BAlison Barr has done everything you think a good Christian should do. She took care of her family, helped others, and learned more and more about the Bible. But in her church, Texas Baptist congregants, incidents piled up that troubled her: priests called for the subordination of women.
Barr had no problem with that for a long time, and one day she was no longer allowed to teach Sunday school due to teenage boys. Her husband was a young chaplain, but was fired when he questioned the strict 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 was a book on the role of women in the Christian church, which provoked angry reactions from many Christians and evangelicals. It was dubbed “The Making of Biblical Femininity” and became a bestseller. Barr and her husband changed churches, became a priest again, and Barr receives hundreds of emails each month from evangelical women seeking a new path since then.
In her book, she attacks a core belief of evangelical Christians: “complementarity” is what religious people in the United States call the view that men and women are fundamentally different and have “complementary” strengths and weaknesses that in turn define their social roles. The woman must support the man and take on a wide range of caring tasks – also within the congregation, where she must be denied the position of patron.
In the book Barr looks at the reasons for this situation and wants to show that it arose from the Bible with less social power relations. She said in an interview that the book is aimed at evangelicals themselves – which is why she often argues within the framework of religious reasoning.
Protestants in many other countries have formally closed the discussion about women in the pastoral profession for several decades. It just started in American evangelical churches. Like Christians in other parts of the world, evangelists 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 to be controlled by a husband; keep her” (1 Timothy 12: 2). Calls to submit to men are actually pleas to early Christians not to submit to the Romans, says Bar, for example. The historian trusts her sisters and brothers in faith to share scholarly arguments.
In her book Barr wants to show that the words of the Bible must be interpreted historically and critically. And that women in the history of Christianity already teach and take leadership roles over and over again. Bar believes that patriarchy in churches has become dominant for social and cultural reasons rather than for biblical reasons. Because evangelicals have been able to expand their social power over the past few decades, and thus their model works in their favour, the possibilities for change seem limited.
Evangelicals, by definition, constitute one of the largest or even the largest religious group in the United States. They are well networked, including in Washington, where they influence policy through various lobby organizations and events such as the National Prayer Breakfast. The current is multi-denominational – this means that Baptists as well as Methodists or charismatic Pentecostals can identify themselves as evangelical. It is estimated that between nine and 35 percent of all Americans are evangelical.
“Award-winning music trailblazer. Gamer. Lifelong alcohol enthusiast. Thinker. Passionate analyst.”