More on that ‘controversial’ book that scares patriarchal Christians so much

Within the evangelical subculture, labeling someone as “controversial” used to be a way of marginalizing them. It was a warning sign that could be branded on any speaker, author, pastor or prophet deemed a threat to the status quo.

That used to work. Some Christian college would invite, say, Tony Campolo to speak in a chapel service — then they would retract the invitation once they were warned Campolo was “controversial.” Allow controversial speakers on campus, or allow their books to be sold in your bookstore, and you risk being branded as controversial yourself.

This was, for a long time, a widespread and effective tool for reinforcing the boundaries of the evangelical echo chamber and for convincing those controversial speakers and writers to tone things down.

I don’t think this works anymore. The Internet makes the epistemic bubble of the evangelical subculture unsustainable and, increasingly, the attempt to chasten and control prophetic voices by labeling them as controversial backfires.

The clearest illustration of this recently has been the coordinated effort by patriarchal and “complementarian” Christians to shout down Rachel Held Evans by ginning up “controversy” over her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. All that controversy has helped to make Evans’ book a bestseller.

Even worse for the gatekeepers of the status quo, the Web also means that they can no longer control reviews of this dangerous book. Sure, patriarchal Christians have their own subcultural media, and they can still make sure that those magazines only print unflattering and contentious reviews. But for every such hatchet job in the official evangelical media, there are dozens of glowing recommendations and celebrations posted online.

Don’t let my meta-discussion of this collapse of the subcultural walls distract from the substance of Evans’ book or the quality of her delightful writing. Rachel Held Evans is a joy to read, quite apart from the role that has been thrust on her as one of the first prominent voices of post-subcultural evangelicalism. But that larger context — and the grace, wisdom and, yes, valor that she’s shown in that role — is pretty cool too.

Here are some more highlights of the large and ongoing conversation surrounding this book.

Ashleigh Bailey’s review:

While some Christians will dismiss the book without reading it or hold a prejudice against Evans for her egalitarianism, there is a humble, invitational quality to the book for those willing to engage with its ideas.  In this way, A Year of Biblical Womanhood has a great deal to offer Christians from all points on the spectrum: To the complementarian willing to listen, Evans shares the joys of her egalitarian marriage, her appreciation for women of the Bible like Huldah the prophet and Junia the apostle, and her research and reflections on significant passages of Scripture.  To the egalitarian willing to listen, Evans is a model of honest searching and respectful conversation, encouraging us to not become embittered towards the complementarian majority in evangelicalism but rather to continue to maintain relationships and thoughtful engagement, fueled by faith, hope, and love.

Kelly J. Youngblood’s review:

When I just started to read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I discovered that it had been described as putting the Bible “on trial “in the court of Rachel Held Evans, where she would be the “prosecution, judge, and jury” who would have the “final word on womanhood.”  I read and read and read, but I never got to that part.

Peter Enns’ review:

The problem Evans addresses is how the Bible has been used poorly, falsely, harmfully, in certain Christian subcultures in marginalizing women. She makes her point by lampooning a literalist hermeneutic, a rhetorical move that many of her conservative critics have inexplicably missed. Evans is not mocking the Bible, but exposing the illegitimacy and randomness of a literalist reading of the Bible; the book is an exercise in biblical hermeneutics.

… Rather than a rant against the Bible, readers will quickly see that Evans has found some deep source of wisdom in this process, and the big lesson learned is applicable to everyone: Taking the Bible seriously does not mean “do what it says.” No one lives that way, even hardened literalists. Taking the Bible seriously means reading it with discernment and living it out responsibly, and no biblical injunction concerning women is immune. Tracing what the Bible says or implies about women brings to the surface this unavoidable hermeneutical process.

… Those who will be most upset with her — and already are — are those who read the Bible as a Christian cookbook for life, an owner’s manual designed to plot out for us a list of dos and don’ts. These critics mistake Evan’s lampooning of literalism with a lampooning of Scripture, Christianity, Jesus, and God.

