Blogger Rachel Held Evans, 31, is capturing attention for embarking on an intriguing, year-long quest to very literally live out the Bible's standards for women. After launching what she claims was a 12-month experiment to obey the holy book's commandments for women she penned "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," a book documenting the entire experience.
Evans held true to the explicit and implied rules that are present in both the Old and the New Testaments. Among the more bizarre practices she observed was following the Bible's teachings about women who are menstruating (the Old Testament describes females as "unclean" during their periods) and making her own clothing.
So, when Evans was menstruating, The Daily Mail reports that she stayed home from church and carried around a seat cushion so that she wouldn't make other surfaces "unclean." She also abstained from sex -- and from even touching her husband, she grew her hair out and she slept in a tent. Daily Mail has more about her Bible-based activities:
Among other things her new lifestyle involved rising before dawn each day (Proverbs 31:15), growing out her hair (1 Corinthians 11:15), calling her husband Dan 'master' (1 Peter 3:5-6), and camping out in the backyard for the duration of her monthly period (Leviticus 15:19-33).
She also started making her own clothes, (Proverbs 31:22) and learned how to cook (Titus 2:3-5).
Mrs Evans' project-turned-book examines all the Bible's instructions for women as precisely as possible, taking on powerful theological questions, gender issues, and the possible future of the Church.
While she has attracted thousands of readers and plenty of inquiry, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," won't be released for another 13 days. Much of this intrigue, though, came amid controversy after the author used the word "vagina" in her book -- an action that led some Christian bookstores (mainly LifeWay) to refuse selling the literary work.
"If Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible," she wrote on her blog after learning about LifeWay's stance on the matter.
After she shared this news on her blog, Slate has more about the public's reaction -- and the author's inevitable decision:
Her readers were outraged. Someone started a petition on Amazon called “Put the word ‘vagina’ back into Rachel's book!” Another fan made “Team Vagina” T-shirts. Other Christian authors came forward with their own stories of having had to purge books of mentions of champagne, and scandalous phrases like “darn it.” Readers cheekily dubbed the debacle “Vaginagate,” a name Evans quickly embraced.
With such a public outpouring, the Tennessee-based writer ultimately decided to leave the word vagina in her book and face the consequences.Though Evans makes many conservatives unhappy when she writes things like “I learned to be a feminist from Jesus,” or when she challenges popular church leaders and theologians, she considers herself a member of the group, not an outsider, and is an increasingly prominent voice in the evangelical community.
Evans is a Christian but the book, especially considering what's known about the practices the author engages in that are based upon the Bible, may cause some -- at least before they read it -- to scratch their heads. Why would a Christian woman embark on a journey that, in some ways, could make the holy book she holds dear look silly or antiquated? This is one of the many curiosities surrounding Evans' efforts.
Photo Credit: Rachel Held Evans
The book appears to be a quest on the part of the author to grapple with some of the more complex and controversial portions of the Bible. An official description of the book reads, "Join [Evans] as she wrestles with difficult passages of scripture that portray misogyny and violence against women." The subject matter is clearly difficult, as the author seeks to explore portions of the Bible that are often held up as examples of what critics see as potentially-sexist theology.
While Evans may be well-intentioned, not all of her fellow evangelicals appreciate the project. Consider writer Trillia Newbell, who reviewed the book and then shared her opposition to it with readers. Below, see just some of the reasons why she chose to publicly come out against Evans' project:
First, as a Christian woman who adheres to Reformed doctrine, I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, written by men, inspired by God, infallible in all that it teaches, sufficient for all of life and doctrine, and the very words of God, words from God. And this new book from Evans is a recent example of how this essential truth is lost.
Second, I write this review because I have something of a relational history with the author. I have had the pleasure of corresponding with her over emails and have enjoyed our brief interactions.
Third, and even more centrally, I write this review out of a love for my fellow sisters in the church who are trying to walk with integrity as women, as I am, before God.
Finally, I write this review out of a love for the lost who are searching for answers about God and the Bible and will read this book and sadly be misled.
Newbell claims that, as she read "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," she felt as though "God’s word was on trial." The critic continued, claiming that Evans showed herself to be somewhat untrusting of the Bible and indicated that the book cannot be taken literally.
"This is a book that will reinforce the views of non-Christian men and women who seek validation for thinking Christians are foolish for following the Bible closely," Newbell proclaimed.
Despite these claims, other Christians have publicly backed "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." In the end, of course, opinion about Evans' book will be based, primarily, upon personal theological perspective. Either way, the actions she took to prove her point -- the very literal living out of the Bible -- are fascinating.