Mocking the Bible?
Recently I read a conservative complementarian review of the book Year of Biblical Womanhood. They accused Rachel of mocking the Bible and thus declared it a dangerous book for anybody to read. I’m always worried as soon as somebody declares something a dangerous idea, but my main point here is that I think this claim of mocking the Bible is ridiculous. I have so far seen two reasons why this claim makes no sense.
First, think about what the whole project is: she’s striving to live by the hermeneutic of literal interpretation of all Scriptural commands to women. That’s exactly what the conservative churches are always telling women to do! By actually doing it, Rachel is not mocking the Bible. I don’t even think she’s mocking the hermeneutic. She’s actually honouring the hermeneutic more than most who proudly proclaim complementarianism who are, for example, forced to leave out biblical church leaders from their definition of womanhood. Maybe it comes across as mocking because those conservative teachers don’t actually expect women in their congregation to really follow through on the entire hermeneutic, just those things which the teacher claims they have to. This allows the teachers to pick and choose which things they think women should be literally following and which things they don’t need to. For a common example, we definitely want women to submit to their husbands but we’ll let go the part about covering their head every time they pray (which also according to the Bible should be without ceasing, so maybe Muslims have it right keeping women covered at all times).
Secondly, in the process, she’s enduring a lot of pain, from breaking down in her kitchen over her inability to properly prepare a Thanksgiving meal to routinely being called dangerous and contrary to God’s will to being refused sales at conservative book stores over using an anatomical term. People don’t go through this much pain for the sake of mocking something. Throughout the book, despite her wit, it is clear that it is a very hard process on both Rachel and Dan. It oozes through everything she says. It is not a tone of somehow who is aiming to mock the Bible but instead sounds a lot more like some of the reluctant prophets (see Jeremiah as the best example) who grudgingly do what God asks them to do. Feel free to disagree and think she’s not actually a prophet or that she is operating on wrong assumptions, but please don’t belittle her so much as to say that she is just going through all this pain for the sake of making fun of you.
You may disagree with her, but let’s disagree without immediately assuming that those who think differently are automatically heretics leading the world into sin. For 500 years, Protestants have had a serious problem: they equate “the Bible” to their theology, and then they can accuse anyone who disagrees with their theology as being against the Bible and therefore they are able to safely condemn anyone disagreeing to Hell. Historian Alister McGrath refers to this as “Christianity’s Dangerous Idea”: unlike many other religions, in theory Protestants claim that every Christian has equal right to interpret the Scriptures. I say “in theory” because that unfortunately is rarely true in practice; instead, we allow others to interpret but then make sure everyone knows they’re wrong if they end up disagreeing with us. I’ve pointed out this historical problem before: in the first 1000 years of the church, there was one denomination; for the next 500 years there were two; in the 500 years since, we’ve gone to several thousand and it is because of this attitude toward disagreement. It’s ok to understand Scripture differently, and we should be able to have a conversation about it as brothers and (just as importantly) sisters instead of declaring all disagreement as heresy.