more concerned, but it’s too easy to say “Nothing else is worth talking about if this is the case.” If Evans was following her own advice, she would not have even written the book. In fact, chances are, I would have no idea who she is because she’d be a missionary over there constantly helping them out. Evans’s technique is to try to guilt others, all the while while she complained about the Bible being used as a weapon of guilt. It’s this kind of hypocritical approach that is problematic.
In conclusion, Evans won’t help women know what it really means to be a woman. If anything, she has just as much of the sexism towards men as she thinks the men she has in mind towards women. No doubt, sexism should be condemned anywhere, but Evans’s approach will be more problematic. Even worse is her methodology while approaching Scripture. Evans has her theories on why LifeWay didn’t carry this book. I have a better explanation why they didn’t. They read it and realized this isn’t the kind of stuff they want to promote. Let’s hope the rest of the church agrees.
J.P. Holding’s review can be found here.
Mary Kassian’s review can be found here.