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Interlude: In Memory of Nancy A. Hardesty, 1941-2011

As I have been recounting the story behind Nancy’s and my 1974 book, All We’re Meant to Be, I have not shared with readers the backstory of the backstory. That’s why I’m now inserting this interlude between Parts 6 and 7

In May 2009, Nancy Hardesty was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And as 2011 began, we knew it had metastasized and was terminal.

I had been thinking of telling the story behind our writing of the book for several years; but in view of Nancy’s cancer diagnosis, it became more urgent than ever that I do so without further delay. I wanted it to be a special tribute to Nancy.

She and I talked at length about each part of this series , and she was delighted to read the installments as our story unfolded online, post by post.  She would say she could hardly wait to read the next one.  I had her permission to quote selectively from our lengthy correspondence, and we talked about the contents of the upcoming installments (Parts 7 and 8—and possibly more).  We relived the memories together.

I had hoped so much to finish the entire series on “Coauthoring All We’re Meant to Be” while Nancy was still with us, but it was not to be.  She died peacefully in her sleep, under hospice care in Atlanta, on April 8, 2011.  She was 69 years old.

Our Long Connection

It is hard to realize she is gone.  We had been part of each other’s lives for over four decades.  This past weekend, I almost expected her to call, as she so often did on Saturday or Sunday afternoons or evenings.  We would each pour a cup of coffee and talk—most times for about three hours, sometimes even four (and at least once during this past year, five hours).  It always seemed as though we were enjoying an in-person visit.  At times, we would talk during weekdays or evenings as well.  But there were other times when our lives would become so busy that we didn’t have a chance to phone each other for several weeks, although we might keep in touch with an email or two even then.

As with most people today, electronic correspondence had gradually replaced the long, almost daily snail mail letters we had sent across the miles during the writing of our book.  And the lengthy phone calls that became frequent during the past fifteen years or so were only made possible by unlimited long distance plans that would have been beyond our imagination at the time we wrote our book.

Maintaining a friendship over geographical distance

Never in all the years of our friendship did we live in close proximity to each other, although we were surprised when, as part of the of the twists and turns of  life’s changing circumstances, we both ended up as transplanted northerners living in the South.  Still, we only saw each other two or three times a year—mostly at conferences or business meetings of the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, a Christian feminist organization that we and others had helped found around the time our book was published and in which we had remained active over the years.  (Nancy was the only person in the organization who never missed a single EEWC conference from the organization’s beginning up to and including the most recent gathering in 2010.)

Although Nancy and I lived far apart, with time and energy necessarily centered on our own separate lives and careers, we never stopped encouraging each other in our writing, editing, speaking, and teaching careers, as well as sharing our personal lives.  Often when either of us needed advice or support, we knew it was only a phone call away.  The same was true when we knew we had some special joy to share.

We each wrote numerous other books on our own and worked together on the various revisions of All We’re Meant to Be, and we worked as the planners and coordinators of the EEWC conference in Charlotte in 2006; but we never wrote another book together.  I wish we had.

Several years after Nancy began teaching religion in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, both of my sons and families moved to different cities in the adjoining state of North Carolina.  That provided another opportunity for getting together because I was able to combine family visits with a visit with Nancy, especially when I flew from Virginia to visit the son who lives in Asheville, North Carolina.  Asheville was one of Nancy’s favorite places and only a little more than an hour’s drive from where Nancy lived in South Carolina.

Any time that I visited Steve and Karen and the grandchildren in Asheville, we would arrange for Nancy to drive up the scenic route through the mountains so that she and I could spend a day together, beginning with a 9:30 a.m. breakfast in one of the Asheville restaurants (our favorite was The Early Girl Eatery with its fresh local foods directly from nearby farms). There, we’d catch up on each other’s news over a southern breakfast of eggs, homemade biscuits, country ham or bacon, and creamy grits that were out of this world (taking a break from worrying about calories and cholesterol). And of course lots of steaming coffee. Nancy especially liked their homemade jams and jellies on the delicious biscuits; I liked the honey.

Fall-07-May08, 2008 003The rest of the day we would spend walking and driving around Asheville and visiting the city’s fascinating shops, looking at books, jewelry, scarves and shawls, art, crafts, and more.  Or we’d stop and listen to street musicians. Then we’d take a break at a coffee or pastry shop in the  afternoon, such as when I snapped this photo (left) of Nancy  in front of some Christmas decorations in 2007.

Just for fun, during our Thanksgiving 2005 get-together, I persuadedThanksgiving, 2005 038 her to strike a comic pose in front of a humorous poster we found inside one of the coffee-and-pastry shops. I joked that we could have used that for her singles chapter.  (See photo on right.)  She had a marvelous sense of humor and we had lots of laughs together over the years.  This sign provided one of those laughs.

Sometimes, while she and I were exploring downtown Asheville, we would stop at the office of my daughter-in-law; and on one occasion, Karen arranged to meet Nancy and me for lunch at the Grove Arcade, The three of us had a long and delightful conversation, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, as women friends do. We talked about that day long afterward.

For our summer, 2008 “Asheville-day-together,” when I was there for my grandson Chris’s high school graduation, Nancy and I drove over to the famous Grove Park Inn and enjoyed some hammered dulcimer music in the large open lounge area and then sat on Chris's graduation, Asheville, 06-08 002the rocking chairs on the front porch, conversing and watching the “real”guests coming and going.

At the left is  a photo indicating that the phrase, “Nancy rocked!” would be totally appropriate in so many ways.

When we drove back to Steve and Karen’s house that day, we found them sitting on their front porch, along with some neighbors, and we joined right in and had a delightful time conversing, swapping stories, and enjoying some laughs.

Most of the time when I was visiting North Carolina, however, it was around Thanksgiving or Christmas, and the weather was too cold to sit outside.  At those times, after Nancy’s and my day of visiting the shops and restaurants of Asheville, we would join Steve and Karen (and sometimes some of the kids) around the kitchen table for more visiting together. She was very much a part of the family.

Nancy always enjoyed those visits with the family before her hour’s drive home. The time would just slip away, and then she would say,  “Well, I guess I’d better start  down the mountain.”  (It was actually an excellent four-lane highway.)

As you can tell, I highly treasure the memories of these outings that Nancy and I enjoyed at least yearly and sometimes twice yearly.  It is hard to realize those times have now ended.

Nancy knew her cancer was terminal

By the summer of 2010, Nancy knew she was dying—although it was not obvious from the outside.  She told only a few of us who were closest to her.  She went about her life as usual and told her oncologist how important it was that she attend the 2010 EEWC-Christian Feminism Today conference in Indianapolis.  He arranged her chemo treatments to be worked around the conference dates.

At the conference, she looked radiant, and only three of us knew the whole story.  She did not yet want others to know  what the tumor-marker blood tests and PET-scan were showing about the metastasizing of the cancer and the growing realization of the ineffectiveness of the treatment.  She felt strongly about not permitting a cloud of sadness to be cast over a very joyful gathering.

She led a workshop on spirituality, attended the plenary meetings and workshops, actively participated in the business meeting, and mingled with friends as her usual smiling self. In outward appearance and demeanor, she seemed no different than at any other time.

After the conference, she fulfilled her responsibilities as a member of the EEWC-CFT Executive Council at its annual meeting, volunteering to continue another year as the council’s secretary as well as volunteering to serve on the planning committee for the 2012 conference (even though she told me privately that she knew the 2010 conference would be her last).  And she signed up to write one of the upcoming Council Columns that appear in each issue of Christian Feminism Today. As editor of that quarterly publication, I remember feeling a sudden chill as I wondered if she would still be around for the winter (January-March) issue for which she had volunteered to be council columnist.

Sharing her feelings about dying

Not only did Nancy write her column for that winter issue, but it morphed into an outstanding full-length feature article that provides a positive statement of faith and courage in the face of death—and article in which she forthrightly bared her soul and shared her feelings about what it’s like to know one is dying—and to face death unafraid.  The article has touched many people through Christian Feminism Today magazine and is now reaching hundreds more through the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today website, where it is currently the most read article.

Nancy had requested that I not post the article online until after she died, and I, of course, honored her wishes.  I hope  you will take the time to read  “Some Thoughts on Living and Dying,” and be inspired.

The brief author bio included with the article provides information on some of Nancy’s other scholarly pursuits and publications after our completion of All We’re Meant to Be. At the time of her cancer diagnosis, she was researching and planning a book on the history of African American Christianity.

If you go to eewc.com to read her article, be sure to read in addition one of the last book reviews Nancy Hardesty did for us.  I think you’ll appreciate her thoughts about Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith and find that in many ways it supplements Nancy’s own feelings about living a life of faith, conscious of God’s presence everywhere and in everything.  A search on the EEWC-CFT website will also take you to other articles she wrote over the years for Christian Feminism Today and its predecessor, EEWC Update.

Some of Nancy’s simple joys—and the last known pictures of her

One of Nancy’s favorite things to do, often spontaneously, on a Saturday morning (or sometimes on a weekday when she didn’t have classes or meetings on the Clemson campus) was to drive up through the scenic mountains to Flat Rock, NC and visit the grounds of the Carl Sandburg Home (part of the National Parks Service) and other places in the area.

She would tell me about the spectacular spring and fall foliage along the way and the farms and orchards where she would regularly buy fresh fruit—strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and apples—and about how she had become acquainted with the farm families and had built friendships with some of them.  She also got to know the woman who ran her favorite little bakery shop along the way, and the owners of little craft, stationery, and jewelry shops in a couple of small towns.

She especially enjoyed the brilliant hues of the autumn mountainsides and loved to look for sales of pumpkins and colorful gourds as well as unusual specialty decorations for one of her favorite holidays—Halloween.

She took utter delight in such excursions, and I always enjoyed hearing about them and admired her for taking out the time to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban life and the pressure of university responsibilities to enjoy the rustic beauty of the mountainous countryside.

I last visited Nancy in February as I helped her sort through the remaining papers she wanted to be sent to New York and added to her collection already in place in the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship at the Burke Theological Library, Columbia University.

During that visit, we arranged to drive up through the mountains one last time and meet with some of the members of my family who were able to join us. We knew there was a wonderful inn and restaurant that served a fabulous Sunday brunch in Flat Rock, and it seemed an ideal location for our little family reunion, because it was almost equidistant from Steve and Karen’s home in North Carolina and Nancy’s home in South Carolina.  My other son, Dave, and his teenage daughter, Morgan, drove over from Charlotte, NC.   It was very much a family reunion. The conversation was lively and thoroughly enjoyable for everyone, even though underneath both the serious discussions and the laughter was the realization among all six of us that it would be our last time together.  I took a number of photos which I have already shared with the private EEWC group email list; but this past week, Steve and Karen sent me some photos from their camera, taken the same day.  This was the first I had seen these photos, and they meant a great deal to me (and I think they will mean much to readers of this blog, too), coming at this time.

Here are two of them.

The one below, so far as I’ve been able to find out, is the last picture ever taken of Nancy.  Steve snapped it just as we were preparing to go back down the mountain.

Nancy in car, cropped.2-6-11

Looking at it now, I smile as I remember the day she bought that car several years ago.

First, a little bit of background: For some time, I had been urging Nancy to get a CD player so that she could enjoy some CDs that I wanted to send her or had already sent before I realized she didn’t have a player for them.  This discussion of CD players had gone on over a considerable period of time.

Then she called one day to announce that she had finally purchased a CD player. But before I could express my happiness at the news—or even exclaim, “At last!”—she continued: “It came with a car wrapped around it.”

She then said she had accompanied a friend to a car dealer and fell in love with a particular car herself, deciding to buy it on the spot, and was thrilled that it had a built-in CD player.  One of the first CDs she said she listened to, over and over again, was Carolyn McDade’s album, As We So Love.

The other picture that Steve and Karen sent from their camera is one of the last ones that show Nancy and me together.  Since I have shared with readers of this blog numerous photos from the long-ago days when we were writing All We’re Meant to Be in the early 1970s, I thought you might also like to see this one, taken just two months before she died.

Letha & Nancy for blog.004

Coauthors Letha Dawson Scanzoni (L) and Nancy A. Hardesty (R), Flat Rock, NC,  February 6, 2011

Closing Thoughts

Although I began writing this memorial “interlude” days ago, it seems fitting (and more than a coincidence) that I am finishing it on Easter Sunday—the day Christians celebrate Christ’s victory over death, assured by the Resurrection promise that our life story is more than a book or movie that closes with bold letters signaling “The End.”  Instead, the message is “To be continued.”

As Nancy said in her article, “I view the dying process as an adventure, a learning experience, and I look forward to my next assignment from the One whose love is steadfast forever, that Creative Energy which sustains us all.”

In 1973, the year our book manuscript was sent off in final form to Word books, Easter fell on April 22.   I ended my April 18, 1973 letter to Nancy with the words, “Happy Easter, my sister, with very much love.”  And I attached a sticker under it that said, “Our God is a living God, and we are an Easter People!  Alleluia!”

Yes, we are an Easter People.

The message still holds true.  And continues throughout eternity, where time is measureless.  Alleluia!

Happy Easter, Nancy.

Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni.  All rights reserved

___________________

In my next post, I’ll continue with Part 7 of this series on “Coauthoring All We’re Meant to Be”and talk about the book’s actual publication after the long delay in finding a publisher.

Part 6. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be”— Exciting Times in 1973!

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Introduction: In this continued story about the writing of All We’re Meant to Be, I left off in Part 5 with the elation that Nancy Hardesty and I felt when Floyd Thatcher, executive editor at Word Books, expressed interest in seeing our manuscript in August, 1972.  I had earlier worked with Floyd Thatcher during his time as an editor at Zondervan, and he had commissioned and published one of my other books; so I had great confidence in his editorial judgment.

Now he was with Word Books and was actually interested in the manuscript for The Christian Woman’s Liberation! It was such fabulous news after having been turned down repeatedly by so many other publishers.

So much was happening during this period of time

We sent off our manuscript immediately and then waited for Word’s decision over the months ahead. We would not hear  from them again until April, 1973.

Meanwhile, for both Nancy Hardesty and me, 1973 was turning out to be one of our busiest years yet.  I had finished my studies at IU by the end of 1971, but now it was Nancy’s turn to pursue further education.  She was preparing to leave her teaching position at Trinity College at the end of the spring semester and to study toward a Ph.D. degree in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago.  She would begin in the fall. It was a step of faith, and she was applying for grants and loans.  In one letter, she expressed her anxiety about finances because she had heard that gasoline prices might rise to as much as 50 cents a gallon.

Nancy’s activities and the “Chicago Declaration

Nancy was also busy working on a book on singleness (which was never completed); and, as I recall, she was at the same time writing her Eternity magazine series on women in Christian history which eventually served as the basis for her book, Great Women of Faith (Baker, 1980).  In addition, she was writing some articles on women and Christianity for religious periodicals, as well as carrying on her teaching duties, fulfilling speaking engagements, serving as a panelist at conferences, and talking with a formation group of progressive evangelicals who were planning a fall gathering in Chicago to discuss the application of their Christian faith to issues of social justice. They wanted to urge evangelicals to be more involved in such concerns as race, poverty, environmentalism, peace, materialism, militarism, and other issues. (The word evangelical did not have the negative connotation it has in the media today.)

In November 1973,  as plans from this formative group materialized into the larger meeting they had envisioned, a select group of forty to fifty men and a handful of women gathered in Chicago.  Nancy was one of these five or six women and was determined to convince the men that equality for women was a social justice issue, something they had apparently not considered in that way. She drafted a powerful sentence about this to be included in the closing manifesto, “A Declaration of Evangelical Concern. ” The document was signed by all those present.  It  acknowledged the past failure of evangelical Christians to live out Christ’s compassion and justice, and it challenged the evangelical community to change.  This document came to be known as “The Chicago Declaration.”

That meeting resulted in a second much larger gathering a year later, which, through the diligent efforts of Nancy Hardesty as secretary, issued invitations that ensured a much larger representation of women.  This second meeting (November, 1974) not only resulted in the formation of an organization called “Evangelicals for Social Action” (ESA); it also formed the basis for a separate organization, the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), later called the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (EEWC).

Nancy played the principal role in bringing together the women who attended the 1974 gathering, who in the majority of cases had not known each other before that meeting. (In a plenary speech at the 2004 EEWC Conference in Claremont, California, Nancy recounted fascinating behind-the-scenes details about the 1973 and 1974 social concerns gatherings in Chicago.)

Letha’s activities during those busy years

I, for my part, while waiting to hear from Word Books after their request for the manuscript in August 1972 , found the last months of 1972 and early months of 1973 were continuing to present increased opportunities for writing articles, speaking, teaching in the church, counseling Christian women who often wanted to discuss personal problems related to gendered role expectations, writing the Sunday school materials for Union Gospel Press, and proofreading and indexing the book galleys Regal had sent for my sex education book, Sex Is A Parent Affair, which would be published in 1973. I had been writing that book concurrently with coauthoring the “woman book” with Nancy.

scan0003.jLetha&Nancy,Thompson farm

Nancy (left) and Letha (right) take some time out to visit friends at an Indiana farm during those busy years.

An important invitation

Then, as a total surprise in late January, 1973, a letter came addressed to me as “Mrs. John Scanzoni” in care of my husband in the IU sociology department.  It was from Dr. Vernon Grounds, the president of the Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado, inviting me to speak at a conference. I had never met Dr. Grounds, nor did I know anything about him.  He wrote and enclosed a tentative conference program that he said he had been “projecting in sheer faith.”  If his idea worked out, the conference would be held in May and serve as the second in a series of annual conferences on contemporary issues, the previous one having been on theological education.

He explained this year’s projected topic.  “It seems to me high time for a representative company of evangelical scholars to come to grips with one of the most pivotal and explosive of contemporary issues: what are the role and status of women from a distinctly Biblical perspective,”   Wow!  I was thrilled beyond measure to read those words.  Maybe Nancy and I were not so alone as we had thought!   The conference would be called, “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status.”

Dr. Grounds enclosed a complete schedule and list of invited speakers, including the specific topics he was assigning to each of us, not knowing if any of us would accept the invitation or be able to come May 29-31, 1973, just four months away! He said there was just a little bit of donated seed money available for the conference but that they were trying to raise more. He warned, however, that the projected conference would have to be done on a shoestring budget and could only cover our transportation, meals, lodging and a $50 honorarium.   Would I be willing to come and speak?

The invited speakers

I glanced over the list of projected speakers as well as assigned respondents to their papers.  The list included professors of theology, psychology, sociology, and biblical studies (all men) and two women. I was to be one of the two female speakers.  In addition, there would be the honorary chairwoman, who would introduce the speakers, and author Rosalind Rinker, who was invited to lead devotions before each session.

My assigned topic would be “Women’s Role in Christian Ministry.”  The other female speaker was assigned the topic, “The Revolt of the Second Sex: An Overview” (later changed on the printed program to “The Revolt of Women: An Overview”).  Her name?  Virginia R. Mollenkott, Ph.D., professor of English and noted Milton scholar (shown below in a photo I took in 1975).

As soon as I saw her name on the list of invited speakers,  Virginia Mollekott,1975-1 I knew without a doubt that I wanted to go  to the conference, no matter how pressured my schedule was over the next four months! I had never met Virginia Mollenkott, nor had I heard her speak; but I was a big fan of her writing.   I had read some of her articles in Christianity Today, as well as her first book, Adamant and Stone Chips: A Christian Humanist Approach to Knowledge (Word Books,1967), which said on the book jacket flap, “Many people from sheltered evangelical environments suddenly discover that there’s a big wide world to be explored. Often their education has been so unrealistic that the discovery leads them to reject the true with the false.”

I had also enjoyed reading her second book, In Search of Balance (Word, 1967).

I thought of Dr. Mollenkott as an intellectual woman, a deeply committed Christian scholar, and a brilliant thinker and writer. But until seeing Dr. Grounds’s projected conference program, I had no idea she had done any thinking about the woman issue. I was tremendously excited about the idea of meeting her.

I immediately replied to Dr. Grounds, accepting his invitation.  I wrote:

I agree with you that it is high time that evangelicals give serious and creative thought to this very important contemporary issue. . . .It concerns me deeply that attitudes, traditions, and biblical interpretations by many Christians have conveyed to the world that Christianity doesn’t liberate women at all. That idea has come through, not only in women’s lib literature, but also through the mass media—such as on TV’s “All in the Family.” Thus, many modern people have been given the impression that Christianity holds women down, and may even turn away from the gospel because of it. (I’ve known of cases where this has been a real stumblingblock.)

Miss Nancy Hardesty (of the English faculty at Trinity College, Deerfield, Illinois) and I have written a book together entitled The Christian Women’s Liberation (over 300 typed pages in which we have tried to be both scholarly and practical), which is under consideration by a publisher at present. I’ll try to remember to enclose an outline. May I suggest that you consider Miss Hardesty as an additional or alternative speaker in the event some of the others are unable to participate in your projected conference? Perhaps you have read her chapter on this subject in the recent book by Clouse, Linder, and Pierard, entitled The Cross and the Flag. I don’t know what her teaching schedule would be in May or if she could come if you would be interested in her participation, but I just thought I’d take the liberty of mentioning her to you as another person who has given a great deal of thought to this subject. (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Vernon Grounds, February 1, 1973)

Nancy registered as a conference participant, and Dr. Grounds kindly arranged for her lodging to be covered by having the two of us stay in the home of one of the friends of the seminary. My plane to Denver connected at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport so Nancy was able to arrange to meet me there and fly out on the same plane.

New friendships

Shortly before the conference meetings began, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott walked into the room; and as we introduced ourselves, her first words to me were: “You were so smart to write that article as a history piece about past feminists answering their religious critics.”  I realized she was referring to my article, “The Feminists and the Bible,” which had been published in Christianity Today a few months earlier (Feb. 2, 1973 issue).

