Since I attended the Emergent Gathering on the heels of the Emerging Women gathering, and since I was giving “presentations” on Emerging Women and feminine imagery for God, naturally my experience at the Gathering was flavored by gender issues. Not that gender equality was a hugely debated issue in that group – which was refreshing – it was just always on my radar. Two things that stood out: the response to “emerging women”, and the actions of many of the women there.
In leading a discussion on Emerging Women, some of the women there protested its necessity. There was an assumption that equality exists already, and that we are actually hurting that equality to separate ourselves as women. Another sentiment expressed was that, since the power structures of the church are wrong/broken in the first place, we as women should be working to change those and not to join them. There is a part of me that agrees with each of those sentiments. There is danger in having “separate but equal” sorts of gatherings/books/discussions. And I do agree that the male driven power structures in the church are wrong and broken. But I still think there is a need for Emerging Women.
When women feel like we don’t have a voice in a community, then equality isn’t fully realized. We can be a lone voice who seeks power and is labeled a bitch for trying to do what the guys are already doing, or we can join one another as a collective voice seeking justice together. We can encourage each other and find a wider audience as a networked group. Having a voice isn’t a power play. It is a call for respect and an opportunity to share perspectives that are being ignored. And, amazingly enough, there are still women who think they are not allowed to have a voice or be used by God. If they can join a conversation where they feel comfortable among other women who can encourage them in the process of self-discovery, then that conversation (separate though it may be) is necessary.
The whole power issue gets me. I usually see the obsession with power as a very male thing. I want respect and encouragement, but I care very little for power. I have no desire to “be over” large numbers of people, but I still want to teach. I want to share what is inside me – what God is putting on my heart. I want to do that in a community of others who are all serving, teaching, and leading each other. If that is a female approach to leadership then I see it as being a healing antidote to broken power structures. But if we do not advocate for women to be given opportunities within the system as it currently exists, then how can we ever expect it to change?
All that said, I still saw a huge disparity between the men and women at the Gathering. None of the main leaders or big names (and a good number of the men in general) had come with their wives. Why not? Are their wives not part of this conversation? I understand the need to leave one half of the couple home with the kids (that’s what I did) – but I met only one other woman whose husband had stayed home while there were scores of men who had left wives at home (with or without kids). And of the women who were there, most spent their time chasing the kids around on the edges of discussion and not fully participating in them. When some of us asked them if they were involved in the emerging conversation, most said no, because they weren’t readers. That scared me. There are so few women involved in this to begin with and the ones who do show up don’t feel like they can really be a part of the conversation as it is presented now.
I have to wonder, if it is only the males leading this conversation, will it have anything to offer women at all? Also, if there are all these men discovering a new way of being a Christian while their wives aren’t engaged in the conversation – what does that do to their marriages? How can they talk about faith or worship together? Does the man even attempt to converse with his wife about these things or does she just reject ideas as “too intellectual?” I don’t get it. There is so much opportunity here and there are still these huge issues developing that aren’t being addressed. Something needs to change and it will have to be addressed proactively in order for anything to happen at all.
Just some reflections for the moment. I’m going to need to think more about this issue.