An interview with Elisabeth Elliot...
(Tim) During four years in the late nineties and early two-thousands while pastoring Church of the Good Shepherd, I also led the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as its Executive Director. My brother, David, joined me in that work and was a great help, designing our first web site and providing invaluable counsel while also serving in the pastorate.
Part of my work was editing CBMW's journal. Periodically, we ran interviews--one being with my hero, Elisabeth Elliot. Naturally, I did the interview myself.
Growing up, the Bayly family had a long personal association with the Howards of Philadelphia--particularly Dave Howard and his sister, Elisabeth Elliot. A couple months ago, Elisabeth's husband, Lars, wrote me telling of a recent trip he and Elisabeth had taken to visit family down in South America. For those of you who know and love them, Lars and Elisabeth are doing well.
So then, here's the interview from CBMW's Journal, Volume 5, No. 1.
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PLAIN AND SIMPLE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ELISABETH ELLIOT
JBMW: We are delighted to be able to speak with you. Why do you think you've been a lightning rod in the evangelical world on this particular issue?
EE: I didn't know I was! I have just proceeded the way I've tried all my life to proceed-by studying what the Bible says and living by it. If I'm asked to talk about it, of course I have a responsibility to talk about it. It is from this that I have learned that I'm not wanted in many circles...
I've certainly never thought about being a lighting rod or anything like that. It seems to me that it is just a very obvious decision that if this is what God says, then this is what I want to do, plain and simple. Not only that, I want to help other women to do it.
JBMW: You were for a period of time persona non grata at the seminary near your home. Why?
[Note to Baylyblog readers: the seminary I'm referring to is David's and my alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. GCTS has been ideologically feminist for decades and was so when David, Nathan (our late brother), and I attended. While students there, we knew the administration and faculty wanted nothing to do with Elisabeth Elliot, and would have kept her off campus completely, had they been able. The one time Elisabeth spoke during our years there, it was the student wives group that invited her, so the administration and faculty couldn't quite bring themselves to shut it down.]
EE: I know that I was voted out by the faculty-I've never been able to get anyone to tell me exactly why. But I couldn't help assuming that it was because there were a good many women coming to the seminary who were feminists, and the seminary was very glad to embrace them. I was a thorn in the flesh.
JBMW: Have you received invitations since then?
EE: Nothing that would be dangerous. What they ask me to do is speak maybe once every two years as one of the visiting speakers. So the man who's in charge of all that likes me. But I will be speaking this weekend for the Ockenga Institute.
JBMW: What do you think of the notion of putting women forward to defend the faith at places where culture says that a specific issue is a "woman's issue;" do you think it's right for the Church to push women forward as warriors against, for instance, abortion and feminism?
EE: Goodness, that's a hard question! I don't think I've ever thought about that. I hadn't thought about the fact that women are being "pushed forward." I just think of myself as a little, old lady.
JBMW: The case could be made that you have a higher visibility than anyone else in the evangelical world, speaking in defense of the biblical teaching concerning manhood and womanhood. You take hits all the time on this issue don't you?
EE: No, I don't know that; in fact it's been a long time since I've heard anybody say anything about the feminist issue. It seems to me that it's been a couple of years since that was in the forefront.
JBMW: You have spanned a number of generations of evangelical leaders. Billy Graham says his daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, is "the best preacher in the family." Why have such stellar, evangelical leaders as Walt Kaiser, Ken Kantzer, and Billy Graham been sympathetic to, or embraced, egalitarianism?
EE: Yes, I remember one time at Urbana when somebody asked the question of (Billy Graham), "What did he think about women preachers?" He facetiously said, "Well, I think it would be fine if it was Elisabeth Elliot..."
JBMW: What is your thinking about the state of the calling of singleness in Protestant versus Roman Catholic communities?
EE: I think Protestants really have no idea of the glory of virginity. This is something that I do talk to women about as much as I can. I get loads of letters from very angry, self-pitying women who are very eager to get married. They're in their thirties and forties.
Of course, men don't get around to thinking about becoming fathers and husbands until they're in their thirties and forties. (But) who do these men pick?
They pick the twenty or twenty-five year olds. So I try to get single women to realize how single women have been blessings throughout history. I remind them that the Church has always recognized the very important decision, of both men and women, to be single, "for the Kingdom of God."
JBMW: Do you have any thoughts on what pastors, elders, and older women in the local church can do to affirm the calling of singleness?
EE: The main thing that I do is to point to a number of single women who have greatly influenced my life. Amy Carmichael, of course, is at the top of my list. And I've got quite a long list of single women who have lived for God. One of my dearest mentors is a woman who is now ninety years old. She's been a missionary in Colombia for more than fifty years.
JBMW: Her name?
EE: Her name is Katherine Morgan. They had four little girls under five when her husband died. She has been in Colombia ever since. People tell her that she needs to get back to the States. But she's still serving the Lord.
JBMW: Are there others who have influenced you?
EE: Yes. Miss Cummings was from a very wealthy Augusta Georgia home and was kicked out of her house because she became a Christian. As a result, she was completely cut off from the family legacy-which would have been in the millions of dollars. I don't know what she did after that, but when she was in her fifties, probably, she came to Wheaton College and was the dorm mother where I was a student. And that tiny, little lady was just a dynamo; always single and just a great blessing to me.