I was delighted beyond measure to learn that she, a scholar whom I esteemed so highly, had read and liked my article!  I told her I had recently appreciated a new article she had written, too, for The Christian Herald—which I believe was her first one to address the woman issue directly.

Another name on the conference program  had also become familiar to me.  Dr. Paul Jewett, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and I had begun corresponding shortly before the conference because he, too, had read my  article,“The Feminists in the Bible,” and had written to me in care of Christianity Today to express appreciation. In his first letter to me he had said:

I had to smile at the way in which you maneuvered your way through some of the Pauline materials, alluding to the questions raised by feminists of another generation. I understand, of course, that you really had to do this if you wanted your manuscript to get into print but I would be curious to know what further thoughts you might have on these matters. (Paul Jewett, letter to Letha Scanzoni, February 21, 1973).

I had responded with one of my lengthy letters, describing my biblical and theological understanding;  and now, to my great delight,I had a chance to meet him in person!

Virginia and Nancy were also happy to meet him.  It was the beginning of a warm friendship among the four of us, all of whom within the next few years would become known as authors of books on gender equality within the Christian faith. Paul Jewett’s MAN as Male and Female was published in 1975, with a foreword by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.  Virginia’s own book on the topic, Women, Men, and the Bible was published in 1977.

( An aside here: In 1978, the book Virginia Mollenkott and I coauthored, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, was published;  and that book’s backstory is told in the preface of our 1992 revised and expanded edition.)

More about the “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status” conference in Denver

Since Roz Rinker was unable to attend the Denver conference, Vernon Grounds wrote again to Virginia and me on March 16, asking each of us if (in addition to our major speeches) we would be willing to lead the opening devotions that began each day’s session. “I think our program will be enhanced if we have women performing a spiritual function while the men in the audience listen!” he wrote.

I was assigned to give my brief devotional talk right before Virginia’s speech, which was scheduled as the first speech of the conference.  I felt honored, having been in awe of Virginia’s scholarship for so long.  (In today’s terms, if Virginia were a rock star—which she was in my mind—I was the “opening act.” And I felt privileged indeed.)

I still have the notes from my devotional talk, scribbled in outline form on a 3×5 card.  Realizing there were going to different beliefs  and likely disagreements about women’s roles represented at the conference, I was quite sure our egalitarian point of view would be considered unbiblical by traditionalists who would stress male headship and female subordination.  And I perceived that the discussion could get tense or heated during those three days. (It did.  Strong, opposing opinions were held and voiced, but the discourse was for the most part courteous.)

Mining the Scriptures

I therefore decided to build my brief devotional talk around hermeneutics and the need to recognize principles for interpreting the Bible. I used the analogy of mining for precious gems.  (I later wrote up those notes as an article for The Other Side magazine, May/June, 1976).

For my Scripture text on mining, I used the 28th chapter of Job in the Today’s English Version (also known as the Good News Bible).   I emphasized the loneliness of the task (v.4), and the hard work and risks of digging for truth in new veins of the mine.  But then come the rewards: “They discover precious stones. . .and bring to light what is hidden” (vv.10-11). I talked about Jesus’ words about bringing out treasures both old and new.

The Job 28 passage goes on to say that ultimately the search must be for wisdom, because “the value of wisdom is more than coral or crystal or rubies, the finest topaz and the purest gold” and that “God alone knows the way, knows the place where wisdom is found” (v. 23).  I used that verse to emphasize that “we know only in part” (1 Cor. 13:12), and only God sees the whole picture.  Therefore, humility is important as we go about the task of interpreting Scripture.

I was well aware of the fear of disorder that many traditionalists feel when long-held interpretations are questioned or challenged—even though surface appearances may not reveal the extent of the anxiety.  “Food grows out of the earth, but underneath the same earth, all is torn up and crushed” (Job 28:5).  I said that the security of settled beliefs disappears when different interpretations are considered, and the cosmos may even seem to turn into chaos for a time.   What had always been considered certainty may seem to be “torn up and crushed.”

Setting a tone

I was hoping that such an emphasis, showing an awareness of possible disagreements among the conference group and how unsettling they can be, would set in advance a tone of Christian love, congeniality, and openness to one another as we discussed what I knew would be controversial ideas about women’s roles and gender equality.

I didn’t want the Christians gathered to be afraid of new ways of looking at Scripture passages. I referred to an article that had appeared in the highly trusted evangelical magazine Christianity Today a few years earlier.  Theologian G. C. Berkouwer had written” “The moment the Church loses interest in working the mines of the Word because it thinks it has seen all there is to see, that moment the Church loses its power and its credibility in the world. When the Church thinks it knows all there is to know, the opportunity for surprising discovery is closed  (from  G.C. Berkouwer, “Understanding Scripture,” Christianity Today, May 22, 1970).

(Virginia later told me she thought I may have also disarmed any potentially hostile attendees through someSteve's second birthday,1959 of my opening personal remarks about having had to fly out to the conference on my older son’s 16th birthday and assuring the audience I had first baked his favorite cake before I had left.

I may also have told the story of his second birthday many years earlier when I had asked him what kind of birthday cake he wanted me to bake for him.   With a big grin, Stevie had shouted out, “Pink icing!”

Who cared about the cake?  It was the icing that mattered! And so a family tradition had been born.)

Publicity

The “Evangelical Perspectives on Woman’s Role and Status” conference in Denver provided an extra bonus for Nancy Hardesty and me: it gave us  new opportunities to publicize our forthcoming book, which had at last been accepted for publication by Word Books exactly one month before the conference.

Nancy and I, along with sociologist David Moberg, another conference speaker, were interviewed about the conference by the Denver Post religion editor, Virginia Culver.  The article appeared at the top of the religion page on June 1, 1973 under the bold headline” “Churchwomen’s Lib Proposed—More than Meatloaves.”  The article mentioned our forthcoming book.

Throughout the conference, Nancy conversed with attendees and took detailed notes of both formal and informal comments during the discussions as well as the contents of the speeches themselves.  She wrote a news report about it for Christianity Today and another article for the July-August, 1973 issue of the Reformed Journal.

The Reformed Journal article was announced on the cover and printed as the main feature for the magazine.  It was five pages long and described the proceedings of the conference in great detail.  Titled, “The Status of Evangelical Women,” it had the tag line, “Dollmakers for the church nursery?” (The phrase was based on an true incident that I had described during my conference speech.)

There were some people who only  learned about the conference later by reading Nancy’s two powerful articles describing the different opinions expressed at the gathering.  Perhaps not surprisingly, given the controversy that surrounded women’s roles at the time, the seminary (and especially its president) took considerable flak from some seminary supporters who worried that the seminary might “be advocating the women’s liberation movement.”

Jewett correspondence and a summary of Nancy’s and my publishing journey

Paul Jewett had to leave the conference in a hurry to attend another commitment, and wrote me a letter on June 15, 1973, to express regret that he had not had a chance to say goodbye and that we had not had more time to discuss some parts of our earlier correspondence.  He enclosed his class materials for a course he was teaching (that would later be incorporated into his book, MAN as Male and Female) and requested that I share the materials with Nancy so that she could read them, too.

Since he was trying to catch up on some parts of our earlier correspondence, he had written:

I am distressed to see the problem you are having over publication. I surely hope that you are able to somehow or other overcome it. I wish that I had a word of advice but I do not. The problem you mention of wanting something briefer and less scholarly in order to increase their sales is one which I obviously will face to an even greater degree when and if I attempt publication. (Paul K. Jewett, letter to Letha Scanzoni, June 15, 1973)

My response  included a long summary of what Nancy and I had gone through in our search for a publisher.  I am going to include that section below, because it can also serve as an overview or review for readers who might have found themselves “lost” in all the details in my previous post (March 21).  (In looking over my retelling of our publishing adventures, I see the only publisher I forgot to mention was our brief contact with Fortress.)

Here then is part of my reply to Paul Jewett’s June 15, 1973 letter:

. . .I appreciate your concern about publication of the book Nancy and I wrote, but I guess I forgot to tell you while in Denver that Word accepted our book and plans to publish it shortly after the first of the year.  Essentially they want us to keep the book pretty much as is (with regard to both the scholarly and practical aspects) but to cut down on excess verbiage and the repetition that inevitably occurred with two persons working on the book, each doing separate chapters for the most part, with about 280 miles between us.

The manuscript at the time Word accepted it, was 342 pp. long and includes approximately 318 footnotes! To our surprise and delight, Word wants us to retain all the references (in the back of the book) to indicate thoroughness in research and to aid interested readers who want to pursue the study further.  However, the editors want us to shorten the book by about 100 pp., and it is this revising and editing that Nancy and I are working on at present. . . .I’ll try to enclose the outline of the book to give you some idea of how we treated the subject.

. . . .Since you mentioned the problems you might also run into with regard to publication, perhaps you’ll be interested in some of our experiences. (Although I would think a publisher like Westminster or Fortress would quickly grab your book without any problems.)  The first publisher to see our outline was Holman of Lippincott. They had asked to see it after they got wind of our project through an article Nancy wrote for Eternity. But they were disappointed that it was so scholarly and said it would not sell to the traditional “women’s market” because “the titles women buy tend to be inspirational, sentimental, or worse. Witness the big sales of Genie Price,” and they didn’t want to risk poor sales. That there are intelligent, thoughtful, searching women, not to mention interested men, somehow escaped them.

Next we tried Holt, Rinehart and Winston and ran into some of the most courteous, kind, empathic concern we have come across among publishers.  Joseph Cunneen, the senior editor, has taken great personal interest from the beginning. He is also the editor of Cross Currents, as you probably know, and wants a review copy sent there so the journal can carry a review.  He liked the book, gave us much practical advice in letters to both Nancy and I, invited us to call him collect for any additional advice even after he knew Holt wouldn’t be publishing it, and offered to let us use his name as a reference with other publishers.

Yet, he couldn’t talk his firm’s management into publishing the book—mainly because they had published Elsie Gibson’s When the Minister is a Woman a year or two earlier and it hadn’t sold well. In advising on other publishers, Mr. Cunneen suggested first-rate Protestant publishers and denominational houses, such as Eerdmans, Fortress, Abingdon, and Westminster. He assumed, he said, that we had already tried conservative presses such as Revell and Zondervan and that they had turned us down. (Actually, we had not tried them, even though I’ve had book published by both of them, because we wanted to reach a wider audience and this book had a different image in our minds.)

One sentence in Cunneen’s latest letter amuses me now, because he had no idea we would even try Word: “There is no guarantee that Harper or Holt would sell more copies than Abingdon or Westminster; if Word took it—which I doubt—they would undoubtedly outsell us, because they do know and market well to their own audience.”

To continue the saga—we next tried Harper & Row. They took an inordinately long time to make up their minds, kept the manuscript nearly a year (including the time they first looked at the outline, gave us the go ahead, then saw the complete ms.). During that time they had a change of editors which may account for part of the difficulty. At one point, they suggested cutting out most of the biblical and scholarly material and keeping the practical parts. When we expressed hesitation about chopping out the things about our book that we felt were unique, they decided not to accept it.

I think it was Creation House that next looked at the book.  Their suggestion was just the opposite. They wanted the Biblical parts but wanted all the “practical” parts (on marriage, singleness, etc.) omitted. For many reasons, we decided not to go with them.

Then Eerdmans looked at the book and turned it down without any explanation (other than maybe something general like “they had a full schedule of publication” or something).  Interestingly, while it was being considered by them, Nancy ran into James Sire of I.V. Press one day on the Trinity campus. He has often disagreed with her on the subject of female equality but knew about our book so asked how it was coming.  She said, “Eerdmans has it now,” to which he replied, “Oh, they’ll never take it. They’re a bunch of male chauvinists, too.”  Then she asked, “When will Inter-Varsity ever come out with a book on liberated women?”  She said Sire replied that it would never happen as long as he’s editor.   (It hurts to see the way some men joke about these things in a way they’d never dare do if the matter under discussion was something like rights for blacks. But somehow women just aren’t taken seriously.  On the other hand, I shouldn’t be too harsh. Both Eerdmans and I.V. issued editions of that Dorothy Sayers book you read from[Are Women Human?].)

Anyway, next we tried Word, and they were very much enthused and offered a contract right away. [Well, actually not right away, but it might have seemed that way when I wrote that letter in 1973, after that long wait with Harper!]  So that’s how the project stands at present. Revising is going well, and I do think the book will be all the better for the cutting.    (Excerpted from Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Paul King Jewett,  July 3, 1973).

Watch for the next installment of this series.  Part 7 will be titled, “Published at last!”

Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Part 5. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be” -– Getting Published

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Introduction: In prior installments of the story behind the writing of All We’re Meant to Be,” I described the launching of the book project in late 1969 (Part 1) and left off at the end of Part 4 as Nancy Hardesty and I began our search for a publisher in the fall of 1970.

The book was not published, however, until 1974.  But we never lost faith that it would be published, and after each rejection letter, we tried again with a different publisher.  I want to tell that story in two sections, which I’m posting as Part 5 (this one) and Part 6 (the next one) of this series.

Hope and Confidence

In August, 1970, Nancy visited me for a few days as we continued our work on the book. By then, it was shaping up nicely.  After she left, I wrote and thanked her for taking the time and bother to make the long trip.

I really felt the time together was extremely profitable, and once again I’m struck by the way we work so well together, our thoughts clicking together, new ideas or insights by one stimulating the other, and so on.  Surely God is in this!  I’m convinced of that without a doubt.  And I have high hopes for the book, Nancy; I really think it’s going to be far better than either of us dreamed when we began—and that it will have a real ministry. I think the things we’ve thought through, talked through, and lived through are all going to give the book a depth and helpful function it couldn’t otherwise have.  I can’t help but see God’s providential leading in all this—even the experiences of our lives that seemed painful or purposeless at the time.   (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, August 12, 1970).

It was our sharing this belief that kept us going during the next two and a half years—even as publisher after publisher rejected our book proposal (a query letter describing the projected book, the outline, and some sample chapters) and later the actual manuscript itself.

Despair

Even so, we would be less than honest not to admit that there were also times of feeling dejected as time dragged on without any publisher’s being willing to offer a contract.  In one letter, while saying, “we’ve got to hit the jackpot soon,” Nancy poured out her discouragement.

I couldn’t believe it last night as I looked through our stack of five different publishers, all topped with rejection letters.  I guess I don’t feel depressed, just numb. And a little hurt and embarrassed because I’ve talked about the book for so long and people must think it’s awful that so many publishers have rejected it.   I haven’t had the courage to mention the latest rejection to a soul around here.  I almost did to Joan [Olson] the other day, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Well, God knows all that.  When you’ve prayed for something for so long, do you ever get to the point where you just don’t bother anymore because he just doesn’t seem to care?”  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Dec. 18, 1972)

Life goes on

We were not just sitting around waiting as our book proposal (and later the manuscript) was making its rounds.  Each of us was writing articles for various Christian periodicals and accepting speaking engagements which often involved travel, as well as carrying on all the other aspects of our daily lives.

For me, that meant not only family and household tasks but a heavy schedule related to teaching church-related classes and holding the weekly small group meetings of mostly university students in our family’s home. The “small” group that met Sunday evenings had now grown to 25 people, and I not only helped teach and lead the discussion but also made the refreshments each week and made sure the house was cleaned and ready for guests.

In one letter to Nancy I told her how I yearned to have just one Sunday evening off.  During 1970-1971, I was also keeping up my own heavy load of university studies, pedaling my bicycle back and fourth between home and classes (three miles each way).

Often I shared with her stories about my everyday family life, as in this paragraph:

Steve and Dave are off from school all week this week (because the school system ran low on funds so cut off 3 days from the school year—which means the teachers lose 3 days’ pay plus what they lost from Nixon’s freeze), so I have more interruptions than usual and an extra meal to prepare in the middle of the day. But I am trying to take time with them and not be too preoccupied, even though I have started my new project. This morning I helped Dave get started on a craft set (wood plaque kit) we got him for his birthday. Steve is busy writing an English report on flying saucers and the project fascinates him; then the afternoons he spends at the computing center [at IU].  Seems to be a real scholar and says his work is his fun!  John is still busy at IU every day with the female role/fertility project, and soon all the data will be ready for analyzing—which is when it becomes more fun after all the tedious work of coding.  (Sidelight: that word “fertility” triggered a thought.  A few weeks ago we were riding past the campus area when David started saying something about “the fertility houses” and we at first didn’t know what he was talking about; then we saw what he meant—the fraternity houses. He just got his words mixed up, but John laughed and said it might not be too far off!) (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Nov. 23, 1971)

One afternoon in 1970, I began a letter to Nancy with the opening paragraph written in Latin.  I went on:

I guess from the above you can easily guess what I’ve been working on this afternoon.  I thought of writing the whole letter in Latin, but decided you probably wouldn’t especially appreciate that!

It’s been a busy day.  I got up at five to review for a midterm exam at 8:30 a.m., then another class, then home to work on Latin, then an appointment at David’s school for a conference with his teacher (twice a year they do this instead of report cards), then back home to do a washing, more Latin, and this letter. And really I don’t even feel tired. God is certainly granting strength and peace; I couldn’t explain it otherwise. (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, November 5, 1970).

Shortly before writing that letter I had fulfilled a speaking engagement in California after which a Regal Books editor approached me and asked if I would like to write a book on sex education in the Christian home.  And so in this same Nov. 5 letter to Nancy, I had said, “Yes, as plans now stand, I should be finished with my university work sometime next summer. Probably I will take the Regal Press contract too and begin work on that either in the fall or concurrently with our other book.”

Nancy, for her part, was just as busy as I during those years of waiting for a publisher to say yes. She was taking seminary courses, writing articles, teaching English and writing classes full time, serving as chair of the division of language and literature (which, as she explained in an April 19, 1971 letter, “also means membership on the Administrative Affairs Committee which essentially runs the college)  and faithfully fulfilling the duties of her part-time sportswriting job for the college. In a 1971 letter she wrote:

It’s Sunday evening, 8:30, and I have my sports stories done (two very dismal losses at away games this week—I just figured that the government figures I spent $26.76 driving this week! [Gasoline was 36 cents a gallon then]). I also have 65 term papers read, which is all I can find at the moment. I don’t know where the others are and I can’t say I care. Actually they were rather interesting. I got one on authority in the family and when she turned it in the girl said she was scared—and I know why. She came to all the traditional answers. I told her she could have done more solid biblical research, but I admitted that if she had read six or eight more commentaries, she probably would have come to the same conclusions. Our position isn’t too widespread. (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, January 17, 1971)

Or again on another Sunday evening in 1972:

I’ve been working since I came home from church at 12:30 and just finished grading all the papers and writing my two sports’ releases. I also graded papers before church and last night and yesterday morning. I should be putting together a test at the moment but I’ve wanted to write to you. Work takes so much time and it frustrates me.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Oct. 8, 1972, 9 p.m.)

Her part-time job as sportswriter had attracted attention outside Trinity College where she taught. During the first week of February 1971, the Chicago Tribune published an article by Mike Conklin describing Nancy as a rarity in the sports world—a female sports publicist.  Calling her “Miss Hardesty” throughout, the article pointed out how seriously she took the job, working at it almost full time and becoming one of the school’s most devoted fans, attending all the home basketball games and many on the road.  In the previous fall, the article said, she was the “only person to attend every cross-country meet.”  The article pointed out problems she had encountered at first. “The wire services didn’t take me seriously when I called in results. Some of the newspaper men would tease me,” Nancy told the Tribune reporter.

The article mentioned the book she and I were writing, which at the time we titled The Christian Woman’s Liberation, and concluded that Nancy “probably could add a chapter on her part-time job.” (A photocopy of the article, without a date, was included with Nancy’s letter to me dated February 4, 1971.)

Travel

Not only did we each sometimes travel for speaking engagements during this time, but in 1972 Nancy spent much of July on a tour of the Scandinavian countries.  Before she left, she sent me a schedule and  an American Express brochure that listed the places where mail could reach her throughout her travels.  We carried on our copious correspondence as usual, although a bit less frequently and with much shorter letters because we tried to write them on those pale blue tissue-thin all-in-one airmail letter forms to save on postage costs.

Nancy’s eagerly anticipated letters from Scandinavia brought more that business discussions about getting the book published; they offered me a vicarious visit to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark through her colorful descriptions.

The publishing saga continues

From late 1970 through 1973, we kept shuffling names of publishers around like a deck of cards.  Which one would we try next?  Or should we change the order around again and try this or that one instead?

Along the way, two publishers (the Holman division of Lippincott, and Creation House) had heard about our project through connections with Nancy and had  approached us. But neither of them accepted the book after they looked at the outline, purpose, and sample chapters.  (Russell Hitt, Nancy’s colleague at Eternity magazine years earlier, was now also serving as editor for Holman/Lippincott, so had expressed interest in seeing our book proposal; and Creation House was the publisher of the 1972  Clouse, Linder, and Pierard book, The Cross and the Flag, in which Nancy had been invited to write a chapter titled, “Women and Evangelical Christianity.” )

All of the other publishers were those we ourselves contacted after looking up names in The Writer’s Market or The Writer magazine.  We never thought about contacting a literary agent because, at that time, unlike now, publishers were willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts.  Nancy and I took turns querying various publishers.

Holt, Rinehart and Winston—and a new friend

One of the first publishers we approached was Holt, Rinehart and Winston.  As the 1971 spring semester began at Indiana University, I was talking with my assigned advisor in the IU Religious Studies Department, Dr. William L. Miller, who was one of several professors who had made it possible for me to write large sections of our book as honors projects for independent study credit.  Dr. Miller asked me how the book was coming and who we planned to publish with.

