Why the Greatest Weapon Against Christian Patriarchy Is the Bible

In her new book ‘The Making of Biblical Womanhood,’ history professor Beth Allison Barr reveals centuries of women that modern leaders keep trying to erase

Sarah Stankorb
GEN
Published in
11 min readApr 30, 2021

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I was seventeen years old in 1997 and thought I might be receiving a call to the ministry. The places I felt safest were in prayer, head bowed over my Bible, or in church, considering this precious, complicated world as a gift and thanking the God who I thought gave it to us.

I even had a good role model, a witty, vibrant associate pastor who told stories that wove together her gentle humor and a faith I saw as beautiful. But as I began exploring what Christian faith might look like, I expanded out away from her curious, humble leadership to attend Bible studies with evangelical friends and their pastor. I grappled with the restrictive, rule-obsessed God I heard about there, started watching The 700 Club, dated a Pentecostal preacher’s son — and discovered, when they laid hands on me, that I had never been saved in the way people in his youth group believed I should be. They all believed the Bible, a mess of history and stories as I understood it, was actually something a good Christian must take literally. I absorbed a grain of doubt — had I been doing faith wrong?

When I confided, “I think I’m being called into the ministry,” to a friend, it was with pain in his eyes that he let me down softly. I knew the Bible, right? He quoted Paul’s prohibition, “women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission.”

Whatever I was experiencing must not be God working in me. Another grain of self-doubt.

As my amorphous, enthusiastic faith increasingly collided with the harsh strictures of evangelical theology bleeding in at the edges of my social circles, I became less certain. By the time I got to college and began studying the Bible in historical context, the newer, more literal sort of faith I’d tried to adopt had morphed into something so stiff, so brittle, it could not take the fractures of more doubt. It broke. I am a woman inclined to leadership (I didn’t know how to change that), fascinated by religion and…

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Sarah Stankorb
GEN
Writer for

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com