Most days I just don’t want to go there. While I disagree with my friends on the egalitarian side of the gender role debate, I think they know I respect them and their studious work on the subject. But I believe we have reached a point in the debate, at least at a popular level, where we find what’s being waged is an unfair fight of fallacious reasoning tactics. We keep hearing wait for the book (Thomas Nelson, 2012). In the meantime, some of the activities involved in her Year of Biblical Womanhood that are the basis of this book have nothing to do with biblical womanhood at all. So today I am going there, because a woman’s “blossoming career” should be based on hard work and intellectual honesty, not outright misrepresentations.
I have to admit, I was very intrigued by the idea of an evangelical feminist woman living out a year of biblical womanhood even as just a thought experiment. But what Rachel Held Evans has done is not that.This could have been an opportunity to discover and experience some aspects of complementarianism not otherwise understood. Her experiment, however, was little more than a piecemeal approach. As I understand it, she didn’t not live the year consistently (as in every waking moment) with this as her newly adopted (though temporary) view of women’s roles. Not only did she not live it consistently, she added practices that don’t belong (camping out in her front yard, for example). She was not faithful to biblical womanhood as taught by its adherents.
Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood has actually been a year of an erroneous hermeneutic resulting in misrepresentation to the church and the public at large of what biblical womanhood actually looks like. She expanded on the literal approach of scripture practiced by complementarians by flattening scripture such that systematic theology is of no consequence. An initial statement at the front end of her post titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood is evidence enough of this.
On October 1, 2010, I committed one year of my life to following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possiblefrom the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Levitical purity codes to the letters of Paul.
The problem with this is that no evangelical expression of biblical womanhood demands women follow “all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible”—at least in terms of how she is using the term “literally.” This has nothing to do with any arbitrary decision—the “pick and choose” methodology—by complementarianism as she asserts on her website. This is a hermeneutical matter that Evans has failed to devote any serious time to. In her post, Complementarians Are Selective Too, she argues that proponents of the biblical womanhood model are sacrificing scripture’s meaning by picking an choosing in order preserve patriarchy. To be fair, she suggests egalitarians are also guilty of picking and choosing to make their case as well, but egalitarianism isn’t the target of contempt with her Year of Biblical Womanhood project.
Evans has failed to properly represent the teachings of biblical womanhood in what she has so for divulged of her one year experiment. If it is the case, in fact, that her issue is with the way complementarians handle scripture, she ought to have written a series of posts simply dealing with the hermeneutical problem she identifies, showing how proponents of biblical womanhood err in their literal handling of the biblical text. Here, she might have shown systematic theology to work to her benefit while engaging the systematic theology foundational to the biblical womanhood model. But this requires a lot more work and doesn’t yield as many winsome blog posts. Instead, she created a straw woman by packaging together every biblical command having to do with women (whether it has anything to do with the theological structure of biblical womanhood), leaving readers with the impression that biblical womanhood demands the observance of Levitical purity laws among other practices.
An apology is owed to the evangelical community for an unfair representation of a view that can be argued from the biblical text in both scholarly and generous manner for all sides. But now that our culture has been provided a skewed view of biblical womanhood from the inside, they have no reason to work any harder to move beyond their present perceptions. At the end of Evans’ post on her Year of Biblical Womanhood, she writes
My purpose in embarking on this project is not to belittle or make fun of the Bible, nor is it to glorify its patriarchal elements. It is simply to start a conversation about how we interpret and apply the Bible to our lives.
A conversation has certainly been started. It would be nice, however, if we were all talking about the same thing.