As I described this meeting to Nancy afterwards, I wrote: “When I mentioned we were thinking of Holt, Rinehart and Winston as first choice this time, his eyes lit up and he said, ‘Well, we’ve had lots of contact with them.  Joe Cunneen, their religion editor is really great.’”

I said I knew that Dr. William F. May, our department chair, had published with Holt and asked if he were pleased.  Dr. Miller said he couldn’t have been more pleased with the editor and told me more about Mr. Cunneen, a Roman Catholic who was also editor of the prestigious religious journal, Cross Currents.

Encouraged and excited, I told Nancy:

[Dr. Miller] said with our topic (the religious angle on the woman issue) the book should sell without question. Anyway, he suggested we write to Mr. Cunneen and tell him he [the advisor] suggested him. So that gives us a little personal touch.  (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Feb. 3, 1971).

And so I wrote to Joseph Cunneen and sent him our proposal package.  Although he said that Holt could not agree to publish the book (partly because they had recently published Elsie Gibson’s When the Minister Is a Woman and had been deeply disappointed by poor sales), Mr. Cunneen nevertheless took the time to write us a long evaluation of our project and its marketing prospects.  He offered to give us further advice any time that we wanted to contact him in the future.

I think one reason he was so helpful and understanding was that his wife, Sally Cunneen, had published a book about women’s questions and concerns in the Catholic Church a few years earlier (Sex: Female; Religion: Catholic, Holt, 1968). He had told us about that when we first contacted him, indicating that he was aware of our concerns about faith and feminism in a personal as well as scholarly way.

When I sent Joseph Cunneen’s gentle rejection letter on to Nancy, along with my own letter to her, I talked about the publishing industry in a way that sounds as though it were written today!

I’m wondering now if it would be best for us to continue as planned with another general publisher, or do you think we should contact Floyd Thatcher at Word?  Who will push it more is an important consideration—the book has to reach the audience we believe (and Mr. Cunneen believes) is out there somewhere!

There is also the problem that the publishing business in general is having a hard time right now. The faculty wife that I ate lunch with on Friday told me her husband’s publisher (Appleton) just laid off 20 members of the editorial staff, including her husband’s editor of the book he has in production. When this happened, my friend then called her sister who works for a literary agent in New York and she told her this is happening all over in the publishing business—that with the economic slump in general there seems to be panic in the book, magazine, and newspaper industries.

Also, Mr. Cunneen’s comments made me more aware of what rare specimens you and I are!  In a sense, we are writing for evangelical and conservative Christians, as he surmised (and they especially need the message, as we know!)—and there’s no getting around the fact that we’re taking a conservative approach to the Bible that is somewhat out of vogue in religious circles today; from our writing one would gather we don’t know higher criticism exists—which would cut out the possibility of our being sponsored by some large, major denomination as he suggested. However, on the other hand, what conservatives would claim us either? Other than Word, I can’t even think of  a “broadminded” religious publisher who would want us. Eerdmans probably wouldn’t push it. . . .

But I’m not discouraged. I still have great faith in our book and am sure we’ll find a publisher. But we must be praying that it will be the right publisher. Mr. Cunneen’s assessment should be helpful in thinking this over further, but time is passing quickly, and I’d like to send off the manuscript right away again. So please let me know as quickly as possible what you think. Where shall we send it again?  (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, March 23, 1971)

Nancy replied in a letter dated March 29, 1971. “In some ways, I would still like try Harpers but that’s more sentiment than sense,” she said.  At the same time, she believed that Word would probably advertise it more.  “I would say, send it to one of those two—the choice is up to you. I don’t really care which.”  She added that God would put it where God wanted it but that it might just take us a while to find exactly where that was.  “I’ll be praying,” she assured me.

I wrote back:

I plan to retype the covering letter tomorrow and send our stuff off again—and I’ll take your first suggestion and try Harpers.  Why not?  We said we wanted to try the New York publishers first, so let’s do. Our only problem is the time lapse—waiting 6 or 8 weeks each time. I hope we know something definite by summer so that we can really dig into the project earnestly.  (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, March 31, 1971)

“Ladies in Waiting”—for Harper!

At the beginning of April 1971, then, we sent the outline, sample chapters, and other information about our book to Harper & Row.   By October 1971, they had given us the go-ahead to send them the entire manuscript for consideration, which we did.   Our hopes were high.

Then we heard nothing further from them until March, 1972 when they wrote wanting major changes and asked us to reorganize the book drastically and condense it. They especially wanted us to delete much of the scholarly section about gender issues in the Bible, saying such information was available elsewhere, and told us to concentrate on the later sections because they felt those more practical chapters would be of more interest to women.

Nancy and I talked by phone on March 7, 1972.  We were totally surprised at the Harper request for what would amount to a major rewrite.  As Nancy and I brainstormed about it by phone and letter, Nancy suggested we might even discuss the possibility of writing two separate books: a practical one which seemed to interest the Harper editors and marketing people most and then a separate scholarly book. I agreed that this might be an option if no publisher wanted it whole—the way we planned it. “We just can’t let all that work go to waste!” I wrote to Nancy on March 9, 1972.

She replied:

If we wrote him [the Harper editor who had written to us] immediately, do you think we would have a reply by the time we get together the week of March 27?  Yes, and the world will turn to ice cream and they’ll declare my birthday a national holiday!  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, March 14, 1972)

Nancy said she would write to Harper.  At the same time, she said she might approach Joseph Cunneen again (a year after we had first contacted him at Holt)—this time just for his opinion and advice as he had offered to provide at any time.  And so she send off some questions to him about Harper’s suggested changes at the same time as she wrote to Harper.  As before,  Mr. Cunneen replied graciously and helpfully, patiently answering our questions, and even seemed willing to leave the door open to possible consideration of our book again—although he didn’t feel he would be able to promote it to the extent it would need.

Responding to the Harper & Row rewrite request

In part of her reply to Mr. H. Davis Yeuell (then editor at Harper), Nancy addressed his comments about our chapters on biblical scholarship.  Nancy  asked, “Just how much deletion do you intend?”  She continued:

We have written a scholarly book and we would like to keep it that way.  Too often women’s intelligence has been insulted by homey, practical books which do not really grapple with the issues.  While we wish to be practically helpful in the final chapters of the book, we feel that among Christians this can only be done after one has made a strong biblical base against the stereotypes which have kept women in subjection. As one woman commented at a social gathering recently, “Why don’t Christian books about women treat some of these issues in depth? If they expect us to be thinking women, why don’t they give us some documentation?” In researching our book, we were often disappointed in other books on the subject because they gave us no sources for their information, no citations as to where we could dig deeper. We don’t want to do our readers this disservice.

And perhaps this leads to a related point which needs clarification. While we are women writing about “woman,” we have not intended to write a “woman’s” book.  We hope to speak directly and personally to biblical scholars, pastors, teachers—as well as to laymen and laywomen. We feel that the women who read McCall’s are basically intelligent enough and interested in delving into sophisticated biblical exegesis. While the manuscript can certainly be edited for further clarity and conciseness throughout, we would hate to simply delete the basic biblical argumentation. (Nancy Hardesty, letter to H. Davis Yeuell at Harper & Row, March 14, 1972)

Mr. Yeuell answered her by phone on April 12, 1972 and told her that ideally the book would be 120 pages printed or perhaps 160 at most.  Cost was the issue because more pages would mean a book would have to be sold for a higher price(say, $5.95 hardback), which would cut down on sales.  Nancy described the call further.

I tried to question him about his feelings about the extent of our scholarship and he replied that he was ambivalent on the issue, that at “one time” he really did see it as a “woman’s book.” And he noted that “If the book is weighted toward scholarly intent, then at the present time this would restrict sales.” He is not opposed to scholarly apparatus in a book—but of course that costs money (a key theme in the conversation!) (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha Dawson Scanzoni, April 12, 1972)

He told Nancy he couldn’t give definite answers about publishing it but would reply to both of us early the following week.

On April 24, 1972, after an entire year had gone by since we had first sent the query to Harper & Row and been given the go ahead, we each received a rejection letter.  I received the returned 350-page manuscript four days later.

“Well, now we know, don’t we?, “ Nancy wrote to me.  “I’m angry that they took so long, but really I’m very relieved that finally they have just said No and stopped beating around the bush.”  She went on:

I disagree with him [Mr. Yeuell], of course, that the material is available to most scholars—of course, everything is “available” or we wouldn’t have been able to dig it out—though in places our thought on the Bible is original. Yet “available” to be dug out and pulled together logically in one place are two different things. In this regard I think our book does a very valuable service. But maybe the pastors they would reach wouldn’t want this kind of serious, broad material. Maybe it is too technical in places.

What I wish is that before we wrote the book, someone would have been helpful enough to have told us what size is realistic. Then we could have tailored it to fit at that point. (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, April 26, 1972).

My feelings were similar to Nancy’s. When the returned manuscript arrived April 28,  I immediately wrote to Nancy: “I might call you tonight or tomorrow to see what you think we should do with it next!” I suggested we try Holt one more time, adding, “I really like Cunneen and his attitude.  What a contrast.”

I interacted, too, with Nancy’s reaction to Harper’s rejection letter.

I agree with you that Harper’s point about our scholarly material’s being “available” is far-fetched.  By that sort of reasoning nobody would have to write any scholarly books any more—since anybody could dig for hours searching the world over for the sources such books cite!  Also, you’re right—the way we put it together and our interpretations are unique, and many of our ideas are quite original. (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy Hardesty, April 28, 1972)

(Another aside here, as something struck me as I am looking through all these letters forty years later.  Harper’s argument that the biblical scholarship we had discovered and used in our research was “readily available” reminds me of a time many years ago when a woman asked me what kind of work I did.  When I said that I was a writer and wrote nonfiction, she asked what writers did—how they knew what to write about.  I told her about having ideas and questions about a topic and then researching that topic in various ways to gain new understanding.  Part of that involves going to a library and reading books and articles on different aspects of the topic, and then putting everything together with one’s own ideas, theories, and explanations to create an altogether new book or article.  It would then provide additional information and new ways of looking at the subject.   But her mind was still stuck back at my remarks about library research. Looking puzzled, she said, “But if it is already there in all those library books, I don’t understand why you have to write about it, too.”)

Needing guidance

After Harper’s having kept our manuscript out of circulation so long, we were back to square one in seeking a publisher.  But we decided to try Cunneen again, this time with the complete manuscript on the outside chance that Holt might change its mind about publishing the book.

In my April 28, 1972 letter to Nancy, I also acknowledged that our female socialization had no doubt kept us from being more assertive. Joseph Cunneen had alluded to that in his response to Nancy’s earlier letter asking his advice in view of Harper’s demands for what felt to us like an amputation of a section we viewed as essential and then wanting the book reconstituted into something that was not our intent.

I also resonated with what Nancy had said about our not having received manuscript-development guidance from Harper during the year they took to make up their minds. I wrote:

. . .[R]emember one reason we chose Harper was that The Writer market list included their statement that they are a publisher which likes to work with the author from start to finish. Yet they never used that partnership-team approach with us at all. In many ways, they acted much like Revell did with my first book. Which makes me realize I should have  learned some lessons by now!  Cunneen’s right; we were too retiring. We acted like women! Both of us were so busy with other projects and responsibilities—that was part of the problem I think. But we’ll know better next time. (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy Hardesty, April 28, 1972)

So I sent the manuscript to Holt.  And once again, as when we had approached Joseph Cunneen with the book idea in March 1971, he  was encouraging.  But also once again, he had to give us the bad news that Holt was still not willing to take a chance on the book.

Yet he took time to provide us with more wise advice, including pointing out an inconsistency in style that sometimes showed up in some of Nancy’s and my writing as we switched from intellectual discourse to chattiness.  And he suggested we create interest in the book in advance of publication by first writing up some of the chapters as magazine articles for a wide range of religious publications (conservative, middle-of-the-road, and liberal) and also for secular women’s magazines.

Nancy was still in Scandinavia when I received that letter from Mr. Cunneen.  As I summed up for her all that he had said in it, including his ideas of other possible publishers and his suggestion that we cut only 10% or so (far less than Harper wanted deleted), I added these words: “He appreciates our thorough research much more than anyone else has.” (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, dated July 18, 1972)

Nancy replied  from Copenhagen, Denmark, in crisp, pithy, abbreviated sentences to save space on the air mail stationery:

About Holt—I’m not surprised but I am sorry. I wish we could stop worrying about it. But we can’t. Of his suggestions on next try, I favor Fortress—they promote best, publish good books.  Eerdmans is second—good books but don’t sell. It’s too long and serious I fear for Word.  Friendship book [another book we had hoped to write] is more their bag. I still wish we could get secular publisher but seems hopeless.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, July 25, 1972)

Is Anybody interested?

In the next month or two, we sent letters and descriptive material to several publishers all at once, rather than one at a time, and told them what we were doing.  We said we just wanted to find out if any of them might be interested in looking at our manuscript.

Fortress chided us for that approach and said they would want exclusive rights to examine either the proposal or the manuscript for at least six weeks and would want our assurance that no other presses would be looking at it at the same time.  They pointed out that this was standard publishing procedure.

We had followed that standard, of course, with all our previous attempts to find a publisher;  but now time was rushing by, and we had had already had the experience of Harper’s having kept the manuscript out of circulation for an entire year and then rejecting it.

Fortress also felt that we shouldn’t base our approach on our interpretation of the Bible because the Bible could be used to prove anything and that many Christians, “both more conservative and more liberal,” would likely come to different conclusions than ours.  The Fortress editor at the time, Norman A. Hjelm, wrote, “Accordingly, it would seem to me that the value of your book would rest in later chapters rather than an attempt to make either a biblical or theological case for your point of view.” (From Norman Hjelm, Letter to Nancy Hardesty. August 29, 1972.)

Once again, we were being asked to concentrate on the practical parts of the book in which we discussed marriage and singleness, childbearing and childrearing, women in the marketplace and in church leadership positions, and so on—all good topics, of course, but without the biblical foundation that we believed was crucial for the evangelical audience we hoped to reach.

Feeling alone

Not only were publishers rejecting our ideas, but we felt very alone.   Finding other Christians who supported our view of gender equality seemed almost impossible within the conservative evangelical circles we identified with during the early 1970s.  The pastor of my church preached on male headship and female subordination, and the women in the church seemed to agree with him.  In the college Sunday school classes which I co-led with John and another man, I was told by this man that my teaching women that a Christian marriage could be egalitarian would make wives discontent and thus hurt marriages where the wife had been happily fulfilled in her subordinate role until I came along with these feminist ideas.

My pastor once  said in a sermon that he had just figured out why wives seemed so thrilled about going out for a  restaurant dinner.  “It gives them a chance to be waited on!”  he exclaimed, proud of the brilliant insight that had just struck him. It apparently never occurred to him that Jesus talked about serving others, even to the point of washing the feet of his disciples, and that perhaps husbands could “wait on” wives, just as they were expected to “wait on” husbands.

After I gave a talk at Trinity College in May, 1970, Nancy reported that it had been “very good for the campus,” but went on to tell me some of the student reactions:

I can’t say though that it was received with equanimity. As in most areas, the men are the more vocal and as one admitted, they were all very threatened by what you had to say. So the criticisms were often loud and vehement. Since there is not too much understanding of the Scripture involved, some had trouble following your arguments. They didn’t know the scriptures to which you were alluding, so they got lost. But some who got your point, did feel that you were threatening the authority of Scripture. . . .

But of course there were some gratuitous observations: “Children are enough for the women in my life. . . .” I gave a three-minute rebuttal about how long does it take to raise kids against the normal length of a woman’s lifetime. . . .All in all it was very much fun and I think they have begun thinking. Next fall should be even wilder. . . .

Incidentally, one other reaction to your talk from a guy who very obviously read his newspaper as a protest throughout it, was that although he thoroughly disagreed with the entire women’s liberation movement, he was glad that with all the serious problems around there was one cause that was sort of a farce, comic relief and all that. Glad he didn’t tell me that or I would have slapped him just to show how serious we are! (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, May 17, 1970)

Nancy frequently ran into such discussions in some of the seminary courses she was taking.  She said one professor “brought up a point about creation and proceeded to say that women were subordinate and thus were assigned less desirable tasks: e.g. he would rather be lecturing a class in theology than washing diapers, etc.”

He said that women were equal in personhood, but different in role—the same old garbage. So I raised my hand and we were into it. Out of 50 students only one guy really tried to help me out. The girls agreed with him [the professor]

My opening statement was something to the effect that to say women are equal yet subordinate is a plain contradiction by any use of the English language (yesterday morning I looked them up and in two dictionaries—in no way can they be used together, they directly contradict each other in all meanings). Anyway, one girl immediately said that she couldn’t see my point—that one applied spiritually and the other on earth! But we were talking about creation and he had agreed we were created equal. (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Jan. 10, 1971)

She went on to write more about the class discussion and then said:

Letha, I get scared! I can hold up my side in an argument like that but afterward I feel so drained and lonely. I’m glad I’m in this with you, because I sometimes think we’re the only Christians in the world who think women are in God’s image. Somehow I really don’t get upset about what people say about me in print, but in person it’s a different matter. When everyone else seems to be so certain of having “God’s truth,” I find it emotionally taxing to maintain that I too have the mind of Christ. But in praying about this on Friday, I did get some peace. (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Jan. 10, 1971)

Nancy&Letha, 1973scan0004 Nancy (l) and Letha (r) circa 1973.

Where were the other women like us?

In 1972, I too began voicing such feelings of standing alone with so few people who agreed with us, as I  wondered at one point whether maybe we should just go ahead and make the drastic changes the publishers seemed to want.

In a letter to Nancy, I referred again to our biblical scholarship and asked,“Can we really convince the theological world (mostly men) with what we feel is a solid apologetics-type thrust? Will they even listen to such a view?  My experience with my pastor and yours with the theology classes makes me wonder, if not actually despair.”

I continued with some ideas of how we might even totally rewrite the book if necessary.  I continued:

I know in some ways that sounds like a compromise or becoming untrue to our ideals. Yet, Nancy, I’m beginning to wonder. We wrote that book having in mind women “like us.” I’m beginning to wonder if there are many women like us! Actually, we know there aren’t—otherwise we wouldn’t have found it so difficult to find those of similar intellectual, spiritual, and personal interests over the years. That loneliness, that yearning to find other women who think as we do has been a problem over the years. (That’s why it’s so great that we found each other!) We tried to write a book which was basically evangelical (yet tried to be a bit broader than that), feminist, and intellectual. Maybe we just aimed between markets.  Eerdmans would be the closest perhaps to a publisher that tries some of these types of approaches. (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, July 25, 1972)

But Eerdmans turned us down, too.

And Nancy’s friend Russ Hitt of Lipponcott had also lent credence to what we didn’t want to face—that maybe it was true there weren’t many women “like us” and thus our book wouldn’t find an audience.  Russ Hitt had written that while we might not agree on the “traditional women’s market,” he could assure us there was one. He told Nancy, “But you are most unusual among my wide acquaintances. You have a grasp of theology that is not characteristic of many women I meet and attempt to talk to in theological terms. This may be changing, but not in a revolutionary way yet.” (Russell Hitt, letter to Nancy Hardesty, January 4, 1972)

Finally, Good News!

Then on August 27, 1972, in response to that query we had sent out to numerous publishers all at once to see if any of them had any interest at all in our project, we received a letter from Floyd Thatcher, the executive editor at Word Books in Waco, Texas.  He wrote:

I am intrigued by your letter of August 10 and the accompanying descriptive material. Word Books is ready for anything as far as the exploration of ideas in today’s society. For this reason, I most definitely would like to see this entire manuscript and react to it. Please send it along to my attention and we’ll try to get into it immediately, so as to give you an early response.   (Floyd Thatcher, letter to Nancy, August 27, 1972)

At last, perhaps we were on our way to publication!  But I’ll save the rest of the story for the next chapter.

Copyright ©  2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Part 4. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be”—The Writing Process

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Introduction. Part 3 of this series left off at the point where Nancy Hardesty and I met for the first time in mid-November, 1969, immediately feeling that we had known each other for a long time.  During that visit, what would later be titled All We’re Meant to Be was taking shape in long fireside chats as we exchanged ideas on chapter content, research needed, and how we would divide the work. We knew that our writing styles were similar and that blending our material together would not be a problem.  Those two days together were enough to get the project going.

Personal benefits of the book project

After she arrived back home in Illinois, Nancy wrote:

Already I’m beginning to feel that the project is helping me straighten out some of my thinking.  Because of our discussions I feel more at home with myself; I’m beginning to want to plan ahead and do some things, not just drift (that lecture was really to myself and this grand resolve may not last long, but it’s a good start).(Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

I wrote back:

It’s good to hear that you feel the project is helping you personally in outlook, attitude, plans, etc. I’m sure we’ll both find this to be true more and more as time goes on and further progress on the book is made. Then, having ourselves been open to things God wants to teach us in this regard, we’ll be able perhaps to pass on some help to other women—which, of course, is the whole point of writing such a book!  I can tell you share a similar concern, and this is one of several reasons why I feel we’ll work well together.  We’re not out to “prove a point” or “argue for women’s rights” but rather we want to help women to understand better what it means to be human beings made in God’s image and how they can best realize their full potential for [God’s] glory, for the good of society, for the benefit of loved ones, and for their own personal fulfillment. ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

In the letters exchanged after the visit, we also discussed the tone we wanted to have in our projected book.  We both agreed we would avoid sarcasm and bitterness in our writing, knowing that such accusations were often hurled at feminists by opponents of gender equality (who themselves didn’t hesitate to use invective language in their denunciations of feminism and feminists).

