Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women

I’ve been in a conversation about the post-evangelical movement. During the conversation, someone asked me to blog about post-evangelical women’s issues for their blog. This is what I wrote. While the post is about PEWs, it’s relevant to Mainline situations as well. For those who read this blog regularly, forgive me for sounding like a broken record on so much of this!

Right now, in the US, many of us wrestle with the Evangelical movement in which we were raised. There are a lot of reasons for that. Our questions are theological, as we struggle with the atonement, the Kingdom of God, or Hell. We ask sociological questions about the role of women, LGBTQs, social media and politics. And philosophical and generational issues arise regularly. We’re in this exciting moment of turmoil right now, and we can realize we make real differences.

For me, the questions (or lack of questions) around gender have been interesting. I find myself wanting to explain what it’s like to grow up as a conservative Evangelical woman and how difficult the transition into leadership is from that place. I work a lot in the conference world, and my issues often arise there. I hear the whispers that men don’t. So, even though I’m at risk of sounding like a bad Cosmo article, I decided to write 7 Things Guys Need to Know about PEWs (Post-Evangelical Women). Basically, it’s the stuff we’re saying or dm’ing when you’re not there.

1) We were told to keep silent in church. Sometimes it was overt and other times it was subtle—a youth or Campus Crusade for Christ director buddies up with the cool football guys, takes them to lunch, and focuses on their leadership potential while the young women were left stranded. To go from “you must be silent” to finding your voice can be a long, arduous process.

2) We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here! It may be that we are welcome, and the leadership thought that having one female voice was good enough. But, for PEWs who grew up listening to “women should keep silent,” major gender inequity is a clear signal that the table is off-limits to us.

3) We don’t want to hear whining about forced quotas.
We’ve heard the tiresome response: “We don’t do quotas. This movement isn’t about counting and making sure that there’s a particular number of non-white males.” I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. There will be no transformation in women’s leadership unless women are in leadership.

4) PEWs hear a defensive response as “you’re not welcome.” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

5) There are enough women. I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

6) Please refrain from using “organic leadership” or “meritocracy” as an excuse. When the subject of PEW leadership comes up, we hear, “Our leadership grows up organically. If women want to be involved, they need to produce.” If organic growth or meritocracy is a reason for not having women in leadership, you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.

7) Money Matters. Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for flattening leadership, overturning hierarchies, or unbinding the church. The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.

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21 thoughts on “Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women

  1. Do not stop beating this drum. It is so important.

    I say this with guilt, because I am a white straight male who would love to be speaking at conferences. Who is writing a book & working toward that end & knows that agreeing with you means some uncomfortable future interactions for me. You mean I have to ask whether what I’m being paid is fair in comparison to the other presenters? Awkward. Should I turn down gigs that aren’t making an obvious effort to have equality in pay & leadership? Should I even speak at all? Aren’t there enough white men out there?

    Two Friars and a Fool is doing a workshop at Soularize this year. It looks like an excellent event with some speakers that I am really excited about. But there are only 4 women to about 12 men among their presenters. Ug.

  2. Congratulations on Soularize! That’s excellent.

    Of course, you should be writing and speaking. You have a lot of important things to say.

    It’s such a difficult balancing act, but you can’t make a change without being involved in the conversation. I think I’ve cut myself off from a lot of discussions for speaking out too loudly and too quickly….

    I guess for all of us, we need to understand where our place of privilege is, keep talking, keep reminding ourselves of those who are being left out, and keep working for something better.

  3. Carol,

    This has been a timely and important post for me and my family as I am trying to tell my college son why his PC(USA) pastor and Mom cannot tolerate the idea of having him even visit a PCA church for woship. Surely you understand.

  4. As a life-time mainline SWM pastor I’d love to hear more about the theological world-view of post-evangelicals. I have a number in my church.

  5. This is very real. The reactions may be sometimes according to the situation, but I know several women who have understood that conservative Christianity is not open to their answering God’s call.

    I think the most normal (fearful) reaction is to brush this reality under the rug. But if you brush it under the rug, it’s still under the rug, so the buildup of dustpiles are making the ground undstable under you.

    Frankly, I think this writer is very brave for staying and fighting for the future of evangelicalism (or post-evangelicalism). I personally, would like to counsel her to leave the movement as I have, but then, where would she go if her calling is to serve God in a church? She either must risk being strong and vulnerable as she is in this article or avoid her calling by submitting to the men (and surprisingly millions of other women) in evangelical church leadership who purposely or unwittingly place stumbling blocks before her.

    Follow God or Evangelical men? Hmmmm… I think she is choosing well.