Justin Lee’s review:

Amidst the laugh-out-loud stories are moments that have literally changed the way I think about certain issues in my life. Yes, the book does address questions about gender roles and Rachel’s view on male-female complementarity, but the issues here are far bigger. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is ultimately about how we treat one another, how we see ourselves, and how we live out the gospel in our everyday lives.

Amanda MacInnis: “My One and Only Post on the Recent Hoopla Regarding #BiblicalWomanhood”

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.

Rebecca Kirkpatrick: “Women of Valor: Finding each other”

Some have made a big deal over her literal reading of many parts of the Bible for the sake of understanding specific traditions: covering the head, not cutting the hair, submitting to one’s husband. The book is much more than that. It is 12 months of Rachel immersed in scripture, mind, body and spirit, with the goal of understanding how a woman lives within the complicated biblical tradition.

What I valued in this book was its capacity to create a new awareness in me that women who come from two very different places theologically can land in the same place, wrestling with the very same questions:

  • How do we understand and live with the most violent and tragic stories of women in scripture without losing our connection to the Bible as an authoritative and holy book?
  • … How do we “deal” with parts of scripture (such as the writings of Paul) that seem direct and definitive about the role of women in the community without dismissing all of the Bible as a quirky ancient document too steeped in its culture to be meaningful to modern women?
  • How do we faithfully use the lessons of the Bible to help us have more open and thoughtful conversations about the many choices that divide us as women in our post modern context: how we raise our children (if we decide to have them) and what it means to work inside and outside the home?
  • Finally, how do we as Western women work in faithful, purposeful and empowering ways for justice for women around the world?

Mainline or Evangelical, women of faith are wrestling with these questions and are called to be in conversation together about them.

Morgan Guyton: “Biblical Womanhood: What Kathy Keller missed”

It is true that there are some very disturbing truths that Rachel has to name. In her chapter on beauty, she talks about how the erotic love poetry in the Song of Songs has been used by fundamentalist pastors to instill anxiety about body image into brides at their weddings: “It is your responsibility to delight your husband throughout all stages of life so that he has no reason to stray.” It’s a pretty astounding feat to turn the delightful Song of Songs into a source of oppression. Similarly, Rachel talks about the disturbing Quiverfull movement that the 19 kid Reality TV Duggar family is a part of, which promotes having gigantic families through a warped interpretation of a psalm as a Biblical prescription for family planning. As Rachel says, “Poems were never meant to be forced into commands” (112), which pretty well summarizes the way that so many parts of the Bible have been abused by those who need to turn the whole thing into an “owner’s manual.”

Peter Enns: “Some (hopefully constructive) Thoughts on Evans’s Critics”

The theologically humble and self-aware Christian will be on the look out for where the biblical witness and cultural conformity are melded together and labelled “biblical”–and this, as I see it, is the central point Evans is making in her book. She is standing up to powerful ecclesiastical bullies, self-proclaimed gatekeepers who are quick to level the charge “unfaithful to the Bible” to those within earshot. She is showing them, with wit and insight, that their game collapses rather quickly. …

The core issue is that Evans’s conclusions undermine theological systems for which biblical inerrancy–which carries with it a strong tendency toward literalism, albeit on a spectrum–is the non-negotiable theological foundation.

* * * * * * * * *

“As a woman of faith, a single person, and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, church and ministry can be an incredibly hard place to be. I found this book to be tremendously freeing, encouraging, and convicting.”

“This book made me want to run to my Bible with a renewed sense of excitement to find the stories of women rarely mentioned in the Sunday-morning service. … It made me want to meet a bunch of friends at Starbucks and have a lengthy conversation about our roles in the church and life.”

“Rachel Held Evans tells the stories of women who overcame much in order to improve the lives of those around them. I want to do that.”

“As we laugh with her, as we are challenged (Evans is also challenged and actually holds on to some important lessons, rituals, and new skills when the year is over), and as we are convicted by how often we have judged.”

“Valor can be expressed through many callings, and men like myself should be honoring whatever ways our sisters are valorous instead of trying to pigeon-hole them into specific roles.”

