Interview with Rachel Miller
Rachel, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
My name is Rachel Green Miller. I grew up in a Christian home and came to faith at an early age. My dad is a retired PCA pastor, and my mom is a retired professor. My husband, Matt, and I met at Texas A&M University, and we’ve been married 19 years this December. We have three boys, Jonathan, Gabriel, and Nathanael, and we homeschool. I’ve been a writer and a blogger for several years now focusing mainly on theology and practical applications. My first book, Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society, will be released September 3.
Rachel, Aimee Byrd has called you unintentionally controversial. Why do you think people push back on the nuances in your book Beyond Authority and Submission?
It’s funny. I never set out to be controversial. If you read through what I believe about the Bible and about marriage and the church, I hold to very conservative views. Marriage should be between one man and one woman, ideally for life. Husbands should be servant leaders in the home, loving their wives sacrificially as Christ loves the church. Wives should submit voluntarily to that leadership as the church submits to Christ. In the church, only qualified men should be ordained leaders. There really shouldn’t be controversy over what I believe and teach.
And yet, I regularly get pushback about what I’ve written. Some people call me a feminist or an egalitarian, even though my beliefs indicate otherwise. Much of the pushback I’ve received comes from people who have certain views about the nature of women and men, and they take issue with me saying those views are culturally influenced and unbiblical.
In the 1980s, many conservative Christians were concerned about aspects of the second-wave feminist movement, particularly the sexual revolution and abortion. Many traditional beliefs about marriage and family, and even about religion and the church, were being attacked. In response, a number of conservative Christians looked back to a cultural ideal that they believe existed before the sexual revolution and the second-wave feminist movement.
However, instead of going back to the Bible to defend a biblical view of marriage, sexuality, and the church, they imported pagan beliefs about women and men from the Victorians who got them from pre-Christian Greek and Roman culture. Unfortunately, many conservative Christians believe these views are biblical. When I challenge these extra-biblical and unbiblical beliefs, some people react defensively because they think I’m trying to undermine biblical teaching. But I’m not. I want us, as conservative Christians, to go back to the Bible and study for ourselves what it teaches about women and men in marriage, church, and society. I want us to be willing to reform our teaching so that we are faithful to Scripture.
You did a lot of historical research for your book. What is the strangest concept of masculinity or femininity you ran across in the process?
That’s a good question. I read many odd ideas about men and women. One that stands out, though, is the Greek belief that women were defective and inverted versions of men. Because of a lack of heat during the development in the womb, babies were born female. This deformity meant that women were physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally inferior to men. As disturbing as this may seem, the really sad thing is how influential these beliefs have been in western culture.
You have endured misrepresentations of your theological position. What is something encouraging you have heard?
I’ve been very encouraged by a number of people, women and men, who have reached out to tell me how my writing has helped them.
There is a lot of discussion around purity culture at the moment. Did purity culture influence how you perceive gender at all?
The purity culture didn’t have much influence on me. The books and movements that defined the modern purity culture came out in the mid- to late-90s when I was in college. So, the discussions were going on around me, but they weren’t formative for me. It certainly wasn’t part of what my family believed or taught me. Through my research, though, I saw many connections between the purity culture and prevalent conservative beliefs about sexuality, modesty, dating, and marriage.
How can we encourage other female writers to come forward with theologically sound resources?
I think it helps to promote women writers by reading and sharing what they’ve written. But the key is to support theologically sound teaching. Women, and men, in our churches need to be taught sound doctrine, and they need to be encouraged to study for themselves. It matters what women are taught in the local church and in parachurch settings. We shouldn’t promote women authors simply because they are women. There are a lot of unorthodox resources out there written by women (and men). We need show discernment and be careful who and what we promote.
Do you think certain positions about feminine subordination promote abuse?
A hyper focus on authority and submission can create an environment that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically abusive for women and children—especially when a man’s authority over his wife and children is almost absolute. In this system, men are the authority that’s been put into place by God over families. To reject or resist that authority, even when it’s used abusively, is to put oneself at risk of spiritual and physical harm.
These teachings create a system that tolerates abuse by calling on women to endure abuse or “difficult” marriages as a holy burden, by teaching that marriage is primarily about holiness and procreation, and by insisting that divorce isn’t a biblical option even in the case of abuse. If a man is abusing his wife emotionally or verbally but not physically, the advice from many conservative Christians is for the wife to endure the abuse.
Now, abusive men will be abusive regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds. However, these beliefs about the natural authority of men and the natural submission of women create and maintain a system that provides cover for a particular kind of abusive man.
What are you reading right now, or tell me about a book you’re excited to read?
I’m currently reading The Concept of Woman by Prudence Allen. It’s a three-volume set that looks at how philosophers and other writers have defined women in relationship to men over history. It’s been very interesting so far. I’m looking forward to reading Rachael Denhollander’s book, What is a Girl Worth? and also Aimee Byrd’s upcoming Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
What is your hope that people will take away from your work?
As Christians, we need to speak out about what the Bible teaches about women and men, the definition of marriage, and the purposes and boundaries of sexuality. But we need to be very careful about what we say. Our society needs clear teaching from the Bible. That means that we need to study the Bible and allow the Scriptures to peel back any layers of unbiblical and extra-biblical beliefs we have added.
I wrote this book because I care deeply about what the Bible teaches about women and men. My desire is for women and men to be co-laborers in all of life so that our families and churches will be strengthened and encouraged. Working together, we can then be a blessing to our society, which so desperately needs the truth of the gospel.