Saving Women From the Church
The 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 McLeod-Harrison then unpacks the passage, explaining how Jesus’ words and actions superseded the cultural laws of his day, such as John 4 where he not only acknowledges the Samaritan woman and asks her for a favor—both no-nos because of his status as a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McLeod-Harrison’s contribution is therefore a practical one, reaching out to readers who have questioned their faith or withdrawn from regular Christian fellowship because of their suffering at the hands of fellow Christians.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.