In “The Resignation of Eve“, Jim Henderson explores women’s opinions about women’s place in church primarily through a series of interviews. The book is in one sense a challenging one to read. The writing itself is quite accessible and the stories are easy to follow. Yet no matter one’s perspective, many of the stories shared were very upsetting because they revealed serious wrongs committed. It is all the more frustrating because of the fact that the context in these stories is Christianity and church—places where in theory these wrongs should be least likely to happen. The stories stirred a deep desire in me to see these kinds of wrongs eliminated.
The premise of the book is that women are unfairly barred from top leadership positions in church, and/or often not allowed to speak and teach in certain contexts, specifically when men are in the audience. (This is of course more true in some denominations and churches, while not being as true in others.) Through interviews with various women, Henderson seeks to discover how women respond to this fact. There is no simple answer. Some believe this is the way it is supposed to be. Many haven’t thought about it at all. Others aren’t thrilled about it, yet haven’t felt it was a battle worth fighting. Others have left churches if not faith all together. Still others have found communities which allow them to exercise their leadership talents.
I had heard previously of the complementarian verses egalitarian debate, which is primarily raised in the context of marital relationships. Until yesterday I didn’t really understand the differences in these positions. My understanding was that complementarians hold that men and women are equal though different. I believe this is true. Egalitarians say that men and women are to be equal, and also that men and women aren’t the same. So you can see why this debate was confusing to me, when they seemed to be saying the same thing.
According to this article, complementarians hold that while men and women are equally created in the image of God, they have different and complimentary roles and functions. A big part of this, if not the main point, is that men are believed to be responsible for leading, while women are required to follow men and not lead men themselves. There exists a hierarchy of relationships: God on top (some see the Trinity itself as hierarchical), then men, followed by women. Egalitarians, on the other hand, maintain that both men and women are equally allowed to lead, exercise authority, and take responsibility. Or in other words, there isn’t a limit on leadership inherent to gender. So despite the themes often focused on in both positions self identifications, the real difference in these positions is in how men and women are different. And that is a very important difference.
Though complementarianism vs. egalitarianism is usually discussed in relation to marriage, clearly the same ideas apply to women and leadership in the church. One of the primary reasons Henderson believes that churches often limit women’s access to leadership is that “men are still seen as the head of the house and the high priest of the home. Churches want to reflect their support for that in their hiring policies and in the amount of money they pay men and women leaders on staff.” (p. 86)
The book does an excellent job of fairly presenting the many perspectives of different women. Henderson does throw in his “two cents”, but again, doesn’t only share the opinions which match his own. Because of this, there are many arguments presented for both sides. I want to address some of these, but because there are so many, I plan to do so in separate, upcoming blogs posts. For now I’ll wrap up by saying that “The Resignation of Eve” is a great book to stir ones thoughts and as an introduction to many of the subtleties of this subject.
I am participating in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog hosted by Rachel Held Evans.