I’m an occasional Twitter follower. Meaning, at times I’ll check my feed frequently, but most of the time I forget about its very existence. There are few things that draw me to check Twitter more than Most Interesting Pastor (hilarious poster – do yourself a favor and follow him now). But, I happened to go on Twitter yesterday, to check in. I came across an article speaking to a recent twitter exchange regarding gender exclusive practices in the Christian Evangelical conference world. Looking beyond the exchange, the author researched the largest Christian conferences and tallied the breakdown of male to female speakers.
The stats were, unsurprisingly, grim.: Total speakers: 805 / Female speakers: 159 (19%) *
While it was a disappointing reality, my first response was “why would we expect anything different?” As a woman who has walked in church world for a while now, this has been my experience more often than not. A very small percentage of women allowed a more prominent role within the church. It never ceases to grieve me. My next response was, “what is going on in the Evangelical world that makes this a reality?” I mean, it’s not just the conferences. It is easy to blame a conference and think adding a few women to the panel will make things cool. The confusion of roles of women within the church continues to be an issue, which in my opinion, has been mishandled time and time again. Our Christian speakers are just living out dynamics that are being practiced in our churches.
This is an issue that tends to segregate and kick up explosive responses. I recognize in myself how tender this topic can be. I do get angry. Some of the anger stems from a place of injustice. Some of the anger, honestly, comes from a place of my own pride. Often when I’ve seen the discussion come to the table, people jump to extreme, polarizing views. I’m right and you all over there are a bunch of feminists. No, I’m right and you are all chauvinists. So, we either engage in the fight (which to be honest, doesn’t seem to lead anything except hurt feelings) or ignore the issue completely. However, this tendency to avoid the issue at hand leads to confusion, fear, and deep hurts at a heart level. Neither of these options seems to be working well.
I wish there was an easy solution for this messy matter of women’s roles in the church. There is not. However, I think there is a place to enter into a conversation, to step beyond fighting and ignorance. It undoubtedly will take time, although I think we as a church are beginning to stick our toes in the deep end of this complex issue.
While I don’t have an answer, I do wonder what it looks like to be intentional with how we communicate with women in the church, starting from a young age, and present their callings in life:
How do we paint a broader picture for women in the church?
How do we convey to them that they can pursue deeper studies theologically?
Or can speak intelligently about a topic (and not solely “women’s” topics)?
Or that as co-image bearers of God, they have something worthwhile to share with others?
My heart beats fiercely to see women freed to step into more of their true identity – to step out of the narrow confines of what has been defined as “feminine behavior” (I believe femininity can be express in a myriad of ways).
I see it both as a calling to and a calling into. We call women to more vibrant expressions of their gifts and abilities, while also providing space for them to step into practicing these very gifts in the life of the church. It sounds so simple when reading it on the page. Its practice and implementation will be anything but simple.
This is not opportunity for opportunity’s sake. This is opportunity for the sake of the gospel. For the sake of the church. As men and woman we uniquely reflect God (be that brokenly). When we quiet our women, we are missing out on a fuller expression of God in the church. I imagine what a robust church we would have if we welcomed our women to the table. It may look different church to church, but disagreeing with one church’s interpretation does not mean that we shelve the issue completely.
But it is a place to step courageously into a conversation.
Some interesting reads, in regards to the issue of women in the church: