Encountering Jesus has impacted my life in ways I cannot fully comprehend. The testimony of conversion, of turning one’s life over to Christ, is important in evangelical circles. And yet, I’ve never been able to articulate a clear story. Some may imagine this to mean that I never truly encountered Christ. Instead, I think it means that I, a messy and broken person, encountered a holy god, through encountering other messy and broken people who knew Him. Looking at it from afar, maybe I could write that clean and tidy story. I could gloss over the inconvenient details. But details are my weakness – I can’t ignore them. In fact, I often find myself tangled in them.
Reading the book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, has shown me just how miraculous it is that I encountered Christ and came to walk alongside Him. My early encounters with those who taught me about Jesus lacked any of the patriarchal themes that I have seen since played out in evangelical circles. It’s a testimony to God’s hand on my life because I don’t think I would have chosen to walk with Him if I had first been exposed to some of the ugliness I have since seen, the ways in which the church too often protects the power of men at the expense of women. The use of non-disclosure agreements to hide sexual abuse. The ways in which women who speak out against abuse are ostracized from their communities. The ways in which purity culture shamed young women and placed responsibility for the sexual purity of men on their shoulders.
I am so very thankful that my early encounters with others who knew Christ didn’t include the ugliness that I later encountered. Instead, I met others who modeled Christ’s love and respect for women, albeit imperfectly as we are all messy and broken people. I encountered men and women who valued my voice and the voices of other women. I learned in mixed gender Bible studies and always felt like my thoughts mattered.
Unfortunately, since then, I have come face to face with the ugliness of these patriarchal forces. A last straw for me was reading the book “The Excellent Wife”, which taught that women were to be submissive because they more easily deceived than men (drawing on an interpretation of Genesis 3). Call it pride if you must, but I could not accept this as anything other than misogyny. As a young child, I often argued with my grandfather against such sexist comments. As a high schooler who excelled academically, I had people who thought that my male classmates were more likely to succeed in math and science than me solely because of my gender. And now, as a woman, to hear that people believed that I was somehow less equipped intellectually – solely because of gender – to recognize deceit was just too much for me to bear. I began to question everything about women’s roles in the church, reading lots of different perspectives. I became frustrated with those who saw the roles of women and men as being clearly stated in the Bible. I saw these views as lacking a depth of exploration of the scripture and the scholarship related to these issues. Because really, this issue is anything but clear.
Beth Allison Barr does an excellent job of giving a historical perspective to how patriarchy has made its way into the evangelical church. At times, it was maddening to read how far people have gone to explain the subjugation of women. And the ways in which she explained the cult of domesticity was enlightening, putting words to something I’ve seen. As one who feels a calling outside of domesticity, I want to be careful not to downplay the importance and value of women who do find their calling within the domestic sphere. And so, I feel compelled to end by reiterating Dr. Barr’s call for freedom for women to follow Christ’s calling on their lives, whatever that may look like.
“Jesus set women free a long time ago. Isn’t it finally time for evangelical Christians to do the same? Go be free!”