Tenn. Christian Explores 'Dark Underbelly' of Biblical Womanhood

An evangelical woman from Tennessee is set to complete her one-year commitment to follow all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible, including camping out in the backyard during her monthly period, and then come out with a book to promote gender equality.

In less than a month, Rachel Held Evans, a Christian author and blogger from Dayton, Tenn., will be ready to put final touches on her experimental memoir, tentatively titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood, to be published by Thomas Nelson next year.

The book will carry her experience of obeying the “Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments” for one year since Oct. 1, 2010.

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These commandments, identified by Evans from Old Testament to New, include Thou shalt submit to thy husband’s will in all things, Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home, Thou shalt mother, Thou shalt dress modestly, Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer, Thou shalt not cut thy hair, Thou shalt not teach in church, Thou shalt not gossip, and Thou shalt not have authority over a man.

“Some practices I will observe just once,” she says on her blog. “Others I will observe all year. Throughout the experiment, the Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments will serve as a guide for daily living.”

Her husband, Dan, Evans says, naturally likes it. But her purpose is to promote egalitarianism in the Church, or the view that all people are equal before God and in Christ, have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God, and are called to roles and ministries irrespective of class, gender, or race.

Evans says for the past few years she’s been hearing a lot about gender roles as evangelical theologians debate the place of women in the home, church, and society, referring to the Kentucky-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Christians for Biblical Equality, which promotes complementarianism, or the view that men and women have different but complementary roles.

While “biblical womanhood” is widely hailed as the ideal, there is no agreement on what it exactly means, complains Evans, the author of Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. “Women like me receive mixed messages about how to honor God with our decisions.”

“Eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial (a landmark lawsuit in 1925) made a spectacle of Christian fundamentalism and brought national attention to her hometown, Rachel Held Evans faced a trial of her own when she began to have doubts about her faith,” says the publisher, Zondervan, about her first book.

“Growing up in a culture obsessed with apologetics, Evans asks questions she never thought she would ask. She learns that in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve.”

Evans got the “crazy idea” for her second book in the shower one morning.

“What if I tried it all? What if took the notion of biblical womanhood literally, no picking and choosing? And what if I wrote a book about it?”

Evans says there are times when the Bible touches her, but there are also times when the Bible troubles her, and at times the Bible confounds her. “As an interpreter, I acknowledge that my understanding of the Bible’s meaning is fallible.”

She says she doesn’t intend to belittle or mock the Bible, “but to creatively investigate our application of it.” “I strongly support women at all levels of leadership in the church, and am suspicious of anyone who would claim that the Bible presents just one ‘right way’ to be woman.”

Evans’ book will not only narrate her own experiences, it will also carry examples of modern-day women incorporating ancient practices into their own lives – “a polygamist, a conservative Mennonite, an Orthodox Jew, a Quiverfull mom, a ‘stay-at-home daughter,’ and more.”

“I’ve done lots of research, combing through feminist, complementarian, and egalitarian commentaries, and actively seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue,” she says. “And of course I’ve read the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I can find about mothers, daughters, sisters wives, widows, queens, and prophetesses.”

Evans says she is willing to learn with an “open mind” as she researches key gender issues.

“It’s unlikely that I will change my overall egalitarian position, but I suspect that I will learn some things I wasn’t expecting to learn.” But she does intend to explore “what you might call the ‘dark underbelly’ of biblical womanhood.”

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