What broke through? This book! -- and its evidence that, whatever I might have optimistically assumed, cultural Christianity still plays a major role in oppression in the lives of millions. It was the data about Christian bookstore sales that reached me: the "biblical womanhood" industry is profitable. There's a lot of money invested in telling women lies about their roles and limitations in God. As Melanie says in the introduction,
Despite the voices of Christian feminists offering an alternative understanding of Scripture, gender, and God's call on our lives, messages about biblical womanhood continue to dominate Christian culture. Such messages provide easy answers to the messy, complicated question of who God wishes us to be, but they are also quite lucrative. According to the CBA (formerly Christian Booksellers Association) state of the industry report, in 2009 Christian products sales were reportedly $4.6 billion. Women assume a significant portion of this market share. Speakers such as Joyce Meyer draw large audiences -- and large sums -- by ironically preaching in mega-churches and to mega-audiences around the country about the primacy of women's domestic domain.
|Flo wouldn't stock this book because she|
said that the luxurious fur coat would be
a "bad witness" to nonbelievers. Source.
(2) When I became a Christian, my very first spiritual home was Ottawa Friends Meeting in Canada. There I came under the influence of Deborah Haight, about whom I've written several times. As she told me stories about her childhood in Norwich, Ontario, in what was then Canada Yearly Meeting (Conservative), she described an upbringing and a subculture which took it for granted that girls would learn carpentry and other farm jobs, and later would be exposed to science and theology, and (in the unprogrammed Quaker context) would be recorded as ministers, on the same basis as boys. It's surely no coincidence that Emily Stowe, Canada's first female doctor, came from Norwich.
Since making my home in the pastoral and evangelical Quaker world, I've found some contradictions a little harder to ignore. It was a memorable session of Indiana Yearly Meeting when (then) superintendent David Brock asked us, with obvious impatience, when we were finally going to implement our testimony to men's and women's equality. Part of his job was helping meetings find new pastors -- but why was it (he asked) that, of all the female candidates he offered, one third of the meetings seeking pastors would ignore them completely, one third of the meetings would put their resumes on the bottom of the pile, and only one third would take them seriously?
It's this aspect of Christian practice that I'm labeling "coercive." It's fine for you to have an interpretation of Scripture that's different from mine (though if you label it more "conservative," expect an argument). My problem starts when you use that interpretation to limit someone else's freedom in Christ, with no right of argument or appeal. When you tell girls that they can't be leaders (or, as If Eve Only Knew documents, attribute all our social woes to Eve's sin or Adam's passivity), and prescribe for them a life whose boundaries must be defined by men, that's coercion. It's bondage reinforced by social sanctions that seemingly can only be broken by disloyalty to God. What's more sorrowful and frustrating as we face an unbelieving world, this approach is profoundly anti-evangelistic. "Welcome to the household of faith," we say. "You are born again, your new life is just beginning! Rejoice!" And then the bait-and-switch: it turns out that you are asked to take on new bondages that seem remarkably similar to the tired old bondages of the world.
I'm not saying that the choice to live a modest life devoted to caring for children and home is wrong! The evil is in coercive boundaries, not freely-made choices. It may be that, if we somehow removed all the ideologies and polarizations that limit our children, a majority of boys and girls would still choose traditional roles and divisions of labor. But, at least within Christian communities, they would be making these choices in prayerful communion with Christ and each other, much as Deborah Haight described her childhood in Norwich.
Realistically, we're not going to put an end to coercive Christianity soon. People will still organize around those bondages and propagandize for them in CBA bookstores, in Christian celebrity mega-events, on Christian TV, and so on. What cheers me up is books like If Eve Only Knew and all the other ways we can and will proclaim a wonderful alternative vision of freedom in Christ for women and men alike.
This alternative does not depend on faking perfection or hiding contradictions. I dearly love Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends, where I've met so many wonderful role models of functional egalitarianism and humane evangelicalism. We are wrestling with our own dilemmas around issues of sexuality, and the outcomes are uncertain. But we're doing this all out in the open. Our difficult discussions undermine any pretense that we can impose a single model of Quaker holiness on our children and newcomers. Our various models of discipleship are formed in conversation, debate, even conflict, but at the same time they are also formed in something approaching transparency, and in love.
This is Holy Week here in Russia, and Easter is in three days. As I do every year, I'm re-reading Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's The Stations of the Cross of Nonviolent Love (PDF file). In light of my ideal of alternative Christian community, here's a page I thought I'd highlight for today:
Not many links today! The Web site I use for preserving links, delicious.com, is in the process of shifting back to its old site and a previous generation of software, and seems unavailable today. (They promise to return shortly at del.icio.us.) But these links seemed especially urgent to pass along....
Tim Stafford on Cities of Refuge.
Bernd Wustl pastors a church of 500 in the German border town of Freilassing. He is a Teddy bear with a full white beard, who worked as an engineer for a local manufacturer before he joined fulltime pastoring at the age of 47. He says that ten years ago his church sensed God directing them to pray on the bridge that links Germany to Austria—the same crossing that Napoleon took to conquer Austria, and that Hitler followed in the Austrian Anschluss. The church held several open-air Sunday services at the bridge over the course of two years, but they never understood why they were praying.Stop calling it "short term missions." Here's what you should call it instead. (Note the invitation for comments and ideas.)
Then in April of 2015 the refugees began to cross that bridge by the tens of thousands. Wustl's church decided to call a conference for all the local churches. "There was an unreal fear. What's happened with Germany? [At the conference] we taught people how to handle fear, so they could be freed for ministry."
The German church has two choices, Wustl tells me. "Either we wake up, open our doors and speak the gospel. Or we close doors, and forget about the German church."
Easter blessings, with help from the Oslo Gospel Choir: "Holy Is the Lamb."