Thursday, July 11, 2013

Adele Hebert's “Every Woman and Child” is a Love Letter to All

I find it amusing that I'm probably most known among evangelicals for challenging the doctrines of complementarianism. I grew up in a denomination that honored women and one that was spearheaded locally by a woman in the town where I was born. During the first decade of the 20th Century, this woman's husband encouraged his wife to establish the denomination's first church in my state. Both husband and wife together were sent by the denomination to the local Lutheran seminary so that they would be prepared to teach at the Bible College that they would later establish. One of their family members who bore their name would become one of my first role models – a resource for people of all ages at our local church, and I'm proud that she was my first piano teacher.

I didn't like to practice and don't have many memories of learning the piano from her, save for what seems like still photos of sitting there in her living room with her at my side. I have vivid memories of talking with her when I was six years old about sharing the Gospel because of how much I loved Jesus and how much I wanted to share my faith with everyone. (I suppose that this love for evangelism gave her patience to overlook my lack of practice time!) A formidable woman in any venue, Mrs. Rebecca Beisel commanded respect from all of the denomination's pastors of the day, as at some point, nearly everyone who studied at the college studied theology under her. I know from personal experience that those men worked hard to win good grades from her as well.

I would then study with another teacher, Mae Wint, an accomplished woman who taught music at the same college. As I grew into adulthood, she also became a very dear friend to me as well as another role model for me. And I often think of Georgia, the pastor's wife at my church when I was growing up. She was kind, nurturing, genuine, and could divide and discern the Word of God as well as any man, all while setting a high standard as an ideal “Proverbs 31 Woman.” And the woman who prayed with me at the altar when I was only five years old, a dear friend named Joan, would become another powerful role model for me, teaching me how to be a Berean and to walk in love and power in the Holy Spirit. She was an elder at the church when she kneeled at the altar with me that day, assuring me that by the faith that God placed in my heart that I could be sure that my name was written in the Lamb's Book of Life.

I'm so proud of all of these women, and I mention them here to honor them because Adele reminds me of them. I think that their strong influence in my life explains why I have found the modern gender debate within the evangelical church to be so foreign to me. Though I am most known for challenging the manipulative teachings of groups like the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the subject itself is not one that I find particularly compelling. What drives my interest and outspokenness is the fruit of the teachings – the objectification, dehumanization, and scapegoating that results in both the active and passive abuse of women and girls. Though the “fairer sex” suffers more directly, as a result, men and boys also suffer. I recall how the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition's challenge of the Danvers Statement describes these tragic consequences as inestimable. I tend to focus on the consequences more than I do the details of the specific teachings and what some call theology, save to trace the connections between the cause and the effect. So I rejoice that God has burdened others in the faith to tackle the many aspects of this gender debate that so affects the Christian faith. So much needs to be said on this subject.

Adele who has graciously shared her writings here on this website has written a wonderful book that looks at every Scripture in the Bible that speaks the truth about what the Word really says about women. She is a true scholar of the Word who has assisted other writers with research in the preparation of their own works, but her writing brings to mind the joy that I feel about knowing my loving Savior. She puts forth the Word and elevates it above all else. She does address the contemporary problems that have resulted from or have been fostered by complementarian ideology (which postulates that gender role playing is demanded by God), but in so doing, she maintains a central focus on Scripture, God's love for mankind, and the love of Jesus as the central feature of the discussion. Though she encourages the reader by discussing many relevant topics, I also so love the section that notes the content concerning women throughout the whole New Testament, book by book.

Here is her bio from God's Word to Women, a website that has benefited greatly from Adele's time and volunteer work to make so much of Katharine Bushnell's work available online.
Adele Hebert is "driven to study the word". Asked to describe herself, she recalls the honor of being recognized as an Independent Scholar by author Leonard Swidler for whom she worked as an editor and contributor for the book Jesus Was A Feminist (which includes one of her articles). She has also edited other Christian books and newsletters, including CBE International newsletters and she typed the GWTW book and many of Katharine Bushnell's articles which are centerpieces of the GWTW site. Delighted to have her article included on the GWTW website, Adele is confident that this message will bless many women.

(Read even more about Adele HERE, as I once honored her with the Stylish Blog award!)

God's Good News to the Abused

For those who have spent any kind of time under teachings or in evangelical groups that have demeaned or devalued them in any way, Adele's book is essential reading. I think that this is especially true for those who have struggled with formulating a concept of God as the benevolent lover who is full of tender mercy for mankind and particularly for women. I am continually amazed at how well she captures that precious and pure joy I know in Christ, and I suppose that I mentioned the role models of my childhood here, partly because Adele inspires me to remember that wonder and happiness that I experienced in my faith when I was just a little girl. Jesus reminded us that we must be like children to enter into the Kingdom, and Every Woman and Child inspires all of that again in my own heart in ways that I often forget about in the busyness of living. I think that she does a marvelous job capturing that sweet simplicity of the love of Jesus, particularly for women.

From the chapter entitled Our Gospels: Memiors of Women:
These women did not have subordinate roles; they were very active as prophets, deacons and outstanding among the apostles.

If women had been silent, they would not have been persecuted. Women were hunted down and thrown in prison the same as men. Women were martyrs the same as men. We have no idea how many women gave their lives for this gospel. Jesus never told women to be silent, ever.

Men gave the command for the great stone to be sealed, because of fear. . . . Jesus authorized and enabled women to use their voice, especially after the Resurrection!

In these few verses lies women’s confidence of knowing they are special, and chosen to be part of the plan of salvation. God needs faithful men, women and even children, to lead in spreading this good news, and to serve by showing love to a hurting world. These passages contain Jesus’ words and actions, which entitle women of today to use their talents and empower them to do what God calls them to do.

