I grew up hearing about Joni Eareckson Tada. Do you know/remember her?
As a young girl, Joni was athletic and energetic. I remember thinking when I first heard about her: she is a lot like me. Her autobiography released in 1976 made an indelible impression upon me because of her love for athletic pursuits and also because she had a terrible diving accident, one that left her a life-long quadriplegic.
Hardly any youth group at the time didn’t know about Joni’s story, most likely because her book gained her instant fame among evangelicals because despite her tragedy, she embraced her life as it now was and she professed her faith even as she admitted to struggling with depression. To her credit, she worked diligently to support herself, learning to paint by holding her paint brush with her teeth. Churches and Christian groups rushed to support her by purchasing and circulating Joni’s carefully painted cards, a testimony to the strength of a godly woman in the face of deep despair.
So, while I think Joni has done much that is helpful to young people who find their lives suddenly turned upside down due to some unforeseen accident or some other tragic turn of fate, I also am disappointed when I hear some of the things she tells women about what it means to love God and to embrace life.
Teaming with Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian, Joni is part of Revive our Hearts, a ministry designed to support and encourage women to embrace a particular vision of biblical womanhood. Here is one video of Joni I found on the ROH website:
Joni’s teaching segment is an excellent illustration of the problem I find with so much information stemming from the Revive our Hearts ministry: assumptions (especially ones about gender) are read onto the biblical text and then asserted as coming from the Bible as if the idea was somehow divinely inspired. In this video, for example, Joni claims two things: women are good at relationships and differences between the sexes have been mitigated in our culture so that the differences are difficult to decipher.
Moving from these statements, she says that what we need today is for women to model what it means to be female (I guess this is in response to her claim that gender differences are eroding). And, if it isn’t enough to make this unsubstantiated claims that we should apparently accept as important or factual, she then buttresses her assertion that we must have women who act more femininely with a random verse from the Hebrew Bible (Daniel 11.32) where it says, “but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.” This one verse, taken completely out of context, without any explanation of why this verse and not some other one then becomes the divine stamp of approval that women need to be more feminine.
One final unrelated and unsubstantiated statement concludes Joni’s video: she says when women become closer to Jesus they become more feminine. They cannot help it because this is simply how things work.
So, for all of you looking to condemn Melanie and I as reprobates and persons completely out of step with Jesus, you now have all of the proof you need. Since neither of us are very feminine women, it must be that we have fallen further away from Jesus than ever before. In fact, it could be possible, given our boyish childhoods that neither of us ever had much of a relationship with Jesus…ever.
I know this will be terrible news for Melanie. So, hopefully, someone, a concerned reader who is especially feminine will reach out to Melanie to save her. Perhaps you could buy her a purse or high heels or maybe at least some lipstick.
Or, we could counter such biblical sloppiness with better interpretations and indeed better understandings of the pervasive sweep of patriarchy upon our texts, upon its translations, upon its interpreters, and indeed, upon its promoters. Either way, we must begin by seeing the problem, often facilitated by women who ironically have gained a voice by simultaneously rejecting liberation for all.