gender equality

Women in Church Leadership and Overcoming Stereotypes

Female clergy holding a Bible, glenda / Shutterstock.com

Female clergy holding a Bible, glenda / Shutterstock.com

One afternoon I was invited to share my experiences as a woman in Christian leadership — the challenges, joys, issues, struggles and blessings. It felt like those of us sharing were instant, intimate, connected soul sisters. Without knowing each other, and as different as our stories were, the common threads ran deep. We were all women in high levels of leadership in Christian organizations. So why does it still hurt so much? We’ve made so much progress, haven’t we?

After some questions, we reviewed what we would each share from our different perspectives. This would be a heartfelt, sincere, and vulnerable time of sharing. But I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened. The opening question was, “When did you first experience a challenge or issue with your leadership as a woman?” As the first woman began her story, the vulnerable places of her past and present began to flow through tears streaming down her face. And my own eyes welled up and brimmed over. This struck home to the core of my own experience. This is hard. It hurts.

Here are just a few of the barriers we shared about that afternoon. There’s the way that women are looked at differently with respect to their leadership styles. What is seen as strength in a man’s style may be critiqued as aggressive in a woman. When a man’s ego affects his decision-making, rarely is it confronted or dealt with, whereas a woman is called out for letting her emotions get in the way. This feeds the fear for many women leaders that it’s not OK to display any vulnerability. As much as we don’t want to admit it, there is also still a bit of a “good ole boy” way of operating even in Christian organizations that are advocates of reconciliation. To call it out can get one the blame of having a “chip on one’s shoulder” and playing the gender card for personal gain.

We Are Woman

Women's power symbol, Stefanina Hill / Shutterstock.com

Women's power symbol, Stefanina Hill / Shutterstock.com

“Mom,” I asked, “why didn’t the ERA pass?”

It was 1982 and I was 13 years old — an age with sharp awareness of what is fair, but with no understanding of the forces aligned to thwart history’s progress. I was unaware of the storm swirling around the Equal Rights Amendment. I was only aware of my mother’s belief that it should pass.

I wasn’t an evangelical, yet – or even a churchgoer. I was simply a girl standing at the precipice of womanhood in a household led by a strong woman who cranked up the car radio whenever Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” or Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” piped through station-wagon speakers.

We are woman! We are strong! We are invincible. We are survivors and we roar!

So, I had no idea that Phyllis Schlafly (a conservative Catholic) and a broad contingent of evangelicals were actively campaigning against the simple amendment that required ratification that year.

The ERA was intentionally simple. Like the 19th Amendment, the heart of the amendment was one sentence long: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied, abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Seemed simple enough. It was fair. Anything less would be unfair. So how could anyone stand against it?

An Interview with Elaina Ramsey, Sojourners' Women and Girls Campaign Associate

Elaina Ramsey participating in Sojourners' day of action to help end violence against women.

I firmly believe that people of faith can transform the world. Despite the many flaws and failures of the church and her people, Christians have a tremendous amount of power and influence to do good. This campaign is all about harnessing the leadership of churches and clergy, and encouraging people of faith to raise their voices on behalf of women and girls. Through education and empowerment, we can confront gender-based oppressions and change harmful practices, policies, and structures within the church and the broader culture. It’s a tall order, but one that demands nothing less from us if we truly believe in the sacred worth of women and girls.

Rachel Held Evans: Saying the Things Pastors Can't

Lindsey Kolb, Eastern Mennonite University

Rachel Held Evans speaks at EMU. Lindsey Kolb, Eastern Mennonite University

You can certainly get community outside of church, says bestselling author and blogger Rachel Held Evans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth being part of a church community.

“Church forces us into relationship with those who are different than us,” Rachel told Sojourners. As a follower of Christ, she said, I have to be ready and willing to be in community with those who are different than me.

I recently caught up with Evans at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. It was her ninth public appearance in the eight weeks as she bounced from Texas and the Midwest to the East Coast and back to Texas, with a foray to Michigan.

Rachel has made her career out of vocalizing what others are feeling, but can’t articulate quite as clearly.

The Sexist Effects of Sexting the Biblical Text

Text messaging, Dedi Grigoroiu / Shutterstock.com

Text messaging, Dedi Grigoroiu / Shutterstock.com

One of the most commonly sexted biblical texts comes from the 5th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, when we hear the following words attributed to Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:27-28). At first glance the biblical text appears quite straightforward, as Jesus is speaking to a small group of men, and it seems that he simply proclaims the need to keep their sexual temptations in check. “Fellas, keep it in your pants and out of your minds, or else!” is a standard religious reading. However, such an overtly sexted interpretation of the biblical text limits the extensiveness of what Jesus actually attempted to communicate through it. In other words, the text in question is about far more than physical sex, as it serves Jesus’ much larger liberative purpose to strategically and radically revolutionize the totality of how women and men related to each other.

