In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th c. & totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th c., the challenge that women & girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time.

~ Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof

Friday, October 11, 2013

For the Sake of the Girl Child: Measuring Progress Toward Gender Equality by Emily Nielsen Jones

Happy International Day of the Girl!  Today we celebrate girl rising around the world knowing that an empowered girl is the best way to create positive change in our world.

In the spirit of this day, I pass along two links to efforts which are working on the level of religious ideas/practice to create a more just, free world for our world's girls to grow up in and thrive.  Girls deserve way better than the violent, enslaving world they are growing up in.  These two initiatives recognize that equality is not something ethereal that just happens or doesn't happen, like a rainbow that just appears or a sunset.  Rather, it is a daring ideal that we must resolve to operationalize in our very tangible lived realities.  What I love about both of these efforts is that they seek to create tangible, measurable impact and, in so doing, to set off a virtuous cycle of change in our world.  Check them out and take a few moments today to hold in your heart a prayer for a more kind, empowering world for the girl child.

- a link to a study being launched by Gordon College to measure progress toward gender parity among evangelical institutions:  

- a new global movement to end enslaving early marriages which rob millions of girls around the world of their childhoods:

Text to links below.  Let's make a commitment to do something big or small today to keep bending the moral arc of the universe to give our world's girls a world they deserve.


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

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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.
As a result, we have become more intentional and deliberate about asking questions regarding implicit and explicit gender policies both within an organization and out in the field. These are questions such as:
  • What ideas, if any, around gender guide and shape your work in the world?
  • Does your organization have any explicit policies around gender that limit what women can or cannot do within your organization and out in the field?
  • How have you been working (or not) to promote gender balance within your organization?
Basically, what we’ve started to find is that many evangelical organizations, even those doing great work for girls and women in the world, have some sort of hidden or “de facto” institutional practices that either explicitly or implicitly (or both) keep women from serving in leadership roles or advancing above a certain level in the organization. Yet by simply asking these questions, we have discovered that many organizations do in fact want to be more gender-balanced and realize that this is central to preserving their Christian witness in our world, but for a variety of reasons this just has not been a priority. That’s when we began to find our philanthropic “niche” in the world: we strive to encourage organizations to work a little bit harder to connect the dots between their faith-based ideas around gender, their institutional practices, subculture, and their humanitarian goals of working to create a more just and equitable world for girls and women.
So in what I hope was “holy angst,” our original idea was to create some type of "gender scorecard" to help all the stakeholders of faith-based charities/nonprofits (staff, board members, clients, potential donors) look at their own internal policies to see where there are gaps or inconsistencies in order to set goals for how to make tangible incremental steps toward greater gender-balance.
But the idea meandered around for a year or so and evolved into more of a “gender landscape” study to get a broad snapshot of where evangelical social services and charities stood with respect to gender balance. The idea would have remained just a good idea if it were not for a very engaging and fruitful conversation over dinner with Gordon’s President D. Michael Lindsay and his wife Rebecca, which led to the idea of the study launched with Gordon’s Provost Janel Curry and the new Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Gordon.
My simple hope for this study is that it would fuel the positive gender winds of change blowing in our world today and that it will serve as a collective mirror to help Christian stake-holders see where positive change is happening in our organizations as well as where obstacles persist. Awareness of “what is” is an important part of the process of change, of “what could be.”
That is the basic purpose of the study: to step back and see how we measure up as a faith-based sector with regard to the larger social goal of working toward gender parity within all of our organizations and workplaces. Sometimes simply seeing what is with one’s eyes wide open can be a catalyst for seeing what can be.
We hope to put a spotlight on a set of best practices that are working in the field, so as to make incremental steps toward more gender-balanced organizations. We also hope the study will give validation to people working within their organizations and stakeholders who are influenced by these organizations to keep on asking the good questions. We’re holding up a mirror to where our organizations might have blind spots or are falling short of the ideal of full human equality of men and women as co-image bearers of God. As Jesus once said, those who have eyes to see, let them see.
Emily Nielsen Jones is co-founder and president of the Imago Dei Fund.  She is a donor-activist who ispassionate and engaged at the nexus of faith, gender, and development and working to mobilize our faith traditions to more fully and unambiguously embrace gender equality.

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Happy International Day of the Girl 2013! Let's celebrate together
We are thrilled to take part in this worldwide celebration of girls’ potential and we hope you join us today in calling for an end to child marriage.
Have you watched our video on what child marriage means for girls?
Until recently, little attention was paid to the plight of child brides. Now, governments around the world are taking steps to end child marriage.
But we need more countries to commit to protecting and empowering girls.
By speaking up against child marriage, we can pressure governments to invest in girls’ education, to fund programmes that support and empower adolescent girls, to adopt and enforce laws that set the legal minimum age of marriage at 18.
YOU can make them take notice.
This isn’t just about sharing a video. It’s about taking a stand for girls.
We’re counting on you.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Holding Up A Mirror to Ourselves: Faith, Anti-Trafficking & Gender Inequality by Emily Nielsen Jones

Practically every day I receive an email or read about a new anti-trafficking conference being held, a new anti-trafficking network being convened, and new philanthropists and activists joining the global effort to rid our world of modern-day slavery.  Many of these voices and humanitarian efforts are being led by evangelical Christians who are rolling up their sleeves to set the captives free and create a more free world.  The problem is indeed staggering and horrific in it's magnitude and normalization:

• there are more humans enslaved today than any time in history – estimates range from 20-30 million people trafficked annually
• of these 20-30 million, approximately 80% are female
•  the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation
•  the second most common form of human trafficking is forced labor (18%),
• the total market for “illicit human trafficking” is estimated to be around $98 billion
• trafficking takes many forms as a continuum of exploitative, enslaving conditions that diminish human agency through a variety of psychological and physical means and normalized cultural/religious practices like child marriage which impacts nearly 70 million girls around the world in what is essentially trafficking, i.e. the bartering/enslavement of girls as young as 8, bringing the estimates of trafficking up way beyond 100 million/year


I don’t know about you, but when I hear these statistics I want to do something about it!  That slavery still exists in our world and has been getting worse is just simply hard to stomach.  As Americans, and likewise as people of faith, the notion of freedom is so central to our ideals of human flourishing, justice and equality.  The abolitionist struggle of the 19th c. is so central to our American sense of identity and our collective human heritage.  Yet in the year 2013 right here in our own country, right here in our own backyards and around the world, slavery in so many manifestations has not abated over the centuries but rather has become eerily normalized into the fabric of culture and continues to be a collective thorn our human side.  Will we ever really be able to liberate our world from the scourge of slavery?  Or is it here to stay?

I love the abolitionist spirit that we see being awakened today.  In our polarized world, it is rare to see things that bring people together and anti-trafficking is definitely one of those things.  People who don’t typically see themselves as “activists” are getting activated!  Collective awareness is leading to a heightened moral commitment in this moment of time to finish the unfinished work of the abolitionist movement to, once and for all, eradicate enslavement in all its forms from our country and from our planet.  Training down to NYC for InterVarsity's Price of Life week long faith-inspired anti-trafficking campaign/conference, top of my mind is the ?:

In this particular moment of time... the year 2013...
What is the unique contribution of faith/religion in this global movement to keep bending the moral arc of the Universe to create a more free, just world where no human beings are transacted or sold as commodities or diminished in their full human agency as image-bearers of God?

In this article below published by InterVarsity, I ask evangelicals to hold a mirror up to strange elephant in the room that continues to lurk around in our faith-based ngos, our churches, and para-church ministries:  the feminine face of trafficking that is inescapably linked with cultural/religious gender norms around the world which continue to restrict females to a subordinate, lesser than class of human beings which makes them/us vulnerable to various forms of enslaving social conditions.

That an organization like InterVarsity is addressing this uncomfortable reality is testament to their commitment to not just raising the floor for girls/women around the world but also to raising the ceiling at all levels of their organization.  Kudos InterVarsity!

Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves, pt 2: Faith, Human Trafficking & Gender Inequality

About Women: Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves - Human Trafficking & Gender Inequality
by Emily Nielsen Jones

The more we peel back the layers of the onion and look at the ugly beast we call "human trafficking" with all of its grisly manifestations, the more the world begins to seem hopelessly in the grip of dark forces which capitalize and exploit any human vulnerability. One seasoned veteran I met in Cambodia who worked for years in the region combatting trafficking described how she has seen the same women and girls rescued multiple times from brothels. The problem is not "out there somewhere" but is a web of exploitative push/pull factors woven right into the fabric of our collective social and economic structures.

How can we as "Christian abolitionists" think and act more systemically to create a world that is more free and just?

