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I was raised in Christian purity culture. I proudly wore my “True Love Waits” ring. I read Joshua Harris’s Christian cult classic, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. And today, I’m a psychologist and a vocal critic of purity culture. 

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A few weeks ago, I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a day. I stopped for about twelve hours between night buses to see the sights, including a beautiful, vibrant mosque near the center of town. I did some online research on dress protocol beforehand: cover your skin, wear something on your head, take your shoes off. Nothing unexpected. I had a scarf and a maxi skirt in my backpack for this purpose. I was happy to be respectful, and excited for a new experience. I arrived at the mosque, circled around to the front, and . . . walked away. I felt nervous, suddenly, and upset.

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I know that lack of sex and consent education harmed my husband’s and my sex life in the early years of our marriage. But as I look back, I realize that’s only one side of the coin. The other was biblical illiteracy.

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It was not by choice, but by calling, that I found myself a Proverbs 31 man.

 

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How many times have you gone to a women’s Bible study on Proverbs 31? It seems that discussions on this passage usually turn to how to be a good wife, mother, and house cleaner. 

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Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them; hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?

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Digging deeper into Prov 31:10–31 in context reveals it was never intended to be a how-to manual for becoming the perfect woman. In the context of Proverbs, this passage is the parting mnemonic incentivizing young men to pursue wisdom and marry wisely.

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In recovering from anorexia, I had to relearn how to read Scripture, not as separate, disjointed messages colored by the voices of male “authority” around me, but as a whole, creative, redemptive narrative of God’s journey of trust with God’s people.

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Oral tradition is important for an egalitarian understanding of the Bible—its origins, development, nature, and relevance—because women were among the key players in this stage of the Bible’s development.

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Does the Bible really body-shame women? Does it exonerate men when they objectify women? Proponents will say they don’t exonerate men. Men are still guilty, but women, the victims of men’s objectification, are guilty too. But there’s a chasm of difference between “men are guilty, period” and “men and women are both guilty.” 

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