The past few months have flown by in true whirlwind fashion (my co-worker Katie aptly describes the professional whirlwind here). And as the hours tick down to the end of 2013, I find myself facing a bit of a personal whirlwind, surrounded by boxes, bins and far more hangers of clothes than I’m happy to admit. I am thick in the middle of a move, in what I’m calling my boomerang return to D.C. and Sojourners, after a three-year hiatus in the great Northeast.
As I pack up all my belongings, it’s becoming clear that books dominate an absurd amount of bins and boxes — turns out I have a penchant for the printed word (if moving isn’t a compelling argument for a Kindle, I surely don’t know what is). Therefore, it feels appropriate and timely to reflect on which of these titles affected me most this past year. As the director of Major Gifts (and newest member of the team), I’ve been particularly consumed with thinking through resource distribution, stewardship, and the power of the purse, so it is with this lens that I share my top reads of 2013.
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.
There was a lot to celebrate this year for women in the media. But some things aren't changing fast enough. Check out an overview of how the media treated women this year below courtesy of the folks over at Miss Representation.
During the past 30 years, the AIDS pandemic has provided an unfortunate opportunity to follow God’s call to care for the widow and orphan. Husbands succumb to illness, leaving behind wives and children who also carry the disease. Mothers die, leaving behind children without care, and too often is the case that those children — who could have avoided in utero transmission of HIV with proper medical care — also die. Entire families are lost.
This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day. This day is not simply about wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity in the fight against AIDS. Instead, it is an opportunity to address the tough issues presented by HIV, such as how those disproportionately affected by the disease mirror society’s most marginalized populations — the poor and women — and how faith-based communities can best serve those populations.
A recent post by Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper, Only 19 Percent Are Women, brought to light how most major evangelical conferences are still reluctant to feature qualified women as plenary speakers. In a quick survey of 34 such conferences, women gave only 19 percent of the main addresses. To Harper and Wallis, the paucity of females on these influential platforms is a serious problem.=
But I also know that some organizers actually do embrace that God originally charged women and men to lead together. And they believe that Christ’s work on the cross has destroyed the curse that’s led to systemic patriarchy — however benevolent — that has kept far too many women from being restored to their rightful place as coheirs of God’s kingdom. In their local settings, they gratefully serve together with female leaders. However, when it comes to pulling together a platform for their group’s conference, they choose not to include females for fear of backlash or boycott from the more conservative speakers and invitees.
Last week, a controversy erupted over Twitter when it came to light that a prominent evangelical conference with 110 speakers only had four women on stage.
Journalist Jonathan Merritt, did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women.
This is a problem.
As a white male evangelical and a black female evangelical who spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, events, and college campuses, we know from experience this is a problem.
Conference spaces have become one of the primary discipleship spaces for evangelicals. These are the spaces where evangelicals go to learn all that it means to be a follower of Jesus.
The Church of England’s governing body has approved new proposals that would allow women bishops to be ordained by this time next year.
Meeting in London on Wednesday, the church’s General Synod passed a motion by 378-8, with 25 abstentions, that paves the way for the endorsement of women bishops. Bishops also approved a declaration that sets out guidance for parishes that reject female consecrations.
The package would end nearly two decades of bitter and damaging conflict, and the vote is a victory of sorts for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was appointed last year just as the General Synod came within six votes of allowing women bishops.
Christian women are a hot topic these days.
Over the past year, more and more Christian women have spoken out about what it means to be a woman in the public square. From the debate over Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and whether the Bible prescribes specific roles for women to the fascinating discussions about spirituality and sexuality in Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, women of faith are wrestling with how to transcend sexism and patriarchy to cultivate their God-given gifts in the pulpit, at home, and in their daily lives.
To further this conversation, the good people at Q Ideas recently sponsored a Women & Calling event. In Christian TED talk fashion, 12 phenomenal speakers shared their thoughts on what it means for women to live in response to God’s call, to discern their vocations, to navigate the tension between family and work, to embrace their fears and ambitions, and to follow after God with abundant hope.
Unlike other Christian conferences where female representation remains the exception and not the norm, Q flipped the script by featuring the voices of 11 women and one man. Together, these 12 disciples described the fullness and joy of the kingdom of God when we are all empowered to live into our gifts.
Churches are supposed to be communities that represent Christ’s infinite love — and many of them do — but certain groups of people seem to be continually ignored, alienated, undervalued, and simply lost within American churches. Leadership structures, social expectations, religious values, and traditions within faith communities have a tendency to favor some groups but not others, resulting in discrimination instead of equality, exclusion instead of acceptance, and prejudice instead of fairness.
A school assembly speaker is gaining national attention. In Richardson, Texas, a high school brought in “motivational speaker and dating expert” Justin Lookadoo to speak to the students about relationships and dating. Lookadoo traverses the country speaking to students about the ins and outs, the perils and pitfalls of dating. Lookadoo gives teens a definitive answer on their status in the realm of dating. His quiz parallels with his “Dateable Rules,” some of which are textbook gender stereotypes and Christian theological distortions.
To be honest, I think his “rules” are bogus. They come from a place where boys and girls are divided into classes and in the end boys win. Making girls out to be “damsels in distress” and boys are “heroic warriors looking for an adventure” doesn't equate a relationship.
Relationships are built upon respect and mutuality not antiquated thinking when it comes to gender roles.
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.
When I was a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University’s New Testament program, I had the honor of preaching at an ordination service for a classmate who was being ordained as a Presbyterian minister. Following the service, a number of my classmates asked me why I wanted to spend four-seven years working on a Ph.D. in New Testament when I clearly had a "gift" for preaching. I responded that it was actually my academic study of the Bible coupled with my life experiences that illumined and enlivened my preaching.
I did not grow up reading the Bible. I was almost 19 years old and a U.S. Army soldier stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany when I purchased my first Bible. A series of life-changing events led to me "accepting Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior." A few months after purchasing my first Bible, I attended a revival service at a local church. I returned to post that evening describing the service to fellow soldiers, who, along with myself, comprised a group self-identified as the "Soul Patrol." We were African-American Christians who strongly believed in the necessity of Christian evangelization.
In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.
In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, 40 women under 40 address head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church.
In her book Lean In, author Sheryl Sandberg notes that while women are outpacing men in colleges and graduate schools, one cannot see this translate to positions of power within corporations. For this imbalance to be righted, Sandberg asserts that women must take charge of their circumstances: “The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person. We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”
This is no less true of women in the church, and leaning in is exactly what the essayists of Talking Taboo are doing.
While Sandberg focuses on issues such as long work hours, daycare, and more flexibility for working moms, the common, though not exclusive, themes of Talking Taboo are sexuality and biblical interpretation.