An Interview with Rachel Held Evans: A Conversation on Egalitarians and ComplementariansBy Trillia Newbell | June 19th, 2012 | Category: Interviews | 14 comments
By Trillia Newbell
When I wake up each morning my first thought isn’t about my role as a wife and mother. I’d like to say it is about God but if I’m honest, it’s probably about coffee. But after thinking about coffee I begin to focus my eyes and heart on God. I pray and read. I greet my dearest love if he hasn’t left, my husband, and then begin to write—my work. I don’t wake up each morning thinking I’m a complementarian.
But today was different.
Today I woke up and was filled with thanksgiving that I am a complementarian who has been taught well. I understand that I am completely equal before the Lord (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18); I have a voice and an important role in the church and in the home (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Peter 4: 10-11); and if exercised properly, my husband’s leadership in the home is one filled with grace and sacrifice (Ephesians 5: 21-33). I am not oppressed or suppressed. My husband and my pastors affirm my work as a servant of Christ in the church (worship team, children’s ministry, writing ministry and other) and in the home.
Yet, there are men and women who believe that “my” interpretation of biblical manhood and womanhood is in error. One such author and blogger is Rachel Held Evans who I am excited to be featuring today.
You might be wondering, “How can you be excited to feature someone who disagrees with you?” If so, I’m so glad you asked. The debate between egalitarians and complementarians can become quite heated. I imagine if Rachel and I sat down in a coffee shop we would graciously disagree. We would debate, we would attempt to convince the other that the Bible states otherwise, but in the end I don’t imagine we’d walk away with contempt in our hearts. At least I hope we wouldn’t. And though I disagree with her and believe that God’s Word, each word, is living and active and useful for me today (Hebrews 4:12), I’m interested in what she has to say.
What sparked my interest is her new book coming out later this year, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Join me in welcoming Rachel to Women of God Magazine in this Q&A:
Q: How and why did you come up with the concept of doing “biblical” femininity for a year?
Evans: I’d grown up hearing pastors, Sunday school teachers, friends, and family talk about “biblical womanhood.” I knew it was something I was supposed to want to achieve, but I was troubled by the fact that no one could seem to agree on exactly what it meant…probably because both “biblical” and “womanhood” are pretty loaded words! As I began to study more about women in Scripture and the history of women in the Church, I became fascinated with the debate regarding women’s roles in the home, church, and society that has become such a part of Christian culture, particularly evangelical Christian culture. As a writer, I like to focus on things that are deeply personal and that spark my curiosity, following those ideas down whatever rabbit hole they may take me. So one morning, as I was taking a shower, I thought to myself—What if I did it all? What if I immersed myself completely in this notion of “biblical womanhood” by following all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year?
Obviously, I was inspired by A.J. Jacobs’ very funny book, A Year of Living Biblically. But I feel like my project takes on new meaning given the fact that, in the evangelical culture of which I am a part, “biblical womanhood” is still held as an ideal to which women must ascribe.
Q: What would you say is your main message in your book A Year of Biblical Womanhood?
Evans: My main message is that the Bible does not present us with a single mold for how to be a woman of God. I illustrate this with my own misadventures in biblical living (wearing a head covering, learning to cook, remaining silent in church, calling my husband “master,” working on that “gentle and quiet spirit”), as well as by the amazing stories of biblical women like Ruth, Deborah, Jael, Sarah, Tamar, Esther, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Junia, Priscilla, and Tabitha.
Q: How do you read and interpret your Bible? In other words, do you believe it’s inerrant?
Evans: I love the Bible, and I hope I spend the rest of my life learning from it, wrestling with it, and digesting it. I believe that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that followers of Jesus will be equipped for good works. Debates surrounding inerrancy seem rather theoretical and beside-the-point to me, as I certainly don’t think my interpretation of Scripture is inerrant, (and I can’t very well read Scripture without interpreting it). Knowing this, I try to hold my interpretations humbly, with open hand, ready to learn from others who bring their own experiences, expertise, and gifts to the text. I rotate through versions, enjoying everything from the old fashioned King James to the NIV to The Message. Right now I’m working my way through The Jewish Annotated New Testament (NRSV), which is wonderful!
Q: What is your view on womanhood as it relates to the church, women’s roles, etc?
Evans: I am an egalitarian, which means I believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ inaugurated a new Kingdom in which Christian women enjoy equal status and responsibility with men in the home, church, and society, and that teaching and leading God’s people should be based on giftedness rather than gender. My husband and I function as a team of equal partners, with no gender-based hierarchy in our relationship. I fully support women who are called to preach the gospel, and I believe women can honor and bring glory to God in various capacities—in the home, in a job, as mothers, as singles, etc.
