This is a long overdue review of a book project that I have heartily endorsed since I first heard about it in 2009 despite my stormy relationship with it. More about that later…
The Resignation of Eve : What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be The Church’s Backbone by Jim Henderson is a book that garnered criticism before the manuscript was barely begun. Jim, who is someone I have a warm relationship with, has authored several books. When he announced that his next book project would be about the status of women in the church I was an enthusiastic supporter. In my sphere of friends, however, there were plenty of critics who thought Jim was crazy.
“How can he write about women in the church when he’s a man? He ought to at least have a women coauthor!” exclaimed more than one woman. “Jim will look like an idiot if he goes through with this,” forewarned another. Jim himself once sent anemail to me that he’d received from one woman so concerned about his project that she had contacted him in earnest to plead her case: don’t do this without a a woman beside you. Eventually Jim did invite a woman to be his coauthor.
I was that woman.
We worked together for about six months. The book seemed to be taking shape. Jim took some of my suggestions to heart and I introduced him to a number of women who were interviewed for the book.Some of those women’s stories are found within the pages of ROE…but not my story. I was fired by the publisher after my stance of support for same-sex marriage was discovered as well as the occasional F bomb dropped at my blog. I was not the kind of author they could have on board and so, as sudden as the opportunity arrived to co-write with an author I admired, the opportunity evaporated. That was a hard moment on my writing path.
I never stopped believing in Jim and this project despite my abrupt displacement from it.
Why it’s taken me this long to review it is due in part to my procrastination as well as revisiting a place that was, in all honesty, a great disappointment in my life that I’d prefer to forget about.
So that’s my full disclosure of my intimate history with this book. I wanted you to know that as I write this. It is not just a review.
With that out of the way, let me (finally!) get to the review! The book is classic Henderson. Jim is a storyteller and he loves to tell the stories of others. He is a self-described “spiritual anthropologist,” someone who is keenly interested in the role religion plays in the lives of everyday people.
I asked him one time, “Why this topic, Jim? Why women?”
“Because of my mom,” he said. Jim’s mom was a huge influence in his life. I met her once at an Off the Map event that Jim produced. Body frail, but eyes flashing with vitality as she shook my hand with a firm grip. There was a feisty spirit about her that resonated with me. It is my hope to be a spunky white-haired woman someday. It was sad news to learn of her passing shortly after ROE was published.
Jim approached ROE like he has many of his past projects: he began seeking out people who were willing to tell him their story. He knew some stories within his field of vision, like Kelly Bean, a ministry leader here in my city of Portland. She and Jim have been collaborators on several occasions. And then Helen Mildenhall, a self-described atheist in Chicago who has been a supporter of Jim’s past escapades in bridging dialog between the faithful with non-believers. (Anyone remember the Conversations from the Edge forum Jim set up with Helen as moderator?)
Jim could have stuck with women within his field of vision, but he didn’t. He searched for different stories in an effort to provide a field report of the multiple perspectives that women of faith have about ourselves. From women who are fiercely dedicated to an egalitarian point of view, as well as women who are content in their role as the subservient sex, Jim’s book was written to highlight what women have to say about ourselves. He accomplished this — that is the promise of the book — yet I found myself wanting more depth to the stories I was reading. This is where perhaps the absence of a woman co-author, any woman co-author, could have been beneficial.
As wonderful as men can be with women, there is a dynamic among women that cannot be replicated just as there is a dynamic in the fellowship of men that women cannot duplicate. I appreciate Jim’s heartfelt efforts in listening to a woman’s story and then documenting it in his book. Yet with each profile I hoped for more depth. This could also just be me and my insatiable curiosity.
Like Chapter Six, titled, Satisfied with the Status Quo : The Lee Merrill Story. In this chapter, Jim profiles a conservative Christian woman who is content with the traditional complementarian view of women and men. Jim respectfully questions her to give the reader a glimpse from Lee’s point of view of how she is content with women having certain roles. He did this with a gentle hand as the majority of women in the book are decidedly not complementarian, and he did it well.
By the end of the chapter I am familiar with Lee’s comfy relationship with Complementarianism (or Christianized sexism as I prefer to call it) yet I want to know more,like how does she feel as a woman who’s identity has been shaped and informed by the church? How does she view herself? Has she ever known a woman who was egalitarian in view and practice?
This is not a heavy criticism leveled at Jim and his interviewing skill. It is more like getting a nice meal you enjoy so much that you’d really like seconds. I would have loved seconds on most of the chapters. But really, I am honestly like that with many books I read. I am like the Pentecostal woman at the front of the prayer line pleading, “More, Lord, more!”
My fave chapter in the whole book is about a good friend of mine : Sandwich Lady Meets Men of God : The Denie Tackett Story.
Denie’s story is much different than Lee’s. Denie felt a distinct call to minister the love of God to the homeless men and women who congregate in her city’s downtown parks. She began to do this on her own, despite her faith community discouraging her because she was a woman. Denie’s ministry began to grow and flourish and with it came different men who wanted to help…only the help they wanted to give was to push Denie out of leadership and instead Be The Leader since her ministry lacked male headship. Denie held firm. In every case these helpful brothers quickly moved on.
But there was one male leader who came along side Denie and truly respected her authority. Jim highlights the relationship that developed between Denie and former Vineyard president, Todd Hunter, and how Todd’s acceptance of Denie’s ministry leadership provided the space for true collaboration to occur.
Denie’s story in ROE is important for she is an example of a common challenge for women who are in ministry leadership. It can be a great big GRRR… when a holy roller of a brother comes along to “help.” Denie and I had many phone calls about these things.
Jim did a good job honoring her story and giving readers a view of the unique challenges women like Denie face who have the courage to lead without permission from men.
The Resignation of Eve is a timely book for Christ followers. Coincidentally it was released within a month of my own book. And yes, my passion for women’s equality was fanned into an even bigger flame from my short involvement with ROE. It would be accurate to say that Unladylike was born when my role in ROE died, though I would not realize this for two more years.
I love that on Amazon our books often come up linked together. Henderson and Hogeweide. Even though we didn’t co-author ROE together, we are both pushing the boundaries back for women in the spheres that we travel in.
I recommend The Resignation of Eve, especially to those readers who are still unsure what the big deal is about women and the church. ROE will show you what the big deal is.
One last thought, my absolute fave part of the book is the dedication. It made me cry as it spoke directly to me. Literally. And you’ll just have to read the book to see what I mean by that.
The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone? is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.com
**HAVE YOU READ THE RESIGNATION OF EVE? WHATAYA THINK??