Always Tension

Jim Henderson, the man with a lien on Hemant Mehta’s soul, has a new book coming out titled The Resignation of Eve. Like some of Henderson’s previous works, this book tries to understand the problems that evangelical Christianity faces from within. In this case, Henderson is interviewing women and finding out where their churches are failing them, and backing his findings with Barna Group surveys.

Lisa Miller talks about the book at the Washington Post:

Between 1991 and 2011, the number of adult women attending church weekly has declined 20 percent. The number of women going to Sunday school has dropped by about a third, as has the number of women who volunteer at church.

And although the Barna data have been disputed by other researchers, Henderson goes further. Even those women who go to church regularly, he says, are really only half there: Their discontent keeps them from engaging fully with the project of being Christian. He calls this malaise among women “a spiritual brain drain.”

This echos a theme we’ve been hearing for several years now. We’ve been told that people are no longer content with their family church. People are leaving in single numbers, and soon they will be leaving in droves.

But Felice Lifshitz at the University of Chicago Divinity School points out that these problems are as old as the Bible itself, and yet the patriarchy still remains.

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.

I’m going to have to side with Lifshitz. Christianity has a history of offering Christian women half a loaf, and finding women who will be satisfied with that.

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