Women in church leadership is a touchy subject with me. As I have related in other reviews, I went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for my MDiv. My small class was more than half women, most of whom had grown up in relatively conservative church backgrounds, felt the call to be a pastor and were often quite harmed by the church on their way to seminary. Many had left the denominations that they grew up in and sought safer places to pastor.
Unfortunately, even in denominations that officially ordain and recognize women as pastors, the road is often difficult.
Jim Henderson started this project because he was seeing women leaving the church because they were being restricted by the church.
This book is somewhat similar (and a good companion) to How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership. Both books overwhelmingly focus on story. How I Changed My Mind is focused on the stories of 26 leaders in the Evangelical world (both male and female) that have changed their mind about the role that women should play in the church.
The Resignation of Eve is the recording of interviews from a variety of women (mostly not in leadership roles) that have Resigned (to their place in the church), Resigned (from the church) or Re-signed (up to get back into the church). Jim Henderson has a clear perspective. He tries to be fair and attempts to show that this is not a simple subject. Some women are quite happy with a restricted place in the church. They are not intellectually inferior or ignorant, they have made a choice and are sticking by what they believe is the correct theological position.
The middle section is often quite hard to read. It has a number of difficult interviews. One woman was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, but she was blamed for not properly submitting. Other women told of being restricted to nursery or food preparation, in spite of wanting to teach or study with adults. The most difficult story for me was about a woman that became a Christian as an adult, invested herself heavily and then slowly lost touch with reality as she drifted off into mental illness. Part of the manifestation of her mental illness was that she felt that God was instructing her to correct the theology or practice of virtually all the Christians in her life. Eventually she was cut off from the church, she got the mental health assistance she needed, but she has not made her way back to the church again.
The end of the book is about the women that have signed back up for the church again. These are sometimes hopeful, and sometimes tragic stories of women that have decided that the best thing is to be in the church. Either they are going it alone, or they are accepting restriction, or occasionally they have found new faith communities that have embraced them.
Jim Henderson has a very personal voice in this book. His voice is present in the interviews. He often has a section of commentary at the end of an interview. He is attempting to be fair, but also present the full story. This is not a theological book. He is not attempting to convince anyone chapter and verse of why women should have a greater role in the church (How I Changed My Mind has more theological discussion in part because it is the story of theological elite.)
I think there will be much comfort for women that are able to see that they are not alone. There will be some men that see the pain and hurt and want to do something about it (especially if they have daughters that might also face some of these issues in the future.)
This book is unlikely to change the mind of many of the pastors of churches that restrict women’s roles. Because it is easy to point to a chapter and verse and in the ‘plain reading of scripture’ show why they are right. Henderson does not believe that this is primarily about theological issues. He believes this is primarily about power issues. I think that he is right.
Often in the book he asks why we take some verses so seriously (women should not speak in church, women should not teach men, etc) but ignore others (women should have their hair covered when they prophesy, women should be unadorned with jewelry or braided hair). If I had not been a part of some very clear power issues in my past church experience, I might be less likely to believe that this is about power instead of biblical interpretation. But I have, and I do believe it many cases it is about power. Scot McKnight’s short book about the history of Junia in the church is an example of a fairly overt power play around the bible and gender.
And as Mark Noll’s Civil War as a Theological Crisis so aptly illustrates, biblical interpretation is very often culturally laden.
My only real complaint is that I think the quantitative research that is scattered throughout the book adds very little. Personally, I am fairly wary of Barna’s research these days. But even if I were not, I think there are some very reasonable alternative explanations of the data. Some of the data is helpful, but much of it feels like a scare tactic. I think that the issue already has enough baggage, and the tension needs to be brought down, not ratcheted up.
An digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.
Related Bookwi.se Book Reviews
- Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight (Also look for Blue Parakeet: ReThinking How You Read Your Bible that has an extended discussion about reading scripture about Women).
- How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership
- The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll
- The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith