Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”
By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN
On "The Daily Show" recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.
When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”
And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.
It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.
As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.
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And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics - that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.
But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.
When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.
Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”
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Growing up in the Bible Belt, I 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 this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”
In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical 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 Amish women 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 avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver's.
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This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.
After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.
So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?
These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of "The Year of Living Biblically", and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing."
This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband "master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.
During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family - and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.
My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and - at times - frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.
The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.
I am only going to respond to Mrs. Evans cheering on of Jon Stewart's comment below:
That is a totally incorrect statement. God's model of marriage is one man married to one woman. They shall become one flesh. Man's model of marriage on the other hand is whatever he defines it to be. Multiple wives, multiple husbands gay marriage you name it. The polygamy example given by Stewart is just another example in the Bible of man not listening to God and doing what man wants to do. Check it out. Every time an old testament patriarch married multiple wives a bad outcome resulted because man went against God's model for marriage. God never said polygamy was His model. BTW Mr. Stewart needs to better educate himself and use the correct word for one man marrying multiple women. It's POLYGYNY Jon. Just as PLOYANDRY is one woman marrying multiple men.
Didn't God command Abraham to sleep with his wife's handmade?
And if your brother dies before he has a son, aren't you supposed to knock up your sister in law?
This country (USA) was founded and brought up from the foundations of the bible, it has worked for the pst 200 years theres no point in changing now.
Yeah, people were stupid then, why change.
Religion-based bigotry use religious teachings to justify discrimination against Native Americans, African Americans, minority religious groups, woman and interracial couples.
Connecting the dots between historical bigotry against other groups and the attitudes of some people today toward homosexuality is one of the most effective ways to educate people about the denial of equal rights to the LGBT community.
Most people know that, historically, religion has been used to justify discrimination against women, religious minorities and people of color. Putting anti-gay religious beliefs in this historical context can be a powerful tool in connecting discrimination that most Americans today accept as morally wrong and the discrimination faced by LGBT people. By citing historical instances of religion-based bigotry and prejudice, you allow people to be more comfortable with attitudinal change – they realize they are not stepping out alone against a commonly accepted viewpoint but rather following historical progress toward justice and equality.
When talking about the misuse of religion to justify discrimination in the past, it is important not to say that the LGBT community’s struggle with discrimination is exactly the same as the Civil Rights Movement. Rather, the point is that religion-based bigotry has been a common denominator of injustice toward many groups in American society’s past. When given a chance, many people will see the underlying historical pattern of using religious teachings and beliefs to justify harmful discrimination.
There is another benefit to citing other times in the past when religious teachings have been used to justify discrimination. Many times, when people of faith are challenged about their anti-gay views, they cite biblical verses or other religious texts as a safe haven when they are unable to articulate why they hold prejudiced attitudes toward LGBT people. Instead of telling people that their interpretation is wrong, you can remind them that other religious texts have been used in the past to justify attitudes and laws that are recognized today as morally wrong and unjust – such as discrimination against women, people of color and religious minorities.
History provides the moral judgment, and we do not have to be theologians engaged in scriptural debates to point people to the judgment rendered by history.
brent: instead of copying and pasting things from other websites... how about just post the url? at the very least – cite the site where you're copying and pasting from.
God and Country
That a country that is based on the fundamentals of the bible, the Golden Rule, turn the other cheek, etc. would have been almost constantly at war over the last 200 years and still has a problem with bigotry, isn't it? Just can't seem to mind its own business, much like the religious can't mind theirs.
the AnViL is a troll and they think they're the blog police. – NOT!
Actually, this country was founded by men who had a serious distrust of any centralized moral authority. They were also deists, men who believed in a supreme being but seriously doubted his daily interference in the moral workings of man. How can there be one "true" biblical teaching when are are thousands of Christian churches around all swearing that only their building has the truth?
TrollAlerttard: you seem to be mistaken about what trolling is.
copying and pasting things from other websites without listing your references is on par with plagiarism.
it's also a sure sign that someone doesn't have the necessary literary skills to engage in meaningful discourse.
sortuv like when someone mis-labels another as a troll.
cha cha cha
If this country was founded on your bible, please post the book, chapter, and verses where it talks about freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. We'll get to the harder stuff after you answer these.
Looked but somehow missed the article on the dangers of being Islamic. CNN surely covered both religions.
What is the difference? Same god. Same basic beliefs. Same everything. Just different hats and their guns come from different countries.
If you can't comprehend the difference between Christianity and other religions, you've missed the entire point.
