When Are Women Going to Revolt?

Eve by Anna Lea Merritt

There was an interesting column in Martin Marty‘s Sightings this week, linking the unlikely pair of Lisa Miller and Jim Henderson, both of whom are predicting that women are on the verge of leaving Evangelico-Republicanism en masse.

Felice Lifshitz writes,

Christianity has consistently been open to pro-feminist movements, but this has resulted neither in a fundamental egalitarian transformation of Christian institutions, nor in a mass exodus of disaffected women. The current wave of “resignations” fits squarely into a 2000-year-old tradition of tension over gender and spiritual authority; if proponents of patriarchal forms of religious organization do not feel particularly threatened by the alarm bells Henderson has rung for them, it is because historical precedent encourages complacency on their part. After all, their predecessors always managed to hold on to power. “The men of the right” have found, in every generation, a substantial number of Christian women who considered the limited roles and secondary status allotted to them to be quite comfortable. It is certainly easier to execute simple, circumscribed tasks such as meal preparation than to shoulder the responsibility for major policy decisions. But every generation has also witnessed rebellion and discontent. (Read the rest: Patriarchy’s Persistent Bastion? Religion by Felice Lifshitz.)

I’m not so sure. Every time I get excited that women are really, truly, exerting feminist independence within evangelicalism, I read something like this, in which Rachel Held Evans agreed to take the word “vagina” out of her forthcoming book on women and the Bible out of concern for evangelical bookstores.

It’s tragic, I think. So maybe Miller and Henderson are right. Maybe the women of Evangelico-Republicanism are going to revolt. I, for one, hope that they do.

  • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve K.

    I’m starting a petition on Amazon to get Thomas Nelson to put the word “vagina” back into Rachel’s book – please join me by adding a comment here: http://www.amazon.com/word-vagina-back-into-Rachels/forum/Fx2RGUU4576JDI9/TxQ5C3ICR5ERRW/1/ref=cm_cd_dp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&asin=1595553673

  • http://scottpaeth.typepad.com Scott Paeth

    Now, now. We can’t discuss the scary lady parts, Tony!

  • Vicki

    Thanks Steve K. for starting the petition.

  • Theophile

    Hi Tony,
    Felice’s statement “Limited roles and secondary status” seems to imply that raising up the next generation, and having the most direct impact there, is a “limited role”. How many out there really can look their mother in the eye and tell her You personally consider her status “secondary”?
    The latest Neo-Evangelical notion “The old testament is the old covenant, it’s ALL done away with” is the damnable heresy at the root of this discussion. This thinking can only survive with Biblical illiteracy en mass. Guess what: Jesus, Paul, the high priest, and all the Jews agree on? Moses and the prophets primarily are what is called scripture, Jesus said they testify of Him, and scripture cannot be broken.
    When I was young the secondary status pianist, and organist would play “A Mighty Fortress”, or the Doxology, as the pastor would lead the congregation to the page in the Hymnal, and sang along with us. Today, the women run the “worship team”, and we have a live rock & roll band on stage, or canned Michael Smith worship songs, with the words superimposed on pictures of beautiful sunrises/sunsets & golden crosses in fields of flowers or mountaintops. The first class status “worship team director” sways back and forth to the music, and clicks the computer key to advance the scenes.
    Let me tell You, there is no contest between the “Hot” worship of God through song, that the skill of the pianist & organist(of secondary status) was a necessary part of, and the “lukewarm”, all about me, latest top 40 Canned Commercial Christian Music being passed off as pleasing to God.
    Why has the piano, organ, and hymnals been removed?
    Why have they been replaced with drum sets, electric guitars, and video screens? Um.. lets ask the women, in charge.

    • JPL

      I see your confusion. The worship leader isn’t a woman; it’s just an effeminate man. Mark Driscoll can clear this up for you.

      Of course, your central thesis remains unchallengeable: vaginas have ruined music in the church, and hence should not be mentioned in books.

      • Theophile

        Hi Jpl,
        There is a precedent for leaving proper names of genitals out of books, for instance the fact that the phallic origin and nature of the obelisk, or it’s scriptural name: “Image of Jealousy”(Ezekiel8), and it’s modern Minaret/Steeple counterpart, are lost on this generation.
        You don’t really get the thrust of the reason God seemed pretty pissed there in Ezekiel 8 over this image of jealousy erected in front of His house, until You define the terms.

        • Evelyn

          Genesis 17:11 “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

          Deuteronomy 25:11-12 “If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity. ”

          Genesis 49:25 (and many others) “Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”

          1 Samuel 18:25 (where foreskins are like scalps) “Saul then said, ‘Thus you shall say to David, ‘The king does not desire any dowry except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.” Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

          and let’s not forget:
          1 Corinthians 6:15 (we all know what “members” are) “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!”

        • Evelyn

          In Ezekiel 8, God is pissed off over the idolatrous worship (e.g. commandments 3 and 4) of the “Image of Jealousy” not the shape of the idol itself. It seems more possible to me that God would be pissed off over the idolatrous worship of men (the phallus) by humankind than he would be pissed off by the use of the word “penis”. BTW, most church women that I know (mostly over 65) prefer the hymnal to new age christian music. Drum sets, electric guitars, and video screens are strictly in the provenance of men so unless the women on your “worship team” are tech geeks, I must assume that it is the man who is in charge of the team who is making the entertainment decisions.

