Book Review: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

The role of women continues to be a question that looms large. In business, politics, education and countless other arenas, the opportunities for women in the western world are virtually unlimited. Yet in other parts of the world, in the Middle East or in nations ravaged by poverty, these opportunities don’t exist. Indeed, in many countries, women are treated as little more than property.

This issue has not left the church unscathed. Are women “merely” to be focused on the home and family? Are there limits to how women can serve or should serve? Does the church give women—who comprise at least half of it—an inspiring, captivating vision of what it means to be a woman created in the image of God?

Carolyn Custis James seeks to answer these questions in Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. In many ways this book is a companion piece to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which focuses on the abuses perpetrated against women around the world—among them sex trafficking, genital mutilation and honor killings. In light of the horrific crimes being perpetrated against women globally every day, James asks why the Church is not the loudest voice in this crisis; why the Church is not “the most visible at the forefront of addressing this humanitarian crisis” (p. 21). Half the Church, in James’ estimation, represents a call to action in combating these atrocities as the author describe what she sees as God’s vision for women.

From a male perspective, reading Half the Church was an unusual experience. It’s primary audience is women and James writes with that assumption in mind. In some ways this was quite refreshing as it gave me a glimpse into the female perspective, but it was also difficult at times to relate, particularly as she got into the nitty-gritty of her argument. And her arguments are where things get really interesting.

I need to be upfront about one thing before I go any farther: Half the Church was incredibly difficult for me to review. This is not because I wasn’t able to form opinions on it, but because my concern is that by voicing any disagreement with James’ premise or arguments I would be viewed as a misogynist (or worse). And nothing could be further from the truth. As a husband and father, ensuring that the dignity of women is protected is very, very high on my priority list. My daughters are learning how valuable they are in their Daddy’s sight, as is my wife (I hope!). I also acknowledge that I can’t possibly hope to cover every part with which I agree, any more than I can cover every point of disagreement. So if something you loved isn’t discussed, please be aware that I’m in no way trying to misrepresent the book’s message.

So, with all that said, let’s continue. [Read more...]