Wow. What a crazy lot of great conversation has happened over the past week ever since Rachel Held Evans made a simple observation on Twitter about the imbalance between the number of male and female speakers at a recent online leadership conference called the Nines. (You can see the speaker line-up here.) Some of the conversation has been less than great – mud-slinging, name-calling, and judging each other blindly without seeking to understand does not become us, Church – but even the lousy conversations are at least doing one thing needed: bringing an issue that needs to be talked about to the forefront.
A friend asked me on Facebook what I thought about all of it. I didn’t reply on Facebook because of a comment left on his post about how there are things that matter and things that don’t – and I didn’t know whether the commenter meant that he didn’t think this mattered or did, and I care too much about this to get in an argument on Facebook about it. I’ll argue in my own spaces, tho! So here we go.
Why does it even matter that among all the voices featured in an international leadership conference only three of them were women? I doubt the organizational minds behind the conference sat down and thought “let’s plan a conference that excludes women and sends a statement to the church that male voices are better and more authoritative.” In fact, one of the organizers explained to Christianity Today in an interview that because of the conference topic, many of the speakers were senior pastors, and it’s statistically true that there are still more men than women in senior leadership roles, which contributed to the small percentage of women speakers at the Nines. There were also women who declined their invitations to speak. There were very logical reasons for the speaker lineup being what it was, and an intentional diss towards women in leadership doesn’t really seem to be one of them.
The reason it matters is because while I agree with Rachel that if you look at the speaker lineup as a snapshot of church leadership, it’s not what the church is supposed to look like – at the same time, there are places in the church where it does. And that’s what needs to change. There are women who, like Christine Caine said in her interview with Christianity Today about the Nines controversy, find it mind-boggling that there are places in the church where women are not free to live into the gifts and callings God has given them. For them, the “issues” surrounding the entire idea of “women in ministry” seem irrelevant. Calling isn’t about being male or female – it’s about God and Jesus and doing your best as a person with the gifts you’ve been given. But because there are places in the church where that is not understood, to the point where women aren’t given a voice at all – the conversations remain necessary.
The problem isn’t that only three women spoke at the Nines. The problem is that there are women in the church who would never be allowed to speak in their own churches, women who have something to say and aren’t being allowed to say it, who wake up in the morning with a fire in their spirit and who cry themselves to sleep because when they own that fire, they don’t fit into the molds they’ve been told they should – and because when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer, things like statistics cue for those of us who are paying attention a reminder that there is still justice and freedom to be gained, and we want that for our sisters because it is what God wants for them.
And it matters because sometimes people don’t think things thru, and they will look at something like the ratio of male to female speakers, and conclude wrongly that that is how it should be – and nothing will ever change.
Which is one of the reasons I appreciate it when people like Rachel speak up, even when the risk of being misunderstood, shot down or accused of “being divisive.” And when people like Preston Yancey recognize that while his corner of the kingdom is getting the women-in-leadership question right, his voice is still needed, and there are things he can do to help women find their voices. And when women like Josephine Robertson remind us that it is God who gifts and calls women to ministry, and it is God who will position us where we need to be. We don’t need men to make room for us, and we don’t need to fight for a place. We simply need to be true to who God has created us to be and trust Him to make a way where there is not way. Sometimes that way-making may look like a fight or a concession – but He uses all of it to grow His church.
One of the phrases that often comes up in the debates about women’s roles in ministry is “patriarchy.” I’ve started thinking about it as “the ‘P’ word” – its connotations are becoming so negative. I’m going to be honest and say that maybe I just need to study this more to understand why it’s “a bad word” – but I’m not comfortable using it that way. There were things about the patriarchal system that made so much sense in the cultural settings of Abraham, Israel and even the early church. It was, in some ways, a system that helped protect women (not in a women-are-weak-and-can’t-take-care-of-themselves way) but in a this-makes-sense-because-of-surrounding-cultures way). It might even still make sense in some contexts.
Where it doesn’t make sense is in the post-resurrection Christian culture where there is neither slave nor free, nor male or female. Where it doesn’t make sense is where it has been tainted by sin to excuse men thirsty for power and domination. Where it doesn’t make sense is when women are oppressed, silenced, and abused.
The only kind of patriarchy that makes any kind of sense to me is God’s. He is my Father (The Patriarch) – and He is a good one. He gave me a voice, and when I learned the wrong lessons and lost it, He patiently began to teach me better ones. He has brought me on a long and winding but nevertheless straight path towards finding my voice again, and learning to use it. It is a patriarchy marked by love, kindness, joy – by knowing that I, as a woman, have a Father who believes in me, who gave me a voice and wants me to use it; it is a patriarchy in which men and women are equal partners in His kingdom.
But that is not what earthly patriarchies tend to look like. Which is why I understand it when “the patriarchy” is painted as “the enemy” – but we need to remember that it is a fallen system that promotes inequality. And that there are actual people within it – people worthy of dignity and respect because they are people (even if they are wrong about some of their interpretations of Scripture). But as Kathy Escobar points out, “the only way to change the course of history is to change the course of history.” (Please follow this link to her post – it’s beautifully written.)
You should also take some time to read Tim Peck’s post on Three Ways Patriarchy Is Bad For Men. It’s an angle on the whole conversation I think worth considering.
Okay, two more noteworthy links related to all of this and we will move on to something more frivolous. I loved the insights and personal stories Lynne and Bill Hybels and their daughter Shauna Neiquist shared this week on gender equality in the evangelical church.
Lynne’s (and Bill’s): Evangelicals and Gender Equality
Shauna’s: What My Mother Taught Me
Okay, onward to frivolity. This is soooo cool…
Simple Felicity is, at its heart, a blog based on the unshakeable belief that happiness really isn't all that complicated. Sometimes finding it can be - but happiness itself is pretty simple, and it's often found in the simplest of things: good food, good books, and good company. So those are the things I write about, along with a few other things that really matter to me, including faith and feminism.
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