In her  Nov. 22  letter, Nancy had also shared more ideas about the content of the projected book. She suggested a chapter that would show: “1. what woman is not: sugar and spice, the weaker sex, a doormat, a fecund mother goddess, and then 2. what woman is, which is basically a human being in God’s image.”  She went on:

And maybe that image doesn’t include sex particularly at all.  Maybe that’s why God is described in images, metaphors that we say are both masculine and feminine.  Maybe that’s why there will be no marriage in heaven. . . .I guess what I’m trying to say is that everyone is in the image of God which contains all human characteristics and sexual differentiation is a secondary thing.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

Scheduling the writing of the book

We knew we were undertaking a project that would require a huge investment of time and energy, and we were already living very busy lives.  “I made it to the library this week and got several more books.  Now if I can just get them read,” Nancy said in that letter . She continued:

We discussed deadlines—rather you brought it up and I avoided it. At least at the moment, I don’t see how I can get to serious writing before next a summer.  I have trouble reading one extra book a week and next semester may be worse with all the novels I’ll have to read for my lit class.  Does that sound too far away? (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 22, 1969)

Acknowledging Nancy’s full schedule of college teaching, grading, and then adding all the new research she was doing for the book, I wrote back:

About the matter of a deadline, I think both of us thought the other wanted to get the book done far sooner than is actually the case; thus, we’ve both avoided really facing a mutually satisfactory schedule
. . . . No, the summer doesn’t sound too far away. . . .Actually, I marvel at all you’ve been able to do on the project thus far . . . . I’ve appreciated your enthusiasm in plunging into this book-idea with such spirit. Already you have contributed a great deal, not only in a substantive way, but also in helping lift my sagging spirits.

I continued:

You’ve described your problems in finding adequate time to work on the book; now let me tell you mine. Then perhaps we can work out some sort of consensus to give us a tentative idea of when we should aim to have the book completed.  (1) As I mentioned to you, I write the junior high Sunday school materials for Union Gospel Press.  This is a lot of writing, eight quarterlies a year (four each of student and teacher books, and a little more than 200,000 words total—which is equivalent to writing four or five average length books each year). That in itself should be plenty to keep me busy, and sometimes I do get a bit under pressure handling the deadlines, especially at certain times when I’m juggling them with family responsibilities and social commitments. But by and large, I can handle it and should be able to fit in the writing of a book without too much difficulty. I was writing regular Sunday school curriculum materials—though not quite so extensively—while I wrote both of my last two books [Sex and the Single Eye, Zondervan, 1968; and Why Am I Here? Where Am In Going? Revell, 1966.  Revell had also published my first book, Youth Looks at Love, in 1964].  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

I listed three reasons why I didn’t want to give up my position as a Sunday school lesson writer: (a) I saw it as a ministry, (b) it kept me studying the whole Bible in great detail, and (c) it provided some regular income without my having to take a job away from my home, thus making it possible for me to be available to the children when they came home from school, and also making it possible to offer a little financial help to my parents who were having some tough financial and health problems.

I then went on to tell Nancy that I had a second schedule problem that could really complicate things.

(2)  Believe it or not, I’m in the process of completing my college education. I had already made application to study in the Religion Department at I.U. [Indiana University] when you were here but didn’t mention it because I thought perhaps I wouldn’t go through with it—especially if we felt we should really dig into the book writing immediately. However, last week I had a most fruitful appointment with the director of admissions and was amazed that after looking at my Eastman and Moody transcripts he gave me far more credit than I had expected, plus encouragement to do as much independent study for credit as possible. So today I mailed in the final formal application forms, and my plans are to do as many courses as possible via correspondence this winter and begin classes in the Inter-session this summer [a semester course crammed into two weeks], then full-time in the fall. Thus, your idea of working on the book during the summer months will suit me very well!  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

I went on to say how I had felt a restlessness and felt it was time to get busy on one of two projects I had wanted to do for a long time but had delayed: one was the “woman book” (with the growing conviction that I should invite Nancy to write it with me) and the other was to complete my interrupted education and pursue a degree in religious studies.  As I mentioned in my part of the original preface, quoted in Part 2 of this series, I asked the small group that met in our home on Sunday nights to pray with me about it, expecting the guidance to be toward one project or the other.

“I think it was more of a case of Abraham’s servant’s “I being in the way, the Lord led me” [Gen. 24:27 KJV] than it was of Gideon’s “putting out the fleece” [Judges 6:34-40], I told Nancy in that December 1969 letter, adding that I didn’t expect both projects to work out and that when they did I knew it meant very busy days ahead!  I wrote:

. . . .You mentioned that you’re beginning to see some purpose in your present state of singleness—and I think you meant the purpose of gaining real insight and experience which you can use to help other women through the book.  I look on my situation similarly and believe God has a purpose in it. The matter of the mature homemaker undertaking higher education is a much discussed subject today among educators and will continue to be even more so in the future. I think my seeing the challenge and problems of this from the standpoint of experience as well as theory can also be helpful in treating it in the book. At least, I hope I can approach this with such an attitude. In a lot of ways, what I’m doing isn’t easy and takes a certain amount of courage.  ( Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, Dec. 1, 1969)

Our frequent correspondence

And so the letters kept flying across the miles between Mundelein, Illinois, and Bloomington, Indiana.  We wrote to each other several times a week and sometimes daily, with many letters written on the same day and crossing in the mails. Nancy was very supportive of my educational pursuits, although I had to squeeze in writing time wherever I could find it, and it was not unusual of me to start a fairly long single-spaced 10-point typed letter with words like these:

I can’t take out much time to write right now—as much as I’d like to. I really have to do more work on that take-home exam (if I do poorly in a sociology course John’s liable to disown me!), and also I must put a meatloaf into the oven for dinner soon.  Then John wants me to go to a movie with him tonight—it will probably be a late show, since he teaches till 6 p.m. today.”  (Letha Scanzoni letter to Nancy, Oct. 28, 1970)

Or again:

If I were a “good little student,” I’d be using this hour of free time (before preparing dinner and the Friday night shopping list) to do another take home exam for social problems (this time on evils inherent in American foreign policy under the present setup.. . .). But save your lecture. I’ve already planned how I’ll write the test and it shouldn’t be a problem.  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, December 11, 1970)

Sometimes Nancy would tease me when I began letters that way.

First, I don’t know if I approve of your taking time to write me when you should be doing a take-home test. As a teacher, I should warn you about procrastinating. (But I’m glad you did it.) I trust you eventually got it done. Your other friends are right: How do you ever get it all done???  19 hours is more than we recommend. But as I say to my students:  You’ll make it!  ((Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, October 31, 1970)

I also was supportive of Nancy in her studies when in addition to her teaching of English and writing, she enrolled in  courses at the theological seminary associated with the college where she taught—and then again later when she moved to Chicago to earn a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago.

During this time, we were also writing our book chapter by chapter and seeking a publisher.  As our letters kept zipping back and forth, I told Nancy in the summer of 1971:

I’ve decided to just keep a sheet of paper in the typewriter and write little bits to you at odd moments. Otherwise, I don’t see how I’ll be able to answer your last two long, rich letters—and I want to very much, not only so that we’ll keep in contact (if time permitted, I don’t think I’d find it hard to write to you daily), but also so that we’ll have it all in writing.

I, too, have noticed how our file of letters has increased over the last year. It’s incredible. I sorted out our correspondence last week and would you believe it now occupies five [pocket] folders!  Again, I was amazed as I saw how much and how freely we have shared. I thought of a statement Joe Bayly made once in his column [in Eternity magazine]—something to the effect that Christians don’t take the time these days to really discuss things by letter, and how spiritually and intellectually enriching this can be. He was contrasting it with the great correspondences of various Christians of the past, I believe. Anyway, as I sorted out our letters into a better system of filing, it occurred to me that, while I’ve often wished (and still do) that you and I lived closer so that we could talk in person or on the phone often, it may be that one of God’s purposes in having us apart is that we do have to sort out our thoughts in a special way in order to commit them to paper, and that then we have this permanent record of the development of our thoughts (and our friendship) and we are able to look up how we’ve dealt with various issues, etc.  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, July 11, 1971).

We seldom talked by phone because long distance charges were exorbitant back then.  And there was, of course, no such thing as email for our correspondence,  nor computers for writing our book—just our trusty typewriters and carbon paper for copies.  Nancy&Letha,1971 Nancy was using an IBM Selectric at one point and a reconditioned IBM Model B later, and I totally wore out one manual typewriter (the letter “e” stopped working, which was a major handicap!) and then bought another manual typewriter—although a few times John brought home an electric typewriter from the university for short periods when he needed me to type some materials for his professional publications.  I could then use it for our letters and book project, too, during that short time.

Nancy and Letha shown here circa 1971

Our lives and correspondence: 1970-1973

What did Nancy and I talk about in all those letters?  Everything!   We were discussing the projected book, of course, but we knew it needed to emerge not only from our research and abstract ideas but from our lived lives as well.

We offered comfort and support to each other when both of our fathers died unexpectedly of heart attacks during those years (Nancy’s dad at age 58 in 1970 and mine at age 68 in 1972).

We shared the little things of everyday life, too.  Nancy would tell me anecdotes about her interactions with her students and faculty colleagues.  In addition to teaching, she was able to indulge her love of sports by moonlighting as a sports writer, putting her master’s degree in journalism to work in a way she hadn’t thought about before.  She accepted an opportunity to cover all seven Trinity College sports for local newspapers and press releases.

She sent me a copy of the April, 1973 issue of Trinity Today, a joint publication of the college and divinity school’s public affairs department which featured a profile of Nancy as “Trinity Sports Woman.” Along with the article was a series of photos of the expressions on her face as she covered a particular game (thoughtfully attentive, biting her lips, grimacing with an unspoken “ouch” at a bad move, and smiling as she wrote down something about the game that she wanted to share with readers).

One Saturday morning in 1971, she wrote of having had only five and a half hours of sleep, even though she had slept in until 11:30:

I’m still ready to say “Yeh, Lord!” this morning even though we spent 14 hours in a school bus yesterday, only to see our team defeated 6-0.  But I’m still proud of them.   This morning I picked up the Psalms and read 25:2 where it says “Save me from the shame of defeat. . .” It echoed almost exactly what the guys were saying last night.  We were defeated but there was no shame in it. We went against a much more powerful, talented team and played our best, but it just wasn’t good enough. Yet the Lord spoke to all of us in different ways through it.

I should start at the beginning—but it may not come out organized. Thanks for that clipping on “spilling out” and your words on friendship. It does mean so much to have someone to tell, share, all the little things that make life meaningful—especially someone who cares and loves and is concerned. Thank you for that privilege, thank you for listening.  (Nancy Hardesty, letter to Letha, Nov. 13, 1971).

I shared the everyday events of my busy life, too, during those packed-full years—teaching a Sunday school class, getting together with other families for picnics, working hard to balance my home responsibilities with all the other facets of my life—as a student and as a professional writer and speaker traveling around the country, along with fulfilling a contractual agreement to write a book on sex education in the Christian home (Sex Is a Parent Affair, first published by Regal in 1973 and later in a revised edition by Bantam Books in 1982).

Also in Nancy’s and my correspondence,I wrote a lot about my sons (who were ages 12 and 9 when Nancy and I started the book).  The boys loved her (and still do), and for a period of time (with her consent of course) she was listed in our will as the designated legal guardian if, while they were still minors, both parents were to die at the same time.  During one of her visits, she stayed with the boys while John and I were away on a short overnight trip.  As we were saying goodbye, Dave, the younger son, asked sadly, “But who will hug me while you’re gone?” And Nancy immediately swept him up in her arms and with a warm squeeze said, “I will.”

Dave & Steve,circa 1971

Off to Camp.  Dave and Steve, circa 1971

Nancy always enjoyed hearing their news about school, friends, camp, and other adventures.  As our book progressed, both Steve and Dave took great interest in it , discussed feminism with us, and even helped in various ways.

Sometimes anecdotes about one of kids served as a springboard for our discussions, as in this excerpt from a 1971 letter when Dave was age 10.  I wrote:

On David’s report card today the teacher attached a little note that I thought applied well to our subject. All the teachers gave David the highest grade (+) on his attitude and cooperation (he did well on his academic work, too), but the main teacher wrote: “David concedes a debated point gracefully. He seems to be in it for the fun or education of it rather than to prove a point or his manhood or something like that. It’s very pleasant.”  I think she meant in regard to discussions, debates, etc. But it struck me how different things might be if boys and men didn’t feel they had to “prove their manhood” but had confidence enough to be tender, considerate, and thoughtful; and if girls and women didn’t have to “prove their femininity” by appearing helpless, docile, etc. as we’ve said so often.”  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, June 9, 1971).

We also talked about the magazines and books we read and also articles we wrote individually for various periodicals during that period, and we were both thrilled when the first issue of Ms magazine was published in the spring of 1972.  We frequently clipped newspaper articles and enclosed them with our letters to help each other build our files of material useful for our book.

We talked about our respective marital states and learned from each other the joys, discouragements, and challenges of both singleness and marriage as they were perceived and presented in the U.S. at the time we were writing.  (I may share more about some of our exchanges on these topics in a  later post.)

The spiritual dimension of our work on the book

“Our spiritual communion is most deep.” Nancy wrote in a letter dated August 26, 1973. “As you said probably not many co-authors, even Christian ones, have prayed over their work as much as we have. Our dedication service was so beautiful and meaningful. I find myself thinking again and again of it.”

She was referring to a private ritual the two of us held together as we dedicated the book to God before taking the package containing the complete manuscript to the post office.  At last we had found a publisher (and the book would be out a year later in August 1974), and we wanted to commit the works of our hands, hearts, and heads to God.

Throughout our writing of the book, we shared with each other what God was teaching us from Scripture and in our own lives.  For a time, we did Bible studies together by enclosing with our letters our thoughts on a book of the Bible (we went through Philippians that way) or on a particular theme ( in which each of us would type out for the other a compilation of the Scriptures we had found on particular topics:  meditations on loving God, on loving others, on temptation, and other subjects).

When we visited each other, we always had times of praying and reading Scripture together.  Sometimes we included the lighting of a candle, making wherever we were seem even more set apart as a sacred space. Sometimes we included a private sharing of the Lord’s Supper together.  (Even though at the time, Nancy was Episcopalian and I was Presbyterian, we believed that when Jesus spoke of being in the midst of two or three gathered together in his name or said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” it didn’t require an ordained clergy person to consecrate the bread and wine.  And I was used to having such services with the small group of Christian couples and singles who met in my home on Sunday evenings.) These times were always deeply meaningful to both of us.

Nancy with flower,1973.scan0005 When Nancy visited me in Bloomington, one of our favorite places for talking and working on our book, as well as for prayer, Bible study,  and communion, was in the out of doors.  We loved to drive to state parks or to a lake for the afternoon. I snapped this picture of Nancy  during one of those outings in the summer of 1972 or 1973.

Humor

We were by no means always serious and often displayed a sense of humor in our letters.  We had plenty of laughs, too, during visits.  I remember one time when Nancy was visiting, my husband had to leave for a conference or speaking engagement, and before he left he told us, “Now don’t forget to put out the trash cans the night before garbage pick-up day.”  He reminded us several times.  But wouldn’t you know, the night before garbage pick-up day, we were engrossed in working on the book until about three o’clock in the morning.   Suddenly we were startled to hear a truck and the banging of metal.  “Oh, the garbage!” one of us said.  We had totally forgotten to put out the garbage cans!  “John is really going to be upset because now it won’t be picked up for a week!” I said.  “I forgot that they sometimes come before sunrise!”

So we rushed to the garage, after hurriedly picking up some waste baskets along the way to empty more trash into the  cans, but by then the truck had passed our house and the houses nearby and was part way up the hill.  We each grabbed a heavy garbage can (how we found the strength, I don’t know) and ran up the hill after the truck, trying to get the workers’ attention.  Finally, they saw us and were able to take the cans.  They must have been totally surprised and puzzled to see two women chasing after them in the middle of the night!  Nancy and I had a good laugh and a good story to tell later.

And in one letter, I told one of my strange dreams (for which I’ve had a reputation, since I remember most of them the next morning).  This one showed how our work on the book had permeated even my subconscious.  I wrote:

I had a weird dream last night (don’t I always??)—one brief one about a cow who wanted to leave her calf and go off on a career on her own!  At another point I dreamed I was talking to Paul Thompson [the child of some friends] and he was only 2 or 3 and was pounding on a nail and saying, “Pounding nails is what men do, isn’t it?”  Whereupon I dreamed I burst into a long lecture on roles: “No, Paul, it’s not what men do—it’s what persons do,  Men can pound nails and so can women. Women bake cookies, but so can men.  Persons do things, not men or women.”  I must have been in a fighting feminist mood last night, though I don’t know why—can’t recall any reading or conversation that would have brought that on!  But I don’t know.  The night before, I dreamed we bought a pet camel!  It was a problem keeping it in the yard, but the kids enjoyed riding it!”  (Letha Scanzoni, letter to Nancy, July 25, 1972)

And then I went into a discussion about a Psychology Today article I had read on dreams.

Seeking a Publisher

In 1970, we decided to start looking for a publisher.  Little did we know how hard it would be to find one and how long it would take!  But we’ll talk about that in the next post in which I’ll share a letter I wrote to Dr. Paul Jewett about how difficult it was to get our book into print.

Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Part 3. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be”—The Coauthors Meet

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Introduction. After Nancy Hardesty’s October 14, 1969  response to Letha Scanzoni’s October 7 letter inviting Nancy to collaborate in writing a book tentatively titled “The Christian Woman’s Liberation”  (See Part 1), Letha wrote a four-page reply suggesting how the two might get the project underway. See excerpts from the correspondence below.

Letha’s letter to Nancy, dated October 18, 1969

Dear Nancy:

Many thanks for your letter. It was great to hear you’re willing for us to work together on the woman book!

. . . . Now about our project. Yes it is good to know you’re so much closer now. Even though I think we can (and will have to) do most of the idea swapping and other work via mail, it would be nice if we could get together once in awhile. In this regard, what would you think of the idea of spending a weekend with us sometime soon? Do you think it would be possible to crowd it into your busy schedule?

. . . .Before I go further—I think it would be a good idea if we keep carbon copies of the letters we write one another, don’t you? That way we can remember what we’ve said! I enjoyed your comments and your candor in admitting your true feelings about the matter. No, I didn’t expect you to “have the answers.”  I don’t know anyone who does, but I know a lot of girls are voicing questions and many women are either confused or discontented with their assigned roles.  Perhaps our own experiences, questioning, and searchings, etc., can help us find at least some of the answers (I honestly believe answers exist!) and then we can, in turn, share these insights and convictions so that other people can be helped.  Agree?

I can understand your feelings of loneliness and dejection upon coming home to an empty apartment after a hard day’s work. (I heard Roz Rinker make a very similar statement at a Faith at Work Conference last year, and missionaries have told me this is the hardest part of being single.)

The companionship and joint-sharing you mentioned in every area of life are certainly what make marriage very wonderful, to be sure. However, on the other hand, some of the “burdens” you spoke of as being a special burden to the single person are also problems of the married woman with an outside job. I mean things like shopping, laundry, seeing that the clean socks and underwear are in the drawer, menu planning, cooking, etc. usually fall to the woman under the present scheme of things, so that she has all these things plus the outside job, plus arranging dental appointments for the kids, attending PTA or other school affairs, etc. These things are just part of life, though it certainly helps to have an understanding, cooperative husband who realizes the responsibility is his also and helps shoulder the load. This matter of division of labor inside the marriage and family and the assignment of “roles” (which the younger generation is beginning to rebel about in regard to marriage) are subjects we should think about and treat in the book, since so much questioning is being done along these lines. For example, in comparing your personal situation with the married men who go home to a hot meal, wifely kiss, and orderly house—the only thing parallel for a working woman would be if she could to home to a househusband who would care for the household while she went out and worked! Did you read the recent Life article about this in Sweden?  Believe it or not, I’ve known personally of two cases where it’s working here in the U.S.!

(You’d never believe the interruptions I’ve had trying to get this letter written.  And I’m even being very “housewifely” today and have been washing and folding clothes and baking three pies in between paragraphs!)

. . . .I agree with you totally about the myth (and it is that) about a person’s need for marriage in order to be totally human and a real person. You had some good thoughts on this.  I’m sure you’re right in saying that the girls in your classes “buy this entirely.” Girls are led to think that marriage is the be-all-end-all of life; society (including the church) has socialized them into thinking this. Consequently, an awful lot of unhappy and ill-advised marriages are entered.  Books and magazines say, “A man’s interests in life are his job and his family; a woman’s interest is her man–getting, keeping, and pleasing him.” If a woman believes this and practices it to the degree often encouraged it can be unhealthy and stifling for all concerned.

One of the purposes of our book should be to help young Christian women see themselves as unique persons, not stereotyped roles, and to think in terms of a total life plan.

Now, to stimulate your further thinking on our very broad subject, here’s a homework assignment. . . Without any attempt at a logical order or organization, here are some things I’ve jotted down to be discussed in the book.  Maybe one book won’t be enough!

1. The changing role of modern women

2. Historical, cross-cultural view of woman’s place and position

3. Troublesome Bible passages (e.g., I Tim. 2:11-15; I Cor. 7;11;14 in regard to marriage and/or women; also Genesis 3 and how it influenced the church’s view of woman; plus such passages as the ceremonial law that a woman was unclean for forty days after giving birth to a boy but eighty days after giving birth to a girl[ Lev. 12])

4. Is the Gospel Good News to modern woman? (Study the gospel accounts with special attention to Jesus’ attitudes toward women. There are tremendous applications here for today.)

5. The Christian woman as wife and mother

6. If a woman doesn’t marry

7. The Christian woman in the church

8. The Christian woman in the world

9. Has the Holy Spirit given spiritual gifts to women as well as men?

10. Rethinking Proverbs 31.

Some books worth looking into (also articles)

[Here I listed the following titles but will skip the comments that I shared about many of them.  This was a period of time when such books were just beginning to appear]

Woman in the Church: A Restudy of Woman’s Place in Building the Kingdom by Russell Prohl, 1957

For an opposite view, see Charles Ryrie’s The Place of Women in the Church

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, also her article, “Woman: The Fourth Dimension” in Ladies Home Journal, June 1964.

