In her book, Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else, Melanie Springer Mock critiques the Christian culture which labels people and puts them into boxes. She then affirms God’s heart for every individual by emphasizing how much he loves them, regardless of what the world might think. She shares many experiences from her own life, both painful and positive, that helped challenge her thinking.
I enjoyed Mock’s book because I could relate to so much of what she described. She discusses how as a child she was often mocked for her boyish appearance and outspokenness. I was an awkward child, both socially and physically, and so bullied accordingly. Growing up in a complementarian household and church, I struggled, like Mock, to conform to an image of femininity which I was told came from the Bible.
Mock picks up this theme again later in her book, when she discusses how the church pays lip service to appreciating inner beauty while emphasizing external standards, especially for women. She rightly points out how the evangelical culture tells women they are not “real women” until they stop acting like men and “find their feminine side.” Where does this leave girls and women who want a study Bible rather than a pink one, or who like sports more than fashion? It leaves them filled with pain and confusion as they struggle with their unworthiness, feeling that God cannot accept them since they do not meet their church’s cultural expectations for women.
The church also confines women by telling them that they are not fulfilling God’s call if they do not get married and have children. Mock spends an entire chapter deconstructing this lie, and she does it very well. She married later in life, and then adopted two children with her husband. She speaks candidly about how hard it was to remain single for so long, and how she sometimes feels like she’s not a “real” mother since she did not physically give birth to her children. I also got married later in life, and have remained childless, so I appreciated her affirmation that God loves and accepts every woman, regardless of their marital status or whether they have children.
She also did a good job analyzing the contradictory messages that Christian women receive. Before marriage, women are temptresses who must remain as modest as possible so as not to lead men astray. After marriage, they are weak vessels who must be led by the man, who is wiser and stronger. Being single is a special time when you can serve God unencumbered by the responsibilities of family life, and yet the church ignores single people and emphasizes families. No wonder women become exhausted and confused as they try to sort out all of these messages!
Mock ends her book on a hopeful note by looking at Luke 14:15-24. In this parable, a rich man holds a banquet but all his invited guests claim they are too busy to attend. Then the rich man sends his servant out to invite those who are poor, or disabled, or marginalized in other ways. When the new guests arrived, the host does not expect for his guests to suddenly dress in rich clothing or be healed. Instead, he simply accepts them and loves them as they are.
Mock challenges us to take this message and build communities that affirm others. It is not enough, she says to simply join an online community or even a national organization! (She herself belongs to Christian Feminists Today, and describes how much she enjoys attending their events). We must start where we are, and reach out to those in our own community. We must consciously think about how the language we use and the actions we perform might exclude others and keep them from God. Only then can we truly model the love and compassion of Jesus.
Worthy is a fine book and I think that many women, like me, will find themselves in it. Mock offers a much-needed corrective to the harmful and unbiblical messages purveyed by those who would exclude and marginalize others in the name of God, and shows instead God’s heart for the wounded and broken.
Unfortunately, I cannot give an unqualified endorsement of this book, for there is an issue with which Mock and I disagree, and which contradicts the values of CBE. Throughout her book, Mock includes individuals with homosexual inclinations as those who need to be included unconditionally within God’s kingdom. For instance, in her chapter on marriage, she gives as an example of a contradictory message how the church considers marriage to be the ideal state, and yet withholds this blessing from the gay community. Elsewhere, in her chapter on body image and gender stereotypes, she talks about transgendered people who also suffer from trying to reconcile themselves to these stereotypes, and so must be told that they are loved and accepted for their “true” selves, that is, whatever gender they identify as.
Because this issue is so tendentious, I want to choose my words very carefully. Let me begin by saying that I feel empathy for those who feel they are outside of the heterosexual norm. Growing up, I was very much a tomboy. I felt acutely my church’s disapproval of my conduct and thought, and so I struggled with why I could not be a “normal” girl. At times I even wondered if God had somehow made a mistake and put me into the wrong gender body. It was only when I became an adult and embraced the egalitarian interpretation of scripture that some wise egalitarian friends helped me see what was happening. Because I felt a call to preach, and because I could not fulfill that calling in the church where I grew up, I internalized the message that being male meant having respect, prestige, and power. Once I accepted that my calling was not unscriptural, I was able to reconcile with my gender and embrace both my feminine and masculine traits.
Because of my experience, I do agree with Mock that we should reach out to the gay community and listen to their stories, especially their stories of being rejected by the church. It is certainly true, as Mock so ably points out, that Jesus embraced those who were marginalized by the religious culture of his day. However, he also challenged certain behaviors and exhorted those practicing them to move beyond them and embrace righteousness (John 4 and 11). He affirmed that there are two genders and that God’s blueprint for marriage is for a man and a woman to commit to one another (Matthew 19:3-8). And he says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For these reasons, I cannot agree with Mock that all forms of marriage, sexual desire, or gender identifications are equal and worthy of being embraced.
CBE reviews books on their own merit, whether or not an author has expressed agreement with CBE’s values or mission elsewhere. A positive review does not constitute an endorsement of an author’s entire body of work or of any institutions they represent. Likewise, a negative review is not a condemnation of an author’s body of work or associated institutions.