Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Feminism, Theology, and Amish Cowboys

Several weeks ago, my older sister asked me to look into a couple different authors for her, read some of their stuff, and give her my response to them. She also asked me to figure out why Christian romance writers are so obsessed with cowboys, pioneers, and the Amish. In my last blog post before I start my 31 Day series, I'd like to give a succinct answer to both of these requests. I'll keep it short because it's late and I've spent the day juggling small children, walking up and down big hills, and eating an ungodly amount of sea salt and almond dark chocolate.

So. I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans' The Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. I mean, literally "just finished" because I was scrambling to get to the end before October started and 31 Days writing takes over my life.

When Amanda asked me to look into Rachel Held Evans' writing, I told her that I'd read some of Evan's blog posts before and that while I liked some of her stuff, I didn't always agree with her theology. At the end of her book, I would probably still say that, but with the accompanying statement: if we read books (and engage in conversation and listen to speakers…) only for the goal of achieving "right" theology, we miss out. I am guilty of this more than I care to say. I want to be right. I want the correct answers. I want to "win" debates, theological and otherwise. But that is not the most important thing.

The most important thing is whether or not we are being drawn closer to Jesus. So when I read books (or engage in conversations or listen to speakers…) it would be more appropriate for my goal to be a closer walk with Christ than a better grasp of abstract theological tenants. That is not to say that good theology will not draw me closer to Christ. My hope is, of course, that it does. But theology without a heart for Jesus is just words and ideas without any heart.

Evans spends a year trying out various aspects of womanhood as gleaned from the Bible (and yes, some of them are more out there than others). There were times that I found myself bristling emotionally as well as moments I felt encouraged and empowered, but I agree with what Evans' concludes at the end of her year of experimentation: "the Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth…. As much as we may long for the simplicity of a single definition of 'biblical womanhood', there is no one right way to be a woman, no mold into which we must each cram ourselves…."

This brings us directly to the other topic of tonight's post. Why is it that so many Christian novelists set their fiction in either the past or Amish country? And I think the answer is that a lot of us don't know what to do with the way womanhood has been addressed by both the Bible and the Church. It is easier for us to take the stereotypical "Christian woman virtues" and fit them into another time and place because it simplifies things for us. We don't have to grapple with what it looks like to be a woman of God in the real world.

The truth is that most of us would be happy with a check list of virtues to achieve so that we can feel good about ourselves (even if our check list of virtues has us getting back in touch with our own Laura Ingalls Wilder and not really engaging with who we really are). We want to read the Bible and know exactly what it is we need to do. If we can interpret Scripture in such a way that it tells us exactly who we need to be then we can have the right answers and live the right life and move on with things.

The problem with this is that it leaves us without Jesus.

Christ's teachings are both complex and challenging. Sometimes they seem to make better sense if we put a little distance between us and them (like setting them back in the 1800s). But I think the challenge of what it means to be a woman following after Christ in this day and age is a worthwhile one. So while I may not agree with all of Evans' conclusions, at the end of her book I found myself wanting to dig deeper into the Bible to find out more, to pray more fervently for the issues that she raised, and more than anything to draw closer to Christ as I grapple with what His desire is for me, as a woman.

At the end of the day, I'd just like to say this. Church, let's enter into conversation with each other about the hard issues (yes, I'm talking about feminism and theology and Jesus). Let's stop posting our ideologies on Facebook as dogma, and instead sit down over a cup of coffee and the Bible with someone who sees things differently than we do. Let's pick up books that we wouldn't normally read and engage with them, holding them next to the Truth of the Bible and learning something. Let's develop friendships with people who may not always agree with us but might just make us think.

Christ told us to the love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Let's use those minds to draw closer to him. He also told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means opening our hearts to others, even people we don't necessarily agree with or understand. That means listening. That means worrying less about being right and more about being Christ to others.

And at the end of the day, we may not get to ride off into a pioneer sunset with an Amish cowboy, but we will experience the fullness of joy that only following Jesus brings.

PS Somebody remind me in November (maybe) to write about that word "liberated"… I just
might have a few things to say.

PPS I lied. This wasn't short at all.


  1. Is this why we are friends? If you were looking for challenging then you made friends with the right lady (I use that term loosely). I love this and everything that it causes me to question. I have yet to read Jesus Feminist, which is what this post inspires me to read next. As I host and IF Gathering here with my local people I have to ask God to stretch all of us and let us discover what He created us to be instead of what we were told, or we ourselves imagine that we are. So that we can do what He created us to do.

  2. Thanks for broaching this subject ... something i have thought about through the years but have not really studied. I think you are on the right track for the "why" the Amish or historical Christian novels are so popular. Will look for the book you mentioned...i hadn't heard of it! Thanks once again Marian for a great blog! :D

  3. Thanks for answering all my questions.