If past conferences such as Women of Faith drew thousands of evangelical women to indoor stadiums for devotional Bible study, a new generation of evangelical women is looking outward and concerned with issues such as social justice.
The IF:Gathering in Austin earlier this month was one of those conferences. At the Austin Music Hall, about 1,200 women were greeted by farm tables decorated with candles and cabbage- and lavender-filled centerpieces. The free coffee came from Westrock Coffee, an organization committed to safe working conditions in Rwanda. But the wholesome, back-to-nature ambiance was just the start.
The women participating, including more than 44,000 online, sponsored 600 children through Food for the Hungry. Speakers included sex trafficking victim advocates Christine Caine and Bianca Olthoff, humanitarian photographer Esther Havens, and Annie Lobert, founder of Hookers for Jesus, a ministry for prostitutes that attempts to end sex trafficking.
The year 2013 may well come to be known as the Year of the Woman.
Women of high socio-economic status both applauded and lamented the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, while women of a certain age waxed nostalgic over the 50th anniversary release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Those under 30 were surprised that the latter book existed, and those in their middle years realized the reading assignment that somewhat bored them as inapplicable in college was now vitally important, as they struggled with work/life balance and debated whether to stay home with the kids or remain in the paid workforce.
The “mommy wars” raged, and were fueled by controversial statements and work policies by women in positions of leadership. Stay-at-home moms and paycheck-earning moms stared one another down across a divide narrower than they realized, and bloggers everywhere called for a united female front.
Using a strong scriptural and historical foundation, self-described “happy-clappy Jesus lover” Sarah Bessey relates in her book, Jesus Feminist,how the church has responded “to the movement of the Spirit throughout the centuries, and [how] gender inequality is only one more example of justice seeking in progress.” Bessey tells of God’s redemptive love through the ages, and how women have served and are serving their homes, churches, communities, and the world at large to bring forth that love. The power of women coming together — or acting alone — for God is clear: Women, she writes, can move mountains, even if one stone at a time.
If a world devalues half its members, for every woman who moves a mountain, there will be another woman suffering. Bessey notes the disturbing fact that “Many of the seminal social issues of our time — poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse — can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes, and character of God.” And with that sentence, conviction begins.