A Long Overdue Book Review of “Unladylike”

Let me start with an apology for how long it took me to get to this. A new job and baby made things a bit crazy.

Unladylike by Pam Hogeweide is a window into the soul of many women who struggled with a call to leadership in denominations that do not allow women to have any authority. At first I was going to do an in depth analysis of the book, but really feel a sense that to do so as a middle-aged white guy would do an injustice to the content of the book. I do not have the frame of reference to adequately analyze the experience of a woman in the church.

Instead, I am going to share a bit of reflection on the reality that is expressed in the pages of the book, that of women being oppressed. This book shares the pain experienced by many women in churches that hold to a complementarian view and needs to be seriously considered not solely in terms of gender, but in recognition that we as humans are good at oppression and justification and that the experiences expressed by Pam Hogeweide will find resonance with other oppressed communities.

The unfortunate fact is that there is a great deal of fear in our society right now, and it is the fear of the oppressor looking at a possible future in which he becomes the oppressed. Oppression is so much a part of the “Modern” understanding that even in the church it has become impossible to think that there could be a day on which there is no top or bottom. Someone will, or must always be “over” someone else and our value is based on how many are “under” us. What would change in our churches if everyone started jockeying for the bottom spots rather than the top ones? The problem is that we want to follow Jesus without making the same sacrifice he did. We want to be leaders, but we don’t want to remember Paul’s instruction to the Phillippians about Christian status and authority: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-7)

If our statements about women’s roles and men’s roles or any use of authority in general are not founded in this scripture and the example of Jesus, we are in danger of abusing the gifts and people God has given us. While Hogeweide doesn’t exactly make this point, it underlies most of the work in the book if you read between the lines. The unfortunate fact here is that the church will struggle with internal oppression as long as we agree to the societal myth that someone has to be on top.

The stories of the women that Hogeweide shares, her expression of anger at the attempts to shame or silence her, and what comes across as a genuine desire for a faith that affirms and supports the use of every person’s unique gifts made this a compelling, if sometimes painful, read. What this book did for me was to convict me to examine and reexamine the way I lead to make sure that I am not accumulating power through denying others their gifts from the Spirit.  For this I am grateful to Hogeweide for obeying the Spirit and providing me with much needed encouragement and conviction.

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