I don’t know about you, but each new academic year feeds my nostalgia. Remembering my anxiety about where to go to college and whether or not to accept a basketball scholarship figured largely in the months leading up to my first year away from home. I was nervous and excited; well, mostly nervous. My mother took me shopping to find the clothes I would need and we made numerous trips to the Dodge City Alco (a forerunner to today’s Walmart for those of you too young to know) to fill my laundry basket with laundry soap and shampoo, hangers and plenty of pens and pencils.
Too, I remember fondly those early days of exploring the campus, meeting new friends, and of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work to be accomplished each day. It was pretty heady stuff, feeling like a responsible adult. And soon enough my college classes began helping me to think more clearly and critically. I found I needed to ask better questions and to exercise cognitive muscles that were in desperate need of strengthening.
So, I guess I loved college enough to make it my work environment today.
And now that I am a teacher I still feel the nervous excitement—usually in the form of insomnia—each new academic year brings. Part of my enthusiasm now, though, is anticipating what will happen in my classrooms, hoping some students will be compelled enough by the challenge of new ideas to strike out on their own, learning to build upon what happens in a particular class in order to construct a life of meaningful questions.
An example of one such student exercising her critical-thinking muscles and applying them to her faith can be found on a recent post to her.meneutics by a senior at Calvin College.
Rachel Hekman, a guest author, explores the place of Eve in the writings of several prominent Christian theologians from St. Augustine to Martin Luther. What she discovers is no surprise to those steeped in Christianity and feminism, but it was a new epiphany for Rachel and she writes clearly and persuasively about her discovery: women in Christian history have largely been ignored or, if they come into focus, are viewed as colossal sinners.
Take your pick: we are either invisible or the scape-goat for all that is wrong in the world.
Rachel, who grew up in an evangelical setting where she was told in various iterations that as a young women she needed to be quiet and submissive, to be pure and to dress modestly, suggests, on the other hand, that a less distorted view of women would be helpful to young women in the church. She even suggests church leaders provide young teens materials encouraging a robust faith, one where critical thinking is applied to church teaching and to Bible studies. Her insight that a focus on female attire results in young women believing their sexuality is not only the locus of her unimaginable sin but also the most important part of who she is illustrates the highly problematic approach most evangelicals use with their young teens.
An illustration of this evangelical tendency appears on the same her.meneutics blog in a post written about the women of the block-bust reality series Duck Dynasty. In her attempt to laud all of the Duck Dynasty women, Sharon Hodde Miller mentions teen star Sadie Robertson who appears to carry on her “parents’ entrepreneurial spirit and passion for ministry” evident in her devotional videos and proposed new purity clothing line.
Similarly, Lauren Leigh Noske writing for The Gospel Herald praises Sadie for her decision to be modest in a culture saturated by immodesty. Noske writes, “1 Peter 3:3-4 says ‘Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious’ (English Standard Version). It seems Sadie Robertson has taken these verses to heart.”
Judging from the responses Rachel received to her blog post where she addresses the real theological problem embedded in much of evangelical Christianity, her encouragement of critical thinking is not met kindly by many. On the other hand, if a young women—especially a prominent one like Sadie Robertson—decides to focus on her attire and encourage other young women to do the same all in the name of purity, masses will be lined up to offer her praise. And why not? In this case as so often before, women are circumscribed to a particular category: the source of evil. And, as long as they embrace this assumption, they will be celebrated and held up as a paragon of virtue, helping all those other women learn their place.
Christian history has perpetuated this notion for over two-thousand years enabling misogyny to gain a firm grip. But if Rachel is any indication of the young women growing up in evangelical churches today, my bet is on the sweeping undercurrent that is beginning to bubble up bringing with it a refreshing perspective: justice for all people, including Eve and her many, many daughters.