Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Half the Church

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women
By Carolyn Curtis James
Zondervan March 2011
194 pages
From my shelves

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women

After reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's book Half the Sky, Carolyn Curtis James was inspired to take action. She read of the horrific abuse still perpetrated upon women around the world and wondered if we were doing any better as the Christian church. How do we treat women? What place do women have in the modern church? Does God call his daughters to submit to men or are they called to partner with men in order to radically change the world?

While reading through the first few chapters of this book, I felt as if it should really be marketed as a companion book to Half the Sky. James spends a lot of time writing about how inspired and grieved she was by that book and sharing the stories that impacted her the most. I was similarly wowed by Half the Sky, but spending forty pages waiting for original content is not a good start. 

However, she does some very good analysis further into the book. She makes great points about the church zeroing in on a woman's calling as a wife and mother and ignoring many women who have different callings. The widow, the unmarried, the single mother can all be marginalized by a church culture that praises the perfect wife and mom. She argues that the Gospel must be for all women, regardless of their marital status, and that God empowers all women to do great things. James analyzes the concept of ezer, which is translated as the word "helper" and used by many complimentarians as reasoning for women to submit to their husbands and other male leaders. But she argues that ezer is defined as a strong helper and is used most often in a military context. God created women to fight for each other - just ask any woman whose loved one is in danger. 

After a few chapters of in-depth research and compelling arguments, she seems to hit a wall. Her premise is that God created men and women to comprise a whole, not that women are made to support or assist men. But James draws back and refuses to name her argument for what it is. She has clearly argued for an egalitarian church, one where "the blessed alliance" between men and women enables them to do more than they ever imagined. But she won't name it. She writes that "taking sides in the debate seemed an unnecessary distraction that would take me off mission and cost me half my audience - something I am unwilling to do." She doesn't seem to realize or be willing to acknowledge that the half an audience she would lose by calling herself an egalitarian is the same audience she is bound to lose when they read passages like "rich, collaborative, interdependent relationships between God's sons and daughters are vital to both genders and to make the body of Christ stronger."

Carolyn Curtis James has taken up the cause of women in the church. She advocates for them, calling the church to be a beacon of hope to women trapped in patriarchal and cultural cruelty. She calls us to become a church of men and women working for mutual causes instead of getting caught up in technicalities. I wish she had been better able to separate her book from Half the Sky and that her argument had been more cohesive. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to present a full gospel for all people, one that includes the widow, the single mother, the child bride, and the woman who was trafficked. But I'm left wondering how she proposes that we do that. In spite of that, Half the Church presents a lot of good answers and perhaps more importantly, many vital questions. James' research is sound and her call for women to rise up and become the ezer-warriors that God created them to be is one that cannot be ignored. 

7 comments:

  1. It seems strange to me that this author thought that this book needed to be written. What specific tradition with Christianity was she writing from? It's been a long time since I've heard the word "submit" be bandied about with anything like earnestness.

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    Replies
    1. It is still an issue in some churches, specifically very conservative ones. I will be pleased as punch when it is a thing of the past.

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  2. Nice review, Lindsey. It is sad that the author gets to the edge but refuses to jump. I wish she had said what she wanted to say. But glad to know that Carolyn Curtis James has taken up the cause of women in church and the book has many positive things about it. Thanks for this review.

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    Replies
    1. It was very frustrating. I thought she had some great things to say and I wish she really committed to it.

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