Adele also notes another dynamic that is at work in the evangelical church that does come to bear in the contemporary discussion of concerns about gender. For many years, experts and denominations have anticipated and witnessed a precipitous drop in the numbers of people who attend Christian churches. Because of hard experiences and cruel mistreatment at the hands of religious leaders and messages from those leaders that it is largely improper to address such mistreatment, Adele notes how this has negatively impacted the visible church. Though her focus in the book concerns how women have been significantly marginalized and silenced because of their gender, from my own vantage, I see many of the same tactics also used against both men and women who attempt to speak out against hypocrisy within evangelicalism. While many churches formally claim to foster Bible study and a Berean approach to discernment, at the same time, many leaders will literally punish their members for actually doing so. Men are often discouraged from true Bible scholarship in many churches, but women face the additional prejudice against them because they are women, and their outspokenness is viewed as a scandal in and of itself. I particularly appreciate this aspect of the book.

I must note that I was shocked and humbled to see my name in the table of contents. Adele wrote therein that I am always quick to post her material here and at Overcoming Botkin Syndrome (a blog that deals with the family dynamics associated with the patriarchal homschooling movement), but I would add to her statement that I find her writing to be so faithful, I have learned that I can trust her scholarship. She honors God's Word in the spirit of love, and the truth found in the Words of Life of Scripture is precious to her. I've never agonized over whether to post something she's written (after thoroughly reading it first, of course!). I'm just bubbling with joy for her accomplishment (and I usually don't bubble). On the day that the book arrived, my cheeks became sore a little from smiling so widely. It's a must-needed book to add to the discussion of gender in the church, and Adele is gifted writer. It's beautiful, and I am so moved at the joy that it inspires in me. I love the photo on the front, too.

I'm proud to note that an article of hers appears on the Freedom for Christian Women Coalition site, too, celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the group! How happy I am to discuss her book here at this time, as I see it as again celebrating another anniversary of the founding of the FreeCWC. (This month marks the first anniversary of the Demand for an Apology letter that was sent to CBMW in 2010.)

Cynthia McClaskey, author of Religion's Cell, recently posted more details about Adele's personal background along with her review of Adele's book (link to it HERE). In light of the details of Adele's own history, the fact that her writing exudes so much love and joy should stand as a positive challenge to us. Will we allow painful circumstances in life to harden ourselves against the idea that God is loving and kind, or will we make the choice to recognize the mercy and love that is extended to us through the sacrifice of Jesus? And for those who grew up in religious systems where God was portrayed as an intolerant authoritarian who exists to punish the imperfect and broken, I hope that book will introduce them to the inspiring love and mercy that Jesus extends to all, especially to women.

Adele reminds us,
Be not afraid. Go tell.”
Matthew 28:10

A Perfect Accompaniment

In closing, I have to mention one more thing. Though I had Adele's book with me for several weeks before I had an opportunity to read it, when I had a chance to sit down to read it, I first thumbed through Shirley Taylor's book, Dethroning Male Headship. (A review of Shirley's new must-read book will follow soon!) I was told that the book quoted a statement I made that I know that complementarians will find provocative. A bit concerned about how the quote would come across, I spent time reading only a few chapters in Shirley's book before I feasted on all of Adele's writing that morning. The selections that I read in Shirley's book confronted some of the more perverse aspects of the distortion of Scripture with which complementarianism blackmails the Believer, all for the purpose of posturing to make it seem as though Scripture demands that men rule over women in an authoritarian relationship. (I found it quite frustrating, as it confronted several hard truths. The first section of her book addresses the same content that Adele's highlights, but I jumped to the back section that morning to only find that hard-to-read section about how the Bible has been twisted.) I didn't have time to finish both books that morning, and having had Adele's book for so many weeks, I wanted to finish it first.

I decided that day that I would recommend to others that Shirley's book should be read first, as it concludes with and focuses more heavily on exposing so many evils. Shirley inspires us to pursue the cause of righteousness by standing as a dissident against the gender agenda which compromises women by trying to bind their hands, hearts, and mouths. I found that Adele's book served for me as the perfect compliment to Shirley's writing, as Adele then reminds us of the truth and affirms the message that Shirley Taylor's book brings. After reading the hard and painful aspects that the church needs to heed, Adele sweeps in with the love of God for women, echoing that Good News that the New Testament declares to us in abundance. I felt like that joy and love washed away much of my frustration and inspired in me anew the confidence that I have in a loving God who loves me more than I know. It reminded me just why I can invest my faith in God and rest in Him without fear, because I am persuaded that He is able to keep me and all women in His care.

I needed both books that morning, and I think that they are the perfect accompaniment to one another, finding another deeply convicting message in that process. When I finally sat down to read both books that day, I found that the experience of reading both together as an unexpected yet critical consideration.

Once we define the specific nature of the problems and the abuses as Shirley notes so well, as both women also do in both books, we need to refocus on and reaffirm the truth. By following up with Adele's book which focuses so clearly on the message of the love of Jesus, I was reminded anew of the obvious truth that I so often forget because of the emotional nature of the discussion of abuse, especially when the Words of Life are distorted to facilitate that abuse. It is the love of God for us that soothes those frustrations and strengthens us when we feel weary, restoring our hearts. If we don't come back to our First Love in these and in all of our endeavors, we haven't completed the work. We don't want to take such a vital message and turn it into an incomplete work of sounding brass, either for us or for others.

I am so grateful that Adele's book brought me back to the center of the heart of Jesus and restored me to His gifts of love and power by doing so, those gifts God has given us right along with the process of the right thinking of a sound mind.

Read her book, for it points the way back to the journey of joy.

Check back soon for a review of Shirley's new book,

right after you order your copy of Adele's