On The Resignation of Eve
Sometimes, despite that old saying, you really can judge a book by its cover. Such is the case with Jim Henderson’s recent book The Resignation of Eve. The main title is provocative but cryptic. But then check out the subtitle: What if Adam’s Rib is no Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone?
OK then. Now we’re talking.
In my last post, I looked at the clerical stranglehold that male privilege has on the church. You and I worship in a church where the vast majority of formal leadership positions are held by men.
But what about the non-titled workers in the church? What of the folks that count the offering? That run the kids ministry? That coordinate the weddings? That greet? That clean? That answer the phones?
You guessed it. Women. In an infographic on women in the church, Evangelical pollster George Barna says, “Women are the backbone of U.S. Christian churches. They are more likely than men to comprise the ranks of churchgoers, volunteers and Sunday school teachers.” Truly, women are the unheralded spine of the American church.
But here’s the problem: according to Henderson, women in the American church are resigning from the church in unprecedented numbers. And he means that in three ways.
First, women are resigning from the church. As in, they are walking away from the church and, in some cases, from God. Faced with the ecclesiastical systemic advantage awarded to men, women are leaving the church.
Second, women are resigning to the church as is. When you become resigned to something, by and large you’ve accepted it but your heart isn’t in it. For Henderson, “this kind of resignation leads a woman to appear to be present when she actually left the building years ago.”
Finally, women are re-signing. Henderson writes, “women who have re-signed either remain active in their own churches even though they disagree with the churches’ stances on women, or they intentionally plug into other churches that provide them with the opportunities they seek.”
However you slice the term “resign,” it’s tragic.
You see, male privilege in the church doesn’t just limit women in the pulpit or the church offices. It also limits them in the nursery, the choir loft and, most notably, in the pews. The bottom line is that if an unchecked male bias continues to drive women from the church in these kinds of numbers, then woe to us as we look to our future.
It doesn’t take a biology degree to know what happens to an organism if it loses its spine.
Here’s Henderson’s verdict:
“This is the resignation of Eve, and it impacts the one group whose loyalty the church can least afford to lose. The people who for the most part run the church, attend church, and pray and serve at significantly higher rates than their male counterparts. Women.”
Lord, help us to rethink the way we do church. In particular, give us the courage to build a church that empowers women, both in the clergy and in the laity.
What about you? How have you seen the resignation of eve in your church?
This is a tough phenomenon, but also one that gives me hope. I think women feel more and more empowered, specifically in the last case. The structures of many churches don’t allow for change to come from the bottom so we vote with our feet. Maybe a woman or family resigns from that congregation, but she goes to find flourishing in another community.
I also know quite a few women who have decided to “stick it out” at their churches until the next transitional phase in life comes that will allow for a more natural transition (move, marriage, kids, etc). I’ve been that glassy eyed woman in the pew that’s wondering what I’ll eat for lunch.
I also think as more women step into leadership, more men need to make room for that and also step more into service/behind the scenes jobs that are typically filled by women (nursery, kitchen prep, assistants, etc.)
Great post Rob!