From Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom, something to be read slowly and treasured:
Blame [the rise of women into leadership, the breaking of the patriarchal boundaries] on feminism, contraception, affirmative action, access to higher education, postmodernism, economic changes, exploding technology, the Internet, or global warming, but make no mistake about it—the world has changed. Even in cultures where advances for women are lagging and the disparity between the sexes leaves women at an appalling disadvantage, women continue to defy the odds by creating “unforeseen situations” of the most improbable sort.
The church is not immune to this tidal wave of change. Today’s churches are filled with successful Christian women who are climbing the corporate ladder and occupying leadership positions in a wide range of professions. More and more women are in the workplace by choice and calling—not out of necessity. Evangelical seminaries are producing gifted female graduates, and many are moving into all sorts of ministry and pastoral leadership positions. In this age of the Internet, some evangelical female bloggers have followings that surpass megachurch attendance. Young girls have ambitions and dreams that are different than those of their parents. Those dreams may include marriage and children, but they have other dreams as well.
Plenty of Christian men welcome these changes and in fact have advocated for them. But others view the rise of women with concern, even alarm, and strive to stem the tide. The belief in a zero-sum game between the genders, where gains for women represent losses for men, makes the rise of women difficult to swallow. Women once lauded as “the backbone of the church’ are now perceived as a threat.
This is not a new situation. The Bible contains plenty of unforeseen situations” where women appear to outshine the men. These stories create enormous problems for interpreters because they violate the patriarchal principle that men lead and women follow. The power of these biblical narratives is intensified by the fact that these stories aren’t situated in an egalitarian western culture, but are embedded in a full-blown patriarchal context where men are primary and hold the reins of power.
She points us to Deborah, whom recent advocates of one extreme kind of complementarianism either ignore totally or diminish. Over to Carolyn, who points to their language but it illustrates what I call “being in a corner and spinning in circles.”
Complementarians respond to the Deborah story by scaling down her significance and caricaturing her leadership as nothing more than a punishment for men—”a living indictment of the weakness of Barak and other men in Israel who should have been more courageous leaders.” They warn against drawing conclusions about female leadership from her story and argue that modern Christians ought not to make theological deductions from the “precarious” period of the judges. [She’s quoting Piper and Grudem.] The inference is that Deborah would never have risen to power if men had been leading as God intends. Deborah, they insist, is an exception to the rule and “a special case.” Some complementarians even go so far as to reduce her prophetic role “to private and individual instruction”—despite the fact that she publicly calls the nation to war and publicly accompanies the general and his army into battle. [Now quoting Tom Schreiner.]
Carolyn’s right: this is all made up. The Bible doesn’t criticize Barak or Deborah in the text, nor is there critique of Jael — and her story of the “tent peg termination.”
Deborah was one awesome woman, leaderly, courageous, godly, fierce and 100% female.