The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir

The Church and the Second Sex by Mary Daly

Her Infinite Variety and The Natural History of Love, both by Morton Hunt

The Love Fraud by Edith DeRham

Developing Woman’s Potential by Edwin C. Lewis

Up from the Pedestal : Selected Writings from the History of American Feminism ed. by Aileen S. Kraditor

Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America by William L. O’Neill

The Woman in America (Essays from a special Daedalus issue on this subject)

Women in the Scientific Professions, ed. by Jacquelyn Mattfield and Carol G.Van Aken [here I drew special attention to an article by sociologist Alice Rossi]

Academic Women by Jessie Bernard

Woman in Modern Life by Wm. C. Bier, S.J.

The Woman Movement: Feminism in the U.S. and England by William L. O’Neill

The Service and Status of Women in the Churches by Kathleen Bliss

The Bible and the Role of Women: A Case Study in Hermeneutics by Krister Stendahl

and some booklets put out by the World Council of Churches (Concerning the Ordination of Women; Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family, and Society; Man and Woman: Similarity and Difference).

Also the Report of the Women’s International Ecumenical Conference: The Christian Woman: Co-Artisan in a Changing Society.

. . . .Well, I think this should at least get us started, Nancy.  I’ll be glad to hear any suggestions or book recommendations you might have. Let’s keep exchanging ideas. And if it’s at all possible for you to come sometime; we’d really love to have you spend a weekend with us.

Warm regards,

Letha

Nancy’s Reply to Letha, dated October 25, 1969

Dear Letha:

Sorry to take so long to get back to you—I keep thinking things will settle down, but they don’t.  Today of course is Saturday and I just spent all morning laying out one of our publications. I had originally intended to go downtown to the city to buy some of the books you assigned! My thoughts are fairly random today, but here are some of them.

First, I assume you have begun some system of notetaking—do you see any reason for coordinating?  I usually keep 4X6 cards if that is fine with you—I’m a born shuffler. . . .

Yes, I would like to come down for a weekend.  I could drive down some Saturday morning.  Why don’t you set the date.  I don’t have any fast plans that I can remember except to go home for Thanksgiving. Just tell me how to get to your house.

The outline of the book looks very good although I’m not sure I understand what you have in mind for the last two chapters. I am trying to get started on the reading assignments—don’t count on Trinity’s library having anything, That’s one of the school’s bigger weaknesses.

Did you see the latest Good Housekeeping with an article by Dr. Joyce Brothers titled something like “Not All Women Should Marry!” It’s not worth buying the magazine for, but it did have some interesting things to say. But one line that I think sums up a large part of modern secular thinking, but one I don’t think you would buy is the idea that women don’t need to get married any more to have sex—it’s free outside of marriage for anyone who wants it. I disagree with that even from a perfectly secular view, but I think it’s assumed these days by a lot of people.

Incidentally, for what it’s worth, I try to read Cosmopolitan every month (and I’ve recently subscribed to Psychology Today).  Cosmo has some of the best writing in it—by that I mean journalistically. It also contains some practical hints. But the philosophy is unreal. Can’t say I disagree with it always—it’s just that I can’t find it! The swinging life, that is.

One more serious note: One Sunday several months ago, I was sitting in church in one of my more depressed moods, and I was thinking of the verse, “He was tempted in all points like as we are” and other similar verses. The thought came to me, Well Christ doesn’t really know how I feel.  And then it hit me—it never had before—that he was single until he was even older than I am in a culture that put even more pressure on one to be married. He also as perfect Love knew more than I ever will just what a perfect marriage could mean.  As a man he must have felt the loss of physical sexual expression more keenly than I do.  It was a comforting thought. Have you read Kazantzakis’ novel in which Christ on the Cross is tempted to flee from it all and go settle down somewhere with Mary Magdalene and raise a family?  It may sound a bit crude or revolting, but it isn’t in the book [The Last Temptation of Christ].

Yesterday through the campus mail, we got another example of that oh, so prevalent assumption that everybody who is anybody in the world comes in twos.  There’s to be a faculty dinner in a couple of weeks. The selections on the RSVP blank were: “1. My spouse and I will attend.  2. I will attend but my spouse cannot. 3. We will not attend.”  It’s just the little things.

That’s about the extent of my thought today.  It’s 1:30 and I haven’t had lunch so I’ll go see if civilization is still out there.

Thanks for your letter—I needed the reminder that other women have the same problems. I hope my letters don’t sound too bitter. I’m really not a bitter person—I don’t think. But when I start thinking about this subject, it’s easier to get depressed than when I think about day to day things.

Happy fall.

Nancy

Over the next several weeks, we continued our correspondence, discussing what we had written in the two letters just quoted and in numerous other letters zipping between our homes as well. We arranged for Nancy to visit my family in Bloomington, Indiana, the weekend of November 15.

Before November 15, I had never even seen a photo of Nancy, although she had seen the one of my family that I had been asked to send for the Eternity magazine article published the year before.  Yet we both felt that we already knew each other even before the moment that we actually met in person, and we felt at ease immediately.Nancy Hardesty 1969-71

Since it was near the Thanksgiving season and fresh cranberries and apples were in season and readily available, I was in the midst of baking a cranberry-apple pie when Nancy arrived that Saturday.  I wanted to make a special dinner for our guest to enjoy.  I dashed to the front door as soon as the doorbell rang and didn’t even bother to dust off the flour from my hands and apron.  We laughed about that, saying we hardly looked like the stereotype of tough, strident feminists bent on destroying home and family and spreading heresy in the church, as we would later be accused of—simply because we believed God intended full equality for women and men.

Nancy’s trip involved a five-hour drive each way, so our time together was short.  We only had part of Saturday and part of Sunday, but it was a time of immensely rich interaction as we discussed how we would proceed with writing the book.  We were getting to know each other as colleagues in a project we both cared about.

It was also a time of forming a friendship (already there in embryonic form from our letter-writing) in which we were able to share deeply about our own feelings about the topics we would be writing about.  We sat in front of the fireplace, pads and pens in hand, jotting down notes about how we would divide the labor and other details about what material we wanted to be in the various chapters.  We talked late into the night and again the next day until it was time for Nancy to leave again.  All We’re Meant to Be was being born, although it didn’t yet have a name.

But that’s another story.

Nancy and Letha early visit 1969 or70-1

Although the quality of the photos with this post is not good, I’m including them because I believe these were the first photos of us together.  I don’t think we took any pictures during that first rushed visit.  As far as I can tell, I believe these pictures were taken during the Christmas holidays the following year (1970).

_________________________

Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

PART 2. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be”— Original 1974 Prefaces Revisited

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

(Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni)

Before I continue with the backstory of All We’re Meant to Be, I am reproducing below what Nancy  Hardesty 74cover,AWMTB and I wrote in our respective essays for the preface in the first edition (Word Books, 1974).  Both essays not only sum up in more concise form the story told in my Part One post, but a close look at the prefaces reveals at least four things that are of interest as we look back on it so many years later:

Looking for answers. It is clear that Nancy and I were in process. We were approaching the topic not as experts on how equality could be achieved between males and females, but as seekers. As we did our research, discussed, and wrote about what we were learning, we were often seeking and finding answers to our own questions and then sharing them with our readers.

Our questioning of social norms and expectations. Even though we were questioning and challenging societal expectations for women and men during the time we were writing, we were to a considerable extent caught up in some of those expectations ourselves.  Nowhere is that clearer than in the last lines of the closing paragraph of my preface (for which I’ve been criticized) which show my acquiescence to the social norm that both husbands and wives in heterosexual marriages took for granted, namely, that it was the wife who bore the responsibility for household tasks and childcare — no matter how much her life was otherwise filled with career responsibilities, educational pursuits, writing a book, or anything else.  According to society’s rules, her other pursuits were only permissible if she demonstrated that she first fulfilled those other tasks and fitted the other parts of her life around them in a way that was not expected of husbands.  I worked very hard to follow that dictum. This was the expectation not only  in religious circles but everywhere else as well.  (I’ve written about that on 72-27, the cross-generational Christian feminist blog that I write with Kimberly George. You can read my descriptions of life and gender-role expectations in the 1950s and 1960s here and here.)

The language issue. Although Nancy and I tried to avoid using male pronouns generically to apply to both males and females as was still common practice in the United States, a few slipped through in various places. (An example: “Why should a person’s sex organs be any more relevant to his holding power than his skin color, his ethnic origin, or his religious affiliation?” [p. 85, in All We’re Meant to Be, first edition].)  We even justified it on the basis of grammatical convention. Society was only beginning to question that convention and awaken to the importance of inclusive language, and we were still rubbing our sleepy eyes and not yet fully awake to the symbolic significance of the issue ourselves.

We also, in this first edition and in our own thinking and speaking for the most part, continued to follow the customary use of male pronouns for God, as can be seen in both of our prefaces below.  But at the same time, we broke with tradition in even bringing the matter up at a time when few Christians were addressing the issue at all.  In our chapter on understanding and interpreting the Bible, we emphasized that “God is neither masculine or feminine” but is Spirit, and we showed the many ways female imagery was used for God throughout Scripture. Still we did not follow this awareness to its logical conclusion and instead followed what was considered proper grammar at the time!  We wrote, that the terminology we used for God was “not intended to indicate sexuality but generic personhood. . . . Usually in referring to members of a group or a person whose sex is unknown, we use the masculine. It is generic, whereas the feminine is used in reference only to individuals known to be female. God is neither or both. He contains all personhood: we are all made in his image, male and female” (p. 21).

When the book was published in the late summer of 1974, the publisher sent us on a limited publicity book tour, with some of the media appearances featuring both of us together in some cities and some arranged for each of us separately.  Nancy and I recall having had some disagreements over how much to say about the God language issue and how far to push it, knowing how controversial that issue was (and still is) among many Christians. Our book was already stirring up controversy in its basic premise that called for full equality for women and men in all areas of life.

By the time the first paperback edition was published a year later, we added a study guide (75paperbackAWMTBthe only change in that edition), in which we asked, “What does it mean to say that all language about God is metaphorical?”   We went on to discuss the issue more fully in that study guide section, including writing about inclusive language in hymns, liturgies, and Bible translations, and recommended a number of books and inclusive language guidelines.  This 1975 edition was the only edition of the book that contained a study guide.

AWMTB.1986 Abingdon After the book went out of print at Word Books, Abingdon Press reissued it in 1986 in a revised edition. In that edition, we not only made sure that the text was inclusive (both in references to people and in the avoidance of male terminology for God) but  also included a special section specifically devoted to what we titled “The Language Issue.”

That section began with this sentence, “The major reason that we chose to revise this book rather than simply reissue it was because of our naïveté concerning the language issue in the first edition.”  We wrote:

“Many people think that the language issue is trivial; we did at one time. But the passion which the issue generates belies that conclusion. . . .Indeed, since our thoughts and our theology are expressed in language, changing our language affects every bit of our thinking to the core. Changing our theological language to include  the female is a most radical proposal since all ‘official’ theology to this point has not been‘objective’ as men would like to have us believe, but masculine in authorship, content, and premise. The female has been excluded not just by grammatical conventions but by the authors’ intentions. And most of us have gotten the message, at least subconsciously.” (pp. 32-33)

A year after that red-cover edition of All We’re Meant to Be came off the press, Nancy’s own very helpful book on the topic, Inclusive Language in the Church was published (John Knox, 1987), which complements our book nicely.  And more recently (2010) she wrote “Why Inclusive Language Is Important” for the Christian Feminism Basics section of the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today website.

After the 1986 edition of All We’re Meant to Be went out of print, we extensively revised and updated itAWMTB.1992 Eerdmans for a new edition published by Eerdmans in 1992. We continued to make sure that the language was  inclusive throughout and that the language issue was discussed.  The 1992 edition was the last edition of All We’re Meant to Be that has been published; and although it, too, is now out of print, copies of it and the earlier editions are available through various sources online.

Friendship. The fourth and final observation you may notice in reading the 1974 prefaces below is the emphasis on friendship.  By the time Nancy and I wrote our respective prefaces for that first edition, we each realized that coauthoring this book had been more than an intellectual journey through biblical, theological, historical, sociological, psychological, and anthropological sources as we researched gender roles and relationships. We found that along with the practical applications of what we had found, our coauthorship had also provided us with an unexpected gift — the gift of a deep, rich, long-lasting friendship (over more than four decades at this writing and through many changes in our lives). And it provided a sense of Christian feminist sisterhood that expanded in ever widening circles with the formation of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus that same year that our book was published.  Nancy and I talked about writing a book on friendship as our next book project, but unfortunately we never did.

74cover,AWMTB

Here now are our two prefaces, published in that first edition of All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation:

Letha Dawson Scanzoni’s preface to the 1974 edition of All We’re Meant to Be

Several years ago, after observing reactions of fellow Christians to some of my views on woman’s role in the home, church, and society, it occurred to me that all too little creative Christian thought had been given the subject.  The phrase “women’s liberation” was not yet in use, but stirrings indicating a new surge of feminism were apparent.  Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was on the bestseller list, and articles on “trapped housewives” were beginning to appear in the popular press. Yet, for the most part, it seemed that Christians were sitting on the sidelines saying nothing about the “woman question”—except to voice dismay at the way things were going and to warn of dire consequences for society if women were to forget that their place is in the home.

The idea of writing a book on the subject began to grow in my mind, and I wrote a few articles on woman’s role in Christian perspective for Eternity magazine.  Reader reaction varied, but I was especially encouraged by the interest shown by an assistant editor, Nancy Hardesty.  We corresponded only briefly and infrequently; but from the clippings she sometimes sent for my files, I perceived that we had similar viewpoints. The thought of inviting her to join me as coauthor of a book about women flashed through my mind. But I dismissed it, thinking she was too busy with her editorial responsibilities even to consider it. I laid the project aside to accept other writing assignments.

In 1969, a visit from an unmarried missionary friend rekindled my interest in the projected book.  She freely confided her heartaches, struggles, and questionings and urged me to write on the woman issue and especially to include some help for single women.  Again I thought of Nancy. She had once recommended a book dealing with this topic, and I knew she must have thought a great deal about singleness on the personal level.

However, I debated about writing her. For one thing, I hesitated to invite someone I didn’t even know to join me in such a major project. Also there was the matter of timing. In spite of my writing activities, something of the “restless housewife problem” was creeping up in my own life. I felt this might be the time to return to school to complete my interrupted college education and wondered about the wisdom of getting involved in writing another book. On the other hand, perhaps the book would be just the outlet I needed.

I asked the small group of Christian friends who met weekly in our home for prayer and sharing to pray with me for God’s guidance. I then planned to write to Nancy Hardesty and ask if she would like to join me in writing such a book. At the same time, I would investigate the possibilities of applying college credits from years before to a degree in religion at Indiana University. Whichever of the two paths opened up I would accept as God’s leading.  I never expected both to be his answer—but that is what happened.

God’s timing was perfect. Unknown to me, Nancy had just moved to the Chicago area, only a five-hour drive from my home, making it possible for us to meet soon after I wrote her and to have many delightful visits together since.  I expected to find in her a writing partner, and I did. But more than that, I found a friend. And sister. During my year of completing my university studies, she stood by me with constant encouragement and faithful prayers. She also tried to help me work through the many practical problems of combining family responsibilities with the time and energy demands of a writing career, just as I’ve tried to help her work through the challenges of living as a single woman in a couple-oriented society. Both of us have come to understand the “woman issue” in a broader and deeper sense than ever before, in relation to both married and unmarried women, because we have learned to understand, love, and appreciate each other.

Special thanks are due to my husband John who encouraged us all the way. We are grateful for his willingness to serve as a sounding board for our ideas and for the many research suggestions he gave us. (It helps to be married to a sociology professor who is also doing research and writing in the area of women’s roles!) And we want to thank him for those times when, during Nancy’s visits, he somehow managed to put up with two “liberated women” whose long talkathons sometimes lasted until two or three in the morning and whose engrossment in putting together the book sometimes seemed to take precedence over putting together his dinner! But he bore up well, as did sons Steve and Dave. Our thanks to all three.

–Letha Scanzoni  (then living in Bloomington, Indiana)

Nancy A. Hardesty’s Preface to the 1974 edition of All We’re Meant to Be

The year 1969 marked a turning point in my life. Bitter about the way my life was going and homesick for the Midwest, I agreed to take a teaching position at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois. This involved two things I had vowed never to do: teach, and work for another Christian organization.

During my first frustrating month I received a letter from a woman I had never met and knew only by name from her writing, Letha Scanzoni. She asked if I were interested in joining her as coauthor of a book on women. She warned me that the project was a lonely and controversial one, but suggested that we seemed to have the same views and so might stimulate each other’s thinking. In my reply I warned her that I was no longer a professional writer but an “old maid schoolteacher” and had no answers to the problems of singleness. But I accepted the offer to share the search for some answers to the whole “woman question.”

As Robert Frost says in his poem “The Road Not Taken,” “that has made all the difference.” In the past few years I have been traveling an entirely different road, one which God set me on despite my own logical calculations to the contrary. I have found that I enjoy teaching immensely—enough to motivate me to go back to graduate school for the necessary Ph.D. My writing career has blossomed in several directions. And my relationship with Letha, nurtured by sometimes almost daily letters and frequent visits, has radically changed many areas of my life.

We have written a book together.  It could have been merely an intellectual and business collaboration. Instead it has been a union of two souls. I came to her a bitter, lonely, insecure, frustrated, and troubled person. And I found in Letha someone who was interested not only in my intellectual ideas, but also in the wounds of my heart. I found acceptance, empathy, and love. It revolutionized my life. She has shown me God’s love until I can now truly believe that he loves me. She has understood and supported me until now i can accept myself and step out into new pathways. She has probed and challenged my thinking as I have probed and challenged hers. Together we have struggled with all aspects of what it means to be a woman, married or single, in today’s society.

You have in your hands our answers. We hope that our thoughts will stretch your mind, inspire your spirit, and deepen the love in your heart for all your sisters.

–Nancy Hardesty  (then living in Chicago, Illinois)

Neither Nancy nor I can find a copy of the glossy photo that was usedscan0009-1 on the back inside jacket flap of the first edition of All We’re Meant to Be. But my son Steve, then a teenager, snapped this photo along Chicago’s lake shore on the afternoon that he took  the photo that was actually used; so this will give you some idea of how we looked on the jacket photo.

Letha (left) and Nancy (right), spring 1974.

Coming Next

In my next post in this series on the story behind All We’re Meant to Be,  I’ll continue where we left off in the previous post (January 7, 2011), with more of our correspondence and a description of the actual process of coauthoring the book together.

PART 1. Coauthoring “All We’re Meant to Be” —The Beginning

Introduction:  The book, All We’re Meant to Be by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty, published by Word Books in 1974, is considered to have been a major factor in launching the biblical feminist movement in the 1970s.

During Christianity Today magazine’s 50th anniversary of publication (2006), the magazine’s staff listed All We’re Meant to Be in 23rd place among the top 50 books their staff considered to be the “landmark titles that changed the way we think, talk, witness, worship, and live.”  They wrote:

“Scanzoni and Hardesty outlined what would later blossom into evangelical feminism. For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book.”

This post and the next several posts here on my Letha’s Calling blog will tell the story of how the book came to be written.  It was written during a time when few Christians, particularly those in evangelical circles, dared to raise questions about the traditional roles of women in home, church, and society.  The matter was considered settled, and to challenge the male-female hierarchy as being divinely ordained was considered extremely controversial if not heretical.

The First Letters

In the concluding section of my April 14, 2010 post here, where I told the back story of my 1968 Eternity magazine article on equal-partner marriage, I quoted from a May 13, 1968 letter I received from an assistant editor at the magazine, fairly new on the job at the time.  (In my blog post telling about the editorial staff’s concerns over the “Elevate Marriage to Partnership” article, the assistant editor’s letter to me appears near the end under the heading, “I Thought That Would Be the End of it.”).

I could immediately see that this assistant editor and I were on the same wavelength with regard to male-female equality. I concluded the April 14, 2010 post with this paragraph:

“And most importantly, I had apparently found a sister Christian feminist!  The road ahead looked a bit less lonely.  I hoped someday to meet this assistant editor, Nancy Hardesty, not yet dreaming that one day our names would be linked together as coauthors of a book called All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation . . . .”

Nancy and others on the Eternity staff knew from correspondence and the articles I had written during the 1960s that I was planning to write a book challenging traditional gender constructs as they affected women and men in the home, the church, and society in general. Several Eternity editors, including Nancy Hardesty, would occasionally send a brief note with book titles or articles they thought might be useful in my research on the various topics they knew I was writing about.

By the time the 1968 Eternity article on equal-partner marriage had been published, I  had already written two books (published by Revell), and a third book was in press, written at the request of Zondervan Publishing House after editors there saw an article John and I had coauthored for Eternity magazine on Christians and sexuality. I was also writing articles for other Christian periodicals and curriculum materials for a Sunday school publisher, accepting some speaking engagements, teaching Sunday school at our local church, and working with a college discussion group meeting in our home.  I was at the same time busy with everyday household tasks and child care and was also thinking about completing my education, which (as was true of many women in the 1950s) had been interrupted by marriage and children.

So although the“women’s liberation” book was not forgotten. it was temporarily put aside and only being worked on sporadically.  But all the while, an idea was gestating in my mind.  In October of 1969 the idea travelled from my mind to typewriter and letterhead.  I decided to write to Nancy Hardesty at Eternity Magazine.

The Invitation

My letter is dated October 7, 1969.

