Rachel Held Evans on “The View”

on November 2, 2012

So much has been written in recent days about Rachel Held Evans and her new book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. Positive and negative reviews, reviews of the reviews, blog posts, and articles have poured out of the evangelical blogosphere.

Yesterday Evans was interviewed on ABC’s The View about her book, where again, nothing particularly new was said, but I have some concerns about promoting a book like this in a media setting  like The View.

You can watch the brief interview here.

Introducing Evans, Sherri Sheppard said: “For an entire year, our next guest lived by the strict laws the Bible has for women. Like referring to her husband as ‘master’ [and] making her own clothes.” This is not entirely true. Much of what Evans did during her year of “biblical womanhood” was not, in fact, abiding by biblical laws for women, as has already been discussed (here and here). Of course Evans explained that her purpose was to intentionally push the limits of what could be interpreted as “biblical womanhood” to show how difficult the concept is to define, and to push back against using “biblical” as an adjective. Although I don’t entirely agree with her approach, I understand what she was doing.

But through a brief interview on a morning talk show, Evans is basically presented as a woman making a brazen challenge to what the Bible actually says to Christian women. Despite stating her purpose and intention, of course the show hosts focus much more on the ridiculous things she did for a year, like wearing floor length dresses and not touching her husband during her period each month. They of course, did not discuss Christ’s fulfillment of Levitical law, or that the industrious, virtuous  “Proverbs 31 woman” is simply not a command for every wife to sew her family’s clothing.

These are things I trust Evans knows, and were included in her experimental year to prove her point. But to the average viewer, the interview conveys and reinforces the prevalent idea that unadulterated biblical Christianity oppresses and subordinates women. It is disappointing to see this important topic sensationalized and treated in such a casual manner.

  1. Comment by wyclif (@wyclif) on November 2, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I think the best policy regarding Rachel is to laugh her off. The ridiculous deserves to be ridiculed.

  2. Comment by Chatfield Glenn on November 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Except that the public listens to her and will accept what she says about the Bible.

  3. Comment by Eric Lytle on November 6, 2012 at 8:58 am

    You’re right – because it fits their view of Christians.

    A real female Judas.

  4. Comment by Dan Trabue on November 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Evans is basically presented as a woman making a brazen challenge to what the Bible actually says to Christian women.

    It would appear you have missed the point.

  5. Comment by Chatfield Glenn on November 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Dan Trabue,

    The point is that Evans has no idea what the Bible “actually says to Christian women.” She has proven that, like you, she sees the Bible as a bag of trail mix where she can pick out the pieces she likes and throw the rest away. Her hermeneutics are as poor as yours have been demonstrated to be over the years.

    Nothing like a false teacher defending another false teacher!

  6. Comment by Ray Bannister on November 5, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I like your “trail mix” analogy. One of my profs referred to the “dalmatian hermeneutic,” just “spots” of inspiration here and there in the Bible – always (coincidentally) the spots that the person happens to find congenial.

  7. Comment by Eric Lytle on November 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    My monitor just survived having something thrown at it. At the very beginning of the interview she casually throws in the “fact” that “some” Christian women are forbidden to work outside the home. Did some atheist write the script for her? I can’t imagine anything she could have said that would have cast Christians in a worse light. I know woman in ultra-ultra-conservative churches who work outside the home, yet this publicity w- played right into these pundettes’ hands with her ridiculous statement.

    “Oooh, those nasty mean Christians, won’t even let woman have jobs!” A not unreasonable conclusion, considering what this woman said on national television.

    Thanks, Dear Author. If you were trying to kiss the behinds of unbelievers (by affirming their worst stereotypes) and poke your finger in the eye of Christians, mission accomplished. I hope your 5 minutes of fame was enjoyable, and may you hold your breath a long time waiting for those harpies on The View to invite you over for cocktails. Don’t assume because they were lapping up your story that you’re part of their set, not that any Christian would want to be.