Q: I realize that you left your church because of various reasons, one of which was the issue of women’s roles. When did you first begin to question how the church was structured?
Evans: Even as a little girl, it bothered me that the only time women spoke in church was when they were missionaries sharing slides from their overseas work. I didn’t understand why that was allowed, but teaching from the pulpit was not. I’ll never forget when, as a junior in high school, I gave my testimony in front of the youth group and a male classmate approached me afterwards and said, “You’re a great teacher and speaker. Too bad you’re a girl. You’d probably be a good pastor.”
That sentiment—“too bad you’re a girl”—haunted me, and over the years I began to see how it is often perpetuated in the Church, and how it can affect how Christian women think of themselves in relationship to God. After I encountered female teachers and leaders whose sermons were meticulously researched, beautifully presented, and profoundly challenging, I began to question why we would ever want to prevent qualified women from teaching the gospel when we really need “all hands on deck” when it comes to sharing the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again! So I returned to those biblical texts often used to forbid women from teaching and leading—like 1 Timothy 2—did a little bit of research, and became convinced that, given his praise of female leaders (Junia, Phoebe, Lydia) and teachers (Priscilla) in the book of Romans, the apostle Paul was speaking about a specific group of women in 1 Timothy 2, not to all women everywhere. Since then, it’s been tough to be a part of any congregation that forbids women from teaching and assuming leadership.
Q: Why do you believe this message is important?
Evans: I think a lot of Christian women feel like they’re always falling short of some sort of biblical ideal—that they’re not sufficient homemakers, that they aren’t “gentle and quiet” enough, that they have to impose a hierarchy onto their marriage even if it doesn’t feel right. I’m hoping that by demonstrating that none of us are actually practicing consistent “biblical womanhood,” I will encourage women to cut themselves and one another some slack. There is no mold we have to cram ourselves into. There is no ideal. There is no blueprint. There is only the common call to follow Jesus, to love the Lord with all our heat, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. As challenging as that is, it’s also quite liberating in its simplicity.
Q: Do you think The Church can function with varying convictions about the issue of femininity? In other words, do you believe that complementarians are in error and this error could negatively affect the church?
Evans: I do believe that complementarians are in error, and that this error is already having a negative effect on the Church. In a more egalitarian society, I think it hurts our witness when women come to the Church volunteering their leadership and teaching gifts, only to be told their contributions will be limited to keeping the nursery, bringing food to pot lucks, planning baby showers, and that sort of thing. These are important and noble services, of course, but women have so much more to bring to Christianity! We have fresh insights into scripture, new ideas for growing and nurturing the Church, passion for spreading the Gospel, and talents that uniquely equip us to do so. When complementarians talk about advancing a more “masculine Christianity” and call for a return to “biblical patriarchy,” my heart breaks. I believe the Kingdom is at its most beautiful when it reflects a community in which there is no more power-struggle between slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female, for all are one in Christ.
That said, I think complementarians and egalitarians can work together for the cause of Christ, and that this discussion can be held with both passion and civility….as you have so graciously demonstrated by your invitation to chat! Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.
A word about my life as a complementarian
And thank you, Rachel! It was so encouraging to read your words because in so many ways, I agree! God has made men and women equal. God gives us great pictures of ideal womanhood like the Proverbs 31 woman, but the application is extremely broad. Jesus’ salvation is freely given and is all of grace to all who believe (Eph 2:8).
But as I woke up this morning and was able to be thankful, I believe I’m thankful because my experience has been different as a woman. I’ve been an evangelist for my campus ministry in my church- sharing the gospel and leading Bible studies, I’ve spoken to the younger women, I currently write, I’ve read Scripture from the pulpit and shared prophetically from the mike. There isn’t anything or anyone holding me back from serving the Lord fully. No I have never taught men or pastored, but I am convinced that God has ordained that role for men in the church (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).
I believe God has indeed called us all to be ministering and I’m thankful that as a woman, in the context beyond my home, I have been able to do so. God has given all of us varying gifts and varying roles (1 Cor 12: 4-11). I am thankful for his creativity. I do submit to my husband, and am thankful to have a husband who loves his family and serves and sacrifices for us daily. I am also thankful that God has allowed me to minister to my kids who day in and day out I have the opportunity to reflect God’s grace to as I fail, ask for forgiveness, forgive, teach and lovingly serve.
For more information about Rachel Evans and her new book, visit her website at http://rachelheldevans.com/. For more information about biblical roles and the current debate visit The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. For an encouraging article about the many ways women can and do serve read John Piper’s A Challenge to Women.