Dear Nancy:

An idea has been kicking around in my mind for some time.  I’ve prayed and thought about it a great deal and have decided the time has come to ask you what you think of it—so I’ll come right to the point.  Would you be willing to consider the possibility of joining me as co-author of the book on women (i.e., woman’s “place” in the home, society, and church)?

I know you’re very busy and perhaps would find it impossible to give time to such a project.  Or perhaps you’d simply not be interested.  Yet, I decided I couldn’t lose anything by asking!

The reasons which prompted me to ask you are these:

1. Your obvious interest in the subject.  I’ve really appreciated your sending the various articles for my research file. These, along with comments in letters you’ve written, lead me to believe you and I have similar views on the subject.

2. I feel the book could be much more helpful to readers if it could include the viewpoint of a single woman as well as that of one who’s married.  (I’m assuming you’re still single.) What made me think of this angle was a conversation I had not long ago with a missionary friend—a single woman in her mid-thirties—who has been puzzling over this matter of expressing sexuality as a single person. I shared with her the letter you wrote last year in which you recommended the book by the Ryans, Love and Sexuality, which deals with this matter.  Since then, I’ve read the book and can see why you were so impressed. It covers areas of life that are seldom thought through or discussed by Christians, and it shows that there is a way for an unmarried Christian to live as a whole, total, free human being, and that one doesn’t need to be pressed into either the “repression” mold of much traditional religious teaching or, on the other hand, the Helen Gurley Brown “Cosmopolitan” pattern for the single girl.

3. I feel we might be able to complement one another by bringing both a psychological and a sociological approach to the subject matter, yet both within a Biblical framework. I may be wrong about this, but I have the feeling you may see things a bit more from the psychology angle, whereas I tend to look at the woman situation (and other things) more from the standpoint of sociology (this has come about by some sort of “osmosis” I think from living with John [a sociology professor at Indiana University in Bloomington]).

4. The “loneliness” of the project.  This reason might sound strange, but what I mean is that I feel a need to toss around ideas with another Christian woman of similar outlook who has done a great deal of thinking along these lines—as you have.  For some reason, this issue seems extremely volatile in the minds of many Christians. Emotions are quickly aroused when it’s mentioned. The men and women who have the strongest opinions and seem most eager to express them are those which have rigid traditional ideas which really restrict women—and they’re quick to cite Scripture to back them up.  One occasionally meets women who are questioning these ideas and are willing to discuss the subject seriously.  But seldom have they really thought through some answers or read much on the matter.  Many women in Christian circles would be afraid to voice their disagreements with traditional views, and many others seem perfectly content with things as they are. This is changing, however, among younger evangelicals—particularly on college campuses; and I feel the projected book could be of real help to many of these (both men and women).

Thus, it would be heartening to have someone with whom new questionings and ideas could be tossed around. I have John, of course, and his insights, interest, empathy, and encouragement are invaluable. But (obviously) the fact remains that he’s not a woman—for which I’m very glad, of course! (Incidentally, his latest research project is a study of how a woman’s concept of her role affects fertility; therefore, he is constantly bringing home the latest statistics, books, articles, etc. bearing on the woman question—which is of tremendous help to me in my research, too!)

I guess that about sums up the matter.  I’d really like to welcome you aboard the project if you feel it would be of interest to you.  If not, I’ll certainly understand.

Again, let me thank you for all the interest, suggestions, and encouragement you’ve provided thus far. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.

Cordially,

(signed) Letha

Letha Scanzoni

I have reproduced the letter exactly as I wrote it in 1969, resisting the temptation to edit it.  I placed it in an envelope addressed to Nancy Hardesty at Eternity magazine, licked a 6-cents stamp (no self-sealing stamps in those days), put the stamped envelope in a mailbox — and waited.

The Response

More than a week passed, but one day the eagerly anticipated letter arrived.  On October 14, 1969, Nancy had written:

Dear Letha:

But do you want to work with an “old maid school teacher”?  Since last you heard from me, I have taken a job here at Trinity College [now Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois].  I should really say two jobs: directing the News Bureau and teaching four writing courses. I can’t say I want it to be my life’s work but I rather disliked the East, wanted to move back to the Midwest and wanted to make a bundle of money.  So I’m here.

I’m over my head in work, having never taught before, but your idea interests me because maybe it would give me one thing to do that I liked. I’m sure I would enjoy bouncing ideas back and forth.

I do have a real hesitancy though about what I could contribute.  I have no real answers — perhaps I could find some.  I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job coping with the problem myself. Having just gone through a move, I get bitter about coming home at night and having no one’s shoulder to cry on, no one to sympathize about how hard it is; no one to help in all the decisions about buying cars, renting apartments, moving furniture; no one to shoulder any of these extras of living like shopping, servicing the car, doing the laundry.  Married men around here complain about how hard their move has been—but they had a wife at home to unpack, greet them with a kiss and a hot meal, to make sure there was clean underwear in the drawer every morning.  A single person has to carry both loads—and with very little help or understanding.

I don’t know whether I approach this psychologically or just introspectively, but I don’t do it sociologically, I don’t think. I am very interested in it theologically.

I try to be biblical, though I dislike putting it that way. I try to be Christian, as I interpret that, but sometimes it’s so hard.  Yesterday in my creative writing class one of the girls had a line in her poem, about how God’s love is sufficient when a love relationship with a guy has fallen apart. I challenged her on it: does she and the others really believe that.  Most of them began to say they were sure of it, one finally answered more truthfully, “I hope so.”  I still hope so, but on a day to day basis, I can’t say it is.

There’s also the myth—at least that’s what I hope it is although most people believe it is the “true” Christian position on human personhood—that one is most truly human in a marriage relationship. I’m sure that the girls in my classes have bought this entirely. But if you buy this and then don’t get married, you have a very difficult time justifying your own continued existence.

But there are so many things. Perhaps I’m just looking for a way to try to find some answers for myself. How helpful they would be for others, I’m not sure.

So if you still would like to work together, I would like to try it.  Perhaps since I’m now living closer it would be easier to work together.  My home address is. . .

Cordially yours,

(signed ) Nancy

And so we were on our way.  It was clear neither of us expected to provide easy answers.  We both had too many questions ourselves.  But we hoped that by searching for our own answers, we could help other women as well—women who no doubt had the same questions and needs for encouragement and support that we did.

In upcoming posts in this series, I’ll tell about my reply to Nancy’s letter and how the process of writing the book got underway and progressed, how it deepened our friendship, and how it introduced us to an expanding community of women and some supportive men who likewise yearned to combine their Christian faith and their feminism.

In the next post, I’ll reproduce the original two-part preface of the book as it was published in 1974. It summarizes much of the detailed account above, and it also tells what writing the book meant to us and how it affected us personally.

Letha&Nancy 1970-71

Letha (left) and Nancy (right) are shown here after attending church services during one of Nancy’s earliest visits to Letha’s home in Bloomington, Indiana, circa 1971.

A Religious Approach to Homosexuality

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Keynote address presented at the “Faith beyond  Boundaries” conference, sponsored by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, held at the Holocaust Museum, Richmond, Virginia, Sunday, September 25, 2005. [1]

Copyright 2005, 2010 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni. All rights reserved.

The Bible and religious teachings can be used to support different—even totally opposite—viewpoints on ethical, moral, and social policy issues. Religion can be drafted into the service of putting people down or lifting people up.

Psychologist Gordon Alport wrote in his classic work, The Nature of Prejudice, “The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes prejudice and it unmakes prejudice”  (italics supplied). Alport’s book was published in 1954, the same year as the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, ruling that racial segregation in public schools illegal. Schools must be integrated. Some religious people were for integration and racial equality, while other religious people were just as strongly against integration and full racial equality. And both sides quoted the Bible to support their claims.

Divisions over the question of homosexuality

But when it comes to homosexuality, many people have the impression that there is only one religious or biblical view—only one way to consider the question of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

That view, in the minds of many, is that religious teachings insist that such rights should be condemned and denied– that any and every same-sex sexual expression is sinful in the sight of God. It’s the view presented most frequently in the media because of the zealous efforts of those who promote that view. When a person of faith says she or he believes otherwise and thus embraces the rights of sexual minorities, that person is frequently judged by other religious people as being totally misguided and maybe not a true follower of God.

For example, in a recent review of Dave Myers’ and my new book, What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, wrote: “Their book offers positive proof that what drives proponents of same-sex marriage is a psychological worldview that is directly at odds with the worldview of the Bible.”[ 2]

The implication in such statements is that only one truly biblical perspective exists when it comes to discussions of homosexuality. The existence of another view among people of faith can be extremely threatening to those religious people who believe they alone have the truth. Thus we hear warnings about dangerous “revisionist scholars” who are reinterpreting the Bible to make it say something contrary to God’s intent, which they claim they know without a shadow of a doubt.

We’ve been here before

Over the ages, religious faiths have experienced such arguments again and again when it comes to questions of social change. One example is how the Bible was used to justify slavery. It’s an example analogous to what is happening today when some people are using the Bible to discriminate against gay and lesbian people, who are asking nothing more than to be treated with the dignity due all human beings.

During the 19th century, clergy, professors, and others who supported slavery argued that they alone were speaking God’s truth and that those who taught otherwise could be categorized as infidels.[3]

One of the most prominent Baptist ministers and educators of his time, Richard Furman, for whom Furman University is named, wrote an exposition that was sent to the governor of South Carolina in 1822. Furman referred to his essay as the “right view of the subject” and said it was a moral and religious view. He wrote, “The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example,” which he went on to illustrate from both testaments, from both the Jewish and Christian scriptures.[4]

He voiced his concern because many people who were opposing slavery were saying they were doing so on the basis of the Holy Scriptures and that their desire for the freedom of slaves was an outgrowth of their religious faith.

Furman saw this idea as dangerous – the idea that people of faith, people who were religious believers and not secularists, were taking a stand opposite to his own absolute certainty about what Scripture taught. He said it would be detrimental to society if religious arguments against slavery got around and became accepted.

He predicted all sorts of disasters that would result. For one thing, slaves would become insubordinate and rebellious and infringe on the rights of citizens. And even slaves’ own spiritual lives could be harmed by making the masters afraid to let slaves be exposed to the Bible any longer. Masters wouldn’t want their slaves to get the idea that the Bible’s message was one of freedom, human dignity, and equality!

(Of course, the exposure to the Bible that the slaves were allowed at the time was usually from preachers who regularly made it a point to call attention to verses such as Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.”)

The Bible and today’s issue: homosexuality.

There were many such verses quoted by those who used the Bible to justify slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century, and they found far greater numbers of verses about slavery than the handful of biblical passages that are used to deny equal rights to gay and lesbian people today – the verses that have come to be known as the “clobber verses.”

So the question becomes, How do we, as people of faith, use our faith to promote inclusiveness and the rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation? How can we be supportive of LGBT efforts to gain marriage rights, assurance of nondiscrimination in housing and jobs, legislation to have sexual orientation included among categories listed in hate crime legislation, and so on—and at the same time show the world that we are taking these stands from the perspective of our religious faith? If we don’t do that, we are caving in to those who think that the case is closed and that one can’t be a religious person, a person of faith, while simultaneously supporting homosexual persons as sisters and brothers created in the image of God.

It is said that the abolitionists found that their religious arguments against slavery tended to be less convincing to most people than the religious arguments of those who justified slavery, simply because of the way most people read their Bibles, taking only a proof-text approach.

I think we face a similar situation today in taking a religious position on the question of homosexuality. Many people read the Bible in a mechanical way as though it’s a list of rules, like a traffic manual, with every single verse having the same importance and without consideration of the times, cultures, and conditions in which various passages were written. We need to help people understand more about biblical interpretation, translations, and so on.

Nevertheless, people for the most part appear to subscribe to a proof-text approach. For example, after a favorable review of the book I wrote with David Myers on gay marriage appeared on an Internet blog, one commenter responded to that book review by saying that “since Leviticus calls homosexuality an ‘abomination,’ he had a hard time seeing a “pro-homosexuality biblical argument. He said that if we wanted to make a secular argument, fine. “But when you try to establish a ‘Christian’ case for being in favor of homosexuality, you’ve left the realm of Christianity entirely.”

The commenter issued a challenge: “Please give me a verse or passage in the Bible that plainly casts homosexuality in a positive light. Please give me just one. It should be fairly simple, if it’s there.”

Referring to the subtitle of our book, he went on to say “there is no Christian case” for gay marriage and had some harsh words for those of us who think otherwise.

Nevertheless, in this address today, I am going to take up his challenge. I am going to suggest that “one verse” that I think we people of faith can use in thinking through and applying our faith to this topic of homosexuality.

A key verse for persons of faith

It’s a familiar verse. The words of the prophet Micah, verse 8 of the 6th chapter.

[God] has told you, o mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

I suggest that, as people of faith, we approach the question of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage from the vantage point of these three principles: justice, lovingkindness, and humility.

Justice

Justice is an important religious principle that must be taken very seriously in discussions of marriage equality for LGBT people. Yet, sadly, some people who profess to love and serve God fail to see that justice is a religious value and a family value.

An owner of a business was invited to lead a workshop on Christian business ethics a few years ago. One of the examples he gave of how he applied Christian ethics to his company was this: A lesbian employee had come to him to ask for medical leave because her partner was seriously ill and needed her. The business owner told his workshop audience that he thought about it but decided to deny her request. He said it was against his Christian beliefs to support a homosexual relationship in any way.

His company would have granted such a leave to a heterosexual husband or wife without a moment’s hesitation, but this executive boasted that he felt he must take a stand for what is right and not endorse what he called “a homosexual lifestyle.” He did not feel his decision was unfair, even though the lesbian employee had been with her partner for many years, loved her every bit as much as any devoted spouse in a heterosexual marriage, would like to have been married to her partner but was prevented by law from sealing her commitment in marriage. But as far as the businessman was concerned, this woman’s partner was not her next of kin and therefore she did not deserve a family medical leave.

Not only did this successful business executive fail to show simple human kindness, but he had no sense of the injustice of his denial of this woman’s request. She had given her time, energy, and dedication in service to that company to the same extent or more as did her hypothetical heterosexual counterpart who would have been granted medical leave for an ill spouse. This businessman needs to read his Bible more closely–for example, Zechariah 7:8 (TNIV): “This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” Or Jeremiah 9:23-24 (CEV), which says, “Don’t brag about your wisdom or wealth. If you feel you must brag, then have enough sense to brag about worshiping me, the Lord. What I like best is showing kindness, justice, and mercy to everyone on earth.”

Marriage equality as a justice issue

Marriage equality is a justice issue and thus it is a religious issue and should be of concern to people of faith. It has to do with freedom to choose one’s own life partner, a freedom that most of us would consider quite basic. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way even among heterosexual persons in our own country, one of the most recent examples being the prohibitions of interracial marriage that existed in the laws of many states, not only in the South.

Historian Nancy Cott, in her book, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, tells of an 1840 law in the state of Indiana in which fines of many thousands of dollars (equivalent to millions today) were to be paid if a white person and a person considered to be as little as what the law saw as 1/8 black dared to marry. In addition, the law stipulated 10 to 20-year prison sentences for the offending parties. And for the person who officiated at such a ceremony, fines of thousands of dollars would be imposed, along with the loss of the person’s job. [5]

And of course, we here in Virginia are well aware of our own state’s famous case of Loving v. Virginia in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that such anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. Think how different things might have been if an amendment had been passed to keep so-called “activist judges” from ruling as they did!

The reason that the right to marry across race lines was so important was that it symbolized social equality as opposed to considering persons of color to be somehow inferior and thus kept subordinate.  Nancy Cott sees a parallel in today’s world. She writes:

Lesbians and gay men seek legal marriage for some of the same reasons ex-slaves did so after the Civil War, to show that they have access to basic civil rights. The exclusion of same-sex partners from free choice in marriage stigmatizes their relationship, and reinforces a caste supremacy of heterosexuality over homosexuality just as laws banning marriages across the color line exhibited and reinforced white supremacy. (Public Vows, p. 216)

This is why it is a justice issue. But it’s far more than symbolic of equality. It has to do with the practical matters of everyday life, the more than a thousand federal statutory provisions that confer protections, privileges, rights, and benefits which are determined by marital status. As Dave Myers and I wrote in our book, What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage: [6]

What do you think: Should life partners Jim and Tim or Meg and Peg, like their married next door neighbors, Bill and Jill, be able to

  • file joint tax returns?
  • leave an inheritance to one another tax free?
  • make life-and-death decisions if the other is incapacitated?
  • be included on one or the other’s health insurance plan?
  • be granted family leave or bereavement leave in the case of the other’s illness or death?
  • have co-parental rights so that both partners are considered parents of their children in all situations?
  • have hospital visitation rights/
  • receive spousal discounts from auto clubs or other organizations offering family rates?
  • have a legal system for equitably dissolving their relationship should it end?

Note that this is not an issue of “special rights,” but of equal rights conveyed by marriage. Unlike cohabitation, domestic partnerships, and even civil unions (each of which are separate from and unequal to marriage) same-sex marriage entails the same rights for all married couples,” regardless of sexual orientation. (pp. 118-119)

It’s a matter of basic fairness.

What then does God require of us? To do justice.

Compassion

To do justice. And to love mercy, loving-kindness, compassion. Justice and mercy go hand in hand. These are religious issues, and people of faith must face them today.

Some people resent such calls for justice and compassion. They’d like to feel comfortable and not bothered by having injustices pointed out to them.

Speaking out for justice and compassion

I’m reminded of a story my son Steve told me years ago when his first son (and my first grandchild) was a toddler. Baby Bryan was just learning to talk, but mostly in single words. He hadn’t begun putting many words into sentences. Steve, my son, sometimes dressed Bryan in a hurry, including shoving his little feet into his shoes with a push and a tug.

One day, as Steve was speedily shoving Bryan’s shoes on, he was startled to hear a tiny voice pipe up: “Stop it! It hurts!” Steve told me he smiled as he told his wife, Karen, about the incident. He said to her, “You know, it was easier before he learned to talk.”

Maybe it was easier, too, for many people before gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and other minority groups found their voices and began speaking out, challenging the dominant culture. In an article condemning social acceptance of same-sex marriage, Charles Colson wrote, “Homosexuality was once called ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ Nowadays, it won’t kept quiet” (Breakpoint, online,July 29, 2003).

But the message of all groups who have experienced discrimination is the same as Baby Bryan’s “Stop it! It hurts!”  It hurts to be joked about. It hurts to be considered a stereotype. It hurts to be ignored. It hurts to be told you’re unacceptable. It hurts to be lied about. It hurts to be denied access to economic rewards and power. It hurts to be denied basic rights.

It hurts to be told God condemns you and doesn’t want you to serve in ordained ministry, no matter how devoted to God you are. It hurts to be mocked and ridiculed and laughed about. It hurts not to be taken seriously. It hurts to have to live in fear of losing your job or losing a friend or being rejected by your family or even losing your life. It hurts to know you might be beaten up or even killed because of who you are and whom you love. STOP IT!  IT HURTS!

It is hearing that message with our hearts as well as our heads that can stir up compassion among us as people of faith.

True compassion equals empathy

True compassion is synonymous with true empathy, which comes from the Greek words for “feeling with” – in other words, imaging ourselves and our own feelings if we were in the situation of someone else, so that we can truly love our neighbor as ourselves and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. There is a sense of solidarity – that what is happening to that other person is also happening to me.

In his book, A Spirituality Named Compassion (ch. 1), Matthew Fox has written, “Compassion is not altruism, but self-love and other-love at one.”[7]

He also emphasizes that pity and compassion are not the same. “Pity connotes condescension,” Fox says, “and this condescension, in turn, implies separateness—[the idea that] ‘I feel sorry for you because you are so different from me.’”

There is also the implied sense of regarding the other as inferior. He quotes the late Gestalt therapist Frederick Perls as warning that “most of what passes muster as pity is actual disguised gloating.” Fox quotes another author’s observation that sometimes there is an underlying element of “sadistic glee in the afflictions of others.’”

(An example of that was the shameful reaction of numerous religious people at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that first showed up among gay men in the 1980s. Some religious people seemed to take pride in claiming that this was proof positive of God’s disapproval of homosexuality and God’s punishment of homosexual people.)

Fox says the “surest way of discerning whether one has pity towards or compassion with another is to answer this question: Do you celebrate with this same person or these same people?” (p. 3)

Clearly, many religious people, who claim to operate on a “hate the sin but love the sinner” philosophy and insist they love homosexual persons, nevertheless would never dream of celebrating the joy of these two persons as they speak their wedding vows to each other.

Instead, we hear claims such as Charles Colson’s statement that “the number one cultural priority of Christians” should be “stopping the spread of same-sex marriage” and that religious leaders should be leading the charge. Or we have James Dobson’s warning that what he calls the homosexual activist movement is working “to implement a master plan that has had as its centerpiece the utter destruction of the family” and that only the institution of marriage and the Christian church stand in the way of a 60-year plan to achieve this and other goals (Marriage under Fire, p. 19).[8] He claims that this “gay agenda” is what lies behind the efforts to legalize same sex marriage. The cover on his book shows two wedding rings being viewed through the crosshairs of a rifle scope.

Demonizing a group to block empathy toward the group

Demonizing a group is an intentional way of impeding feelings of empathy. Demonizing means spreading the idea that a group is either morally corrupt and worthy only of disdain, or else is profoundly different and lacking the same human feelings that other people have, and thus their feelings are not worth considering.

When people are demonized as members of a group, others feel they can justify treating them in less than humane ways or empathizing with their pain. Thus, under the slavery system in our country, slave owners and others who condoned slavery could convince themselves that the enslaved people didn’t have the same sort of family love as their white masters—that seeing their spouses and children sold off to other masters never to be seen again was somehow experienced differently by black people in slavery. And if they did show grief, they could be whipped.