JBMW: Any others come to mind?
EE: Oh, yes! There's Lilias Trotter, a contemporary of Amy Carmichael. Though they never met each other, they did correspond. Lilias came from a very wealthy London family, and was tutored in art by a well-known painter in England, John Ruskin. She was very talented, but to (Ruskin's) great disgust, she chose to go to North Africa as a missionary...to Algiers. And she wrote two little, tiny gems of books: one called Parables of the Cross, and the other called Parables of the Christlife, which have been out of print for many years. But a good friend of mine, Miriam Huffman Rockness, has just written a wonderful biography of her. It's called A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter and it's published by Harold Shaw Publishers in Wheaton. Magnificent book, and she was a magnificent woman. She did use her artwork as a missionary, but only in a very obscure and limited way compared to how it would have been used had she remained under Ruskin's tutelage. He couldn't imagine why she would leave her talent, and all this wealth her family had, and go off to a place like Algiers.
JBMW: And she was single. Again, why is singleness not affirmed in the evangelical community?
EE: I think it's the total ignorance of the glory of virginity. Virginity is something that can be offered to God. I try my best to get people to see that. If God has given you singleness, then you should thank Him for that, and offer it back to Him for His glory and for your blessing. There are probably many obscure women who have understood that. But, by and large, there's so much endless talk about why doesn't God give me a husband? Many people have said to me, "Why would God give you three husbands when He hasn't given me a date?"
My answer to that is matter-of-fact, "How do I know? Why would I be any more knowledgeable than you would?"
JBMW: When (your daughter) Valerie was growing up without a father, did you ever deal with the question of her coming to understand the nature of fatherhood? What was your comfort?
EE: She was only about two years old when she asked the question that I knew would come, "Did Jesus love my daddy?"
I said, "Yes."
The next question, of course, was, "Why did He let him get killed?"
I told her that there wasn't any way that we could know all the reasons why He allowed him to be killed. But I talked to her about my father and about what a wonderful father she had had for a very short time (she didn't remember him at all; she was ten months old when he died). So she just hoped and prayed that someday the Lord would give her another father. When she was thirteen, He did. She was absolutely ecstatic when Addison Leitch married me-and devastated when he died of cancer only four and a half years later.
JBMW: Were there men who helped to fill in that gap?
EE: Yes. There were some godly Quichua men who were friends of ours and who were Christian. We knew them well and they visited our home. But I don't think it was a very big issue, because of the fact that she never knew her father; if she had known him, it would have been more traumatic.
JBMW: Many of our readers are pastors who deal with the problem of providing a model of Christian fatherhood for children of single women in the Church. Do you have any comments about ways churches can fill in the gap, as the Quichua men did for your daughter Valerie?
EE: Though they did fill that gap, I'm sure the Quichua men had no idea they were in any way being fathers to Valerie.
It is a very dangerous thing for a single woman to be looking for a father for her children-it can easily lead to adultery. Families can invite single people, but it is a dangerous business when a single woman becomes too close with a family. The chances are that the man of the home may be attracted to her and vise versa. I've seen this happen-a family reaches out to a widow or a single woman and the man falls in love with her.
About your question, "What can churches do?" I don't have a good answer. Maybe the only thing is to remember that, in the bosom of the church, there is friendship and grace and support. But you need to be careful.
JBMW: Is one of the problems in ministry that women don't understand how often men have to have a certain diffidence in relationship to them? If so, how can men keep from being misunderstood?
EE: That can be a problem. And no, I don't think it is always possible to avoid misunderstanding-if they are going to protect themselves. They're going to be misunderstood-they have to be.
JBMW: Billy Graham is a model of this kind of carefulness, isn't he?
EE: That's right, he is. For example, one time at Urbana he wanted to talk to me about women's issues and he asked me to come for breakfast. So, of course, when I knocked on the door he had a man there who was his guard. Nobody was ever allowed to go directly into his hotel room. He always had a man in the room next to him, and that was the person you had to go through.
JBMW: Through Valerie and her husband, Walt, what do you think is the central challenge that women married to pastors face today?
EE: Acceptance of his call, earnest prayer for his growth in grace, and willingness to be criticized.
JBMW: What is the role of a pastor's wife whose husband is suffering in the cause of God's Truth?
EE: Her role is to be the supporter! To support him in any possible way and to pray for him. I know that Val has really taken that very seriously. She sees it as her responsibility, not only in raising a big family, but also in supporting her husband. I think one of the greatest challenges with any pastor, is that he has to balance his responsibilities at home with his responsibilities at church. Constant vigilance is required, along with constant prayer to know which thing you can do now and which thing you can put off until later.
JBMW: What would you suggest as an antidote to bitterness on the part of pastor's wives?
EE: Remember that God has put this man in that position and God has given you to be his wife and support. When bitterness comes in, it is absolutely deadly.
JBMW: Do you believe it's proper for a woman married to a pastor to view that as his calling, and for her to develop one of her own?
