Making a financial success of a new book is not an easy business in the age of the internet, especially if you’re writing for a niche market through a small publisher. So I can understand the desire to market your work wherever and whenever you can, milking the social media machine for all its promotional worth.
That being the case, I’m not really against Canon Press making short videos of Rachel Jankovic espousing her gospel of obedience whilst she peels potatoes and answers her scandalizzzed critics. Hey, if I had a new book to promote, I’d love that kind of support from my publisher.
But what should we be making of these videos? How should we react when she derides Beth Moore and the “encroaching feminism” that dares to suggest women can and should preach in the pulpit? Should we be angry, frustrated? Should we watch or boycott? Should we analyse or parody?
Ultimately it’s for each of us to answer those questions for ourselves. In this post though, I’ll tell you what my answers are, and why in the hope that they’ll help stimulate you in your analytical thinking.
If it’s worth our time, there’s a time limit
Against a backdrop of say, climate change, Jankovic’s work pales into insignificance. Also, any time I spend watching her videos and writing responses is time diverted from deepening connections with my family, my local community and my church. If I let myself get distracted, I won’t spend time doing the things I really care about in the long term.
All that being the case, I won’t spend time here that I’d later regret.
Now, this is probably easier for me to do in my circumstances compared with other people, given that I live in the UK and rhetoric like hers has remarkably little traction here. (Woo!) However, if you’re in a culture where not engaging is not an option, I’d still encourage you to be intentional so that, as much as possible, you engage on your own terms.
For the record, this is something Beth Moore does very well.
Ignore Jankovic’s quips
When I first watched one of her videos I honestly thought it was a parody. It wasn’t just that her statements against female preachers were so blatant, it was her wry smile in the last line, like there was some in-joke between herself and the viewer. Only when I looked at her Facebook page did I realise she wasn’t sharing a joke with me.
Humour appears to be a frequent tool in her videos, especially her last lines, and it seems designed mostly to get under the skin of her opponents. In short, it’s a distraction, bait for us to rise to. And I appreciate that it might be scraping unkindly against old and/or fresh wounds, but it’s also hollow: the substance of what she’s saying and what she’s doing isn’t found there. As such, I honestly believe the best thing to do is to regard it as just packaging and ignore it.
Read what she says through the lens of her father: Doug Wilson
Don’t let Rachel’s surname fool you, she’s Doug Wilson’s daughter and, from what I can see, her theology is very much in line with his. If you are blessed enough to have never heard of Doug Wilson, he’s a pastor of a church in Moscow, Idaho, and the epicentre of many controversies.
Rachel Miller published a list of reasons why you might not want to be a fan of the guy — lack of credentials, views on slavery, plagiarism, doctrinal beliefs, patriarchal views on marriage, and his frequent use of misogynistic language. He’s posted his responses here, though I’d caution everyone against giving his version of events much credence. A former member of his church, Natalie Rose Greenfield, has documented how he is well able to distort the truth. (CW/TW: in posts here and here, how Wilson misled his church regarding sexual abuse perpetrated against her by another congregant.)
In other words, don’t be put on your back foot if you hear Jankovic coming out with patriarchal beliefs, backed up by knowledgeable-sounding quotes from scripture, and wrapped in the language of violence. That’s, well, normal for Wilson.
She speaks mainly to complementarians
So, “complementarian” refers to Christians who believe men and women should have different but complementary roles in the home, church and society. Upshot: women are not authorised to lead churches or preach.
There is so much I disagree with here, but leaving all that aside, it suffices to say that I’m “egalitarian” (men and women are equally capable for leadership and preaching) and Jankovic is, well, not.
But we should be aware of who her main audience is. Most of her messages aren’t to egalitarians, but rather fellow complementarians — and this reflects a wider trend in evangelicalism. The winning over of new converts is mainly left to the men, while the women are deployed to keep in order those who are inside the fold.
When viewed from this perspective, Jankovic’s emphasis on obedience is more than a little sickening. Her message isn’t to discredit egalitarians (though obviously, that helps her cause) it’s to keep complementarian families living the complementarian way.
