Four Questions is back with one of my favorite authors Rachel Held Evans. Her forthcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, which I reviewed here, is phenomenal. I recently asked Rachel some questions about her biblical womanhood project and some of the controversy that has surrounded her blog and audience in recent months.
1) Your biblical womanhood project, it appears to me, is more than just a project. In some ways, it is a type of performance art. I equated it to the type of satires the prophets in the Old Testament used to illustrate their own points. As the author, how do you define your biblical womanhood project? Art? Prophesy? Journalism? (Both? All three?)
Rachel: Good question! Ultimately, I think of it as creative storytelling. The reason I took on this project was because, as both a woman and a person of faith with high esteem for scripture, I’ve always wrestled with this notion of “biblical womanhood,” this idea that the Bible prescribes just one right way to be a woman. Whenever we use the word “biblical” prescriptively like that, we’re employing some serious selectivity, glossing over the parts of scripture that don’t fit our preferred paradigm. And so I wanted to take on this experiment to, first of all, confront some of my own questions and fears about what it means to be a woman in the Church, and second, to illustrate how none of us are actually practicing true “biblical womanhood” since we all do a bit of picking and choosing when it comes to how we interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. Since some folks find this challenging or even upsetting, I wanted to engage the topic in a funny, honest, and disarming way, and this seemed like the most interesting way to go about it.
You are right about the prophetic example and tradition! Folks like Elijah and Isaiah and even Jesus were great at drawing attention to truth through creative or subversive acts—wearing a yoke, pouring water on an altar, washing feet. As people of faith, and as creatives, I think we can imitate that to some degree, (though perhaps with a little less confidence!), if simply to make the conversation more interesting and tangible to people.
2) In your book you challenge women to find creative ways to circumvent perceived roadblocks to women in the church. What is one thing you would say to women to do when confronting rigid roles within the church?
Rachel: The most important thing, by far, is to be able to articulate why you believe women share equally the responsibility and privilege of preaching and teaching the gospel. In churches where this is prohibited, a woman has to be able to make a good case with the support of Scripture, which is why I try to spend a good deal of time in my book and on my blog discussing those passages of Scripture that are so often used against women. There is so much we have to understand about the context in which the epistles of Peter and Paul in particular were written. I think that even those of us who support women in ministry, and women’s equality in the home, have struggled a bit to tell that story in a creative and compelling way.
The second best thing for women to do is to simply be great at their work. I’ve known of many people who changed their mind about women in ministry because they heard an awesome sermon by a woman in church. So go to seminary. Study. Write. Preach. Teach. Excel at what you love, at what God has gifted you to do. And if someone tries to tell you that you can’t speak in church, put on a head covering and prophesy! (I Corinthians 11)
3) Your blog is no stranger to controversy. As a writer, do you see your writing as a catalyst of controversy?
Rachel: Most of my blog posts aren’t controversial, but when they are, it’s just because I’ve brought up a topic that people care about and want to discuss. So I don’t see my blog as a catalyst for controversy, but I do hope it serves as a forum in which controversial topics can be discussed with civility, creativity, and respect. My readers are pretty amazing at making that happen, actually. I think I’ve got one of the best comment sections in the blogosphere, thanks to them. (See our “Ask a…” series for a good example.)
Honestly, it bugs me when people criticize our little online community for “stirring up dissent.” The fact that supporting the full functional equality of women in the church is controversial, for example, isn’t our fault. And we’re certainly not going to stop talking about it just because it makes some people uncomfortable.
4) In my review of your latest book I noted that you are an author who understands the difference between blogging and writing a book. What advice would you give to bloggers who aspire to write books?
Rachel: Make sure an editor looks at your book!
Photo used with permission from www.unlockingfemininity.com.