where are the women?

The Nines, a whitewashed, uber-masculine Christian leadership conference featuring just three female speakers (among more than hundred) had folks buzzing last week, particularly after popular author Rachel Held Evans engaged the organizer on Twitter about the lack of female voices. Later, Christianity Today characterized her as having a "meltdown" and gave organizer Todd Rhodes a few hundred words to explain that there were so few women (and people of color, presumably) because their theme was "what's working in churches."


They then gave female speaker Christine Caine--who I've no doubt is a lovely person--another several hundred words to suggest that a lack of female accomplishment and God's will may account for the dearth of women in recognizable positions of Christian leadership:

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve leaders at conferences like The Nines, and I think the very fact that some one like me is included as a speaker in leadership conferences all over the world suggests that the church is very willing to hear from women as well as men…. 
The discussion over women's representation over conferences like The Nines is a valid one, and I think as more women step out and accomplish things empowered by the Holy Spirit then they will have something to contribute to helping leaders grow. 
I think you actually have to build something that is producing fruit whatever gender you are if you want to help others do the same. Your gender should not be what determines whether you speak at a conference, your gifts and fruit should be. I truly believe that if God has called you to do something, then God makes a way for you to do it... 
We have some work to do, but I think the medium is the message, and the fact that I am there lets women, minorities, and young people know that they can get there if there is where God wants them to be.

This is what is called internalized sexism. Having made it within an evangelicalism that frequently expresses itself as a boys' club, Caine seems to suggest that if her female peers had something to contribute, they'd be at that podium with her. To her credit, Caine later speaks of "holding open as many doors for young women as I can," but her set-up strengthens the locks on others by denying exclusionary or patriarchal factors at play in platform building and Christian leadership development practices.

Caine is clearly an accomplished and godly woman. Having someone like her as mentor would be a tremendous asset to anyone in ministry, male or female, and I applaud her for looking out for and grooming younger leaders coming up behind her, but we can't pretend that many of these metaphorical doors aren't bolted shut to women, people of color, LGBTQ Christians, and more.

Christianity Today glosses over the systemic injustices breeding the inequalities we see plainly with our eyes, brushing them under the rug and worse, implying they are sanctioned by God. Life isn't a meritocracy, exclusively rewarding those who work the hardest and those on whom God's favor rests. Those are hallmarks of the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel, not the the Kingdom of God, which as Jesus demonstrated is good news for the least, the last, and the lost.

Better Than Some!

This hasn't exactly been the Best Week Ever for women in evangelicalism, but it's got to be better on the progressive side of things, right?
Whenever I point out sexism within evangelicalism, men inevitably tell me that I should join the Mainline or perhaps a church like Roger Olsen's, where there's not even a hint patriarchyWhen I critique patriarchal strongholds in the emergent/progressive church, others try to shut me down with reminders that, "They're on our side", "He means well", or "X is so much worse", like somehow it's only okay to push back against conservative or fundamentalist expressions of Christianity.

But that's ridiculous. Inequality is systemic, and all of us--particularly leaders--should be able to meet a considerably higher standard than "We're better than Mark Driscoll on gender." It's not second-guessing anyone's motives to shine a light our praxis and ask, "Is this really the best we can do?" "Progressive" should never be a static label to wear but a shared commitment to actual Kingdom-oriented progress measurable in word and deed.

Some conservative Christians have entire theologies explaining why women shouldn't lead, so I don't expect anything different from their speaker rosters. I disagree but honestly, I respect when they put their cards on the table.

But progressive Christians whose theologies fully affirm women in leadership and who consider themselves to be LGBTQ affirming and wholly committed to racial justice cannot compare our record on women, LGBTQ equality, or race to The Gospel Coalition's. If we know better, we should be doing a lot better, not resting on fixed positions or past laurels. We can't be defined by what we're not, particularly when pushed on our own lack of representation and diversity, progressives may not react all that differently from conservatives. We shuffle our feet, mumble something reminiscent of "Bootstraps," and insist we tried our best or that it may not be practical to do it differently. (Or we cry my personal favorite, identity politics.)
Either all things are being made new among us, or they aren't. Are we incarnating Christ and reflecting resurrection in our ministries, or do we mirror the empire's deathly halls of protected power?

Diversity, equality, and justice have little to do with how good anyone's intentions are. Most of us generally mean well, and we still perpetuate oppression across theological and political spectrums. Sin manifests in our lives and systems despite our best intentions, and if we're honest, even our intentions aren't always so pure, because we're frequently lazy and selfish. (Just me?) It is absolutely a beneficial community practice to assume positive intent in one another, but good intent won't cover (or atone for) a multitude of personal or social sins--or erase the power dynamics at play when people of certain races, genders, or sexual orientations are marginalized in overt and subtle ways. (We exclude others, too, like those considered to be less sure, strong, educated, beautiful, married, wealthy, healthy, or righteous.)

Love covers, yes--and it does the work!--but good intentions alone are pretty useless, particularly conceived as a sort of "get out of jail free" card excusing us from taking responsibility for oppressive, marginalizing action or apathetic complacency. The questions that matter most are not, "What was the intent?" or "Do they believe X?" but "How well are we walking this out?" and "What steps can we practically take to do this better?"