CONSIDER THIS: JESUS SAID;"DO NOT HOLD BACK THE CHILDREN FROM COMING TO ME: FOR THEIRS' IS THE KINDOM OF HEAVEN. IF THAT DOESN'T PUT IT 'IN-A -NUTSHELL' FOR YOU..CONSIDER ONE OTHER STATEMENT OF THE FOUNDATION OF FAITH. JESUS SAID; " THE KINDOM OF GOD IS SO SIMPLE TO UNDERSTAND; THAT A CHILD CAN UNDERSTAND IT". ONE LAST WORD. JESUS SAID; " YOU MUST BECOME AS A CHILD TO ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN." I ANNOUNCE: THE "KINGDOM OF GOD" IS INSIDE US ALL. FAITH IN CHRIST'S EXISTANCE AS THE FIRST PERSON TO RECEIVE 'ETERNAL LIFE'; SO WE ALL MAY HAVE A "LIVING SPIRIT" THAT NEVER DIES..TURNS US 'EACH' TOWARDS THAT UNDERSTANDING. I HOPE YOU ALL (OF WHOM HAVE NOT ALREADY) TURN TO YOUR INDVIDUAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE "FAITH IN GOD" YOU ALREADY CONTAIN IN YOUR SPIRIT(INSIDE YOUR INNERMOST MANKIND)..WAITING TO BE REALIZED BY THE REST OF YOUR "SELF" TO WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE 'ALIVE'. THE "KEY ANSWER"..TO THAT QUESTION WE ARE ALL BORN WITH. WHY AM I HERE? I KNOW. DO YOU?
caps-lock: cruise control for "cool"
Excellent! I love the Bible, not because it contains laws to live by but the clear revelation of God's love and desire to have a relationship with me.
That was your priest, not he bible. And he said "relations" not a "relationship".
Wow...the creator of everthing desires a personal relationship with you.....aren't you all that?
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
And nasty Christian god also commanded, according to the Christian book of horrors AKA the bible, NT and OT:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”
Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.
Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.
And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.
So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
The problem is that the Bible was originally never seen in the early groups that followed Christ as a rule book OR the inerrant Word of God (I dare you to find one place where the Bible calls itself inerrant or the Bible for that matter.) That idea did not come until 1700 years later by a Princeton theologian named Benjamin B. Warfield who felt that Christians needed a rule book. He of course failed to realize that the Pharisees did the exact same thing 1700 years before and it didn't work back then either. We need to stop preaching the Bible and talk about loving our neighbor because God knows that is what we need right now.
Re "We need to stop preaching the Bible and talk about loving our neighbor because God knows that is what we need right now.", no, we should act that way simply because it's what we can agree on re how we should treat one another.
There is much less agreement on which god, if any, exists, and in fact, it can be shown that the Christian god in particular cannot exist with the commonly claimed set of characteristics. The only way to reach agreement on acceptable behaviors for humanity is to leave religion and other supersti-tion out of the picture. The current and ongoing situation in the Middle East is a classic example of the problem.
THe BIble is an anthology of books written over centuries by a diverse group of people living in different contexts, and yet within the same general faith community, but each providing different angles – in the same way two children growing up in the same household will describe their parents both similarly and differently. ANd so there will be diversity of tellings and emphases – as to be expected. do there is unity and diversity. it's actually quite beautiful if we stop trying to run the bible through our western modern/postmodern grid (which when we do, is actually a sign of arrogance on our part to think that our grid is the best one to use for judging things).
in any case, because the bible is an anthology, it is primarily a STORY. and in a story, you can't take the first chapter and assume that the way it depicts the characters and the seeming moral values that those characters embody is the final point. the whole point of the story is to tell an arc that shows change. for example, book of Hebrews discusses how sacrifial laws are re-read in light of the death of Christ. ANd so at the end of the "biblical" story, we see that we can't read parts of Leviticus the same anymore. Same thing applies to food laws: certain foods in the OT were declared "unclean", but then in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus declares all food clean. The point being that there is development of themes – even "rules" – in the BIble. and so to be "biblical" then requires being honest about the contours of this development, and trying our best to plot the trajectory going forward.
yes, we are all selective, but the bible itself gives us at least some hints as to how to be most "biblically" selective.
This said, I concur that this explanation still doesn't resolve the fact that there can be diversity of opinion regarding even this more nuanced and complex layer of interpretation. BUt it's at least not as arbitrary as this CNN opinion article might imply. THe bible does within itself give some sense of how to interpret itself.
also, when people against the bible try to point to OT laws regarding food or stoning or whatever, that attack against the bible seems to me to be a straw man attack... yes, the scriptures are complex and there are interesting paradoxes and mysteries, but the issues are far more nuanced than either side seems to be admitting.
but that is the weakness of thes anonymous comments – people just throw out sound bites without ackknowledging that these issues have been discussed and dug into by both sides for generations.