I saw a PBS program about the history of Broadway recently. The narrators referred to one taboo that no one dared to challenge until 1921 when the musical Shuffle Along was produced. That taboo insisted that “romantic love between black characters was never shown on stage” if performances were in front of white audiences. (from jass.com, “Early History of Jazz)

The African American writer, educator, and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson also referred to this early 20th century taboo. In his 1930 history of African Americans in New York and the story of Harlem, he wrote that“If anything approaching a love duet was introduced in a musical comedy, it had to be broadly burlesqued. The reason behind this taboo lay in the belief that a love scene between two Negroes could not strike a white audience except as ridiculous” (Black Manhattan, p. 171) [ 9]. Johnson went on to explain that theater managers deferred to a cultural superiority stereotype whereby white people believed that black people’s romantic love was different from that of white people – that it occurred “in some sort of “minstrel fashion or in some more primeval manner.” (p. 171). Hence, the belief was that white audiences wouldn’t be able to tolerate any challenge to this prejudiced belief.

But when African-American songwriting partners Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake were writing their musical Shuffle Along, they dared to challenge the taboo by including a love duet between an African-American man and woman.

During the first performance, the production team stood ready to rush out of the theater if violence erupted. But when the duet, “Love Will Find a Way,” was sung, the only thing that erupted was thunderous applause. The song not only tapped into the empathy that comes from recognizing a universal experience of any two persons in love, but it went on to become a hit love song that was sung throughout America. A barrier had broken down. (You can listen to an audio clip of the song here.)

Love will still find a way.

I’m persuaded that in time “love will find a way,” too, for those men and women who want to seal their commitment in marriage to their same-sex partner. But in the meantime, many people will use religion to ridicule the idea and imply that it is absurd to think of such love between two women or two men. Or that it is a religious duty to deny the pastoral gifts that LGBT people could bring to religious institutions. Empathy can help us as people faith to hear the pain—and yes, anger—at the injustice of it all. In view of the news this past week that the Vatican is going to bar from the priesthood men whose orientation is homosexual, even if the men are celibate, one 40-year-old priest wrote:

I find that I am becoming more and more angry. This is the church I’ve given my life to and I believe in. I look at ever person I come in contact with as someone who’s created in the image and likeness of God, and I expect that from the church that I’m a part of. But I always feel like I’m ‘less than’” (NY Times, 9/23/05)

Humility and Wisdom

Besides justice and compassion, there is a third requirement that the prophet Micah says that God asks of us: “to walk humbly with your God.” To walk humbly, according to the Jewish Study Bible, can also be translated “to walk wisely with your God.”

Humility is crucial in discussing God’s will for us as human beings, whatever our orientation—the realization that we do not fully understand everything about God or about what God wants. God is mystery, far beyond our human reasoning. We do not have all the answers.

There is a certain arrogance in an attitude reflected in yesterday’s newspaper about the move toward a split in the Anglican Church based on the belief “that homosexual activity is so clearly counter to the will of God expressed in the Bible and Anglican and Christian tradition that there can be no reconciliation without repentance, no agreement to disagree” (Washington Post, 9-24-05).

Many people are quick to say that God detests homosexuality, and they are fond of smugly using the word “abomination” to be uniquely applied to homosexual acts as God’s opinion of all same-sex relationships, based on an interpretation of two verses in Leviticus (and without regard to their context).

But not only does the Bible never mention the word homosexuality—or even the concept of sexual orientation as scientists understand it today—but Proverbs 16:5 reminds us that “All those who are arrogant are an abomination to the Lord.” The same word is used there as in Leviticus and is again translated as “abomination.” But have you ever heard anyone speak of pride and arrogance as being an “abomination,” detestable to God? Probably not. The word is almost always applied to gay and lesbian people as a category uniquely condemned by God.

God calls us to humility. We see that throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Jesus talked a lot about it over and over again. So did the prophets.

We are also told to walk humbly with God. Walking means not standing still. Learning what it means to love God with all our heart and strength and mind and what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves is an ongoing process, as walking is, step by step.

As we walk humbly and wisely, we will always be seeking more understanding, always open to learning and growing, always aware that all the answers are not already in, and that we all have much to learn as people of faith.

[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

Amen. So be it.

________________________________________________

Notes

1. The September 25, 2005 gathering where this speech was given was held as the commonwealth of Virginia was planning a referendum on amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The amendment passed 57% to 43% in November 2006. Its wording was some of the harshest of any such amendments passed by various states. It read:

“Shall Article I (the Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to state: “That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”?

2. Quotation from Albert Mohler review, August 26, 2005

3. See Robert L. Ferm, ed., Issues in American Protestantism: A Documentary History from the Puritans to the Present (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1969). Introduction to Chapter 7, “Slavery.”

4. Richard Furmon’s “Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States.” As president of the Baptist State Convention, Rev.Dr. Richard Furman wrote this letter to the governor of South Carolina, John L. Wilson, dated December 24, 1822. The letter, as reprinted online, is introduced with a request on May 28, 1823 by a B. Elliot requesting that the governor give his approval for distributing the letter to the general public. This historical document is from Furman University’s online “Nineteenth Century Documents Project.” Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.

5. Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 43.

6. Our title was slightly changed between the 2005 hardback edition (What God Has Joined Together? A Christian Case for Gay Marriage) and the 2006 paperback edition, (What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage). The 2006 edition also tells how we, the authors, came to the views expressed in the book.

7. Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1979).

8. James Dobson, Marriage under Fire (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), p. 19.

9. James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (New York: Knopf, 1930; DaCopa reprint with new introduction, 1991).

________________________________________________________

Copyright 2005, 2010 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni. All rights reserved.

Backstory: “Elevate Marriage to Partnership”(1968 Eternity article)

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Copyright 2010, Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Author’s note: Various scholars of feminist religious history have frequently referred to two articles I wrote for the evangelical magazine Eternity during the 1960s.  These articles, “Woman’s Place: Silence or Service” (1966) and “Elevate Marriage to Partnership” (1968), are considered to be some of the first articles from within evangelicalism that dared to question traditional attitudes toward women’s roles.

In my March 25, 2010 post,  “Backstory: Woman’s Place—Silence or Service?” I have already told the story behind the publication of my 1966 article on women in the church, including some editing changes that were made before that article went to press.

In this present post, I want to tell how I came to write the second article (originally titled “Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership” but published under the title “Elevate Marriage to Partnership”).

A Year after the Publication of “Woman’s Place: Silence or Service?”

In  February 1967, exactly a year after my article, “Woman’s Place: Silence or Service” was published, Eternity published a brief editorial titled “Is It a Sin for a Woman to Think?”  It referred to a Roman Catholic periodical that had devoted a special issue to “The Woman Intellectual and the Church,” and the editorial expressed curiosity about how such a topic would be received if it were to be addressed in an evangelical publication.

Not knowing who had written the editorial, I sent off a letter to Eternity’s editor at the time, Russell Hitt.  After saying I had enjoyed reading the editorial, I wrote: “After the reaction to my Eternity article on women in the church last year, I think I know “what kind of a response such a subject would receive in an evangelical publication”!  I continued:

Yet, this whole matter of modern woman’s role in the home, church, and society is of great concern to many Christian women; and it seems that almost daily something I read or some conversation makes me even more aware of how deep the problem is. For the past several years, I have been collecting articles and books on the subject and am at present writing a book on women and Christianity which attempts to deal with some of these questions.
(Letter from Letha Scanzoni to Russell T. Hitt, February 23, 1967)

I went on to ask the name and date of the Roman Catholic publication that was devoted to the topic so that I could look it up.

William J. Petersen, the executive editor with whom I had corresponded about my previous article on women in the church, responded to my letter.  He told me the publication to which he had referred in the editorial was the January 27, 1967 issue of the Roman Catholic magazine, Commonweal. He also added that because of my interest in the topic, he was sending me a Roman Catholic book called Woman Is the Glory of  Man that they had decided not to review in Eternity but thought I might like to have it for my research.  He added, “Of course, since we are doing this for you, we would expect to be remembered some time when you get ready to write an article for Eternity on this subject.” (Letter from William Petersen, March 10, 1967).

On March 21, I wrote back and apologized for not realizing it was he who had written the editorial I had liked so much, told him I had written to Commonweal but had been informed they were already sold out of that issue, and I thanked him for the book he had sent.

My Critique of the Book

I went on to share my thoughts about the book, Woman Is the Glory of Man (by E. Danniel and B. Oliver. Only initials are listed in their names. It was originally written in French in 1964).  I wrote:

For the most part, my own point of view contrasts rather sharply with that of the authors—although, of course, I recognize that some of their thoughts are very good. But I was disappointed that their arguments were largely philosophical with support sought from a few carefully selected psychological studies, while virtually ignoring other psychological studies and the findings of sociology and anthropology.

Some statements seem absurd. For example, the authors say (p. 12): “Woman’s intellect does not usually attain the level of creative power of man’s in the areas where he excels. Besides, her brain is generally lighter and simpler than man’s, which may explain her lesser capacity for deduction. On the other hand, her nervous system, being more delicate, is at the service of her intuition.” Can you imagine how such a paragraph would strike someone who had read the report on the M.I.T. Symposium on American Women in Science and Engineering a couple of years ago, or a report in our local newspaper last week showing that eighty percent of last fall’s Phi Beta Kappa initiates at Indiana University were females (51 out of 64 members)?

. . . .Of the Roman Catholic articles and books I’ve read thus far on this subject, the writing I like best is Sidney Cornelia Callahan’s The Illusion of Eve published by Sheed and Ward in 1965. Evangelical Protestant works on the subject that deal with it fairly and with understanding and empathy are rare indeed.  Russell Prohl’s Woman in the Church [1955] is very good, but Eerdmans tells me it is already out of print, although it was published only ten years ago.1 No doubt this indicates the unpopularity of this viewpoint in evangelical circles.

. . . .Just the other day, I spoke with a minister who pointed out that the church did not form a theology of race until the present time when circumstances made it crucial that thought be given this subject, and that he felt now the church needs a “theology of woman.”
(from Letha Scanzoni, letter to William J. Petersen, March 21, 1967)

A Cultural Climate in which Women Were Trivialized, Joked About, and Not Taken Seriously

I had the radio playing in the background as I was writing that letter to Bill Petersen, and I stopped to listen when a call-in program came on that referred to the role of women; so I added this paragraph in parentheses (which I later used as an epigraph to open a chapter in All We’re Meant to Be):

(A humorous sidelight. As I was writing this letter, a phone participation program began on a religious radio station in Indianapolis. One woman called in and asked the guest evangelist about Philip’s four daughters who prophesied [Acts 21:8-9].  He told her it merely meant they witnessed for Christ. When she asked why women can’t preach and teach, the evangelist replied that such a ministry is for men only and “for a very good reason.”  I of course, thought he would quote something from the Apostle Paul, but he didn’t even mention any of those passages. His “very good reason”? “Because God made roosters to crow and hens to lay eggs.”  I’m not joking!  And he let the matter go at that!)
(from Letha Scanzoni, letter to William J. Petersen, March 21, 1967)

I continued, assuming (correctly) that my kindly, patient correspondent Bill Petersen was still reading my long missive!

Thank you for your invitation to write another Eternity article on some aspect of “the woman problem.” I’ll be glad to do that. It is amazing how often this comes up as John and I counsel college girls. One coed tells me that problems relating to “the feminine mystique” are talked about in the dorm more than anything else. Thinking women are really puzzled about where they fit into today’s world. For Christian women, I think the problem seems even more severe.

The book I’m working on relating to this subject will be (tentatively) divided into three sections: women in the home, women in the church, women in the world.  Would you have any preference as to which of these three areas would be most suitable for an article in Eternity?”
( from Letha Scanzoni, letter to William J. Petersen, March 21, 1967)

The Invitation and Manuscript Submission

Bill Petersen responded by suggesting that I write my next article on women in the home. He predicted that an article on the role of wives and husbands would be more volatile than an article on the role of women in society. He expressed his opinion that readers would not be likely to have much of a problem with the achievements of women outside the home and church, including women running for the U.S. Congress.

I then wrote “Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership,” submitted it to Eternity—and waited for a reply. Time kept passing, and I heard nothing. Then in August, I saw an advertisement in the magazine promoting “What’s Coming Next in Eternity,” and among the titles listed was the one I had submitted.

On August 26, 1967, I wrote to William Petersen and told him I was surprised to see the ad with my title among the upcoming articles, since I had never received an acknowledgment or notification that it had even been accepted for publication!  Since my family had been out of town during a considerable part of that month, I worried that maybe some of my mail had been lost and that maybe I never received a letter that Eternity had sentor that maybe the magazine had just happened to arrive before an on-the-way letter did. “It may even be that it isn’t my article that I saw listed,” I wrote, “although it would be a strange coincidence if someone else came up with the very same title!”  (I no longer have a copy of the ad, but as I recall, the advertisement described the article as setting forth the Apostle Paul’s teaching on marriage.)

On September 6, 1967, I received a letter from Bill Petersen that began, “Do you know what happened?” He explained that he was writing copy for a promotional brochure on the day my manuscript landed on his desk. “Without stopping to read it,” he continued, “I figured that if you had written it, it was of sufficient quality for us to publish it and I wanted to include an article of this nature in our promotional mailing piece.”

He said he then went on vacation without having had a chance to read my manuscript, came back to piles of work and deadlines for the next issue of the magazine, and still hadn’t read the article but that I should assume it was accepted. He promised to read it as soon as he was able to get to his manuscript pile and would soon let me know “whether we will be accepting it as is or whether we have some suggestions regarding possible additions or corrections.”

What about the Headship of the Husband?

On October 12, I received a $50 check and a letter thanking me for my patience with regard to the manuscript. But the next paragraph began with “However. . . .” The editors wanted me to add one more point which they felt would enable me to “communicate more clearly” with their readership.  Bill wrote:

I believe that you should consider an explanation of what the “headship” of the husband consists of. In my opinion, the major part of headship includes cherishing and protecting as verse 25 and 29 of Ephesians 5 indicate.
(from William Petersen to Letha Scanzoni, October 12, 1967)

He went on to say there was a divine order presented repeatedly in Scripture, “not only in the Epesians 5 and 6 passages, but also in a passage like Romans 13:1.”  He went on to talk about order in a democracy and said that a similar principle existed in marriage, although “the husband and wife relationship is not exactly analogous to this because there is an equality of persons, as you have brought out in your article.” He wrote that nevertheless an order “remains and must remain in a democracy and this order is derived from mutual respect and mutual submission. Yet the order remains.”

He said he was concerned about communicating with the magazine’s readers because “the message you have to present is very much needed in Christian families today.”  He went on to say he didn’t want their readers to “turn me off”either. “I am afraid that many of our readers will say that equality and/or democracy without order is anarchy.”

He couldn’t have said all this more kindly.  He said he would appreciate my reaction.

How Should I Handle This?

I wasn’t quite sure how to reply.  Would it be too much of a compromise to do as he requested?  I had not really wanted to get into this issue beyond the brief statement I had made in the propositions I had listed in my original manuscript (especially propositions 1 to 3).

I was not a Greek scholar; this was long before all the discussions arose among Christian feminists about the meaning of the Greek word for “head.” In fact, there were times I felt I was the only Christian feminist in the world!  It was a very lonely time. There were no organizations like the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus or Christians for Biblical Equality around to lend support.  And I didn’t know of any biblical scholars who were working on these questions to whom I could turn for advice.

My own understanding of Ephesians 5:21-33 was that the main emphasis was on a husband’s love for his wife mirroring Christ’s love for the church, which point by point emphasized the husband’s total self-giving love for his wife — cherishing, nourishing, sacrificing for, laying down his life for, loving her as his own body.  And in my first reference to the passage as illustrating the relationship of Christ and the church in my manuscript, I had been careful to begin with verse 21–which is the verse about Christians mutually submitting to one another. (Although so many of us talk about this now, I had never seen the actual word combination mutual submission until Bill Petersen wrote it in his letter asking for me to expand on headship).  I thought that the true meaning of the passage, with its emphasis on a husband’s love to be modeled after the example of Christ, actually turned the traditional interpretation of the passage upside down.

Yet, every time I had ever read an article on Ephesians 5 or heard a sermon on the passage, the main emphasis had always been on the “wife’s duty to submit” and hammering home the idea that she must be subordinate and obedient to her husband.  The penchant for a predetermined and unambiguous social order was – and continues to be — strong in much of the evangelical world and in other religious groups as well.

I kept pondering the request of the Eternity editors. Perhaps I could add something to my article without losing its intended purpose of getting readers to at least begin thinking of another way to approach this—different from the usual primary emphasis on a “wife’s duty” — and take them as far as I could go in a way that would not cause them to dismiss my basic points out of hand. I wanted my article to be published, even if it meant “diluting” it slightly, because I thought it would at least make readers aware of why egalitarian marriage could be biblical. And so I used the familiar “buck stops here” idea, with the husband as ” the court of last resort” or “court of final appeals”  to make the rest of the article more acceptable to readers.  I would not do that today, although I continue to believe that if we start where people are, we can sometimes help them gradually become open to at least consider some new ways of thinking about things.

My Next letter

After deliberating about how to reply, here is part of the letter I wrote on October 18, 1967.

Dear Bill:

Thank you for your letter of October 12 and for your suggestions about the article.

I appreciate your candor in pointing out to me that some readers might misunderstand and “turn me off.” You know the readership far better than I.  Thus, I’ve made an addition along the lines you suggested, and it can be inserted at the proper place in the original manuscript. It’s a revision of “Proposition 3” in the article. I hope this will be satisfactory.  Any comments you may have will be appreciated.

The reason I didn’t say more originally about the headship of the husband and the submission of the wife is that there already exist so many articles on this subject appearing in evangelical periodicals.  I wanted to treat it from a somewhat different angle than is usually presented. Especially am I concerned for young adults who are looking forward to marriage but who have many questions and problems about the way the subject of Christian marriage is often taught.  College students in particular wonder about this a great deal. And their confusion is compounded by reading over and over in articles and textbooks dealing with marriage and the family statements like this: “It is ironic that the Christian church should have drastically lowered the status of marriage, and yet this is so. Under Christian influence, marriage and the family were more lowly regarded than ever before or since in Western history. . . .Certainly some of the early church fathers held lofty views of marriage. But over the centuries the dominant view became that which is represented by some of the writings of St.Paul.” [Unfortunately, I failed to note the source of this particular quotation in this letter, but it was typical of many that were found in numerous books at the time.]  After such statements, various Bible passages are cited usually, and many Christian students have no answer and just don’t know what to think. In addition, many of them reflect the thinking typical of the current generation in seeking real meaning in relationships and desiring real companionship in marriage. I’m convinced that the Biblical ideal of marriage and the equalitarian-companionship ideal are not contradictory, nor are they incompatible. . . .
(Letha Scanzoni, letter to William Petersen, October 18, 1967)

Along with the letter, I enclosed this addition to my original manuscript:

Proposition #3 (revised) to be inserted at the bottom of page 6 of Letha Scanzoni manuscript, “Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership?”

3. It is untrue that the only alternative to a husband-dictatorship is a marriage in which the wife rules. Among many evangelicals, there seems to be fear of any sort of female leadership. However, family life authorities have shown that the equalitarian form of marriage so popular in America today does not require either spouse to be all-powerful. Equalitarian marriage exists in two main forms: some couples make almost all decisions jointly; other couples assign some decisions to the husband and some to the wife.

Contrary to the worries of many Christians, most women don’t want to dominate in a marriage. Where this does occur, it generally means that the husband is passive and indifferent, absenting himself from active involvement in the dynamics of married life, so that the wife assumes command out of sheer necessity. The role of chief decision-maker falls to her by default of the husband’s leadership, not by usurpation of power, And such a wife is apt to feel cheated. She feels alone in what should be a shared experience;  she feels hurt because her husband is so disinterested.

However, on the other hand, the wife who is ruled by a despotic husband who believes it is his prerogative to tell his wife (not ask her opinion) will also feel short-changed. If a decision concerns her or her interests (and most decisions in marriage do) and yet she is not even consulted nor her desires considered, a wife is likely to feel she doesn’t really count—that she is not viewed as a person but as a possession by her husband.

A basically equalitarian marriage plan worked out by mutual consent is by no means anarchy in which each spouse does what he or she pleases. Each is concerned for the other and for the best interests of the marriage and family. And, of course, for the dedicated Christian couple, the old saying, “each for the other and both for the Lord” is applicable. This is far removed from disorderly chaos or selfish power struggles.

Some Christians may wonder if this contradicts the Biblical instructions about the husband’s headship in marriage. Not if one views this headship as leadership involving great responsibility, instead of looking at it as a “caste system” with vested privileges for the male sex. There is a vast difference between loving direction by the husband and egocentric dictatorship. For example, a Christian couple may agree on virtually all major issues and basic values, so that only in marginal disagreements would a situation ever arise in which someone would have to make the final decision —be the final court of appeals. When that “court” is the husband, the divine order is being followed; but at the same time, the basic form of companionable, democratic marriage has not been discarded. Such couples may find occasions of this sort occurring very rarely.

The role of the husband as “head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church” calls for a Christian husband to love his wife as himself, to care for her as he does his very own body (Eph. 5:28, 29), to cherish her (Eph. 5:25), to look after her welfare, to recognize that he is a unity with her (Eph. 5:31). The stress is always on responsibility, not rank.
(Revision submitted with letter to William Petersen, October 18, 1967)

I Thought That Would be the End of It

I sent in the letter and revision, but I heard nothing back.

Months passed.  The Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays came and went. Winter ended. Spring blossoms bloomed.  And then in May, a letter arrived on the familiar off-white stationery with the navy blue Eternity “magazine for today’s Christians” letterhead.

