10 Lies the Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage

by J. Lee Grady
Lake Mary, Florida: Creation House, 2000
220 pp., paperback, $12.99.

Reviewed by Nancy A. Hardesty

10 Lies the Church Tells WomenBiblical feminists would certainly agree with J. Lee Grady’s list of lies the church has told, including “God created women as inferior beings, designed to serve their husbands”; “Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles in the church”; “Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting”; “A woman should view her husband as the ‘priest of the home'”; “Women are more easily deceived than men”; “Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children”; and “Women shouldn’t work outside the home.”

Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine and father of four daughters, argues forcefully for the ministry of women in whatever field God calls them to serve. He decries the church’s silencing of women down through the centuries. He encourages equality in marriage and parenting. He criticizes the prejudices that discourage single women from fulfilling careers and church service. Grady seems unaware that this is the message that EEWC and others have been preaching for the past quarter-century.

Grady also perpetuates a few lies and stereotypes of his own in this book. He says the “secular feminist movement . . . teaches women to hate men and to kill unborn babies” (p. 81). He asserts that confining women to their homes (“closeted as a slave”) “is taught rigidly by Muslims, who also insist that women must wear veils” (p. 161). In truth, the Quran only says women should dress modestly (which has, as in Christianity, been defined differently by different cultures). Grady also vilifies the Jews of Jesus’ day by pointing to the fact that they “segregated [women] from men in the synagogues” (p. 10). He is obviously unaware that Norwegian stave churches have separate entrances for men and women and that men and women still sit separately in some Christian congregations (e.g., among the Amish). Even Methodists did so until very late in the nineteenth century. He blames first-century Jews for the doctrine of original sin (p. 11), which was really concocted in the fifth century by Augustine, a Christian bishop in north Africa.

Alongside denunciations of “faulty biblical interpretation” practiced by Crusaders, South African supporters of apartheid, Southern defenders of slavery, and Hitler, Grady lists “several pro-homosexual religious groups” that “twist verses of the Bible to teach that God condones gay sex.” Grady seems oblivious to the fact that opponents of his own efforts would make similar charges. Some church members, including President George Bush, are still using “biblical passages about Israel’s wars with enemy nations to defend violence against Muslims,” which Grady labels as a “misreading” by earlier Crusaders (p. 7). Grady admits that some Christians still use Scripture to denigrate people of color. But it apparently does not occur to him that his certainty that the Bible “flatly condemns homosexual behavior” (p. 9) may be just as antiquated, prejudiced, and misguided as the views he condemns.

Grady’s heart may be in the right place with regard to women’s roles and rights, but his research and thinking are incredibly shallow and sloppy [see sidebar]. He refers frequently to church history, but with little cultural understanding. Almost 40 percent of his citations come from two sources: Ruth Tucker’s and Walter Liefeld’s Daughters of the Church, and Carroll Osburn’s Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Tucker and Liefeld offer a fine overview of women and ministry across the past two millennia, but they often cite quotations from original sources that they found in secondary monographs, which Grady then cites third-hand — and edits to fit his point or modern linguistic conventions! Another 13 percent of Grady’s sources are from random Internet sites. The only serious work of biblical exegesis he cites is Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger’s I Suffer Not a Woman.

We can only hope that readers of Grady’s book will be motivated by his Good News for women to do their own research. Biblical feminism is far better grounded in Scripture and church history than Grady demonstrates.

Nancy Hardesty

Reviewer Nancy Hardesty is Professor of Religion at Clemson University in South Carolina. She is author of Inclusive Language in the Church; Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century; and co-author, with Letha Scanzoni, of All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today.

© 2002 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 26 number 1 Spring (April-June) 2002


In Strange Company

by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

When a review copy of Grady’s book, Ten Lies the Church Tells Women arrived at the EEWC Update office, I quickly perused it before sending it out for review.

Grady’s introduction stated that each chapter would begin with “shocking quotes from various theologians ranging from respected church fathers such as Origen and St. Augustine to brave reformers such as Martin Luther and John Knox.” He said these were “men greatly used by God” but they “harbored wrong beliefs about the inferiority of women.”

The quotes were familiar to me, and I agreed with Grady about the errors made by church leaders throughout history in teaching about the roles and relationships of women and men.

But when I got to the “shocking” introductory quotes for Lie # 4 (“A woman should view her husband as the “priest of the home”), I was stunned. Because the three quotations cited in support of this notion came from Thomas Aquinas, John R. Rice, and — me!

