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The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? Paperback – February 1, 2012
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Henderson is a self-described “spiritual anthropologist,” who probes into people’s spiritual lives. In this intriguing book, he examines the role, or lack thereof, that women play in the Christian church. He points out that research indicates that women tend to form the backbone of churchgoing even as many churches restrict the roles available to women. Consider: the majority of weekly churchgoers and church volunteers are women. Still, he notes, an increasing number of women are reevaluating their “spiritual options”: some resign themselves to their church, some join a different faith, others practice their faith in new ways, and still others leave the church altogether. In The Resignation of Eve, Henderson shares stories of the women he interviewed, followed by his own commentary—he doesn’t always agree with the conclusions of the women he profiles. In addition, he shares statistics on how women feel about their spiritual experiences. He concludes that, for many women, the church is not a safe place “to be yourself.” A provocative look at the often overlooked role that women play in the church. --June Sawyers
Henderson (Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians) tells the stories here of many women who, despite their predominance in the life, membership, and mission of most churches and denominations, are routinely rebuked and squashed, if not worse. Henderson’s crucial insight is that the central feature of Christianity is – ought to be – “giving power away, particular to those who lack it,” not craving or needing power or keeping it from women. VERDICT: Insightful and moving, Henderson’s book is a mirror of what Christian spirituality ought to be; good for church groups and pastors as well as individual readers. (Library Journal)
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The author Jim Henderson takes a sociological analysis of the root causes of this resignation of women from the church. It’s hard to understand the reasons why the church has long undervalued the input of women, often ignoring or belittling women who have the courage to actively contribute in all spectrums of the church. Of course you have the obvious, God says so, so we do it, but more conceptually and psychologically why is the church just okay with not questioning this. Jim says,
“Evangelicals are passionate about personal sin- swearing, adultery, gossip, drunkeness, lust, anger, and so on. They have significantly less interest in systemic sin- racism, greed, selfishness, and repression of women. We interpret the powers and principalities in high places that Paul refers to through a mystical rather than a practical lens. We pray against things but fail to protest them. This low view of systemic sin, this privileged paradigm of power, makes it easy for us to ignore the way we treat women in the church.”
I had never really thought about the repression of women in the church framed as a product of a low view of systemic sin. It makes sense though, as the people I’ve observed who have been immune to hearing the predicaments of women in the church have also never held a high moral compass regarding greed, racism and selfishness either. Church, growing up, was all about tackling the known behavioral sins, but going beyond that into our moral responsibility to fight racism, greedy politics, narcissistic leaders and the repression of women, were largely and gapingly ignored as if we have no personal responsibility to actively and daily combat theses more deeply ingrained culturally shoved to the side sins.
I’ve loved seeing and relating to all the women’s stories even though they are all considerably different. Some days the waves of resignation and disillusionment I feel are so strong that I have a cold lump in my throat as I swallow back the the conflict and belittling I see affecting women and even young girls. Who from within the church will let women know that their voice and opinion matter and that it is not something to always assign to potluck and childcare.
Like a lot of women, I do feel I have more of a voice and matter more at work and with friends than at church. How is it that the church is the last place I’d go to feel valued, heard and loved? Something’s wrong with this picture. Some women may be able to feel loved while not being allowed to speak and participate fully, but that will never be me. Jim Henderson describes a woman who has left the church as she explains,
“A big part of my indifference comes from having worked out my relational patterns with narcissistic, self-focused male leaders. I grew up in a milieu in which everyone orbited around a central figure and protected his interests at all costs, even to our own detriment. We all played supporting roles, and our own lives were simply not the point of our existence. Over time I looked at the church the way I look at a narcissistic family.”
Every day, the church and God are becoming more and more separate and opposite in my head, and it’s a daily battle trying to reconcile how I, as a Christian, feel such a chasm of reasoning in the church.
and poignantly expressed.
He wished to respectfully stir up questions and promote sincere reflection on topics forbidden or avoided.
Although many tales are sad overall the book leads one to hope for change.
Resignation of Eve delves into the stories of women who thoughtfully and openly describe what it's like for them to be active in the life of a church in today's world. Into these stories, Henderson weaves a thread of findings from the renowned research organization The Barna Group. Barna's team discovered a disturbing (to church leaders) trend of active women choosing to leave the church, often because they felt stifled or underutilized by their organization's traditions and teachings that dictate that women must be under the leadership, or "headship" as they call it, of men. This view is quite common in many Evangelical, and most Fundamentalist circles. This view is usually referred to as complementarian, which is the teaching that God created man first and from man created woman. Both equally loved, but intended to have separate and complementary roles in church, home and community, with women serving under men based on gender alone. A differing point of view, known as egalitarian, is that man and woman were created as image bearers of God and are to serve in all areas of life equally in mutual submission and love.
A great many writings that address the topic of women's role in church life and leadership resonate strongly with one view or the other. It's clear that Henderson favors the egalitarian perspective, and it is also clear he is concerned with the exit of women from church life, as they tend to be the hands and feet that get the job done behind the scenes, if not from the pulpit. I found Henderson's story telling and story sharing in The Resignation of Eve quite tempered, avoiding polarization, and very expansive in his attempt to promote dialog and thought on the subject.
The women Henderson interviews quickly become the stars of the book. They openly and compellingly share experiences that represent both views of women's God-given role as well as sharing a wide variety of ways of coping with, or retreating from, their church worlds. Also shared are stories of women who put the `women in leadership' issue aside so they can continue on a spiritual path to God, family and community the way they believe they have been called, irrespective of a church setting that puts limits on them.
If you're not a church person, perhaps just someone who lives in the 21st Century, you may think this whole "women in leadership" issue was solved long ago, or at the minimum, well on the way to being to being resolved.
Not so in the Christian church world. There are still minions from a bygone era following outdated maps. Explorers like Henderson bring us pictures from a brave new world.
The Resignation of Eve is well crafted. It is gentle. It is not a polemic. No matter on what side of the egalitarian/complimentarian divide one falls, The Resignation of Eve should prove to be a worthwhile read. Through this book, you become part of an important conversation, where the first step must always be striving to understand the other.
The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?