Shawna shares in her book what may be your story, how she herself once upon a time did sit down and did shut up as a girl, as a woman, because she is female. She writes:
Growing up in an evangelical church, I heard some about the women of the Bible. Not much. Just enough to tell me that Godde's will for me was to grow up, get married, and have kids. That's what Christian women did. That's what the women in the Bible did. And sure enough, whenever I heard about the women in the Bible, they were wives and mothers, taking care of their families.... [I was taught in Sunday School] that the Bible was full of stories, chapters, and verses declaring that women should have no authority anywhere. Women should always be in submission to a man whether it be father, husband, or church leader. They can't be trusted to teach, preach, or lead because that was the way they were made. Not to mention Eve was the first one to sin, so that means women have to be more gullible and easily deceived than men.... [I was taught] eight verses ... used as a prism to interpret every other story, chapter, and verse in the Bible regarding women[:]When Shawna started reading and studying the Bible for herself, however, her story changed. Today, here's Shawna:
As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
--1 Corinthians 14:33b-35, NRSV [3 verses of "out of over 30,000 verses in the Bible"]
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
--I Timothy 2:11-15, NRSV [5 verses of "out of over 30,000 verses in the Bible"]
Shawna R. B. Atteberry is a writer, theologian and storyteller who empowers women to be the leaders Godde calls them to be at home, work and church by exploring the Divine Feminine and stories of the women in the Bible. In addition to Women Who Didn't Shut Up & Sit Down, she is working on her second book, Career Women of the Bible. She blogs at Shawna R. B. Atteberry, a safe haven for women to explore their calling and vocations without antiquated judgments about what a woman's role should be.So how did Shawna get from Sunday School (where she wasn't taught to read the Bible except through the prism of the 8 verses quoted above) to being the person she is today? Well, she's read the Bible for herself, and continues to study the Bible, and from it she's gained examples of biblical women who have encouraged her own experience.
Shawna is also an associate editor for The Christian Godde Project: Exploring the Divine Feminine Within the Christian Godde. The goal of The Christian Godde Project is translating the New Testament using Divine Feminine names, images, and pronouns for Godde. The Divine Feminine Translation is a work in progress. The Gospel According to Matthew is available free of charge on the Christian Godde website.
Shawna has over 10 years of pastoral experience, and she worked in the publishing industry for six years. She was an ordained minister and is now a lay leader at Chicago Grace Episcopal Church where she teaches on the women of the Bible and occasionally preaches.
She lives in Chicago with her husband Tracy and their cat Victoria.
Experience is the prism, or hermeneutic, by which Shawna reads all of the Bible now. In her book, it's also the prism by which she has us, her readers, consider and re-consider women and women's roles in the Bible and in our own contexts too. So let me talk some about my experience with Shawna's book. She kindly sent me an early draft for review. I read it on a cross-country plane flight; the professional flight crew were exclusively white men, and the servant flight attendants were only black women and men. It was 2011. I mention the race and gender and class of the people employed by the airline for this flight, and the date, for a reason. The striking and noticeable context of separations along racial and gender and class lines on this particular airplane was my experiential context as I read how Shawna considers the once-normal but still-lingering experiences of human separation by race and gender and class caused by the Bible you didn't read. She considers how the prism of a few verses of the Bible can impact the ethics of many. Shawna writes:
So, what are we in the 21st century supposed to think about this? Do Christians (particularly Christian women) have to be held in rigid gender roles based on these verses? Do women have no choice but to sit down and shut up because these eight verses are used to marginalize and negate every Scripture regarding women working, women making their own decisions, and women in – 1 Timothy 2:11-15, NRSV authority? That's the way these eight verses have been used through the 2,000 years of the Christian Church. But I've learned that just because something in the Bible has been interpreted in a certain way for millennia doesn't mean that interpretation is right. Look at slavery. Over 100 years ago American Christians were using passages in the Bible to justify [the class of slaves and to justify race-based] slavery. Now no American is going to use those passages in Scripture to justify slavery today. We recognize that even though it’s endorsed in the Bible, slavery is wrong. It's unethical.Her book goes on to review scholarship that opens up the interpretation of the eight prism verses. Readers, getting to the very last page of Shawna's book, will have encountered Shawna's gleanings from the works of scholars and writers such as Claudia Camp, Mary J. Evans, Sarah S. Forth, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Richard Clark Kroeger Jr., Carol L. Meyers, Carol A. Newsome and Sharon Ringe, and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh. Shawna offers research and insights both for her "more conservative readers" and for those "more liberal."
We've changed how we interpret the slavery passages in the Bible. Why can't we change how we interpret the passages about women?
But the power in her book doesn't just come from Shawna's own secondary research sources. The strength of What You Didn't Learn in Sunday School, Women Who Didn't Sit Down and Shut Up also comes from the women in the Bible themselves. It's Shawna's prism, or hermeneutic, of lived experience. Shawna has her readers actually read the Bible for themselves, and then to reflect on the lives of people who would challenge the prism of just eight verses too-narrowly and rather un-ethically interpreted.
The best part of the book (and this short book's lengthiest part) is the reading of the stories of biblical women, the part organized into three sections. The sections are "Women Who Didn't Shut Up"; "Women Who Didn't Submit"; and "Women In Authority (Even Over Men)". In each section, Shawna starts with women in the Hebrew Bible, and then she moves on to women of the Greek New Testament. It's obviously a chronological order, but a wonderful if unintended effect here is that the arrangement gives primacy to the Jewishness of the context of these women. All of the women in the Bible who Shawna has her readers read about are in Jewish contexts even if some are clearly marked in the literary and historical contexts as not Jews. If Shawna is writing as a Christian mostly to Christians, then her book is nonetheless opened up to readers who are Jewish. Moreover, the book is open to anyone of any religion and / or culture since its focus is on experiences that are authorized as legitimate, and ethical, by the Bible of Judaism and of Christianity. Shawna does a wonderful job of presenting the experienced lives of more than a dozen women in history as individuals who you and I might encounter in our own lives today.
The book is inclusive with regard to gender, to race, to class, to religion -- and that's one of its many strengths. The weakness is that the early mentions of "Sunday School" and of verses in the "New Testament" that have been used to silence women might make some readers conclude too easily and too quickly that it's a book just for women, only for Christians, simply for Bible readers, and therefore these readers might shut the book too early. My own experience reading Shawna's book is that it compels me to reconsider how I read the Bible in light of lived experience, others' and my own. The lives of the women of the Bible whom Shawna gets me reading validate the ethics of lived experience that refuses the prism of silencing and of separations. Shawna encourages me and you to read the Bible we didn't read. I'm encouraging you, then, to buy and to read her book.