What does the Bible say about men and women? It’s a simple question, but the search for an answer can often generate disagreement, confusion and frustration. We’re all aware that different parts of the church have different practices when it comes to what women and men are expected or allowed to do in life and ministry, but it’s all too easy to caricature the ‘other’ point of view without taking the time to understand it.
Lis and Clare are both members of Awesome, the organisation that supports evangelical ordained women in the Church of England, but they have different views on the roles women should hold. Lis is a priest and vicar of St James the Less in Pimlico, while Clare is a deacon who believes that women should not be priests and should only serve as leaders under male headship. The book takes the form of an extended email exchange between them where they explore key passages of scripture explaining how they understand them, and asking intelligent and thought provoking questions of each other.
I loved this book. Lis and Clare are both well qualified for the discussion, having studied and taught for many years while working through questions in their own lives and ministries. Both have a deep love of the Bible and their conversation with each other is respectful, robust and profound. The emails are set in the context of the realities of their lives and the intersection of family, work and personal concerns with the theological issues they are wrestling with. This is not a dry academic debate; it is rooted in the identity and passion of two women wanting to serve God to the best of their ability, being true to what they believe God is calling them to in his word. While neither changes their mind by the end of the exchange, they are able to affirm what unites them and both call for women to be encouraged to use their gifts in the work of God’s kingdom.
This would be a great book to read and discuss with someone who held a different view to you, and there are questions to consider at the end of each chapter. There’s a list of books at the back for those who want to read further. The book comes out of the experience of being in the Church of England, but the ideas and discussion are easily transferable to other contexts. Highly recommended.
Jenny Baker is the director of the Sophia Network and acting festival director of Greenbelt.