This book provides a "third" alternative to the current debates about women's roles in marriage and church leadership = a new starting point. Lee-Barnewall examines the culture of the United States and its historical influence on patriarchal theology and gender-based definitions of inclusion and hierarchy. What if we are asking the wrong questions? What if our current pragmatism - asking "who does what?" - is at best a divisive beginning for discussion?
I found this a fascinating read, having been utterly startled (as a Canadian) by how closely cultural trends throughout American history play out in the lives of local churches and national denominations. I admit to shock during background research for my dissertation - the empowerment of the Spirit for a disempowered group (women in the first generation of Pentecostalism). Why? I saw how closely the surrounding worldviews were mirrored and championed in American churches, including
- the Victorian-era "ideal woman"
- the mid-19th-century to early 20th century "woman of virtue" who upheld morality
- and the woman as valuable domestic servant in post-war America.
While I disagree with several of Lee-Barnewall's conclusions, her theological and cultural research is broad and relevant. Her call to rethink why and how we debate gender issues and roles is provocative and will provide the backdrop for further studies. This book is a useful addition to future studies and discussions in seminary classrooms.