“The experiment is, admittedly, snarky at times, but I didn’t find it to be mocking — certainly not of God’s word — and this distinction is important to keep in mind when reading.”

“At the end of the day, no matter how ‘just biblical’ many patriarchal congregations are trying to be, they’re still picking and choosing. They’re blowing one New Testament command off as ‘cultural’ but enforcing others that are just as much so.”

  • Carstonio

    I have no idea who David Hayward is, but I love the Haywardized cover for the Evans book. A clear illustration of how these folks view gender roles. Remind anyone of a certain British secret agent? 

    http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/56/5664/XTGUG00Z/posters/you-only-live-twice.jpg

    http://images.idiva.com/media/content/2012/Nov/james-bond-thunderball-poster.jpg

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    I’ve actually always liked the poem from Proverbs 31. First time I read it as a kid I thought “Ah so the perfect woman is kind, wise and a canny business woman. That seems reasonable. Wisdom, kindness and business savvy are a good combination of traits in any person.”  (I probably didn’t put it quite that way, I was  only eight at the time. But that was certainly the impression I got.)

     I was rather baffled when I got older and found most people didn’t read it that way.

  • LL

    RE  ”The Internet makes the epistemic bubble of the evangelical subculture unsustainable”

    You keep saying that, and you’re certainly more familiar with the evangelical subculture than I am (I think), but some people still aren’t getting that message, or, I guess, they’re trying really really hard to not get it. 

    On the CBS morning show today, a pollster was asking Republican voters in Virginia about the election, and why they were upset that Romney lost. I don’t think any of them were identified as evangelical, but I’m guessing there were at least a few in this group of about 20, all but one of them white and most of them were men, there were about 6 women. Most looked at least 40 years old. 

    One guy said the Republican party is not inclusive and that that needs to change, and at least a few others disagreed vehemently and basically said Republicans don’t need to change, they just need to sell their “values” better (one of the people who said this was a woman, BTW). They appear to believe their failures are a failure of marketing. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the product is shitty. And they seem to believe they’re the only ones who have “values.” The rest of us are just a bunch of socialist, gay-loving moochers who hate success, I suppose. 

    They actually think that people (like me, for example, a 40-something white female) don’t understand what the Republican party is about, and if we did, we’d vote Republican. 

    Their problem is that we understand what the Republican party is very well. They appear to be the ones who don’t understand how very repellent the Republican message is. I guess we were all supposed to compartmentalize the various messages of the Republican party and give Romney the job just because he’s Romney, who supposedly has all these fine leadership qualities – which don’t seem all that compelling to me, but then, I don’t think white guys should always be in charge of everything, and I also don’t think that buying up companies, laying off a bunch of people and then selling off the companies in order to cash in are demonstrative of good business practice or leadership. We’re all supposed to overlook the assholish things various Republicans have been saying about the rest of us (ie, the majority of the country) all this time and give the job to Romney because he’s not a “socialist.” Because his ability to enrich himself at the expense of others is something we should want to encourage, since it’s served all of us so well so far. 

    Many of them referred to Obama as a socialist or to the country as it is today as a socialist country, which probably seems laughable to the few countries on earth that actually are socialist. As well as the people who are familiar with the makeup of Obama’s economic “team,” filled with Wall Street types. 

    But yeah, WE’RE the ones who don’t understand.

  • AnonaMiss

    I think the  internet’s effect on the evangelical subculture won’t be fully visible until the ones who grew up with the internet are ‘at the helm’. The increasing buy-in of younger evangelicals to gay marriage and LGBT equality is very promising. I like to hope that watching their elders implode their political movement will also serve as an object lesson in not basing your political and religious beliefs around who you exclude.

