When Women read the Bible

My next full-length post deals with the American white evangelical decision to declare war on women.  Not all women, of course, just the ones who would like to see another woman in the pulpit.  I am in the middle of a ten-part series based on the theory that American white evangelicals have embraced a Pharaoh mindset.  In my next post, I will be dealing with Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron.  In the course of my research, I stumbled across some really helpful stuff.

There is, for instance, this NYT opinion piece by Thomas B. Edsall on the ways evangelicals have used the abortion issue as a proxy for race and feminism.  Edsall called up some good people who have done research in this area and solicited their opinions.  As a teaser, I will share Darren Dochuk’s take on recent trends within the white evangelical world.  His views align closely with Kristen Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne.

There has always been a tension in Southern life between the ideals of rugged masculinity and expectations of evangelical propriety. In the early 20th century, preachers and earnest parishioners did their part to rein in the worst excesses of Southern manhood, be they related to drink or sex or violence; waging war on sin was their calling, protecting home and hearth and securing Christian male headship of them, their main concern. This tension was also a dynamic one in that excessive sin also led to heightened evangelistic fervor; the greater the sin, the greater the salvation, meaning masculine indiscretions were in subtle ways allowed, even celebrated, among the churchly crowd as justification for an equally aggressive response.

“Since the late 1970s, however,” Dochuk wrote:

Southern evangelicalism as a whole has become more welcoming of the type of rugged masculinity that the Southern sinners of yesteryear often displayed. For theological as well as cultural and political reasons, the Southern evangelical majority, whose prescripts and sentiments now pervade all corners of Southern rural culture, has increasingly embraced a muscular Christianity that deems protection of home and hearth and all facets of family values and notions of life and liberty associated with them a cause worth waging with all the force and abandon required.

This accommodation is driven, according to Dochuk, by the fact that the enemy is now, in Southern evangelicals’ view, “an effeminate liberalism and its ‘secular humanism,’” which, in turn, means that:

even those leaders who might not display Christ-like temperaments or norms are welcome in the fold. In a sense, Southern evangelicals have jettisoned the New Testament for the Old Testament — revival for societal reconstruction — and carved out plenty of room for the rampaging politician who can impose his will (see Trump as well as lesser lights) in order to remake the nation in their image.

In this milieu, Dochuk observed:

The swashbuckling southern rural politician enjoys more freedom than ever to play hard even as he decries the sins of abortion and feminism; as saint and sinner, he’s been granted the right and freedom to lead the family values charge against Washington and its soft liberal elite.

Quoted in Thomas B. Edsall’s Abortion has never been just about abortion

I also came across Eyes to See and Ears to Hear Women: Sexual Assault as a Crisis of Evangelical Theology, a provocative collection of essays by Christian scholars like Kristen Du Mez and Beth Allison Barr.  Du Mez uses the example of Katherine Bushnell, a thoroughly orthodox Christian who, a century ago, asked herself why Christian men had such a problem with authoritative women.  This bit particularly caught my eye:

What puzzled Bushnell was that men who purported to follow Christ—the incarnate God who emptied himself and submitted to death on a cross—did so by claiming power over women. As she understood the gospel message, only a sinner would wish “to exalt himself and have dominion over others”—and he would do so “in exact proportion to the degree of selfishness in his heart.”

Kristen Kobes Du Mez in “Women Saw #MeToo Coming 100 Years Ago. When Will We Listen?

All of this reminded me of a stunning Rachel Held Evans post from 2013: The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart.  She is talking about “Alexithymia–etymologically ‘without words for emotions’–is a symptom characteristic of individuals who have difficulty understanding their own and others’ emotions. You can think of alexithymia as being the opposite of what is called emotional intelligence.”  She sees far too much alexithymia in contemporary evangelical theology.  By way of example, she shares the following story.

I encountered this recently after I spoke to a group of youth about doubt. In the presentation, I mentioned that upon reading the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for myself, I realized it was a story about genocide, with God commanding Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city for the sole purpose of acquiring land. I explained that this seemed contrary to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies.

Afterwards, a youth leader informed me that when it came to Joshua and Jericho, I had nothing to worry about…and had no business getting his students worried either.

“I don’t know why you had to bring up the Jericho thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”

“Not if it’s in the Bible.”

“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”


He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.

“But genocide always bothers me,” I finally said, “especially when it’s in the Bible. And I get the idea that maybe it’s supposed to. I get the idea that maybe God created me to be bothered by evil like that, even when it’s said to have been orchestrated by God.”

I’m not sure he and I will ever understand one another, but I’ve decided to quit apologizing for my questions.  It’s not enough for me to maintain my intellectual integrity as a Christian; I also want to maintain my emotional integrity as a Christian. And I don’t need answers to all of my questions to do that. I need only the courage to be honest about my questions and doubts, and the patience to keep exploring and trusting in spite of them.”

Responses are welcome.