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.

Unladylike: Disciples Have Gender Bias, Too

I have yet to read this recently released book by Portland’s Pam Hogeweide. My comments today then are in response only to the following promotional trailer. 

While my own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been ordaining women since at least 1888, and we were the first mainline denomination to elect a woman as General Minister & President we are not without problems of gender bias. 

How many women who are called by God and confirmed by the church, do not receive calls to serve churches because of systemic gender bias? What about subtle bias against women leaders in our churches that call women as elders and pastors? Do we name it, claim it, and do the hard work among God’s people to change it? Too often in my experience the answer has been no. The comment in this video about non-essentials and essentials of the Christian faith is particularly important to us. If it is an essential, we need to address the injustice directly and lovingly but address it we must.

Intolerance of women in positions of leadership is doctrine in many Christian bodies. In our drive to be ecumenical, do we too often throw women under the bus in the name of unity? Is our polar star of unity trumping God’s justice when we tolerate injustices against women? I do not suggest we refuse to talk to our Christian kindred who come to different conclusions about the scriptures. However, we need to be far more outspoken about the injustices inherent in that position.

Before we are able to speak with prophetic authority to other bodies of the church, however, we need to remove the log from our own eyes. Intolerance of women in positions of leadership is still practiced within a minority of Disciples congregations. (This is possible because we practice congregational governance.) What does it say about our commitment to God’s justice when we refuse to allow women to serve as elders or ministers within our own denomination? Are we accepting that which is unjust simply to avoid losing a congregation from the denomination?

So, before we get smug about our tradition of ordaining women since nearly the beginning of our movement, we need to address injustices within our own body. 


Follow Pam Hogeweide on Twitter at @pamhogeweide