  8. Comment by Adrian C on November 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    This author’s approach to the Bible is, to put it mildly, unorthodox. Like all feminists, whether they label themselves “Christian” or not, she claims the Bible is full of the P word (“patriarchy,” that great global conspiracy designed to minimize women’s self-esteem), so she buys into the same “hermeneutic of suspicion” that was all the rage in the liberal denominations 30 years ago. Having pulled the reader (the gullible ones anyway, the ones who don’t know jack about the Bible to begin with) into her sorority circle (the “smart set” that knows the Bible is poisoned by patriarchy), she pours on the emotion, appealing to those poor dears who have “suffered abuse at the hands of Bible-wielding literalists.” (Needless to say, no examples are provided of this horrible “abuse.” When a woman writer speaks of “abuse,” she knows she has carte blanche – no one would dare ask, “Can you provide examples?”) Like every liberal – and that is what she is, despite her hanging on (for obvious economic reasons) to the label “evangelical” – she gets all weepy about rules, which apparently were given by God to make us guilt-ridden, exhausted, and confused.” Really? What is confusing about “Do not commit adultery”? If her husband ever commits that sin, he can plead that he was “guilt-ridden, exhausted, and confused.” It never once – never – occurs to her that the purpose of rules is not to produce guilt, exhaust, and confuse us. Being immature, she looks at rules as a child does – they make you feel bad and keep you from feeling good. God gave us rules the same reason parents impose rules – to keep us safe. Typical of feminists, she sees God as the Great Self-Esteem Enhancer, not as the loving Father who makes rules because his children NEED rules. Her conception of God is utterly unchristian.

  9. Comment by krwordgazer on November 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    To Eric Lytle: You know, it does occur to me that our job in Christian witness really isn’t about making ourselves look good– it’s about lifting up Jesus pointing people to Jesus. I think Rachel Held Evans does that very well– she certainly does it in her book!– and if she’s honest about some of the worst excesses of evangelical Christianity, she’s not exactly telling non-Christians anything they don’t already know.

  10. Comment by Eric Lytle on November 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Since you are so familiar with her book, by all means provide a few examples of those “worst excesses of evangelical Christianity.”

    You see, I read the book, and I don’t find any specific examples of these “worst excesses.” I find lots of examples of what you just did: gross generalizations. In my humble opinion, if you accuse someone of something and provide no evidence, that is considered libel.

    Just one example of her ultra-scientific “hard data” approach: she moans about the poor women who have “suffered abuse at the hands of Bible-wielding literalists.” What did those evil Bible-wielders do – beat the women over the head with them? I don’t think so. This is one of the worst aspects of feminism – a woman uses “abuse” and that settles things – no examples needed. That works on liberal pastors and college deans. As a conservative male, it doesn’t work on me.

    But if you found some examples from her book to counter what I just said, by all means provide them. You won’t because there aren’t any. I think you are defending a book you didn’t read, you’re just jumping on the Woman as Victim bandwagon.

  11. Comment by krwordgazer on November 6, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Eric, I have indeed read the book and I will give you the quotes you asked for, with page numbers, about the “worst excesses.” One of the excesses of evangelicalism is the Quiverfull movement. As a Quiverfull daughter that RHE interviewed put it, “Being the oldest became an endless cycle of pouring out to meet needs while my own basic needs went largely unmet. Burnout was perpetual, because on top of this was the spiritual teaching that our own needs are not important and we should die to ourselves daily.” page 182-183. The teaching that encourages death to self without balancing it with proper self-stewardship and self-care to protect ourselves as part of the temple of the Holy Spirit, is an excess of evangelicalism. Quiverfull people certainly self-identify as evangelical.

    Another quote, from page 209: “According to [Debi] Pearl. . . ‘Start thinking and acting as though your husband is the head of the company and you are his secretary.” Debi Pearl definitely self-identifies as an evangelical, and she teaches an extreme of womanly submission which is certainly one of evangelicalism’s worst excesses. As RHE’s husband put it on page 214 after she had treated him as Pearl recommended, “Treating me like a baby is a little emasculating.”

    You may not, as an evangelical yourself, agree with either of these two extremes, but I’m not sure how you can deny that they are part of evangelicalism.

    Another excess which is more a part of mainstream evangelicalism is the common presentation of the Proverbs 31 woman, detailed on page 74. “Visit a Christian bookstore, and you will find entire women’s sections devoted to books that extol her virtues and make them applicable to modern wives. . . She’s like the evangelicals’ Mary– venerated, idealized, glorified to the level of a demigoddess, and yet expected to show up in every man’s kitchen at dinnertime.”

    I remember trying to be the Proverbs 31 woman– learning to sew because I thought it was required of me, even though I hated it. Turning this biblical poem into a law for all women to strive to live up to– to compete with each other for who can come closest— is certainly one of the worst excesses of evangelicalism.