A popular eighties cartoon professed that knowing is half the battle, but knowing is just a baby step out the door. Knowing better stuff rarely made me more like Jesus, and neither kindness nor shalom has much to do with simply knowing the right thing.

Walking it out is the hard and hallowed, messy part--the worthy work of cultivating something better, nourishing it together, and helping justice to roll down and flourish among us.


Worthy Reads:


this body can do anything {guest post Jill Smyth} #4thTrimesterBodiesProject

I have a special radar for earth mamas, so when I spotted the Smyths at the farmers' market among the retirees, I just knew we were meant to be. We had a glorious community garden together one summer, which hasn't been the same since they moved out west to chase adventure. 

This post is beautiful, just like my favorite strawberry blondes. Make sure you check the links, too. You don't want to miss a shot.

This photo of me is exactly what my experience of motherhood is. One eating, the other waiting. Underpants. A little exasperated, a little impatient--happy overall and a whole lot of love.

When my daughter was born I rejoiced in her perfection. Starlight eyes, strawberry hair, rosebud smile and skin so fair. My beautiful, perfect Ada was shaped exactly as I am. Same hips. Same hair. Same booty. Those nine pounds of perfection grew from within me. My body made an ocean for her to grow in, then delivered her. It comforted and sustained her. I wondered how this baby girl could be so perfect and I anything else? If she is perfect, so am I.

The truth is that each of us is inherently perfect.

Don't believe me? Think of the ocean. Imagine the sound of the waves. The feeling of sea breeze. The brilliance of the sun over the water. Now, try to imagine what you might add to or take away from it that might make it more perfect. Is it not already perfect? Just as any ocean, you were perfect and complete from your first breath.

I chose to be photographed for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project because I believe this.

Like everyone before me, my body changed with pregnancy. I loved my body the entire time I was pregnant with that angelic little girl you see there. My body was creating life, and I was proud of the changes. Once she was born and my first fourth trimester began, I felt uncomfortable in skin I had usually felt confident in, and suddenly, I was someone I did not recognize.

My belly, which had always been squishy-but-shapely was now unwieldy. My joints that had allowed for impressive flexibility were now loose. My shoulders carrying the weight of my worries were suddenly very real obstacles in my path to successful breastfeeding. I realized I had no idea how to relax. I found that contrary to what I had believed prior to birth, I was useless on no sleep. I forgot to eat or drink water. Any bits of identity I had before I met that precious girl were shredded, and I was left as sets of pairs: arms for holding, breasts for feeding, and lungs for breathing.

At first I felt angry, and then I felt sad. After that guilt and later regret. So I waited. I prayed. Little by little, my resistance to the changes broke apart and floated away to make space for something else. I certainly didn't get my pre-pregnancy body back, because that body had been physiologically rewired to protect and nurture, to unleash the mama bear. With the radical transformation of my old body came unbounded possibility.

You guys, this body of mine can do anything.

This body learned an entirely new style of communication and how to relax at the age of 26. This body moved an entire family across the country on faith and a shoe-string budget in a Honda Accord. This body cooked and cared for a family with a sprained spine. This body runs two businesses on top of mothering and housekeeping full time. This body created a son, who was delivered at home into his daddy's hands. This body hikes miles around this city and rides the Trimet while keeping track of two children. This body gets up and down off the floor thirty seven times a day. This body is mine, and I am more thankful for being in it right now than anything else.

Ashlee Wells Jackson is daring to change the world by photographing mothers. Mothers feeding their children, mothers with their mothers, mothers courageous enough to stand alone. If we can learn to accept and love ourselves, we too can enact enormous change in our lives and the lives of people who know us.

[For more info or to donate, visit the 4th Trimester Bodies Project.]

Jill Smyth is a lady settled (for now) in the Pacific Northwest.

I manage a household, cooking most meals from scratch. This is both tedious and rewarding. I unschool a little lady, normalize breastfeeding, and gave birth to my little sun at home in the shade of an oak one morning in June. I freelance graphic design while my children are sleeping and constantly look for ways to spend time with my code ninja husband. Parenting has been a path to awakening, and I marvel with gratitude at the ways in which my life is blessed.

were not our hearts burning within us?

We had a party a few weeks back. Nothing fancy: chili and a fire and a few friends under the stars.

I soaked some beans and chopped the garlic. Browning the venison, I opened cans of tomatoes and spiced it by the palmful, letting the chili simmer in my biggest stock pot. Slipping orange slices into cider with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves, I set it to warm and pulled out every mismatched bowl and coffee mug we own. A stack of cotton napkins, a jar of spoons, a cooler of beer, and we were set.

Before long, the kitchen was crowded and the counters laden with pumpkin desserts, cornbread, and fresh salsa, but the chili and cider were all I prepared, and it was like the loaves and fishes: enough and then some for the forty-odd friends who turned up.

