In the last two weeks, an important conversation has been happening in the virtual world about women in the church.
The conversation erupted when popular evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans tweeted:
More than 100 speakers and only four of them are women. This is not what the church looks like. #thenines2013— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) November 12, 2013
Rachel's tweet launched a flurry of blog posts about women's roles in the church, including one from Jonathan Merritt that asked, Are Christian conferences sexist? According to him, there is "around 19% female speaker representation at these major Christian conferences–presumably better than it was even a few years ago, but still lower than it should be. While I don’t think we can conclude that the Christian conference industry is downright sexist, we can say that most conferences have some serious work to do if they want their stage to look anything like the 21st century church."
As a woman, I care deeply about this issue.
As a Christian, I also care deeply about this issue.
What's more, as a church worker who's experienced first hand the limitations my gender places on me in certain sectors of the evangelical church world, this issue is personal.
Even so, I didn't expect this issue would be one that's also important to my students. Yet, this summer, I asked my student leaders to brainstorm a list of issues they care deeply about. This list included:
- Women's rights
- Equal opportunities
- Child abuse
- The environment
- Drug abuse
Given my congregation's involvement in the refugee community, I expected that issue to appear on this list.
I was, however, surprised to see women's rights on this list. After all, I serve in a denomination where gender is seen not as a limitation but as a strength; Where women can do anything men can do, including be ordained pastors. What's more, my congregation's staff of 13 people includes only four men. The students in my youth ministry have never known a world that didn't include women in leadership roles in our church.
Even so, since this is an issue my students care deeply about, this afternoon, I've been preparing a discussion for my youth ministry on women's rights. As I've done so, I've been reminded of how the promise of equality is not the same as true equality; That even in the US, women are not as equal with men as we'd like to believe and that worldwide, there are still places where women's rights are a matter of life and death.
As I've been working on this discussion, I've found myself grateful for the conversation happening in the larger church body about women in the church.
I've also found myself grateful for students whose interests and passions are as diverse as they are; Whose commitment to equality extends even to issues - like women's rights - we sometimes believe have already been fought and won.
I'm also hopeful that someday, we'll no longer need conversations about women's roles in the church; That instead, women will play integral roles in our homes, corporations, government, and churches both in the US and throughout the world.