Rarely do I read a book and feel from page one that the author started with a hypothesis, then worked his statistics and stories to make that hypothesis true. Yet, such seems to be the case with Jim Henderson's newest The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church's Backbone?.
Henderson believes women are leaving the church in droves for one reason--inequality, because there is a glass ceiling in leadership which prohibits them from becoming pastors or elders in the church, because women feel they are undervalued and unappreciated.
In the preface, George Barna of the Barna Research Group says, "I don't know if I agree with all of Jim's conclusions..." That's a nice way of saying it. From the Author's Note at the start of the book, Henderson appears to twist statistics to suit his hypothesis, playing on the reader's fear that women--and only women--are leaving the church in droves, so we Christians should change our ways or there will be no one to serve in the future kingdom.
The problem is Henderson conveniently leaves out any statistics about men and their rising absence from the church pew. A quick search of Barna's website shows men and women both leaving the church. Granted, the 18% increase in "unchurched" women is much higher than men's 9% increase; yet, Henderson doesn't even mention males, as if their church attendance/participating is stable when women's are plummeting. He also cites a 2005 Gallup study showing 38% of women are unchurched but fails to mention that same study showed 49% of men were also unchurched.
Again, Henderson cites Steve Smith's "Study Tracks Church Attendance Trends" to bolster his claim that women have shifted away from the church over the past two decades; what he fails to mention is that Smith believes this shift is not caused by a power-struggle between the have's (men) and the have not's (women) but because of increase in women's level of education.
Henderson even commissioned Barna to do quantitative research of women; yet, when Barna's research finds that "few [women] seem frustrated about their opportunities to lead in the church," Henderson dismisses the study, implying that women are really frustrated but just don't know it because they're so culturally brainwashed by the male-driven church...or if they're not frustrated, it's only because they've already disengaged or moved to a more free church.
But Henderson doesn't like statistics. As he says "stories are the new statistics" (11). And so, the bulk of his book is composed of stories of women and their experiences.
In the first few chapters where Henderson chronicles the lives of women who don't feel there is a problem with women not leading in the church, have never really thought about it, or merely live with the inequalities for the sake of their husband/children/church unity. Henderson's disapproval of these women's attitudes literally oozes through the narrative, making him almost too condescending to read. Yet, in the later chapters detailing women who are in positions of church leadership or who have left the church for secular leadership roles of Christ-like service, Henderson actually gushes over them, calling one of the women a "hero" and throwing around words like "intelligence" and "wisdom" to describe them.
Of the two women he describes resigning from the church because of their disillusionment with the hierarchy, one of the women is bipolar; her story is sad but seems to have nothing to do with women being denied leadership more than it screams of Christian lack of understanding of the disease and compassion. The other woman who left the church was in therapy before determining somehow that the church was squashing her self and keeping her from true freedom--not really the leadership equality argument issue either. Neither demonstrates the average woman is leaving the church because of leadership inequality.
Henderson admits that this entire debate boils down to how a person interprets Scripture concerning a woman's role in the church, whether Paul's words were meant to be a literal or cultural recommendation. I've lived several years at the brunt end of one denomination's attempt to make women's opinions no more important than the dust they came from. I'm also currently living in a denomination that does not allow women to be ordained pastors or elders.
Yet, unlike Henderson's self-assured stance, I know only that although the footing around the cross is equal, I'm willing to say "I'm not sure" Christ automatically offers all offices equally to all. And even if He does offer universal freedom for the full equality Henderson desires, I'm concerned about something Henderson just dismisses in his mad thrust for women's equality in the church--women leaders being a stumbling block to men.
Just because we can do something freely in Christ doesn't mean we always should.
Henderson's concludes by looking in the secular world and seeing the same problem he sees in the church--women being denied the highest positions of authority, women being undervalued (underpaid), etc. Yet, of this comparison, he says, "When you see these same patterns in diverse systems, it makes one wonder if what we're dealing with isn't a gender issue at all. Maybe it's more primal than that. Maybe it's a power struggle. Those who have it (men) don't want to give it up to those who lack it (women)" (242).
I say maybe it's neither. Maybe, instead, it's God's design from the garden permeating all creation--secular and spiritual--thousands of years later...even after the feminist movements and legal mandates against gender discrimination.
Although several passages resonate with this overworked / undervalued woman, Henderson's attempt to blame all of women's problems with the church on leadership inequality is so blatantly influenced by his own family's experiences that he fails to note how this bias makes his argument horribly simplistic in that it ignores other societal causes behind the statistics and ignores men's comparable church drop offs.
Maybe the Barna statistics are really accurate and the problem isn't that the majority of women feel oppressed by the church. Instead, perhaps the drop in women's involvement in church is because more educated women have become too rational for faith. Or maybe it's that women have become primary or important secondary breadwinners like their spouses so that they don't have time for the church. This book surely doesn't consider these options.
*I am obviously not paid by Tyndale to provide a positive or negative review of its books. I am graciously provided with a complementary copy for review.