    As for others, if these issues are really over the truth of God’s will, let’s all make sure we don’t devine God’s will based on tradition or our own comfort zones. God can’t possibly fit in someone’s comfort zone, and we all know what Jesus said about traditions.

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  7. While I don’t want to give up on evangelicalism yet, I’ve had many similar experiences. In my particular denomination, we have yet to have a female senior pastor in my state, although we claim to support women in ministry. If women are not given the same opportunities as men to lead, how do they prove themselves? Thus, a perpetual cycle continues.

  8. YOU GO, Carol!

    I was happy to share this post on FB…and/because the same “ugly” is to be observed in not-at-all-evangelical churches, a kind of Silent Backlash to the ordination and leadership of women.

    Sometimes I think we need to just give up and have Two Big Churches, one labelled “Boys” and one labelled “Girls” like the entrances to elementary schools in my childhood!

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  10. I love the part about “spreading manure” in order to more women to grow up organically. That’s exactly what I’ve seen. From what I can tell, one thing we need is to tell more stories about women who are successfully leading in the church so that other women can see that it is indeed possible.

    For example, the top NT studies student at my seminary was a woman who went on to earn her PhD in religion at a top school. I’d listen to her preach any time!

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  12. I relate to ALL of this but 6 strikes a particular chord. I was one of several women on the deacon leadership at a church where there were no female elders. I inquired about this and they pastors said it was because we didn’t have any qualified women. It infuriated me! It was obviously untrue and unfair.

  13. Although some denominations and/or their leaders do hold this view, I do have to give kudos to the men alongside whom I worked in a recent interim position. They honestly told me, up front, that they did not believe in having women in pastoral positions. We calmly talked about our interpretations of the Pauline passages and agreed that we disagreed. We ended that conversation with my agreement that I would not “preach” to their congregants (women especially) that they should be able to do everything the men did, as long as they would keep an open mind toward recognizing God’s calling. We worked together in the community for close to two years, and at the end of my time there, one of my “non-believing” colleagues agreed to take his place as a reference on my ministerial resume. Sometimes the only thing we can do is be seen. Other times, we have to speak OUT LOUD, as you are doing. Thank you.

  14. Carol, I hear what you’re saying. May I suggest an orthogonal view to your question on women in leadership? Isn’t it possible that the reality is that the Evangelical leadership model (not uniquely Evangelical, though) is that all women *and most men* are excluded from having a voice in the church? While I grant that 100% vs. 99.5% is still more-exclusive of the 100% side, that does not *necessarily* mean that the answer is to have celebrity woman speakers, high-profile woman “senior pastors,” and the like. It may mean that we need to dispense with the shepherd-sheep mentality of too many congregations and pastors altogether, and get to a situation where pluralism is the rule.

    As I’ve ruminated before, slavery would not have been solved if white slaveowners and black slaves merely switched positions…perhaps here too?

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  16. This is an important message, and thank you for your work.

    I am a 28-year-old male, and I was raised in the religious right mindset and it was beat into me that male headship was God’s way and that those who believed differently weren’t just wrong, but were intentionally distorting Scripture.

    This is how I felt until graduate school at Wheaton College, where I found a new openness that I hadn’t learned down in the land of the SBC. By grace, I came to an egalitarian position when I was studying the Bible. While I desperately wanted to find an overarching prescription for male headship, I couldn’t get there from the text.

    But 6 years later, I still struggle to shake off some of the old stereotypes. Just the other day, I found myself making a comment to my wife that was blatantly sexist and insensitive. Fortunately, because I have a thoughtful spouse who knows my heart, she didn’t take it personally, and we sat down and discussed how hard it is to change behavior even after our position has changed.

    So here I am, a solid, egalitarian and card-carrying CBE member, still letting my upbringing influence me. Old habits are hard to break.

    The answer here is a proactive response on the part of men that we’re not going to preach the ideal of equality, but keep the “boys’ club only” alive in our practice. We have to come alongside women and resolve that we’re not going to let this stand any longer.

    Thanks for your wise words. Men need to hear the female perspective on this issue.

  17. It seems to me this post would more accurately be titled, “Seven things guys need to know about egalitarian women.” I don’t see at all what this has to do with post-evangelicalism. Its all about how some women are sick of complimentarian hypocrisy. Which is all fine and well, but it has certainly never been an essential point of post-evangelicalism: There are plenty of moderate complimentarians in that bunch. To be post-evangelical, what ever the amorphous and ambiguous term will ever be clearly defined as, does not mean fully egalitarian de facto. That would be liberalism, a different movement.

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