EE: Absolutely not. She is meant to be a support to her husband. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church. And the wife is there to bless and support and help him. When women think that they've got to have a career of their own, or something else other than what a pastor's wife is normally supposed to do, I think it almost invariably leads to sorrow and breakdown in marriages.
I've had a number of letters from seminary women who are very bitter because they married a man who was going to be a missionary-he's in seminary, and halfway through he decides he's going to be a pastor or a missionary-and the woman writes to me and says, "I didn't marry a pastor or a missionary. I married a businessman. What am I supposed to do now?"
And, my answer is the same as what Ruth said to Naomi, "Whither thou goest, I will go." You married this man for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health; and thereto you plight your troth.
JBMW: What does "plight your troth" mean?
EE: It means that you have accepted this responsibility, this privilege and this place. And your troth, of course, is absolute. It means truth. You have given your word and you have accepted these solemn statements that you spoke before God and witnesses. To love, honor, and obey. Many women today are leaving off that word, "obey." But they shouldn't.
JBMW: What do you think about sending up a mother of young children in a spaceship where she may die, as Christa McAuliffe did?
EE: Oh goodness, that's just absurd. It's all part of this pulling and hauling and equality stuff...it makes me sick. If the wife asks the husband, he should say, "Don't do it-no way. It is not a woman's place." She's married, she's supposed to be a keeper at home. That's a far cry from being a keeper at home, if you ask me.
JBMW: What do you think of women in the military?
EE: I think it's very sad that they have to be in it as they are nowadays. My aunt, one of my single aunts, was a nurse during WWII. I think that's great. And I like Florence Nightingale and women like her. There certainly is a place for women who are nurses and who have a supportive, non-combat role.
That reminds me-I was just appalled a couple of years ago when I heard on the radio that two chaplains, a male and a female, were forced to have the same tent. The man was furious about it. He said, "I can't take my clothes off. I can hardly get in and out of my sleeping bag because there's a woman on the other side of the tent." Yet that was required-he didn't have any option. That's disgusting.
JBMW: What Scripture principle would you point to in order to demonstrate why women ought not to be combatants?
EE: Men are supposed to be protectors of women. Doesn't Ephesians say that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church? Christ protects the Church, does He not?
JBMW: You're reported to have said, "The problem with the Church today is that it's filled with emasculated men who can't bring them-selves to say no to women."
EE: Oh, I'm afraid I might have said that, but I sure don't remember when or where. I've made some facetious remarks about men who can be so wimpy that they don't dare argue with their wives, and they don't dare take the upper hand, because the little woman won't like it, and all that.
JBMW: Do you enjoy addressing this subject?
EE: No, I don't address the subject anymore; it's been years since I felt that I had to. I certainly didn't enjoy it because I knew that I was alone in almost every place I went. What I'm saying is not popular.
JBMW: What precautionary measures do you take in your itinerant ministry to protect yourself from violating the commands of 1 Timothy 2?
EE:When I'm invited to speak in a church service on Sunday morning, I decline. If I am invited to speak in a mixed Sunday school class, for example, or a Sunday evening service, I will do so with one very clear understanding-that meeting (must) be under a man who is a leader and who then turns over to me for this limited period of time the podium. There's nothing in the Bible that says that's O.K. The Bible doesn't talk about Sunday school classes and evening church services; it talks about men, in general, being the leaders of the church-and the women are to be subject.
I just want it to be known that I'm not, in any way, trying to usurp authority; I'm simply testifying. So it is clearly understood that I am under the authority of this man who has just introduced me, and under the authority of this church. And it is for this limited time I am speaking.
JBMW: Do you have any thoughts on head coverings?
EE: I've gotten many, many letters about that, and I have to confess that I sort of lean on the rather recent statement-namely, that it was a special situation in Corinth. I've written a paper on it so that I don't have to answer all of the letters that come to me. It's not by any means my final decision. I've never felt strongly convicted about it, one way or the other.
I will say that I certainly admire and give place to women who cover their heads. I don't want any of them to think that they're making a mistake. I applaud their courage, and their obedience to their husbands; and I'm very thankful that not one of my three husbands has required me to do this.
JBMW: What about gender-neutral Bible translations?
EE: I think that's baloney. Whatever happened to the rest of the Bible? I mean, there's no such thing as gender-neutral. What Bible are we talking about? The word of God is not "gender-neutral," is it?
JBMW: Do you think it's appropriate to use androgynous language for the sake of evangelism?
EE: No. Why do you have to change the rules for evangelism? What the Bible says is what we give. Men have a totally different position than women have, and we lose that to our great detriment and sorrow.
JBMW: What would you say to men married to shrews?
EE: Love 'em to death.
JBMW: What would you say to women married to cowards or abdicators?
EE: This is what you married; you better love him.
JBMW: What do you believe is behind the movement to legitimate homosexual practice in the evangelical world?
JBMW: Elisabeth, I know I speak for the CBMW constituency and all those who love God's Word in saying, to you and Lars, "Thank you for your faithfulness to the Lord on this issue. We praise God for both of you, and love you deeply."
EE: I'm stunned. The Lord bless you.