    There are good things about evangelicalism too, of course– and I notice that RHE also talks about how she was raised in evangelicalism, how she loves her evangelical parents, and how she still identifies as an evangelical. See Introduction page xviii.

    What I’m not finding is where RHE simply tosses around the word “abuse” in order to “settle things.” If you’d like to give me a page number, I’d be interested in ascertaining the context of your quote. I am actually a despiser of bandwagons. You don’t know me at all and I’m surprised you think you have enough information to decide otherwise. But when I read a book that I think is being misunderstood, I am by all means going to give my perspective on it.

  12. Comment by Eric Lytle on November 6, 2012 at 7:57 am

    You’re taking Evans’ word for all these books about the Proverbs 31 woman? And taking her word that the woman is evangelicals’ version of Mary? That’s not exactly “hard data.”
    I have about 30 evangelical women as Facebook friends, most of whom are avid readers. I asked them if they had ever bought, or seen, a book about the Proverbs 31 woman. Not one had. Had their pastor ever preached on the Proverbs 31 woman? No. Ever heard of the Quiverfull movement? A few, but didn’t know much about it. Ever heard of Debi Pearl? No. Sorry, but I trust those women as a reliable source. Evans has an ax to grind and a book to promote. If her readers are stupid enough to believe what she says about bookstores and stupid enough to believe the Quiverfull movement represents all or most evangelicals, all the better for her. I’ve met a lot of authors over the years, they are no more likely to be honest than a used car salesman is. At least with the car salesman the buyer is already on his guard. With someone like Evans, she knows she’s writing for the most gullible audience on planet earth, churchgoing women.
    As for her declaring herself an “evangelical” early in the book: So what? The book was published by Thomas Nelson, an evangelical company (no credit to them for doing that), so it’s pretty unlikely she would come out and say “I was raised evangelical but I abandoned that crap years ago!” However, it’s clear in the book she did abandon evangelicalism – totally. When she refers to evangelicals as “Bible-wielding literalists” who “abuse” women, I just didn’t sense that she is one of us. She is a stealth feminist and a liberal, I don’t care if she has “evangelical” tattooed on her forehead.

  13. Comment by Chatfield Glenn on November 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Movements like “”Quiverfull” and the “Patriarchy” umbrella under which it falls, and people like Mike and Debi Pearl, may call themselves evangelicals but they are considered to be very aberrational in their beliefs and teachings and certainly not in the mainstream. To cite these as “excesses” in evangelicalism is almost as ludicrous as citing Fred Phelps as an excess in evangelicalism! They don’t fit the definition of evangelicalism!

  14. Comment by krwordgazer on November 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Eric, clearly your 30-woman sample is definitive. The fact that I have sat under sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman and read books in which she is held up as the example for all women to follow, doesn’t matter at all. I do wonder why you would bother to consult your female friends if they are all churchgoers and therefore the most gullible audience on planet earth.

    Chatfield, you may notice that I did distinguish Quiverfull and the Pearls from what I called “mainstream” evangelicalism. But I was in fact talking about “the worst excesses” of evangelicalism– which to my mind includes all those groups identifying as evangelicals who practice excesses. If it doesn’t apply to your brand of evangelicalism, by all means disregard my words. But this tendency of evangelicals to simply claim that anyone whose practices they don’t agree with is not an evangelical, is a sample of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

    Personally, I think it would be better if evangelicals would humbly admit that such excesses do occur within their ranks and that there is no point in trying to hide from it. Possibly this humble admission would help counteract the bad light many readers/viewers already hold Christianity in. It is actually a fact that some women are forbidden to work outside the home in certain evangelical/fundamentalist sects. I’m not sure what good it does to simply dismiss this as ridiculous.

  15. Comment by krwordgazer on November 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    PS. As for Evans’ assertion that the Proverbs 31 woman is like Mary to evangelicals, I took that in the spirit in which it was intended by the writer. It wasn’t a piece of “hard data.” It was her impression based on her experience– an experience which I in fact share. I wouldn’t have used the analogy, but I understand where it comes from.

    BTW, I did ask for a page number for the quote “Bible wielding literalists” who “abuse” women. Please provide that.

