B.eth Allison Barr did everything she believed a good Christian should do. She looked after her family, helped other people, and learned more and more about the Bible. But in her church, a Baptist congregation in Texas, incidents that irritated her piled up: the pastors preached the subordination of women.
Barr had no problem with that for a long time, until one day she was no longer allowed to teach Sunday school because of teenage boys. Her husband was a youth pastor, but he was fired when he questioned the rigid division of roles between men and women. The historian, who teaches at Baylor Christian University in Waco, Texas, felt challenged. She wanted to prove that her church was wrong. The result is a book on the role of women in the Christian Church that provoked angry reactions from many Christians and evangelicals. It’s called “The Making of Biblical Womanhood” and became a bestseller. Barr and her husband changed churches, he became a pastor again, and Barr has received hundreds of emails every month from evangelical women searching for a new path since then.
In her book she attacks one of the core beliefs of evangelical Christians: “Complementarianism” is what religious people in the United States call the view that men and women are fundamentally different and that they have “complementary” strengths and weaknesses that in turn define their social roles. The woman should support the man and take on a wide range of caring tasks – also within the congregation, where she should be denied the office of pastor.
In the book Barr investigates the causes of this attitude and wants to show that it arose less from the Bible than from social power relations. The book is aimed at the evangelicals themselves, she said in an interview – that’s why she often argues within religious logic.
Protestants in many other countries have officially closed the debate about women in the pastoral profession for several decades. It is just getting started in the evangelical churches of America. Like Christians in other parts of the world, Evangelicals refer, among other things, to a passage in the Bible from Paul’s letter to Timothy, which says: “I do not allow a woman to teach, nor do I allow her to rule over her husband; keep her quiet ”(1 Timothy 2:12). Calls to submit to men are in fact appeals to early Christians not to submit to the Romans, argues Barr, for example. The historian trusts her sisters and brothers in faith to get involved in scientific arguments.
In her book Barr wants to show that the biblical words must be interpreted historically and critically. And that women in the history of Christianity did indeed teach and take on leadership roles over and over again. Barr believes that the patriarchal order in the churches has become so dominant for sociocultural reasons rather than biblical ones. Since evangelicals have been able to expand their social power over the past few decades and their model thus works for them, the possibilities for change seem limited.
Evangelicals, by definition, make up one of the largest or even the largest religious group in the United States. They are very well networked, including in Washington, where they influence politics through numerous lobby organizations and events such as the “National Prayer Breakfast”. The current is interdenominational – this means that Baptists as well as Methodists or followers of charismatic Pentecostal movements can define themselves as evangelical. It is estimated that between nine and 35 percent of all Americans are evangelical.
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