"But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own."
Wow, so you actually READ it? Most folks don't, particularly evangelicals, who read one sentence at a time and then have the pastor "interpret" it for them.
I was listening to a Christian Radio station once on a drive cross-country, and the "preacher" on there spent a half-hour explaining that the phrase "Judge not, lest ye be judged" actually means that Christians are obligated to go around judging people.
And therein lies he problem with the Bible. It says so much, you can tap it to say whatever you want it to say. It has been used to support slavery (yea, it's in there) and stoning people to death (ditto). It even says not to eat lobster.
I have a better idea – how about we just toss it and come up with our own ideas? I mean, the end-all to humanity was written over 2000 years ago when people didn't even have toilet paper (they used their hands). And we are supposed to take advice from them?
Oh, yea, right. I forgot. "God wrote the Bible" – its in the front page, (c) year zero, God. That is what some evangelicals actually believe.
I am not kidding.
" how about we just toss it and come up with our own ideas? " That's as dumb as following it blindly. It exists, it shaped our culture, and we outgrew it during WWII after seeing the concentration camps run by our fellow Christians. Christianity is the first religion to tell an individual "God loves YOU, not just your tribe." But it doesn't practive what it preaches, and so we get weary of listening to sermons by crooks who want us to empty our pockets and drop our pants, and we stop believing and grow the heck up.
One almost imagines the Roman Catholic Church had it right in the pre-Reformation days when they thought the Bible was too dangerous for Lay People to have and read. Considering that the various authors regularly contradict each other. There are those who will insist that the Bible is Divinely Authored with the Holy Spirit commanding the pen of the writers (forgetting that a significant portion of the Old Testament was oral tradition until the Babylonian Captivity era), others who will say the books of the Bible are Divinely Inspired, with the Holy Spirit guiding the pen of the writers, and still others who deny any Divine origin for any of the books. Add to that, what we refer to as the "Bible" was collected from various works and approved to meet a specific political/theological agenda, with some of the books selected being vetoed by the Eastern Roman Emperor even though the Bishops believed they should be included. Then those books considered "heretical" or "apocryphal" were ordered destroyed so people wouldn't stray from Orthodox belief. Luckily their writ did not extend to the Syrian and Coptic Churches, which maintained much of the "banned" material.
ah but the reason it was considered too dangerous for lay people to read was because those lay people could then challenge church doctrine by noticing the inherent inconsistencies not only between church doctrine and the bible but also within the bible itself.
You are learning. The bible is the narrative of man's search for the divine – it is a starting point of faith, not the ending point. When you can get out of the weeds of the law you can start to grasp the larger themes of love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, humility – that truly reflect God.
Ditch the bible and all other religious texts. Embrace reason, practicality, tolerance and common sense.
Ditch the bible and all other religious texts. Embrace reason, practicality, tolerance and common sense
Who or what is your source for reason, practicality, tolerance and common sense? And how did they learn these things? Were some, by any chance, religious in any way?
Tim, no. And which religion are you pushing? Hopefully not that awful, vicious Christian one.
The better question is, what are the dangers of not basing everything we do on biblical principles? Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in the two great commandments; love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. If people were more interested in the truth and not religion bashing they would see the bible could be summed up in redemption and love. Alot can be learned about the character of God in the old testament but Jesus fulfilled the old testament, the new testament, I believe teaches putting others above ourselves, love, tolerance, not nit picking over details and not hate and not war, Jesus is the way the truth and the life. We are told to work out our own salvation within those perimeters and that all things are permissible but not beneficial, I think we can always sum it up in "What would Jesus do"?
I am convinced that CNN has one goal concerning religion, destroy it.
That should be everyone's goal. Religion does nothing but foster and encourage hate, bigotry, intolerance and violence. I want no part of that, nor do I want to be part of a world that thinks it's a swell way to live.
How are they trying to destroy it?
I'm convinced Phillip Neff is eighty freakin years old. Calm down, Grampaw. I think God can defend Himself against a little criticism.
Isnt being Koranic more dangerous then being Biblical for radical feminists as yourself ?
You were freeze dried in the '50's weren't you ?