  16. Comment by Eric Lytle on November 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Page 54 has the quote about the poor women who “suffered abuse at the hands of Bible-wielding literalists.” For someone who accepts every word of Evans’ book as Holy Writ, you suddenly get very skeptical. I don’t blame people for verifying – except they never bother to verify an author they happen to agree with.

    Do I trust my 30 female Facebook friends more than Rachel Evans? Oh, you bet. Their response to my questions is a lot more “definitive” than anything in her book. They have no reason to lie – she does. She has an ax to grind and a book to sell, and that requires her to make evangelical women look like ninnies, so drag in Debi Pearl as Exhibit A even though Pearl is hardly a household name among evangelicals. I’m not going to “humbly admit” that these “excesses” are any part of any evangelical church I’ve been connected with. If she had aimed up the middle and talked about a more typical evangelical woman, her book would be boring as heck, because most couples I know don’t give a hoot about complementarian and egalitarian and don’t sit around agonizing about whether each one takes out the garbage exactly 50 percent of the time. (Amazing how pleasant life might be if we just banned “isms” from our conversations.)

    I’m aware that Evans used a lot of “impressions based on her experience” in her book. Safe to say she would be a dismal failure doing hard science. I’ve lived too long in the world to think that an author claiming to be Christian wouldn’t stoop to a few “noble lies” to get her point across. I used to work in an academic setting with some feminists who thought their sacred “victim” status would ensure no man would dare question anything they said. (Needless to say, in that setting, most men are total wimps.) I was glad to leave that workplace and they were glad to see me go. But it was highly educational, as I learned the “victim” mindset that frees a person from the normal standards of courtesy and honesty. As you can tell, when I pick up a book by a feminist or other “victim,” my BS-detector is on red alert. That loaded word “abuse” definitely sets off the detector. If an author intends to make me feel guilty, she’s going to have to give me more than accusations and “impressions.” (Funny, isn’t it, that nonbelievers assume Christians walk around carrying a huge load of guilt, when in fact it’s liberals who devour any kind of literature designed to induce guilt.) Btw, I don’t totally discount “impressions.” Frankly, seeing her on The View, she struck me as total phony, about as sincere as the typical anchorette on the evening news, and with that much depth, or lack of. I could be wrong.

    I don’t know any evangelical women who haven’t worked outside the home – none. Evans threw out that “impression” because she knew those Politically Correct harpies on The View would love it, and they did. I know some who choose not to work, usually because they have pre-schoolers. My mom lives across the street from a Holiness church – the women in that church wear skirts past the knee, no makeup, no jewelry – and the parking lot is full of Acuras and BMWs, mostly because both parents have high-paying jobs. Reality is so much more interesting than the world that Evans presents in her book.

  17. Comment by krwordgazer on November 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Eric, I’m a little tired of your nasty little digs and slams. This newest– that I accept everything Evans says as if it were Holy Writ– goes too far. I repeat, you don’t know me at all. How is it that you have taken it upon yourself to declare that you have me all figured out and found wanting?

    I have a policy to end conversations when the person I am conversing with cannot hold a civil conversation. Bye.

  18. Comment by Karen T on November 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Wyclif is right, she deserves to be laughed off, she is peddling a form of Christianity where the believer designs her own Bible. I hope no one thinks this woman speaks for all evangelical woman, because that certainly is not the case.

  19. Comment by Donnie on November 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I remember her interviews for her first book (Evolving in Monkeytown) and back then she wasn’t even calling herself a Christian. She preferred “follower of Christ” because she thought “Christian” is too tied to fundamentalist theology and political conservatism. But now that it might sell a few more books, I guess she’s an evangelical. Whatever. Her writing is childish, snarky and full of bad theology (and terrible prose), so whatever she calls herself is irrelevant.

  20. Comment by J P Logan on November 5, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Donnie, when you get bored, visit Amazon and check out some of the slobbering five-star reviews of her book. Most of them sound like they came direct from the publisher’s marketing staff – meaning these reviewers didn’t read the book but somehow she has turned into a “cause.” If they actually read either of her books they would discover that she is (as you said) childish and snarky. I wish she would drop “Christian” and “evangelical” and go with “I was on The View, so I’m IMPORTANT!”

  21. Comment by J P Logan on November 6, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I’m already tired of that picture of her holding that broom.
    Does she use it for housekeeping,
    or transportation?

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.