Unladylike is Half-Right: It’s About Theology, Too (Book Review)

“The issue of women and leadership in the church is not an issue of theology, but an issue of justice.” Pam Hogeweide in Unladylike

She’s half-right. Sexism is injustice wherever it occurs including the church. But Pam Hogeweide challenges more than just injustice in Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. Eradicating the injustice she identifies requires rewriting the theology of churches that claim they interpret the Bible literally.

The premise that the Bible is the “literal, inerrant word-of-God” results in a reading of the text that undervalues women in leadership roles. Despite their protestations to the contrary, so-called literalists’ approach to reading the canon is not consistently literal. Some passages are read literally – such as those that dismiss the full humanity of women – while others are dismissed or rationalized away. (See also, Let Metaphor Be Metaphor and You Don’t Have to Check Your Brain at the Door)

With a background in more fundamentalist churches, Hogeweide takes a contextual and holistic trek to determine what the Bible says about women. Reading the Bible this way, requires a redefinition (or dismissal) of complementarian theology. Complementarian theology states that women and men are equal but have different, complementary roles.

Historically promoted by men, this interpretive lens conveniently gives the powerful roles within the church and marriage to men. This is the theological core that creates injustice for women in Hogeweide’s more conservative church.

Hogeweide challenges anti-women practices using an informal, readable style woven within the framework of her personal journey. Her writing is engaging and will undoubtedly resonate with other women (and hopefully men) within theologically conservative churches.  Her failure to directly address the theological core that undergirds the injustice she has experienced means she is unlikely to change the minds of the powerful.

Unladylike is but the beginning of overcoming an injustice. Perhaps, Hogeweide’s role is simply to shine a light of awareness. She offers herself as a kindred spirit for women who are uncomfortable with  practices that dismiss their full humanity. Unladylike begins a conversation that may later lead to reforming the theology that makes an injustice possible.

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