To clarify my post below
and to address (some of) Brother Maynard's good questions (since this is way too long to post in the comments). Yes, the last post was a rant and therefore did make use of hyperbole. I know that there are men in the EC who do support women (and there are some who don't). But nevertheless there is still an ongoing perception by women that the Emerging Church doesn't support women. I've somehow stumbled into a strange position where I think I hear more about that than many people (which of course influences my perception). Because of my involvement with Emerging Women
a lot of people seem to think I'm an authority on women in the emerging church. So I get emails, questions about women in the EC, confused inquiries about what is going on, and complaints, lots of complaints. Responding to the women who contact me is weird because I am not the authority (not that one exists) and the EC is such a fluid thing that one can never give a definitive answer for why things are the way they are. That being said, I do try to respond, but often in responding I feel torn. Half the time I do my best to defend the EC and explain that anyone who wants to step up to lead is more than welcome to and all that. But the rest of the time I find myself sympathizing with the frustration and confusion these women are expressing.
So what am I hearing and who am I hearing it from? First I should say that I have had good conversations with women in leadership within Emergent (all from mainline backgrounds) who don't think there are any problems at all. I respect their experiences, but also hear too much from women who do think otherwise. From other mainliners who have already been through the fight to gain respect as women in the church and who have pushed for inclusivity in the church, I hear a good deal of shock at how patriarchal the EC is. They only see male figureheads, male authors, male bloggers, male speakers, and worse yet only hear male language used in reference to believers and to God. To them that is really offensive and implies that women are not wanted or valued. They have been through the struggle before and as much good that they see in the EC, they aren't sure if its worth it to join in with a group that is so far behind in regards to women. Why go where they are "obviously" not wanted? Then there are the evangelicals. Many of those women are just beginning to believe that they can have a voice in the church and are still being met with much opposition in their churches and families. They want to find a place to belong in the EC because it has helped them so much, but are often afraid to join what looks like the typical boys club they are used to experiencing or are unsure if they are even welcome in that world. They want to know before they sign on that they will be accepted for who they are (and not condemned because they are female) and that the invitation to join is for them as well. So while the official message may be that yes of course women are respected and welcomed, if they do not hear that message or see it displayed (actually lived out) then they do not feel like they are wanted. This of course does not apply to all women interested in the EC, but is a theme I've heard too often to ignore.
So why isn't the message of welcome and inclusion being heard (if it does exist)? The most common answer still is because most of the authors and speakers are male - they are the voice that gets heard no matter who else is out there. Even at the recent Midwest Emergent Gathering where we attempted to be very deliberate about giving women a voice, the upfront presence was still predominantly male. And we got flack for it, big time. It's not that there is anything wrong with the male leaders, they are great guys who have taught us wonderful things and have helped us along on our faith journey. I personally greatly appreciate the work they have done and the contributions they have made. But as popular as they are and for as many people who are desperate to be mentored (in even the smallest ways) by them, we women don't have a place. We don't fit in with the boys clubs and the male bonding experiences (which is what even many public events seem to be). There are no female "heros" that self-identify as emerging that we can look up to and be mentored by. The names that women in the EC look to in respect like Anne Lamott, Phyllis Tickle, Sue Monk Kidd, and Diane Butler Bass do not (to the best of my knowledge) label themselves emerging. So if there is no one to mentor us in the EC (or even to guide and open the doors), then women begin to wonder why they should even want to be a part of it at all.
Then there are the negative messages that (often unintentionally) get sent. And yes like it or not, there are a number of people who still think Mark Driscoll is part of the EC. They hear his sexist comments and assume that the entire EC agrees with him. But less radically there are constant messages that tell women you are not wanted here (even when they do not intend to do so). When the two most popular blogs on the Emerging Church (Jesus Creed and TallSkinnyKiwi) have ongoing debates on not only whether or not women are permitted in ministry but which also imply that the jury is still out on whether women are inferior to men or if we are even made in God's image, the message gets sent (loudly) that we are not respected, valued or welcome in the EC. When, like at last year's Gathering (and I've heard of similar occurrences elsewhere), women plan a workshop and then a big name male plans the exact same workshop at the exact same time (which then everyone goes to), the message is sent - your voice is unwanted and worthless. When at the Off The Map Conference last year the panel of women leaders were set in front of the crowd so that they could publicly ask questions of the male experts the message is sent - you women are inferior to us men (and granted the conference planers there admitted what a disaster that session was). And when at just about every single emerging event, it is extremely rare to hear gender inclusive language, women who have become used to being included in the broader culture are left feeling very alienated. And I don't think anyone intends to send the message to women that they aren't welcome, but that is what is perceived at any rate.
And what helps complicate the negative (albeit unintentional) messages is the silence by the men, the "yes,but..." excuses, the vague talk about Biblical gender roles, and the lack of positive action. When certain prominent leaders take a stand against women, it takes other popular leaders speaking out against hate language for that message to be overpowered. Then, saying "yes, but..." to women is like sending the message that we aren't worth your time or energy. You want to help us, but it's too complicated and might take too much work. Instead of dwelling on all the problems that might possibly arise and using that as an excuse to inaction, could you please just give us your unequivocal support for once? And when you mention "gender roles" most women mentally download some version of the barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen scenario that has been drilled into us for years. Define what you really mean. And by the way most women do not want to be told what they should be like by a man. We want to be accepted for who we are no matter how closely we fit some system of culturally defined roles. Using language like that is patronizing and demeaning.
So what would actively working to improve things look like? A few biggies that might help - Make sure that women are asked to speak at your events. Get women publishing contracts. Work jointly with women on the big writing projects and event planning teams. Get used to using gender inclusive language. And don't always refer to God as male (not that you have to go so far as using the feminine names for God, just that you don't always default to the masculine). Add women to your blogroll. Discuss the ideas women are talking about on your blogs, in your sermons, and in your books. Stick your neck out and publicly stand up against sexism and demeaning language. Publicly admit that you respect women and support them in ministry for that matter. It isn't "affirmative action" or "lowering your standards" as I have heard it described. And some of it might sound silly if you do it already (but it obviously hasn't been heard). But it does involve being deliberate about being inclusive. And I know that there are a lot of guys out there who are doing this already. But when there is still an overwhelming perception on the part of women that they are not welcome more obviously needs to be done.
And I will say again, I am not the "authority" to address this issue. I'm just reflecting on my experiences and my somewhat unique position of hearing from a wide spectrum of women involved in the EC. Not all women feel this way or think there is a problem. I know that. But it is for the many that do, that I made the plea to the men of the EC to loudly and without reservation demonstrate their support for women in the Emerging Church.
Labels: Emerging Church, Emerging Women, Gender Issues