'Too Bad You're a Girl': Testing the Biblical Teachings I Grew Up With

An (occasionally playful) attempt to live out all the Bible's instructions for women

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Rachel Held Evans

You're not a "real" evangelical until you can give a good public testimony. And in a good public testimony, you've got to move from lost to found, blindness to sight, wretch to born-again in less than five minutes, with just the right amount of candor and wit, topped with a stirring call to action.

That's exactly what I did my junior year of high school when I was asked to give a testimony in from of my high school youth group. I stood before my classmates and talked about growing up in the church, about losing touch with God, and about finding Him again. I'm pretty sure I saw a tear trickle down more than one face.

When I joined the group after my testimony was over, a male classmate turned to me and said. "Wow. That was a great testimony. You're a really talented speaker. Too bad you're a girl."

Too bad you're a girl.

His words startled, then stung. I knew exactly what he meant.

I knew that as a girl, my options for teaching and leading in the church would be limited. By that time, I'd received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church, and society, each punctuated with the claim that it was God's perfect will that all women everywhere do this or that. In my world, women like Joyce Meyer were considered heretics for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul's restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent"), while conservative Mennonites were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 ("Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head").

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to refer to their husbands as "master" as he instructed just three sentences later in 1 Peter 3:6. By the time I was 12, I learned I could single-handedly ruin a boy's relationship with God by the length of my skirt or the cut of my blouse (Matthew 5:27-28), but that good looks and pretty clothes weren't all bad, because that's how Queen Esther saved the Jews. Despite the fact that singleness was praised by both Jesus and the apostle Paul, I'd been told over and over again by evangelical leaders that motherhood was my highest calling, and that Proverbs 31 required I forsake a career in favor of keeping a home as tidy and happy as June Cleaver's.

This, they said, was true "biblical womanhood."

I didn't think to question these mixed messages until I got married. Despite the fact that we had been instructed to impose a hierarchy onto our marriage and stick to traditional gender roles in the home, Dan and I found ourselves operating as a team of equal partners, dividing household chores and responsibilities based on practicality rather than gender. Egalitarianism just felt natural to us, and the less we fought it, the happier we were. This marital mutuality, along with a quarter-life crisis of faith, led me to question this whole notion of "biblical womanhood." Could it be that the Bible—an eclectic collection of letters, laws, prophecies, proverbs, poetry, and stories written across multiple centuries and in cultures and languages far different from our own—presents a single prescriptive model for "biblical womanhood"? And what about those passages that are hard to talk about? After all, the Old Testament allows a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, requires a woman to marry her rapist, and has several examples of polygamous marriages. The New Testament commands women to cover their heads when they pray. How does all this factor into the definition of biblical womanhood?

Presented by

Rachel Held Evans is the author of Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She writes regularly at RachelHeldEvans.com.

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