“When I see you, I don’t see color,” is something white women have said to me for decades. When heard from white women I see as sisters in Christ, these words erase me. For years I tried responding. I might say, “I get that you are refusing to attribute to me the bad things you have heard about people of color,” to which might come the response: “Oh no! I was raised to accept everyone!” Or I might say, “I know you mean that as a compliment,” and she might say, “I really mean it; I don’t see your color!”
women in leadership
Installing Linda K. Burton, Bonnie L. Oscarson, and Rosemary M. Wixom to leadership councils could have far-reaching consequences in a denomination led exclusively by men.
When asked whether women are members of other key committees in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spokeswoman Kristen Howey said, "There are literally dozens of church committees. Women serve on many of them but we have no way of knowing that number without counting each of them."
The three principal, formerly male-only councils helping to run the 15 million-member faith include "four or five (male) general authorities," Howey said, plus the new female officers.
Christine Caine gave a passionate and prophetic call for the church to be continually changing, even while at its core, it is “the same.” That constant change is driven by God’s continuing call to be sent as witnesses in the world. “We want power,” she told the spiritually hungry Pentecostals gathered before her. “But we don’t know what it’s for.” It’s not for ourselves, not for our own spiritual ecstasy. The power of God’s Spirit is given for us to be witnesses to God’s transforming love. And one can’t change the world without being in the world, instead of running from it. “We’re not here,” Christine Caine proclaimed, “to entertain ourselves.”
You could feel how her words stuck a deep chord within the crowd of those listening. I walked over to sit by a friend who is bishop of a large Pentecostal church. “This is the best word that’s been spoken,” he said to me. And that’s after we had heard eight world famous Pentecostal preachers.
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.
“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?
As a preacher and pastor, I have had the privilege of speaking to people from a wide variety of demographics. Especially since I am a woman of color, these opportunities have made me acutely aware of how the silencing of women’s voices — whether imposed upon or by our own choice — has so severely hindered the imagination of men and women in our society.
Time and time again, I’ve heard from young women that I am the first Asian female preacher they’ve ever heard and/or seen. And this absence has a cost. In the stark absence of a woman’s regular presence in the pulpit across the landscape of church life and formation, we are allowing our young women (and men) to walk through this world with veiled eyes and muted ears, incapable of seeing and imagining possibilities for themselves and others.
While we may acknowledge that men and women are equal, I believe there is power in who speaks.
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to head a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, announced Sept. 23 that she will not seek a second nine-year term in office.
Her departure will likely set off debates over her legacy and the future of the 2 million-member denomination.
“I believe I can best serve this church by opening the door for other bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry,” Jefferts Schori, 60, said in a statement. “I will continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse church, spreading the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored creation.”
Her 2006 election was celebrated as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church; delegates sported pink “It’s a Girl!” buttons after the vote. She remains the only female primate in the Anglican Communion, but last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed suit and elected its first female presiding bishop.
Jefferts Schori’s current term will end at the conclusion of the Episcopalians’ General Convention in Salt Lake City in June 2015. Church membership during her term has dropped by 12 percent, according to the most recent statistics available from the denomination.
Jefferts Schori’s time as presiding bishop has been lauded by theological liberals and bemoaned by conservatives, but both breakaway Anglicans and Jefferts Schori were instrumental to one another’s rise.
I have two daughters.
They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through childlike wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like … every day … day after day … early morning after early morning … nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world.
Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their backs while they sleep and prayed for them.
I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation.
I pray for their past, present and future.
In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the church, and in everyday life.
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.
Editor’s Note: A national study of women in leadership among evangelical nonprofit organizations has been launched by Gordon College. The advisory board for the study is co-led by Emily Nielsen Jones of the Imago Dei Fund and D. Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College. This essay is adapted from an interview with Emily Nielsen Jones about why this study matters which can be read in its entirety at http://www.gordon.edu/womeninleadership/interview.
I grew up in an evangelical setting, and have been very familiar with gender role ideology that affirms women’s human equality yet still circumscribes women to a “role” at the margins of decision-making. Nonetheless, I was always inspired by the culturally radical way Christ treated and honored women as well as Paul's proclamation in Galatians that in Christ, there is no distinction between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile. So at this stage in my life, I have become increasingly aware of, and distressed by, how some religious-based ideas are contributing to the dangerous mix of cultural ideas, norms, and humanitarian problems that continue to wreak havoc on the bodies and souls of girls and women around the world. That’s primarily why our foundation, Imago Dei Fund, began using a “gender-lens” to guide our decisions.