  • Carstonio

    Fred has condemned the evangelical movement’s transformation into a political one. And Paul Weyrich has described the religious right’s origins as a protest over the lifting of tax-exempt status of segregated religious schools. Did all this happen because resentful whites saw, consciously or subconsciously, their churches as refuges from the desegregation of society? I can easily imagine many whites in the early 1970s feeling the same fears that their descendants felt when Obama was elected. The government had taken away their melanin-free public schools and lunch counters. Depending on their jobs, they had to deal in their workplaces with blacks and women as equals instead of as custodians and secretaries. They could no longer count on covenants preventing blacks from moving into their neighborhoods. But the government couldn’t make them sit alongside blacks in the pews, and if true, the irony was that they’ve spent the years since weakening the very constitutional protections that might have required them to do just that.

  • VMink

    I’ve been told this by an anthropologist friend of mine.  It pretty much comes down to the irresistable forces of History and Progress.  There’s no way to turn back the clock or freeze time.  The real actor of change is going to be the very hardline social conservative frothers simply dying off from natural causes.

    If it makes them feel better, they can recognize that every empire suffered the encroachment of decadence at some point and inevitable collapse, and if they want to think that the US is in its decadent ‘imperial’ phase (oh, the irony,) then they can go to their grave knowing that it was inevitable and maybe their Kingdom of Virtue will come when the US collapses into socialist fascism and vomitoriums.

  • AnonaMiss

    I can easily imagine many whites in the early 1970s feeling the same fears that their descendants felt when Obama was elected.
    Given the age distribution of the Republican party, I suspect a fair portion of the fearful are the same individuals.

    It pretty much comes down to the irresistable forces of History and Progress.  There’s no way to turn back the clock or freeze time.Iran would disagree. I think it’s important not to think of progress as inevitable. 

  • Carstonio

     

    every empire suffered the encroachment of decadence at some point and inevitable collapse

    At least where the Roman Empire was concerned, I had thought much of that was later Christian revisionism, treating the 1st century decadence and persecution as typical until the Empire fell. And I’m doubt that the Soviet empire fits that model either.

  • VMink

    At least where the Roman Empire was concerned, I had thought much of that was later Christian revisionism, treating the 1st century decadence and persecution as typical until the Empire fell. And I’m doubt that the Soviet empire fits that model either.

    Shh, don’t tell them (the hardcore social conservatives) that! =)

    But I do know what you’re saying.  Sorry I wasn’t clear that I was being kind of silly.

  • VMink

    True; I did not mean to imply that progress will Just Happen, just that this ephemeral ‘progress’ is more or less inevitable because we’re continually making it happen.

    Iran is an interesting case, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.paxton.94 Susan Paxton

    I don’t think most people know that a “vomitorium” is actually the entrance into the seating area of an arena. Although during rock concerts or other beery events, such a place can indeed turn into a…vomitorium. Yech!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.paxton.94 Susan Paxton

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vomitorium

    I for one welcome our new puke-stained socialist overlords.

  • vsm

    Even the US would disagree, depending on which benchmarks of progress you look at. Private sector unionization hasn’t been this low since 1932, for instance.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That said, one feature of imperial decline would likely be the lack of enthusiasm for the population to keep letting the ruling class direct their priorities to maintenance of the empire in question.

  • VMink

    Well, learn something new everyday… thanks for that information!

    I think I’ve put my foot in my mouth enough for one day. =)

  • Jeff Weskamp

    The Christians who claim that homosexuality led to the Fall of Rome are especially amusing, since the Western Roman Empire was solidly Christian for the last century of its existence.  And the Western Empire did not suddenly “fall,” but instead kind of slowly guttered out.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    They actually think that people (like me, for example, a 40-something
    white female) don’t understand what the Republican party is about, and
    if we did, we’d vote Republican.

    There is a sense in which this makes sense. Namely, that they proceed from the assumption that only 40-something white folks are “people”. They can’t quite comprehend that there are people out there whose life experience is not thato f a 40 year old white person (That is, the experience of a 40-year-old white man, or the experience of a 40-year-old white woman in a complimentarian marriage to a 40-year-old white man) and therefore does not resonate with their message.