The full moon was so bright the children chased each other into the evening, and I studied the joy on your face. It was almost your anniversary, and you shone like newlyweds. (Was it the starlight?) We don’t even know each other that well, but you were so happy to share the night with us, and isn’t that the essence of community, bearing witness to each other’s loves and losses, great and small?

Standing in our farm house kitchen, where papers clutter the fridge and the windows always need washing, another beautiful woman with exquisite makeup suggested I write a food blog. She wasn’t joking, but I laughed: I didn’t even make most of this feast, and there wasn’t one Pinterest-worthy frame as far as the eye could see. She was the one who could throw a party: their wedding was an affair so elegant I’d wished I’d bought a dress and worn pantyhose, but bare legs and barely pulled together is how we roll, and neither she nor her spectacular eleven piece band seemed to mind.

I couldn’t pinpoint what was so charming about our simple supper, but I thanked her all the same, offered her a glass, and we talked and laughed into the night.

I suspect there’s a world of difference between entertaining and hospitality, and I wonder if fear of perfection keeps us from reaching out at all.

Our neighbors are the most hospitable people I know. Their house and budget are small, and with five kids running around, little is ever perfect, but few homes are so warm, and there’s always an extra place at their table.

We made our closest friends–after years of social strike outs turned this weary introvert gun-shy and grumpy–because they were relentless welcoming. “I’ve got leftovers. Can we bring lunch?” “Come over for dinner tonight?” “I’m at the grocery store. What if we stopped by with pizza before the game?”

It’s a risk to put yourself out there like that–vulnerable, repeatedly, and exposed. Last minute is not everyone’s bag, but it was the way to my heart, since best laid plans do so often go awry, particularly when you factor in small children. I can’t count how many play dates and dinners were thwarted by sickness, never to be rescheduled.

“What are you doing right now/later/tonight/Thursday/this weekend?” might just be the key to connection in an isolating age–not formal groups, party themes, or expensive ingredients.

Inviting, showing up, and breaking bread: it’s incarnation and alchemy. Ordinary moments hallow; common elements transform. Those with eyes to see take off their shoes.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:13-35)


why the church needs #JesusFeminist

Sarah Bessey is one of my favorite bloggers from way back, and today is the big day her first book drops.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women. We need this book, friends, for a million reasons, but today I'll cite just one:

Interesting that we have a follower of the religion of man hate and perpetual victim hood ‘educating’ us about Christianity. You do realize that GOD is male ? Obviously you haven’t the slightest idea of biblical manhood, or womanhood. The alternative being that you were sent by the coven to help further defile weak willed women. Which is it ? I doubt my comment will be published as feminists fear the light of truth and can’t bear to hear it. As you read it and before you make assumptions, no Suzannah I am not a beastly, oppressive, rapey male hell bent on upholding the ‘evil’ patriarchy, that has so benefited women.. I am a truly strong Woman who is comfortable in her own skin, that of a genuine Woman. I celebrate my womanhood and Almighty GOD that in HIS wisdom formed me as such, not damn it, or HIM. I celebrate my husband’s manhood, not attempt to ‘cure’ him of it. What pathetic, sad little creatures you are. Seek HIM while HE still may be found. (Yup, this happened.)

A few months ago, I wrote a poem at A Deeper Story (where Sarah is an editor). It was about my family of origin and was fairly innocuous. I mean, it was poem, a personal piece about faith and growing together in love, not anything remotely incendiary like an essay on objectificationpurity culture, or a feminist theology of power.

But apparently a little poem about freedom and healing can inspire an anonymous commenter to infer I was "sent by the coven." THE COVEN, Y'ALL. You write one poem about humility and shared ministry on a Christian website, and folks conclude you must be "a follower of the religion of man hate and perpetual victim hood" instead of a sister Jesus-lover committed to resurrection, redemption, and the Kingdom of God on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven.

This is why need Sarah's book, Jesus Feminist. We need her freedom songs about a King and a Kingdom making all things new. She is telling a bigger and better story, and I pray the Church is listening, because there is work to do, and we need all hands on deck. We're in this together.

Happy book-release day, sweet Sarah. Ever grateful for your work and witness.


all you his saints

We did it! 31 Days of Embodied Faith was truly a group effort, as fourteen fantastic guests proved heartily. Thank you, everyone, for writing and reading, meditating, and walking the questions with me. It was a fabulous month, and we're not entirely done, as we've still got a few guest spots trickling in, and embodied faith is an ongoing theme 'round these parts.

In case you missed greeting any of our great guests, here there are all in one place. The communion of the saints on this All Saints' Day.

Krista Dalton:  on sacramental feminism

Aaron Smith:  the naked ask

Misty Green: fish out of water

Catherine Hawkins: on waiting

Seth Haines: embodied

Heather Caliri: from my head to my hands

Bethany Paget: faith with scars

Natalie Hart: with all his might

Christina Tremill: the resurrection of the body

C. Wess Daniels: an ounce of action

Osheta Moore: we are pierced women

Thank you, everyone, for helping me get my writing groove back and continuing this needed conversation about what it looks like to honor God and one another with our whole, embodied selves. I really appreciate wrestling through these practices together.

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