Rachel Held Evans recently undertook the daunting task of living for a year as a biblical woman. Not knowing exactly what this meant, she studied Scripture, asked various experts for advice, and took concrete action to live out what she found.
For example, taking the Old Testament purity laws seriously, Evans separated herself from her husband for twelve days during her menstruation because women in the Old Testament were deemed unclean and could contaminate others merely by touching them. To accomplish this required separation, she lived in a tent and carried a stadium seat with her so that wherever she sat, she could use the seat and thus avoid polluting any surface others might wish to use. Too, she followed Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians and grew her hair long, a fitting way to glorify God.
Wishing to obey her husband as stipulated in the New Testament, Evans created a visual demonstrating her new familial hierarchy and taped it to her refrigerator, a constant reminder to submit to her husband’s wishes over her own. Apparently during this year of biblical womanhood Evans increased her culinary skills even while she struggled with her knitting abilities.
On the one hand I applaud Evans for her dedication to understanding biblical womanhood and for taking the issue seriously. As an evangelical woman, Evans has lived in the prevalent milieu where women and men are repeatedly told there are prescribed roles people must follow to be biblical and these roles are determined solely by one’s gender.
Evans’ project, which has just been completed in September 2011 (watch for the release of her book soon), however, apparently conveyed to Rachel just how faulty this notion of biblical womanhood is. Instead of finding the one true way to be a biblical woman, she discovered that multiple women act in various ways throughout the biblical text. Furthermore, as these biblical women act in unique ways with unique thoughts and convictions, they undercut any presumed notion that there is one way to be a woman, one way to follow God.
On the other hand, by virtue of marketing this book and project as one aimed at discovering true biblical womanhood, I wonder how much of Evans’ work simply reinforces the prevailing but faulty theology?
As much as Jesus lived a counter-cultural life, I remain astounded by how much we have enabled culture to dictate what it means to follow Jesus as opposed to examining the various ways in which his life demonstrates an alternative approach. Instead of hand-wringing our way through Leviticus and Proverbs and Ephesians, I think we should take seriously the exchange Jesus had with the Canaanite woman who taught him to look beyond his Jewishness or the conversation with his disciples when they failed to see the Samaritan woman for her interest in divine ideas.
If we really want to know about biblical womanhood we must start with the realization that we are all persons made in the image of God and gender is a part of who we are but it does not define us nor determine the sum total of who we are called to become.