Women's Unfinished Journey

Jesus Sanz  / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of women and girls of different ethnicities, Jesus Sanz / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post is an excerpt from the report "Peering Under Our Collective Burqa: How Do Our Own Religious 'Personal Status' Codes Cover and Diminish the Full Humanity of Women?" Read the full piece HERE.

March 8 came and went, the 39th observation of International Women's Day, a day set aside to collectively take stock of how the world’s women are doing. The theme for this year — Equality for women is progress for allcaptures the spirit of this day to invite and remind us all that the better world we want to create for girls and women is indeed a better world for us all. This blog asks people of faith to hold a mirror up to ourselves to ask if we are in fact part of this “us.”

By nature an optimist, I do enjoy this day set aside to celebrate women’s accomplishments. Everywhere, women are bravely rising up above patriarchal customs and cruel forms of highly prevalent violence to “lean in” to their own economic and social and spiritual empowerment. There is indeed incredible momentum afoot in our world in so many sectors of society to really mainstream women's equality/gender balance not just as a "women's issue" per se but rather as a shared human concern, i.e., what is good for girls/women is also good for global development, good for society, good for relationships, good for families, good for healthy teams, good for organizational dynamics and even good for the "bottom line" of business.

Yet every year for the past few years as International Women’s Day rolls around, I feel a strange mix of both hope and despair as I hold the gender contradictions of our world close to my heart. Don’t be such a pessimist, I tell myself; be positive! Yet I cannot shake a refrain I have heard again and again from women’s human rights activists working around the world: “Here in our country, we have a decent legal code for women; however, in recent years we have experienced a backlash that is threatening to undo many of the strides that women have made.” However you fall on the optimist/pessimist scale, it is safe to say that women’s place in the world is still highly tenuous.

Is Religion the 'Biggest Problem' Facing Feminism Today?

Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Gloria Steinem at 'Make Equality a Reality' event in Los Angeles in November, Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week, feminist Gloria Steinem said that religion is the “biggest problem” facing feminism today.

Steinem made this assertion in response to a town-hall style question she was asked during an interview with Jennifer Aniston at the MAKERS Conference. The MAKERS Conference was born of the PBS documentary, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” and was held to develop an “action plan to define the agenda for women in the 21st century.”

Steinem was asked, “What do you think the biggest problem with feminism today is?” to which she replied, “What we don’t talk about enough is religion. I think that spirituality is one thing. But religion is just politics in the sky. I think we really have to talk about it. Because it gains power from silence.”

'Flowers in the Attic' and Women on the Brink

Flowers in the Attic first edition cover, Simon & Schuster

Flowers in the Attic first edition cover, Simon & Schuster

(Spoiler—and imperfect analogy — alert to anyone who wasn’t able to sneak these books when they were pre-teens)

If there was one book series that defined my childhood/pre-adolescence, it would be V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series. OK, maybe that wasn’t THE book series—after all, there were the Baby-sitters Club books and Sweet Valley High—but in terms of helping to destroy what little innocence I still had, Flowers in the Attic gets top ranking. I mean, I probably didn’t need to be reading books about incest, child abuse, and religious fanaticism when I was 10 years old. But that’s a story for another time.

The Lifetime network has made a film version of Flowers in the Attic that will debut on Saturday night. In anticipation of the remake, I decided to watch the 1987 version starring Kristy Swanson. Besides being struck by how dated it was — think fuzzy lighting, a lot of beiges and pastels, and 80s bangs — the premise seemed outdated even for that time. A recently widowed stay-at-home mother of four finds herself unable to care for her family and must return to her wealthy, estranged parents and beg to get back into her dying father’s good graces (and will). As a condition of her return, she must consent to have her four children locked in the attic and subjected to her mother’s abuse and neglect.

I sometimes forget how much the world has changed in such a short period of time.

Religion, Scripture, and the Value of Women

Gender equality wordcloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

Gender equality wordcloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com

The third edition of the Shriver Report, a media initiative spearheaded by Maria Shriver to call public attention to women’s evolving role in the home, workplace, and society, was released this month.

With a large body of articles, research, polls, data, and personal stories, the report assesses the unique needs, pressures, and realities women face. Contributors within the faith, health, academic, economic, and political communities are represented, coupled with intentional cultural and social diversity. This gives the Shriver Report a richness of deep and thoughtful voices. The aim is to strike up provocative, meaningful, national conversations on how progressive policies can be better directed to advance gender equality in the United States.

One of the most eye-catching article headlines for me in reading the report was “ Are Women Devalued by Religions?” In the article, sister Joan Chittister remarks on how our assumptions about religion influence our actions, and how the outworking of our actions shapes the norms and policies we guide our lives by. Unfortunately, these assumed beliefs can lead to commonly accepted views that completely distort what God has to say about women.

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