Saving Women From the Church

saving-women.JPGThe stack of books to review is getting higher! But I did a respectable enough amount of History Lives writing today to justify catching up on at least one review here. So allow me to cut to the chase.

Saving Women From the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide is not another book of biblical, theological, or historical arguments for Christian egalitarianism. Author Susan McLeod-Harrison recommends a number of such resources in her introduction, where she briefly lays out her position on gender equality. But her intention is not to convince ideological opponents; rather, it is to minister directly to women who have been hurt by Christians wielding patriarchal positions to demean, control, and judge. Her purpose is to remind these despairing women that the church is not Jesus. During his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated extraordinary grace and respect toward women; and today, even where his people wound each other, Jesus continues to offer healing.

The book (which released last month) reads like a devotional guide. Each chapter begins with a pair of vignettes. First, we spend a moment in the life of a fictional modern woman facing a particular crisis, such as a male church member refusing to co-minister for fear of being “tempted” or an older woman shaming her for not devoting herself to the “highest” calling of motherhood; followed by a narrative retelling of a Scripture passage in which Jesus encounters a particular woman. McLeod-Harrison then unpacks the passage, explaining how Jesus’ words and actions superseded the cultural laws of his day, such as John 4 where he not only acknowledges the Samaritan woman and asks her for a favor—both no-nos because of his status as a Jewish rabbi—but also reveals more about his mission to her than he did to the twelve and chooses her over them to deliver his message to her village. A list of reflection questions invites the reader to put herself in the shoes of the woman in the Scripture passage and the woman in the modern vignette, and consider what principles of Jesus’ ministry might apply to the issues raised. Each chapter then closes with a meditation for healing, which suggests a creative method of expressing one’s own griefs or frustrations to God and then welcoming his healing.

McLeod-Harrison’s contribution is therefore a practical one, reaching out to readers who have questioned their faith or withdrawn from regular Christian fellowship because of their suffering at the hands of fellow Christians. She writes with a gentle, winsome spirit—there is no trace of “angry feminist” here—and her devotional studies are soundly biblical with occasional footnotes for those interested in digging deeper into the textual or historical context. Several straightforward but substantive appendices offer further help, including basic principles in biblical interpretation, a discussion of parallels in Paul’s cultural commands to women and slaves, and a closer look at 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

As a woman who grew up in patriarchal churches, went on to seminary, and does not have children, I related to many of the hurtful situations McLeod-Harrison describes. As I have moved into Christian communities that welcome the gifts of men and women as equals, I have for the most part reconciled my identity with my outward expression of faith. But this book reminds me that only my relationship with Christ can offer ultimate healing and empowerment for service. I must tend this bond with love, and seek to encourage other women to do the same, as McLeod-Harrison has done with her small but encouraging book.

P.S. As I prepare to post this, I see that a colleague over at The Scroll has just posted on this book as well, and seems to have had a similar reaction.

31. March 2008 by Mindy
Categories: Reviews | 7 comments

Comments (7)

  1. Mindy, do you think this would be a helpful book for pastors to read? Specifically, I’m wondering about pastors who might have different views from McLeod-Harrison on gender equality and complementarity but are nonetheless seeking to minister appropriately to the women in their churches. Or is the book written in such a way that it really only speaks to the women in the kinds of situations you describe?

  2. Good question, Ros. The book is addressed specifically and rather intimately to women who are hurt, confused, bitter, or angry because of interactions spurred by patriarchal/complementarian teachings. A pastor who seeks to minister to these women will benefit from reading it, IF he/she genuinely chooses to put him/her self in their shoes.

    The problem with this idea, in my view, is that a pastor who disagrees theologically with the position the author espouses cannot truly emphathize with the hurts described, because by definition he does not categorize them as hurts the way those hurting do; at best, he sees them as unfortunate consequences of, or perhaps hypersensitivities to, “hard truths.” In other words, I would applaud a pastor who desires to minister to such women in his congregation, but if he continues to teach the patriarchal/complementarian view, I don’t see how women in the situations described can truly view him as an advocate and genuinely respond to any attempt on his part to minister to them; though he assures them of his genuine desire to minister, they will see him as validating and carrying on the attitudes which have so disabused them of the church in the first place. (I speak here from personal experience, and reasonably assume other women would react similarly.) So, sure, these pastors should read it, but whether it can result in genuine ministry opportunities—I’m not so sure.

    That said, McLeod-Harrison’s unpackings of the words and actions of Jesus toward women may surprise people who have not considered them fully in text. So in that way, it does contribute to the ongoing conversation between the two sides, and pastors who realize that their position is viewed by some women in their congregations as hurtful or abusive should in all integrity be willing to reserve judgment and look anew at these passages.

  3. That’s very helpful, thank you.

  4. We’ve both just read your review Mindy and would like to express how well we think you have written about this book. We particularly appreciate how you value fairness and equality of personhood, even to those who hold differing views of scripture. You do this without any compromise of your strongly held beliefs and show a great understanding of what many women experience in the church.

  5. Liz and Trevor, that’s very kind. Thank you.

  6. Dear Mindy:

    I am in the middle of the book you are discussion and with my research and what I’ve felt in my heart, there is nothing in here, I haven’t thought or known.

    You’re review is to the point and accurate. I am in the midst of trying to find Ms. McLeod-Harrison to to express the same.

    I am on a mission from God, I can’t explain it any other way, three years ago, I was approached by God, I’m sure to help change the culture of the world to allowing women to take a large role in leadership.

    I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your interest in this book and to tell you through your review and blog, you have given me another way to assist women through God and Jesus to achieve their maximum.

    I have spoken on the issues surrounding sexual child abuse for years and the hurt and pain both men and women have gone through concerning these experiences. Now you have open my eyes showing me the hurt and pain is similar to to sexual child abuse but not a traumatic, but similar.

    It’s the frog in the glass theory. Young girls have been told since inception they are are below men, subservient to men, to be submissive, to not expect to be leaders, to walk behind men.

    See sexual abuse, either rape or child, is not about sex but about power. Therefore, men are trying to keep there power and rule over women. Men for some damn reason, excuse my language, need something to rule. Women who according are different than men need something to run, to manage and women are “damn” good at it.

    My goal with the help of God, the Spirit and Jesus is to start turning this around. By giving me this insight and being able to see the pain is similar, I know why I’ve been chosen to take this path.

    Again thank you, though I now ask a favor, if you know of any other types of work similar to this or perhaps you have written, I would be appreciative if you passed this along to me.

    Your friend in Jesus,

    Bob Woolsey

  7. Bob, I’m always glad to meet someone who embraces the full equality of women. Thanks for taking a public stand. If you haven’t already discovered the group Christians for Biblical Equality (a Google search will direct you to their website), I think you’ll find kindred spirits along with a lot of helpful research there. Wishing you the best in your work.