          • Theophile

            Thank You Evelyn,
            Most of the women I grew up around preferred the hymnal also, and could play all the songs therein. Something I seriously doubt these new age church rock bands could. My mother runs the food pantry at her church, and uses the “worship team” music period to take care of that, as she doesn’t care for, or recognize the song selection either.
            You know I wasn’t referring to the lack of the proper word in the Bible, but the lack of addressing this “image of Jealousy” for what it was, in the endless books of commentary on the Bible. If we check out the law of jealousy given by Moses, and consider the general shape of obelisks, it’s a no brainer.
            We might want to consider the difference between the words womb(mentioned allot in the Bible, but without many derogatory modern synonyms), and vagina(associated with many derogatory slang synonyms), and what each depicts in the average mind, before wanting that applied as a descriptive label to women.

    • Bell

      “Felice’s statement “Limited roles and secondary status” seems to imply that raising up the next generation, and having the most direct impact there, is a “limited role”. How many out there really can look their mother in the eye and tell her You personally consider her status “secondary”?”

      But that’s exactly the point. You’re explicitly limiting women to motherhood. You’re assuming that every woman will be a mother, that every woman wishes to be a mother, and that all women should be content with primarily being mothers. This is exactly, precisely, completely an example of the limitations and secondary status that women are placed under. Men are free to be whatever they wish, while women might be allowed to take on some extra work, as long as it doesn’t detract from their supposed primary purpose of motherhood. That you were able to provide such a perfectly apt example of what Lifschitz was talking about even as you were arguing against her… Yeah, I think that counts as irony.

      I’m not even sure what your anecdote about church music was supposed to prove. Was I supposed to assume that old music is automatically and inherently more reverential and powerful than new music, and that the mere fact that a female-led committee dared to try anything other than what you remember happening as a child is unequivocal evidence that women shouldn’t be trusted with any form of leadership? I’m afraid you’re going to have to argue your case a little harder, I don’t think your assumptions and nostalgia is shared by as many people as you want.

  • Evelyn

    I’ve been thinking lately that sexism is a significant reason behind why younger people are leaving the church. So, um, the women are ALREADY revolting. The older women with emotional attachments to the church and who grew up accepting sexism as par for the course are still hanging around but I’m not sure why any younger woman who has more egalitarian opportunities in secular society and can get their spiritual food by attending yoga class would want to join christian organizations that are so obviously sexist.

    • Evelyn

      I forgot to mention that I am a little concerned about the “Men’s breakfast” listed on the Solomon’s Porch calendar. I am loath to join any group in my church with a name such as “Women’s Group” or “Daughter’s of the King” but do participate in the prayer shawl group because, although we are women, we don’t bar any man who wishes to make a prayer shawl, sock monkey, or quilt. Perhaps Solomon’s Porch could change the “Men’s breakfast” to “Steak and Egg Breakfast” to make it more gender inclusive.

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        A group that makes things that traditionally women made is different from a group designed for discussion of issues specific to a gender. We can treat each equally and still be different. Equality is about power and respect. Getting together for community based on gender is not a threat to equality.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    Honestly, I see my entire book as something of a revolt, which is why, at this point, I’m choosing my battles. Part of me likes the idea of it sitting on Christian bookstore shelves.

    …Though the petition will give me a place to start in possibly negotiating the use of the word “vagina.” :-) I’ll update everyone shortly.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Although I haven’t ready your book, Rachel, I’m sure it is incendiary (to evangelicals). Which is why I don’t think they’ll shelve it, with or without “vagina.”

      • Brian

        So all the more reason to keep it in there, no?

        Someone asked a good question on Rachel’s blog: Why would a Christian Bookstore carry M.Driscoll’s book that discusses anal sex but not a book that uses the word vagina? (I’ve not read Driscoll’s book, but does “vagina” not appear in that one? Hard to believe.)

        Anyway, I tend to think that in this case the problem lies more with the publisher and less with the Christian Bookstores. I can’t imagine a bookstore refusing to stock a book because of the “v” word. (I can imagine them refusing because of all sorts of other reasons.) Of course, I tend to be naive. Oh well…

        • Evelyn

          I think Driscoll uses the word “vagina” in the chapter where he mentions that they have teeth.

  • Jim Henderson

    Thanks for the headsup Tony. Didnt see this one. Love it when PhDs are forced to acknowledge my material and honored to be mentioned right along with Lisa Miller.

  • Jim Henderson

    PS – Go Vagina!

  • http://patridew.wordpress.com Patricia

    Maybe they’d keep it in the book if Rachel used qualified it as ‘Christian vagina’?

    @Evelyn: I’m with you. Steak and eggs for breakfast vs men for breakfast? Steak and eggs win.

  • Ellen Hallin

    Well Tony, I too hope that women finally push back and revolt though I’m not so sure that will happen any time soon. I’ve talked to way too many women in the Evangelical church, even the younger ones, who seem to be at best neutral about the systemic marginalization of women in their churches; at worst, they are fellow collaborators, drinking the Kool-Aid that has been handed to them.

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  • http://vicwelle.wordpress.com victoria

    I think it will become much easier for women to revolt when we know that there are men who have our back. I’ve been disappointed many times by men who were supportive in word but unable to back up their words with deeds (oftentimes, deeds that might jeopardize their position of privilege or leadership in a religious community). Women need reliable allies in the revolt.


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