The quote from Aquinas said that “the woman is subject to the man, on account of the weakness of her nature, both of mind and body. . . .”

The quote from evangelist John R. Rice argued that women were to show their submission to fathers and husbands by wearing long hair. I recognized it immediately as being from Rice’s 1941 book, Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers.

But I certainly didn’t recognize the quote attributed to me, because it was implying I espoused teachings I’ve written against for most of my adult life! Yet, there it was! Directly after John R. Rice’s quote, Grady had included this sentence:

“‘Even the single woman is not to make any decision without a male head.’ — Letha Scanzoni, author of the 1974 book, All We’re Meant to Be

How in the world had I ended up in such strange misogynistic company? And how had I been placed there by an author whose book title emphasized not bearing false witness?

I guessed something had been taken out of context, not simply made up. But at best, it exemplified very shoddy scholarship.

First, Grady had me listed as the sole author of All We’re Meant to Be; even though Nancy Hardesty and I are equal co-authors.

But especially troubling was the quote itself. I’ve long had to face criticism for my feminism but have never been quoted as supporting female subordination! My first article on women in the church, (Eternity magazine, Feb., 1966), resulted in a page of letters in a subsequent issue, the first of which began, “Mrs. Scanzoni’s article, ‘Women’s Place: Silence or Service?’ is a perfect example of why a woman is admonished to be silent in the church.”

And although Nancy and I received boxes of letters from women who found All We’re Meant to Be encouraging and empowering, we also heard from people who said they had burned the book or urged us to take it out of print because it was “of the devil.” No one on either side misunderstood its clear feminist message!

Since Grady included an endnote for my alleged quote, I turned to the back of the book and found this reference: “Letha Scanzoni, quoted in Tucker and Liefeld, Daughters of the Church, 411.” No primary source was given.

I looked through All We’re Meant to Be, but found no place where the quote could have been wrested from context. I next checked an extended interview that Radix magazine had conducted with me in 1984. This is what I found:

I had been talking to the interviewer about some reactionary gender role teachings then emerging in certain Christian circles. Radix asked if some of the these “regressive theologies that justify subordination” were worse than some encountered in earlier periods. Referring to some historical research I was doing on late 19th and early 20th century discussions on gender, I said, “What I see is that back then there were a variety of positions and much debate about women’s roles. But what we didn’t have was this really strange and thorough subordination of the woman so that even the single woman is not to make any decision without a male head.” That “head” could be a church elder if she had no other man available. I said that some of these extremist views of the 1970s and 1980s obliterated the personhood of women.

Yet, Grady had taken 14 words from that section — a sentence fragment — and made them form a complete sentence that sounded as though it expressed my views.

Since he hadn’t gone to the original source (the Radix interview) or even acknowledged it, I wondered if perhaps the secondary source he had consulted had given a false impression. I phoned Nancy Hardesty and asked if she knew anything about the authors cited in Grady’s end note. She said Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld were reputable scholars of history and that she had their book Daughters of the Church on her bookshelf. She checked the cited page, saw that they had identified me correctly as co-author with her of All We’re Meant to Be, and that they had cited the Radix interview and had indicated that I was troubled by certain gender-teaching developments, including the new emphasis on the single woman’s subordination — in other words the quote Grady used.

Perhaps all this “detective work” about a quotation may seem insignificant, but the principle is highly important.

I work as a writing consultant and editor of dissertations and book manuscripts, as well as serving as EEWC Update editor. A point I make to clients again and again is that proper attribution in using source material is not only a matter of good scholarship but also a matter of integrity. Proper attribution includes indicating where material is quoted directly or paraphrased. (Failure to do so, whether as deliberate plagiarism at worst or careless scholarship at best, has seriously hurt the reputations of some prominent scholars recently.) But proper attribution also means not taking something out of context to make a point — unless that context and the author’s meaning and intent are clearly acknowledged.

© 2002 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 26 number 1 Spring (April-June) 2002


Nancy A. Hardesty
Nancy A. Hardesty was a founding member of the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today organization. She spent much of her career in higher education. From 1988 to her death in 2011, Hardesty taught in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Clemson University in South Carolina. Before arriving at Clemson, Hardesty also taught at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Hardesty’s first book, co-authored with Letha Dawson Scanzoni, was All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today published in 1974. The ground-breaking book has gone through several editions, and was noted by Christianity Today, in its 50th anniversary issue, as one of the top fifty books influencing the evangelical movement. Hardesty subsequently wrote other books on topics ranging from women in the Bible to inclusive language in the church.