This impacts how I as an egalitarian need to engage: my aim should be less about defending egalitarianism (it’s capable of defending itself) and more about helping people flex their mental muscles to think in ways they haven’t done before.
For example, Jankovic is saying that obedience to Christ is a good thing. Well sure, but obedience is never an end in itself. So what fruit are we aiming for?
Don’t wait for carefully laid out theological reasoning
Jankovic is constrained by the fact that her complementarian beliefs mean she can’t publicly teach or preach. I therefore don’t expect her to lay out why, despite the abundance of egalitarian scholarship, she interprets the women-preacher ‘clobber’ passages the way she does. And I doubt I would get anywhere if I tried to press her to lay out her case. So I won’t bother.
If I want to figure out what she really believes I’ll either have to do that indirectly, drawing inferences from what she does say, or I’ll have to look at what Wilson has said on the topic.
Meanwhile, this means we have a lot more guess-work on our hands, so any rebuttals or analyses we make are going to need caveats. Also, as much as I love good biblical scholarship, this should challenge us to consider methods other than reasoned argument; things like personal testimony, poetry and art, shared study of history.
Don’t put undue weight on the theological reasoning she does give
When Jankovic doesn’t lay out her theology, this also means that it’s easier for her to appear more credible than she is. Don’t get me wrong, she presents strongly as knowing her Bible and theology, and I (currently) have no reason to believe there isn’t a sharp mind behind that. But. In the same way that doesn’t have to exegete the clobber passages to answer egalitarians, she also isn’t required to exegete any other passage she quotes.
So, for example, when she says Christian women are obligated to sacrifice all desire to preach as part of their ‘reasonable service to God’, per Romans 12:1, she gets to just not explain why that verse is relevant or supports her belief.
And I think this is one of the things that bothers me most about Jankovic’s videos. If you disagree, you’re not disagreeing with a clearly presented idea or argument, you’re disagreeing with an attractive, intelligent, young woman, who has an amazing kitchen, who has embraced motherhood — and who presents her theology with such confidence, that it’s easy to feel like the ignorant fool.
That feeling isn’t going to lift so long as you feel like she knows a lot more than you do and manages her life a lot more successfully. So I’d say, don’t be swayed too much by how she presents.
Knowledge is undoubtedly powerful and I believe careful study is one of the wonderful ways that God helps us grow.
But the bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never inflicts shame; if you feel small watching her videos, the probably that says more about the reliability of what she’s saying than it does about your intelligence or character.
And you know what? She’s not the first person to write about obedience.
I think the biggest hurdle in this debate is kindling curiosity in people. We need to be exploring our faith and reaching deep into the history of Christian contemplation. No, it’s not all perfect, but it’s a much, much bigger world than this one publishing house that keeps pushing into people’s timelines.
So it’s up to you, watch or don’t watch; comment or don’t comment. Film quirky parody videos from the comfort of your kitchen, or… don’t. It’s your choice.
But don’t be shy to reach out for other books and authors, ones that maybe you haven’t heard of, or hadn’t heard of until recently. They might kindle questions and curiosities you didn’t know you had, and help you feel a little less alone.
A few books that (arguably) explore the theme of obedience:
- The Normal Christian Life, by Watchman Nee
- Ten, by J John
- Virtue Reborn, by Tom Wright
- The Knowledge of the Holy, by A W Tozer
For the more progressive Christians reading this, I would caution that some the above authors broadly conservative (but not complementarian), so… factor that into your decision making.
Also, apologies for the lack of female authors in there. That said, if you want some great books by Christian women, I’ve heard good things about:
- The Meaning is in the Waiting, by Paula Gooder
- Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey
- A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans
- Literally anything by Dorothy Sayers, including her fiction — and her collection of radio plays The Man Born To Be King. Never mind how good it is as theatre, it’s a cracking piece of theology too.
If you liked this post, you might also appreciate:
- sometimes I wonder… if Rachel Jankovic understands scandal (a response to her criticism of Kaitlin Shetler’s viral poem)
- This quirky potato parody video on Facebook, filmed from the comfort of my kitchen, no less
- This more serious video on Facebook, about the qualifications needed for women preachers
- When we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly (especially for wives)