I read an article last week in which I saw parallels with the church context so thought I would write about the same topic. The article by Olga Kahzan in The Atlantic is titled: “The Easiest Possible Way to Increase Female Speakers at Conferences.” The quick summary is: having just one woman on the organizing committee for a conference greatly increases the likelihood of women appearing at the front of the room.
The contribution of women is a topic that concerns me because I am part of a Christian ‘movement’ that struggles with this: the New Zealand Baptist Church. This also appears to be a widespread problem for the church in general. Three points come to mind and I outline them below.
The article research uses science and technology conferences as an example – fields where women are underrepresented as speakers at conferences. This has negative effects on their career prospects in competitive academic fields, meaning less women are climbing to the top of their scientific disciplines, which also means fewer role models for young women and girls.
In terms of organising conferences:
…including at least one woman among the conveners increased the proportion of female speakers by 72 percent compared with symposia convened by men alone.
1. The church is [seen as] a male-dominated patriarchy that oppresses women.
My own doctoral research has shown some people outside the church, who have never been part of it, think the church is something oppressive: a negative patriarchy of powerful men using religion to control people. They think these men don’t want to let go of this power and use God as a vehicle for retaining it.
You may be thinking:
My church isn’t like that!
But what would the opposite look like – is your church community like that?
2. This is important to me because I am a Christian egalitarian.
I don’t expect everyone reading this to share my theological position, but if you’re a complementarian instead, I hope you will see that there is still an issue here to engage with. (If you have never thought of yourself as either egalitarian or complementarian when it comes to your Christian faith, the links give a short introduction in wikipedia to those positions.)
I believe the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. If someone can teach: let them teach. If someone can lead, let them lead. If someone can bake banana cakes with lemon icing, let them bake them!
3. I can do something about improving the church contexts I find myself in.
A couple of months ago I was invited to speak on a panel of four people at a day-long seminar where the panel interacted after each of the main speakers. When the panel was first invited onto the stage the organiser introduced the four men, one being me. The last panelist, a man in his 60’s, was introduced as “the token female”, because they had tried to find a female in Christchurch city to sit on the panel but with no success. In the article above, Kahzan mentions a suggestion from her colleague Rebecca Rosen:
One way men could help improve this situation is to refuse to speak on all-male panels.
There are other things I can do, such as asking that the annual Baptist gathering has at least one [theologically trained, pastorally experienced, Baptist-movement-connected] woman in the inner-circle of the organising group. If this research is true, this would be one way of increasing the contribution and input of women in our Baptist gatherings. I will get in touch with the movement leaders today. Perhaps there is something you can do in your context.
Change is happening slowly
In the twenty years I have been immersed in the NZ Baptist world, I have noticed some slow changes, for example, our theological college (Carey Baptist College) now has some full-time women lecturers – there were none when I was a student in 2000.
Point one above is important and needs considering, or more generally; how people outside the church perceive the church needs to be considered important, because this affects the church’s communication, and therefore the church’s mission.
Perceptions can change, and I’m sure they will be better by the time half of the pastors in NZ Baptist churches are women. And when NZ Baptist leadership is diverse, not just gender, but age and culturally. And once other more global changes occur, such as the Catholic Church ordaining women priests.
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