To point out that Christian women’s voices are largely missing from the public discourse is nothing new. Alisa Harris wrote last year that most prominent evangelical women including Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer have influence within the church — but not beyond it.
I am a contributor to the anthology Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, a collection of essays from Cascade Books by women who spent their formative years in the evangelical church. I’ve read numerous responses from women who feel silenced by the church even as they try to live up to its ideals of what it means to be a Christian woman. The anthology’s editor Hannah Faith Notess has collected reviews and comments, and I’ll list some here:
“In the tiny little slice of American evangelicalism I know personally, it seems that by the time they reach middle age, women have either been silenced or speak pretty much exclusively in platitudes.”
And another: “The ‘women’s Bible study books’ cause your IQ to drop as you’re instructed how to be the best wife and mother…”
Part of the reason that female Evangelicals are missing from public discourse is because women are taught to read biblical scholarship through a for-women-only lens. Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer may have influence within the church, but their influence is limited to women within the church. Ask the men in your congregation if they’ve ever read one of these books. I’d be surprised if many have.
The more women gravitate exclusively to Christian books with pink covers, the further away they’ll get from serious participation in the world. There’s no Christian women’s guide to understanding war. There’s not a manual for processing the evening news. I don’t doubt that women’s Bible study guides have been life-changing for many; I’m concerned that Christian women’s reliance on personal transformation is a cop-out from engaging the world beyond the church’s prescribed role for women.
The evangelical church is changing as progressive theology continues to penetrate mainstream Christianity, and with that gender roles are under re-consideration. No longer are women’s pastors and teachers the only women who have ministries validated by evangelicals. Christian women like Anne Lamott and Kathleen Norris have a take on faith that resonates among men and women, Christians and non-Christians.
What’s striking about both Lamott and Norris is that they use stories of personal transformation to write about the world beyond their own lives. They haven’t dismissed a personal theology that clearly speaks to evangelical women today. And they don’t stop there. They’re not alone. As more and more women understand their own stories in context of politics and history and culture, the church will continue to listen.
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