I'm curious, why is it all you non-believers would waste your time even reading an article like this? Could it be that you are not as sure about your non-belief as you would like us to think? The level of anger with which non-believers write always amazes me. What else do you hate? It's a shame we all just don't see things your way isn't it? Please remember, we christians love you despite your distaste for our kind. We'll be praying for you. Amen!
You must have some kind of blinders on. Take a look at Jean aka HeavenSnot's posts. Look at those from captain america. See Bob the Gay-hater's blurbs.
Again, we really don't give a shit what you believe – what gods you ascribe to – what myths you claim are true. Where we run into trouble is when you nutters decide that everyone else need to believe as you do. When you decide that your myths need to be inserted into our secular laws. When you decide your myths need to be put into our public schools. Knock that crap off, and we're good – OK?
See what"s going on in Israel and Gaza right now? Same God, different beliefs. Do you love the believers of both sides? It's a shame we can't all see things your way, right?
Are we not allowed to be interested in religious beliefs without being "afraid of them being true"? I love video games but I'm not afraid that a giant dragon will come out of my TV. And I don't hate Christians. I simply don't like the influence religion has on politics. When gays are denied the right to marriage and school boards put creationism into science books I take issue with that.
unlike so many "good Christians", people of other religions and non-believers actually take the time to understand people with different beliefs than themselves. This means reading and having an understanding of their holy texts and other information that provides us with insight and provides us with a broader worldview.
Why is it that so many "good Christians" feel the need to be the arbiter of G-d's law on earth, pass judgment and/or impose your doctrine on those who don't agree with or adhere to the "Christian" viewpoint? Is it that you are not as secure in your religion as you profess? Is it that you don't trust G-d to "do the right thing" in passing his judgement or is it that you do trust G-d to do the right thing and fear that His idea of the right thing may not be in agreement with what you want to have done to others?
"we christians love you despite your distaste for our kind. " You lie. I have plenty of evidence, and no, I don't "hate" you, as you pretend. You could NEVER mean that much to me, Gramps.
"I'm curious, why is it all you non-believers would waste your time even reading an article like this?"
I can only speak for myself, but I really enjoy the back and forth seen in the comment section. I don't even read the articles much outside of trying to ascertain how many comments it's likely to draw (provocative ti.tle +1, placement on the front page +1, picture of two guys kissing +8, etc.). I really enjoy the back and forth because I value hearing opinions that differ from my own. I like hearing opinions that differ from my own because I nearly always find that it helps me re-evaluate and sharpen my own opinions.
"Could it be that you are not as sure about your non-belief as you would like us to think?"
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I don't want anyone to think I'm 100% sure of anything, because I'm not. I only have yet to be convinced of the validity of any religious dogma or reason for supposing a god.
"The level of anger with which non-believers write always amazes me. What else do you hate?"
I try not to be angry because I'm lazy, and being angry or hating something takes too much energy for too little return. I have many Christian family and friends who I love very much, and we get along quite well despite (or because of in some cases) our ideological differences. Some of the most interesting conversations I've had have been with my more religious friends, I'm always hoping to get a little taste of that here...unfortunately the dynamics of the conversation online is often much less productive and civil than in person, though not always.
"It's a shame we all just don't see things your way isn't it?"
Actually, I for one am glad that I get a chance to have my views challenged, and that there are people out there who are serious about it. If everyone around me always agreed about everything, then I'd never be challenged and it would seriously slow, if not cease, my intellectual growth. I do wish that people wouldn't try to shut down the conversation by insinuating that non-believers shouldn't have a contributing voice though.
"Please remember, we christians love you despite your distaste for our kind. We'll be praying for you. Amen!"
Don't worry comrade, I value your opinions and want to hear them lest I become a prisoner to my own. I wish more people could see the value in that and celebrate diversity of thought instead of seeking to destroy it.
when reading this, you really ought to test it. careful of the seducing spirits. they lurk about with a slight bend to deceive the elect.
when reading this, you really ought to test it. careful of the seducing spirits. they lurk about with a slight bend to deceive theelect.
when reading this, you really ought to test it. careful of the seducing spirits. they lurk about with a slight bend to deceive that elect.
The better question is, what are the dangers of not basing everything we do on biblical principles? Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in the two great commandments; love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. If people were more interested in the truth and not religion bashing they would see the bible could be summed up in redemption and love. Alot can be learned about the character of God in the old testament but Jesus fulfilled the old testament, the new testament, I believe teaches putting others above ourselves, love, tolerance, not nit picking over details and not hate and not war, Jesus is the way the truth and the life. We are told to work out our own salvation within those premature and that all things are permissible but not beneficial, I think we can always sum it up in "What would Jesus do"?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.