Any woman who has been part of organized women’s ministry knows that sooner or later you’re going to encounter Proverbs 31. This passage is a mainstay for discussions about Christian womanhood; and in our consumer-driven culture, it graces everything from Bible covers to handbags to refrigerator magnets.
But recently, several women have been challenging a typical approach to this text. At the recent Q event, Women and Calling, progressive blogger and author Rachel Held Evans reiterated her long-standing concern that we tend to misuse this passage, making it more of a “Pintrest page come to life” than the poem it is. Sarah Bessey makes the same point in the recently released Jesus Feminist. She writes:
Some evangelicals have turned Proverbs 31 into a woman’s job description instead of what it actually is: the blessing and affirmation of valor for the lives of women… It is meant as a celebration for the everyday moments of valor for everyday women, not as an impossible exhausting standard.
These women have a legitimate concern. How many Mother’s Day sermons or Bible studies have turned Proverbs 31 into a checklist? How many times have teachers used it to reinforce their private applications of gender? How many times have you felt defeated from just listening to such sermons? So let me go on record as saying that I agree with Evans and Bessey. With one caveat.