Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
The Resignation of Eve is a thoughtful experiment — one that challenges men and women of the 21st century church to shake off their old ideas about where women fit in the Church. In a charming and disarming style, Jim Henderson tells the evangelical Church, its pastors and ministry leaders to start listening to the women in their lives, their daughters, wives, mothers and friends, and those women that work tirelessly by their side every day in the service of the Kingdom. (I was tempted to write “their kingdom.”) Henderson, a spirited advocate for powerless people, has done the work for you. Through the narratives of fifteen women, he threads together themes that he found while listening. The Resignation of Eve is a daring challenge to the Church to reconsider the issue of women in ministry and issues a gentle threat for what may happen if you choose not to listen.
While I do not doubt the sincerity of the author, the irony that lingered with me as I read the hundreds of pages of narrative is something Henderson alluded to himself that those with power don’t understand the necessity of the conversation. I believe the very same people this book is challenging, made up their minds long ago (in seminary) and are unlikely to be swayed by the singularly sad stories of women, even women in their own church. Through research done by the Barna Group the author has dug up another mostly silent, ever resilient group of people serving in the church, the oblivious, those who “drank the cool aid” long ago and trusted those with authority for their own beliefs. They feel there is no need for this conversation either. My personal experience has been that the more you challenge someone’s core belief the more rigid they become – asking who has the right to challenge long-held “biblical” truths, certainly not women.
Knowing the push back, Henderson valiantly reinforces through his stories the idea that those without power are growing weary, doubtful and even suspicious of the Church. And that women of faith and conscience who do choose to stay in the Church, are balancing on a tightrope every day; feel the tension between living with their convictions and the lingering thought of just not showing up. Both options many days are simply untenable. While it seems that the only ones who do want this conversation are a small minority of mostly women whose theological views make them misfits in the evangelical church today I would encourage the reader to ask why?
The Resignation of Eve is primarily written as a challenge to (male) pastors. It is a grave warning with the promise or threat that if pastor’s are unwilling to reconsider these issues, more and more women will simply leave the community of faith. If pastors are unwilling to listen and think, the threat is that more and more women will walk. Ultimately I don’t think your average pastor believes that, nor does he think this issue is important enough. As he reads The Resignation of Eve, he may be compelled by the stories and even feel genuinely bad for the women described in the book, still for the most part your everyday mainline denominational male leader won’t be swayed by a bunch of stories about women. Because this about more than just “Eve.” And that is a lingering, unanswered question in the book.
We are talking about a culture that defies change. As they defend their point of view, today’s pastor believes they are protecting their church from culture creep. I agree with Tom Wright when he says that the authority of God is embodied in Jesus himself, not in the literal words of the Bible. But most pastors today would hold that the issue of women’s empowerment in the church is a cultural phenomenon stemming from the evil of feminism and therefore must be stopped. By choosing which verses in the Bible are cultural and which are not, they cherry-pick a more patriarchal view that I would contend is culturally inappropriate for the 21st century. Take 1 Timothy for instance. Even if you interpret it literally, these are instructions and restrictions for the behavior of some women in the first century church. Some churches prohibit women’s leadership in churches because they use these verses to “prove” that God doesn’t approve. But they happily ignore the verses right beside them, about how women are adorned and how they should dress, saying that is cultural. When you read it with context, and contrast this text and other texts in the New Testament, I believe it requires the reader to listen to more than one or two voices speaking about the role of women.
Henderson is quick to point to the other examples: Jesus’ treatment of women, women as apostles and teachers, women financing the ministry, women sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from him with the other disciples, a woman being the first to speak to Jesus after his Resurrection, all examples of empowering of women in the early church, which you can see if you don’t restrict your reading to a few very restrictive sections.
Wise pastors must begin to recognize and listen to women’s voices in the church. And women must with discernment do their own homework! The early church does not need to be prescriptive for how we run churches today, but this idea challenges the essence of how most pastors view scriptures.
The Resignation of Eve acknowledges with compassion the tensions women face but the premise is unfair. We are dared to bolt from our churches and force the church’s hand, in order for them to somehow see how important we are. But you must appreciate the tragic fact that this will be held against us. The very nature of our character will be called into question, women who have faithfully worked, loved, served the Church for generations. This would be a heartbreaking ending to the story.
Women in the church today are being pulled between being perceived as unfaithful, driven by need for power and by living by our God-given convictions within the faith community. Reading The Resignation of Eve I found myself utterly exhausted by the trouble the women must exert to be faithful in the church today. The intentions of this book are so good! But I was left with questions hanging. The same question that I live with every day. Are men and women ready to have a serious conversation about the role of women in the church? Or will it, as I fear, fall on deaf ears because the Church, her pastors and ministry leaders have already made up their minds?
In the introduction Lynne Hybel’s message was liberating, as she flirts with women challenging us to “take ourselves seriously.” I wanted to say “There are so many of us that do, Lynne, if only it were the same for men.” I do recommend this book to you because it does that most enigmatic and beautiful thing, it listens to women. Whether you choose to eavesdrop on these stories in The Resignation of Eve or sit down for a cup of tea with an actual breathing woman in your life, I challenge you to please, start listening.