Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Eve of the Evangelical Woman

I am amazed by the power of naming.

Though I do not agree that the act of naming equates with greater authority, I have to admit I appreciate how sensitively Adam named his female partner. Twice. Once in Genesis 2 and once in Genesis 3.

This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man. Adam totally got it. He instantly recognized the wondrous creature before him as sharing his humanity and solving his aloneness. And he fell in love.

Then after the fall Adam named the woman a second time. Eve. The name means living. It’s as though he was defying the final curse – for dust you are and to dust you will return. But I don’t believe it was defiance. It was hope. The first breath exhaled in response to the consequences, the terrible curses unleashed by sin. Eve. Not “We’re sorry.” Not “Please forgive us.” Just “Eve.” A woman’s name that embodied hope for the newly fallen world.

But ever since Genesis 3, women in general have struggled with being named by others in ways that have nothing to do with a given name.

You can’t teach because women are more easily deceived.

You can’t lead because women are weak.

You’re not invited because women are too distracting sexually.

You can’t question because women want to domineer.

You can’t say anything because women are too emotional.

How ironic that Eve was the “mother of all the living" yet so many women in the church do not feel alive, at least not in the sense that Jesus intended. Instead of feeling like God's handiwork and free to do the good works prepared by God (Ephesians 2:10), many feel caged and unable to break out of gender stereotypes, to find their place in the faith community and to shed shameful names.

Carol Kuniholm commented on a previous blog post in which I encouraged women to not silence their voices because of theological intimidation by men. She points out that the lack of biblical knowledge is not the only reason women are reticent to speak up. Carol identifies several other barriers:

In thinking about why I sometimes find myself silent on the issue of women in the church, or on other issues of importance, I find it has less to do with theology, or lack of confidence, and more to do with the way women who don't fit the common mold so quickly suffer personal attack. Even in secular politics, women who dare to speak their mind find themselves accused of being strident, unfeminine, "sluts," or worse. Women who have chosen the path of acquiescence are often threatened by women who speak up, and use gossip as an avenue to force conformity. Men who like to hear themselves talk can make life hard for those who object to being constantly shut down or interrupted. 

These are all attempts to name women in damaging ways, to shame them into silence. These are violations of relationship within the family of God. This is not Christ-like. This is not love.

So I encourage women to help each other reject these names, live into your new name in Christ and combine your voice with other men and women who believe in freedom and equality. Like Adam realized, I want you to know you are not alone. So I say again…

TEACH! You bring much needed wisdom and creative theological insight.

LEAD! You are ezer kenegdo – women of strength called to partner alongside our brothers and fight the Enemy together.

BE PRESENT! Your femininity is not responsible for keeping men from lusting.

CHALLENGE! You can disagree with a gentle and quiet spirit and speak the truth in love.

SPEAK! Continue to be vulnerable even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

Sisters, you are daughters of Eve and your name is not “deceived” but LIVING.  Through you I believe there will be unleashed a fresh movement of the Spirit in the Church because Christ is alive in you.


  1. Harriet, I went through a similar situation years ago and was lucky enough to find a church body that includes women in leadership. I will be praying the same for you, my friend!

    1. Thank you, Gail. You are blessed to find such a body. I think we have found one too but we're still transitioning.

  2. After being fairly silent but found voice in most situation overseas, there were those few...but am now back in the states adjusting to church culture again. i don't want to go back to the way it was before and is still. Limited opportunity for a voice, for using my gifts, for belonging. Disappointments in our "job" changes that ultimately disenfranchise me. I have found some other opportunities. How many more Sunday's do I have to sit with teachers that preach or though try hard just don't really engage the class toward deepr knowledge or transformed lives. They don't know how and usually they don't have a deep knowledge of scripture though all are godly men.

    1. I am so sorry this is your experience. Lately I've had some opportunities to minister in China and it's so ironic that I can do more there than here in the U.S. It's tough to sit in a class and know you would be able to teach a better class. I hope you will have an opportunity to do so soon. May you find moments of encouragement in the midst of your very difficult circumstances.

  3. Thank you for this encouragement! I love the view of hope that you see in Adam speaking the name "Eve". What a beautiful picture that paints!
    It is a shame that this story is misused to subordinate women. I am studying political theory right now and am learning that the creation story has been used for other kinds of subordination as well. A contemporary of John Locke's used these scriptures to argue for absolute monarchy. Locke uses scripture to counteract that claim and in so doing, he ends up arguing for female equality in scripture. Even though some of his other writings conform more to the gender views of his day, it is very interesting that a believer who lived almost 400 years ago could be more egalitarian than quite a few Christians today.

    1. Thanks, Kate, for this historical insight into John Locke. I have often asked God why he did not inspire a more dogmatic book that made clear how he wants us to live. I've concluded that the Bible's ambiguity and multi-layered meanings force us as humans to wrestle in relationship with each other and with God. It keeps us humble because God is not one to be boxed in nor totally understood (his hiddenness and mystery). It allows for the freedom of the Spirit to speak through prophetic voices. It preserves the diversity of cultures. It makes space for new things, progressive thinking and changes, continued growth and maturity over time. It keeps the church moving forward toward its ultimate vision of the redeemed community, the "Bride who is getting herself ready." I am thrilled to hear of fresh readings of Scripture that are freeing women and to hear of readings that agree from not-so-recent times. Thanks for the historical tidbit!

  4. Eloquent, uplifting, and a beautiful spear into the heart of some ugly strongholds.
    Thank you for speaking your heart and writing inspired words.

  5. thank you. we do need to hear this encouragement, when so many voices rail against us. so hard to stay true to one's gut beliefs, heart beliefs, mind and soul converging to totally freak a person out.

    i feel so often like a square trying to fit into a round hole in the church, and have always thought that must mean there is something wrong with me.

    1. You are definitely not alone in feeling like a square peg in a round hole. That's the problem of the church, not you. There is NOTHING wrong with you. The church has failed to recognize or create the square spaces for you. It has not only hurt you but hurt itself because it needs you. But the times are a-changing! Be encouraged! Thanks for responding.

  6. Harriet, I read your words above and tears come. I am trying to find my way out of decades of oppression which permeated every area of my life and my family. This is not the oppression of totalitarian regimes, but the oppression of wrongly divided scripture. Sometimes I feel like I am allowed to surface momentarily from a churning sea and gasp in a life-giving breath of oxygen. Thank you for your words. I believe God wants me to LIVE.

    1. Yes! God wants you to LIVE! He made you to live and breathe freedom no matter who is trying to cage you. Thank you for sharing your struggle.