    This is what we saw when Bill O’Reilly went on his “Traditional Americans” rant: IF they lost, then only one of two things could have happened: “Illegitimate Americans” outnumber them, or “Traditional Americans” did not get their message.

  • EllieMurasaki

    They can’t quite comprehend that there are people out there whose life experience is not thato f a 40 year old white person [...] and therefore does not resonate with their message.

    Or that some people who do have the life experience of a middle-class heterocis Christian fortysomething white person who’s never experienced an unwanted or unaffordable or dangerous pregnancy, they have friends and relations whose life experiences differ from that of our ‘Traditional American’ protagonists, and who our ‘Traditional American’ protagonists don’t want to see hurt because of the ways in which their life experiences differ from those of the ‘Traditional American’.

    Or maybe they do know that, and that’s part of why the insularity. Contact with the Dangerous Other might lead to sympathy for the Dangerous Other, and can’t have that, no sir.

  • Lliira

    And the Eastern Roman Empire continued to go strong for about 1000 years after the Western collapsed.

  • Sigaloenta

    Also, some of our oldest fragments of Roman literature are complaining about decadent and effeminate Young Men These Days who shave their legs and wear tunics with sleeves and take dance lessons and go to parties with their (male) lovers.  Scipio Aemilianus was ranting  in the 140s BCE, but it’s not much different from what is shocking Horace in the 20s BCE or Juvenal in the 120′s CE…  Morals are always degrading into shocking and unheard of decadence, it seems!

  • P J Evans

     It just collapsed under its own weight, is how I usually describe it. (My medieval history professor spent the first week or two on the late Imperial period; he felt that it was important for understanding what happened after.)

  • P J Evans

    ‘O tempora! O mores!’ or ‘Plus ca change’.

  • Sigaloenta

     What was it Syme said?  “Men and dynasties pass, but moral outrage abides”?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    Or that some people who do have the life experience of a middle-class
    heterocis Christian fortysomething white person who’s never experienced
    an unwanted or unaffordable or dangerous pregnancy, they have friends
    and relations whose life experiences differ from that of our
    ‘Traditional American’ protagonists, and who our ‘Traditional American’
    protagonists don’t want to see hurt because of the ways in which their
    life experiences differ from those of the ‘Traditional American’.

    But it’s just about conceivable that if they worked hard to get their message out, the 40 year old empathetic middle class hetero white men might be swayed.

    Which is probably what they mean. They never expected to win the black vote, the woman vote, the immigrant vote, the gay vote, so they consider their failure to be that they didn’t convince enough *white guys*.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That might possibly have worked this election, if the Republicans had fucked up less and the Democrats more. Maybe next election too. After that? What was the last estimate, that the US would be majority minority by 2050? And that’s going by racial lines alone. By gender lines, cis men are a substantial minority, larger than all the other groups except maybe cis women (larger than all-the-other-groups-except-cis-women put together), but a minority nonetheless. Straight folk will probably always be a substantial majority, but out queer folk are ever more numerous and tolerant straight folk are a fast-growing group.

    People who have and want to keep privilege on all the axes? Endangered species. If those are the only votes Republicans want, then there won’t be any Republican Party to speak of by 2020. 2028 tops. Possibly some state Republican Parties hanging on stubbornly in the Confederacy, but not on the national level.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think for all that we mock the people who complained about the generations following them as time passes through the eons, there are very real markers of widespread decline that can and should be bemoaned:

    - Excessive spending on the military
    - Excessive income inequality
    - Ongoing economic problems, including inflation in the prices of basics necessary to existence
    - A reconfiguration of society on ethnic and linguistic lines

    While Yugoslavia never had the level of military spending the USA does, it experienced the other problems and this led to not a peaceful breakup, but one marked by (at first) scattered conflicts, and later, outright war.

    There are lessons here for the USA. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Riastlin-Lovecraft/100000678992705 Riastlin Lovecraft

    I direct you to Jon Steward and John Oliver’s conversation on the Daily Show during the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (last 2 or 3 minutes of the video)
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-november-10-2009/legends-of-the-wall


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