Only this time, the letter was not from William J. Petersen but from a woman who had accepted a position at Eternity as assistant editor.  Her name was Nancy Hardesty.

The letter read:

May 13, 1968

Dear Mrs. Scanzoni:

We hope to publish your article “Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership” in the July issue which we are hard at work on now.

To run along with it, some members of the staff here thought it would be a good idea to have a picture of you and your husband (I guess to show that he approves of your writing such “radical” stuff). They would also like to know what particular activities besides writing you and your husband enjoy doing together (that’s not meant to be a loaded question).  Incidentally, do you have any children?  A dog?

I’ve just finished editing your article and I’m really impressed by it – and I don’t think it’s radical or provocative at all. It’s just right and true and like it should be.  But then I’m only a woman!

Cordially yours,
Nancy

(Miss) Nancy Hardesty
Assistant Editor

Editorial Staff Anxiety

Apparently the editors were still nervous about how the readership would receive my article!  I had never known Eternity to include a picture of an author. And the author information was usually limited to a line or two at the end of the article.  With my marriage article, they wanted much more.

I wrote back to Nancy Hardesty with the information she had requested and assured her my husband had “approved” my article, that each of us always discussed what the other had written, and that he had even quoted from it in a recent speech he had given.  I told her about the many activities our family engaged in, both work activities and fun activities, 1967 family photo, used inEternity Magazine 12-1967 4-10-2010 8-59-37 PM 1629x1876how we opened our home regularly to Indiana University students for Bible studies and discussions, how we had family devotions, and so on. Yes, we had children: Stephen, almost 11, and David, 7.  No, we didn’t have a dog. I decided to send a picture of the entire family—a photo we had had taken a few months earlier for our 1967 Christmas card.

And then, as I neared the end of my letter to Nancy and was thinking about the actual and anticipated anxieties my articles on women’s roles seemed to trigger among readers and editors, my own insecurities kicked in as well.

Suddenly I felt I had to defend myself in the way most women felt and reacted during the 1950s and 1960s. We felt we had to make sure that society (not just the Christian subculture) would not condemn us for daring to step out of the traditional mold in any way.  The traditional view of women’s roles was emphasized everywhere– in advice columns, books on marriage and family, television, women’s magazines, religious magazines, sermons, institutions of higher learning, and just about everywhere else.  (For more about those expectations for women at the time, see my September 10, 1968 post in the 72-27 cross-generational blog that I co-write with Kimberly George, especially the section on being a wife and mother in the 1950s.)

So, although I had already typed almost two full pages of information, I added this closing paragraph to my letter to Nancy:

Hope this gives you some idea of our family life and supplies the information desired. I hope the article won’t be considered “radical.” Actually, I’m not at all the type of person who tries or likes to get involved in controversy—so it seems strange when I’m placed in that position. On the other hand, if I’m convinced of the truth of something, I don’t feel one should be quiet and act cowardly to avoid criticism. Really I don’t think of my views on this as being that way-out (maybe they are, though!), and the article was full of Scripture references and allusions. I trust I haven’t conveyed the impression I’m some sort of bossy, man-hating woman. In actuality, I take very seriously the responsibilities of being a Christian wife and mother, including the housekeeping chores of cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, etc. that are sandwiched in between writing, as well as the more important matter of spending time with the boys and John. It sounds as though your views on this subject of woman’s roles, etc. are quite similar to mine. Would love to discuss it with you sometime.

Cordially yours,
Letha

(letter from Letha Scanzoni to Nancy Hardesty, May 17, 1968)

From the information I supplied, Nancy put together a nice boxed inset to be printed with the article. It took up considerable space on the page and included the family photo. She also identified me as the author of the two books I had written but which had not been mentioned in the incorrect bio that was included with my previous article (1966) on women in the church.

Other Changes

Probably because of the requested addition to the article, as well as the boxed inset with the author information and family photo, the editors decided that something else had to be cut. So the opening paragraphs about the Confucian marriage manual, which urged revering a husband as a god, were deleted in the published version.

In many ways, that disappointed me, because I had been trying to make a special point by including it. I had frequently been using that quote, unidentified, in speaking engagements and then would pause and ask if the audience knew where the quotation came from.  Invariably, I would hear shouts of “the Apostle Paul!” or just “The Bible!”  The shouters were sure they had the right answer. Then when I told them it was from a centuries old Confucian marriage manual, they would look shocked.

The reason for the shock was that conservative Christians had long been told that God had clearly provided instructions for husbands and wives in a way that was unique, with an emphasis on husband dominance and wifely submission.  This was said to be God’s will, directly revealed.  But then, when other cultures and religions are examined, it’s a different story. Patriarchal ideals are found throughout the world and throughout time.  And by emphasizing submission and obedience, Christians were totally missing what actually was new and unique about biblical teachings such as those I was trying to emphasize by looking at the actual point of the Ephesians passage.

The quotation that had been cut from my article (“A woman must look to her husband as her lord, and must serve him with all worship and reverence. . . . She should look on her husband as if he were Heaven itself.”) struck me forcefully years after I wrote my article when I happened to read Christian writer  Elizabeth Rice Handford’s book, Me? Obey Him? (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1972).  Speaking about a wife who feels her husband is asking her to do something that goes directly against what the woman herself feels God is asking of her, Handford writes:

The Scriptures say a woman must ignore her “feelings” about the will of God and do what her husband says. She is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven!”  (p. 34 in Handford, Me? Obey Him?)

But I need to get back to my  story!

The Article Gets Published

And so, after all the delays, my “Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership?” article, with the editors’ new title, “Elevate Marriage to Partnership,”  appeared in the July, 1968 issue, including my reluctantly written modification on headship.

When the issue was published, the sky didn’t fall, the readership didn’t condemn the magazine for heresy, and reaction was almost ho-hum.  But I realized that a great deal had happened to me personally through the whole process.  I had learned a lot.

And most importantly, I had apparently found a sister Christian feminist!  The road ahead looked a bit less lonely.  I hoped someday to meet this assistant editor, Nancy Hardesty, not yet dreaming that one day our names would be linked together as coauthors of a book called All We’re Meant to Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation (1974) that played a major role in launching 20th-century biblical feminism.

But that’s another story. I’ll save that for another post.

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Endnote

1. Russel Prohl was a Lutheran hospital chaplain in New Orleans whose denomination was the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  In his book, Woman in the Church: A Restudy of Woman’s Place in Building the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1957), he questioned the Missouri Synod’s devaluation of women, including its denial of the right of women even to vote in congregational meetings, much less be permitted to be leaders, seminary students, and ordained ministers.  The heated controversy that erupted because of  Prohl’s book is described in full detail by historian Mary Todd in Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000). Prohl was charged with “transgressing basic principles of scriptural interpretation and of proper ministerial conduct” and told at one point that he must repent of what he had written or face the possibility of being discharged from his service as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (p. 173 in Authority Vested). Prohl refused to back down and insisted “he had not broken his clerical vows by stating his opinion” (p. 172).  He eventually decided to resign and seek the possibility of transferring to another Lutheran body, but not only was his resignation refused and a compromise sought, but his health broke and he was hospitalized for surgery with ulcers, was found to also have leukemia, and died at age 53.  Professor Todd writes, “With his death the most vocal spokesman for a change in the status of women in the Missouri Synod was silenced, and the church was spared having to take definitive action against a dissenter” (p. 176).

Christian Marriage: Patriarchy or Partnership? (Published as “Elevate Marriage to Partnership”)

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Author’s note: Below I have posted the original unedited manuscript of one of the earliest articles representative of what  later came to be known as “biblical feminism” or “evangelical feminism.”  It is considered part of the second wave of American feminism that emerged during the 1960s and 1970s and is reprinted here because of the interest shown by various scholars who have been researching feminist history and religion.

The article was written in the summer of 1967 and published in Eternity magazine in July 1968. Before its publication, the editors gave it a new title,“Elevate Marriage to Partnership.”  This article about a woman’s role in the home is a companion piece to my 1966 article, “Woman’s Place: Silence or Service,” about a woman’s role in the church. Click here to read the story behind that 1966 article.

Although if I were writing today I would likely write some parts of both articles differently, readers should keep in mind that both articles were considered quite daring and radical in the evangelical subculture at the time they were published more than four decades ago.  (Note that I have put a correction in the endnote for the opening quote, having written, in my original manuscript, the wrong century in which Kaibara lived. Also, in recent years, questions have been raised about the historical accuracy of the often cited story of a debate at the Council of Macon over whether women were human or if women had souls.  See this article by Michael Nolan. In reprinting my article below, however, I have refrained from making any changes in the manuscript itself as originally written.)

A separate post tells the backstory behind the writing of “Elevate Marriage to Partnership” and describes what changes were requested by the editors before its actual publication.

Unedited manuscript for article as submitted to Eternity magazine in 1967, published  July 1968.

CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE:  PATRIARCHY OR PARTNERSHIP?

(Published as “Elevate Marriage to Partnership.”)

by Letha Scanzoni

“A woman must look to her husband as her lord, and must serve him with all worship and reverence. The great lifelong duty of a woman is obedience. In her dealings with her husband, she should be courteous, humble, and conciliatory. . . .When her husband issues his instructions, the wife must never disobey them. . . .She should look on her husband as if he were Heaven itself.” 1

The above quotation is not an excerpt from a sermon on Christian marriage!  It is found in a marriage manual for wives written by a fifteenth century Confucian scholar named Kaibara and is still read in some parts of Asian today.  Confucius taught that “it is the law of nature that woman should be held under the dominance of man.” Why?  Because women were considered inferior.

The tragedy is that Christian marriage is often seen in a similar way. It isn’t unusual these days to read or hear that Christianity holds a low view of marriage and is derogatory in its remarks about women. This misconception has arisen because of certain interpretations of various passages of Scripture, while ignoring other passages.

“But no informed Christian would say that the Biblical teaching about the husband’s authority and the wife’s submission means that wives are inferior!” protests someone.  True — at least today it’s probably true. Yet, throughout church history, woman’s inferiority has been implied. Some of the most degrading statements ever written on the nature of women are statements of the early church fathers. In the sixth century, the Council of Macon had a serious debate about whether or not souls exist in human females! (It was decided that women do have souls — by one vote!) The Westminster catechism lists 1 Peter 3:6 (instructions for wives) under a section describing “the honor which inferiors owe to superiors,” while 1 Peter 3:7 (for husbands) is listed under requirements “of superiors toward their inferiors.” Bible commentaries speak of “the natural weakness of women” which requires their subordination.

The subjection of wives was even used to justify slavery. In 1857, F.A. Ross, a Presbyterian minister in Alabama, attempting to show that slavery was “ordained of God,” said:

“Do you say the slave is held in involuntary servitude? So is the wife. . . .O ye wives, I know how superior you are to your husbands in many respects. . . .Nevertheless he has authority from God to rule over you. . . .You are bund to obey him in all things. . . . You cannot leave your parlor, nor your bedchamber, nor your couch, if your husband commands you to stay there. What can you do? . . .You can, and I fear some of you do, wish him from the bottom of your hears at the bottom of the Hudson.”2

In rural areas, in the mid-nineteenth century, it was considered “right and proper” to use corporal punishment in dealing with one’s wife. Arthur W. Calhoun cites Emily Collins’s description of a pious Methodist class leader who beat his wife with a horsewhip every few weeks, saying it was necessary “in order to keep her in subjection” 3

Such examples are a far cry from the relationship between Christ and His Church which, according to Ephesians 5:21-33, Christian marriage should mirror.  And while this article is in no way intended as a call to arms, challenging women to “cast off their fetters,” I do feel that this subject needs to be examined anew. In a day when young men and women are educated similarly and are seeing one another not in terms of sex stereotypes, but as individual persons, many are asking, “Why must marriage be a dictatorship when we’d prefer democracy?”

I’m thinking now of two well-educated single women in their late twenties living in different parts of the country who both made statements to me similar to this: “I can think of only two or three examples of marriage in evangelical circles where there is real companionship — real love and joy and delight in each other as equals. Usually, though, I’ve seen Christian marriages in which the wife is a meek, passive, subservient little creature without any spirit–and I just couldn’t be like that. Nor would I want a husband who’d want me to be like that.”

I’m thinking, too, of the teenager who asked, “Why should the boy always be considered right just because he’s a boy?” and of the exhausted-looking mother of ten who said, “I never would have chosen to have so many children, but my husband insisted that we have a large family; and he doesn’t let me forget that the Scriptures teach that a wife must submit to her husband.”  I’m thinking of the graduate student who said he wants a wife who is an intellectual companion–a girl who isn’t afraid to disagree with him. It is for reasons such as these that I feel this issue should be explored further.

In the last several decades in America, marriage has come to be spoken of not so much in terms of respect, obedience, duty, and authority, but rather in terms of companionship, affection, comradeship, and equalitarianism. Many Christians see this as an evil. Yet, there are some Christian couples who would fully agree with this statement by sociologist Paul H. Landis:

“In marriage today, there can be a genuine sharing in nearly every aspect of life. This makes marriage itself a far richer experience than was possible under the old regime, and makes parenthood a shared joy such as it probably rarely was in the patriarchal family.” 4

Speaking of this “companionship” conception of marriage, a popular writer recently declared, “Among the curious features of modern woman’s life is one that would have thoroughly offended St. Paul. . .namely, the fact that she is her husband’s best friend and he is hers.” 5

But I don’t think Paul would have found that notion offensive at all. Surely he saw such a relationship in the marriage of his good friends Priscilla and Aquila!  Here was a couple that exhibited true comradeship in every area of life; they were partners in the business of tent-making, they worked together in teaching the Word of God, they traveled together spreading the Gospel, they used their home as a meeting place for Christians.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of either one seeking dominance, but rather perfect equality. Sometimes Aquila’s name is mentioned first, sometimes Priscilla’s — but always both names are mentioned together.

It’s possible that Paul knew of other marriages like that, too.  “Don’t I have the right to do what the other apostles do, and the Lord’s brothers, and Peter, and take a Christian wife with me on my trips?” Paul asks in 1 Cor. 9:5 (TEV).  Far from being contrary to Scripture, it would seem that this kind of marriage would be a fulfillment  of what God intends marriage to be for His redeemed ones. Two made one In Christ should be able to experience a depth of sharing, a richness of companionship, and a unity of purpose unknown to those who have never “tasted and seen that the Lord is good.”

Does that mean that we toss out as irrelevant such passages as Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18, 19; 1 Cor. 11:2-12; Tit. 2:4, 5; and 1 Pet. 3:1-7?   No, it only means that we see them in context and that we also balance them with the teaching of other passages of Scripture. To do so should help clear up some prevalent misconceptions and should answer many of the questions asked today. Perhaps it may help erase the guilt felt by some Christian couples who are perfectly content in an equalitarian marriage, never even bothering to ask, “Who’s boss?” until they hear a sermon or read an article insisting that “men must assert their authority, because the Bible’s only word to wives is to obey their husbands.”

Thus, I would like to suggest the following propositions:

1. The Ephesian passage does not portray a master-servant relationship. If Christian marriage is an “object lesson” showing Christ’s love relationship to His Bride, the Church, then we would expect to see between husband and wife a mutual delight in one another, a fervent desire to please one another, an unselfish desire to give instead of receive — to minister rather than to be ministered unto. There is responsibility on the part of both partners. To think that this passage goes along with the idea that “a man’s home is his castle and his wife is his janitor” is absurd.  There is no justification here for a docile child-wife having no mind of her own and no inclination toward personal growth and maturity. If the husband loves his wife to the degree that this passage teaches (Eph. 5:25), he won’t think of his wife as his obedient slave to be ordered about, but rather as his friend (see John 15:12-15), the one with whom he shares his plans, his interests, his dreams, his time – his very life. The wife, on her part, cannot help but honor–yes, submit to–such a husband. Like the Christian, she is proud to bear the name of the one who loves her so much, and she will want to share all she is and all she has with him.

2. Christian marriage doesn’t require the negation of the wife’s personality. Just because the wife’s role is to illustrate the Church’s submission to Christ’s lordship, it does not follow that the husband is infallible as Christ is, nor that the wife may never disagree with her husband’s ideas.  Else how would Christian marriage ideals differ from the Hindu demand that “a virtuous wife must constantly revere her husband as a god—thought he fail to observe the approved usages, or be enamored of another woman, or be devoid of good qualities” (Law of Manu)?  Peter’s reference to Sarah’s example in calling her husband her “lord” or “master” (1 Pet. 3:5, 6; Gen. 18:12 [KJV]) surely cannot mean that Abraham made all decisions unilaterally, that his wife made none, and that they never talked things over! In fact, it would seem Abraham would have been better off not to have listened to his wife in at least one instance (Gen. 16:2)! But later, when Sarah demanded that Ishmael leave the household and Abraham disagreed, God said to Abraham, “. . .whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named” (Gen. 21:12). An objective look at Sarah’s life does not by any means reveal a dull, colorless, subservient person.

3. It is untrue that the only alternative to a husband dictatorship marriage is one in which the wife rules. Among many evangelicals, there seems to be great fear of female leadership of any sort. However, family life authorities have shown that the equalitarian form of marriage so popular in America today does not require either spouse to be all-powerful. Equalitarian marriage exists in two main forms: some couples make almost all decisions jointly; other couples assign some decisions to the husband and some to the wife.

4. There is no Scriptural basis for maintaining that the “head and heart” analogy best describes the husband-wife relationship. Modern scientific studies have refuted the myth that women are less intelligent, less able to reason, than men. Anthropologists have shown that many common assumptions about “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics are cultural, not inherent biological traits. It has been pointed out that in Iran, for example, though a patriarchal society, it is the men who are expected to display emotion, sensitivity, and intuition. The women are the cool, calculating, practical ones.

Roman Catholic writer Sally Sullivan feels that most Christian instructions “do not explain on what level precisely a heart and head can communicate; how a ‘complementarity’ that locates reason in one person and emotion in the other can develop intimacy.”  Mrs. Sullivan says that in such marriages men turn to their male colleagues to discuss matters of most concern to them. “How can a man feel free to communicate his most intimate self to a person who is readily subject and willingly obedient; who is long on patience and dogged endurance but short on detached judgment, on curiosity about the world, on a humorous overview of their common experiences?” she asks. She believes that defining men and women as “radically different spiritually and mentally” strips the word “complementarity” of its true meaning, making marriage a “working association” instead of a personal relationship. 6

Notice the husband-wife relationship in Prov. 31:10-31. There is strength, wisdom, dignity, and maturity in the attitudes of both partners toward each other. Surely Ephesians 5 and similar passages cannot mean the wife must blindly go along with whatever her husband suggests, without so much as a comment from her!  There might be times that to do so would be a failure to “do him good and not harm” (Prov. 31:12). I’m thinking of several Christian marriages I know of in which the husband spends so lavishly that the couple is nearly crushed with debts, yet the wife feels her only responsibility is to submit to his desires and obediently add her signature to more applications for installment purchases or loans.

5. The Bible teaches equality in the sexual relationship of husband and wife. God intended sex to be pleasurable to both partners. The Christian wife who thinks of coitus as merely a duty to her husband (displaying a passive, submissive toleration, instead of creative participation) misses the mutual delight, the mutual giving and receiving that is God’s plan. Meditation on 1 Cor. 7:3-5 and on the entire Song of Solomon may help such wives view the sexual relationship as a beautiful, dynamic experience to be shared and enjoyed equally by both husband and wife, a fusion expressing their deepest feelings of love and unity in Christ.

6. The Bible teaches equality in the experience of parenthood. Throughout history, a common belief was that a child was engendered exclusively by the male. The wife’s body was only a “field” in which her husband’s seed was planted until it reached full growth and his child was produced. Modern genetics has, of course, exploded such a myth; and our knowledge of ova, sperm, genes, and chromosomes makes us aware of the part both parents play in bringing children into the world.  Many Bible scholars feel the phrase “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7) refers not to eternal life, but to the transmission of human life – i.e., the joint privilege of a married couple to share in the creation of new little lives.  And might it not be that the reference in this verse to woman as the “weaker sex” or “weaker vessel” has to do with the woman’s need for her husband’s understanding, protection, and care in relation to her child-bearing function?

Not only does the Bible teach equality in relation to child-bearing, but in child-rearing as well. Children are told to honor and obey both father and mother. And both parents must share in training up their offspring in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6).

7. Christian marriage means great responsibility for both partners. A marriage shouldn’t be permitted to “just happen.” It should be talked over, prayed about, and worked at. Couples differ, personalities are not alike, roles and division of labor may vary from family to family. What is important is that Christian living must begin at home. A selfish desire to dominate and manipulate either spouse (whether by subtle guile, or nagging, or overt domineering) is inconsistent with Christian principles (Phil. 2:1-11; Matt. 20:25-28).

Christian marriage should be a relationship in which each partner helps the other to grow in Christ, a relationship in which the fruit of the Spirit is clearly exhibited (Gal. 5:22-26). Such a partnership between a husband and wife has the potential of being one of the richest, most wonderful, most meaningful experiences imaginable.

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Notes

1. Quoted in David and Vera Mace, Marriage East and West (New York: Doubleday Dophin Books, 1960), p. 73.  [I have since found out that the Japanese neo-Confucian philosopher Kaibara Ekken lived from 1630 to 1714; thus I should have referred to him as a seventeenth-century Confucian scholar, not a fifteenth-century one.]

2, Quoted in Arthur W. Calhourn, A Social Hisotry of the American Family, Vol. 2 (New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1945), p. 96.

3. Ibid., p. 92.

4. Paul H. Landis, Making the Most of Marriage (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1965), pp. 166-167.

5. Morton M. Hunt, Her Infinite Variety (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 199.

6. Sally Sullivan, “Woman: Mother or Person?” in William Birmingham, ed., What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control (New York: Signet Books, 1964), p. 211.