Are women leaving the church? Perhaps that is the first question that comes to your mind when you see this provocative title: The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to Be the Backbone of the Church?. Certainly when I go to church I see women well represented; yet research conducted by the Barna Group suggests that women are leaving and author Jim Henderson argurs that if the church loses its women, we are in serious trouble:
[Women are] the one groups whose loyalty the church can least afford to lose. The people who for the most part run the church, attend church and pray and serve at significantly higher rates than their male counterparts. Women(23).
Henderson wants to see women given more opportunities to lead and serve than they have in many churches. Women are who run the church they just aren’t able to lead the church; yet most women are happy with what their church teaches about gender (according to the Barna Group). Henderson wants more. He wants women to feel the freedom to use whatever gifts God has given them in whatever sphere He calls them. As you may tell from this photo, Henderson, is a man and therefore incompetent when it comes to providing a comprehensive understanding of the fairer sex. He compensates for this by utilizing a qualitative approach, interviewing women about their ‘resignation’ from church. As an evangelical pastor type, Henderson can’t help but engage in tripartite wordplay with the term ‘resigned’. When he says resigned, he means the following:
In speaking to women from fundamentalist and conservative evangelical backgrounds Henderson discovers women who happily toe the line regarding the hierarchical gender roles their church teaches. They are not allowed to teach or have any authority over a man, they need to submit, and they are ‘resigned to’ their secondary role in the church. Some of these women never really gave the gender inequity in their church much thought (why would they want to be a pastor anyway?); others see men as bringing the necessary competencies to spiritual leadership in church and society.
On the other side are women who quit the church, in part, because they have more opportunities EVERYWHERE ELSE BUT THE CHURCH. Many conservative denominations do not ordain women, so if women want to actually have responsibility or get paid for leadership, they have to do it elsewhere. Other denominations affirm women in ministry, but women pastors rarely get hired (especially as senior pastor). Henderson talked to accomplished professional women who disengaged from their church culture because of this gender inequity. A couple of the women he spoke with left the faith altogether.
By ‘re-signing’ Henderson has in mind women who despite the risks, limitations and the church’s slowness to change, re-engage, lead and effect influence from within the church. The women Henderson speaks to in this section all have strong leadership gifts, which have sometimes been stymied by patriarchy in the church. But they have pressed through and are finding a way to fulfill God’s call in their lives.
Along the way, Henderson combines his interviews with evaluative comments and combines his qualitative approach with the quantitative approach of Barna Group. Statistical data peppers each section and he includes Barna survey data at the end of the book.
What I appreciated most about the book was encouraging tone. Henderson wants women to feel like they can pursue where God’s calling and he speaks to a number of women with an array of different views on gender roles. He manages to be respectful and affable with each person and their position, though I think he does seem to reserve his hard biblical questions for the rank complementarians. I loved that Henderson engaged with a variety of women with varying views on the subject of gender roles in the church. Even some of the ‘re-signers’ are theological complementarians but long for and work for greater equality in ministry.
I do not fault Henderson for using and integrating the Barna data with his own findings (it is after all a Barna Group publication); however I didn’t find the data particularly helpful or illuminating. Most of the data is probably accurate, but I am suspicious and would have preferred data from Gallup or Baylor (Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson are quite critical of some Barna findings). But Henderson uses these stats to augment his own research rather than to substantiate it, so I think he used the stats well.
I would recommend this book for women who feel slighted by their church’s views about gender, women who never really thought about it and Christian guys who just don’t understand women (this book may not help you, but hey you need all the help you can get). There are no discussion questions provided in the book, but it might be a useful catalyst for a small group or ministry team wrestling with this issue.
Thanks to Tyndale for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.