Trafficking is a highly gendered problem. Of the 32 million trafficking victims, over 80 percent are women. "Slavery" in the narrow sense (i.e., someone being held against their will) falls into a larger continuum of gender-based violence and enslaving ideas and conditions which make the poor, migrant, ethnic minorities and women most vulnerable.
The core of abolitionist vision, both in the 19th century and today, is the daring spiritual ideal of human equality, that we are all made in the image of God, male and female alike, and thus are endowed with equal intrinsic value and a common human yearning for freedom.

The human quest is not just to be free from abuse; it is to be free from confinement in a restrictive role, free to soar with full human agency as image-bearers of God. Until we as people of faith begin to see trafficking as part of the larger continuum of gender injustice and a subordinate view of women, we will not be giving girls and women the full dignity they deserve nor will we be transforming the deeper religious roots of our enslaving world.

If we hold up a mirror to ourselves, we recognize how every little ripple we send out into the world contributes either to a more just or a more unjust world, a more free or a more enslaving world. How does religion (ours included) factor into creating such an enslaving world?

If we recognize that religious beliefs weave themselves into global cultural patterns and power dynamics... if we remember the sometimes sad history of our own tradition and how the Bible was used by many to endorse slavery and keep the right to vote and own property and other basic human rights from women... if we open wide our spiritual eyes and ears and try to connect the dots between the seen and the unseen dimensions of the trafficking problem... if we address root causes, we as people of faith might think twice about how ideas of authority and inequality of men and women impact the larger structures of the world. We do not in any way want to undermine the global movement of girls and women of low social status rising from abuse and living fully into the human equality and freedom that is all of our birthright as image-bearers of God.

On a very practical level, there is lots of great humanitarian work we can do, but we can also channel our abolitionist spirit towards creating a more gender-balanced spiritual climate in our churches, ministries, and families which fully values the human agency and spiritual equality of both genders. Start by being the change you want to see right at your own doorstep.

Nothing is too small — one little question, one little email, one simple protest of something that seems unjust or diminishing of the full human equality of women — it may not feel like you are being an "abolitionist" but it is the little things that each of us do that together unleash a virtuous cycle of freedom.

Lord, have mercy on us. May we each be an instrument of your peace and your freedom in our world. May we begin right where we are. May we have the courage to dare to say "no" to all the little enslaving forces that work against freedom and equality for all. Amen.

Emily Nielsen Jones is a donor-activist engaged in promoting human equality, justice, and peace around the world. As President and Co-Founder of the Imago Dei Fund, she is engaged in the nexus of faith, gender, and development and working to mobilize our faith traditions to more fully and unambiguously embrace gender equality, including partnering with Gordon College to conduct a study to measure progress in evangelical institutions toward gender parity. The Imago Dei Fund is a faith-inspired foundation that partners with anti-trafficking organizations to transform the underlying systems which make girls and women so vulnerable to enslavement.

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various forms of enslavement and abuse. She serves on the External Advisory

various forms of enslavement and abuse. She serves on the External Advisory
Board for InterVarsity's National Women's Council.
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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Male Rule a Biblical Ideal? (part one) by Mimi Haddad

The author of this article, Mimi Haddad, is truly a force of nature, a brilliant mind, a moral voice in the world doing her part in very conservative religious settings to keep bending the moral arc of justice in our world for women and for a more mutual, interdependent vision of humanity and of God.  In this article, she addresses the damaging view of God as a rank-ordered hierarchy and the mirror image of humanity as a gendered hierarchy and the exasperating reality that while over the past 20 years women's participation has been dropping off in American churches various pastors networks are advocating the same patriarchal ideas that have made churches unwelcoming to women.  Mimi's passion for equality is contagious and a gift to the world.  I hope you get a chance to read this article and join her in doing each of our parts to "clean up the gender baggage" in our churches, temples, and faith-based organizations.  

Act Now
 Male Rule a Biblical Ideal? (Part One)

Mimi Haddad (PhD) is president of Christians for Biblical Equality.

Why is patriarchy so entrenched not only within the major faith traditions, but particularly among Christians? One obvious answer is that the “he will rule over you” of Genesis 3:18 was one of the first consequences of sin in the garden. But unlike the other effects of sin—death, toil and work, or even pain in childbirth—male rule has been elevated and advanced as a biblical ideal by religious leaders from the early centuries to the present day. What would happen if Christians also enshrined the other effects of sin, like death for example, as we have male rule?
On the contrary, Christians consistently resist death; we oppose the thorns and thistles of labor through technology and agriculture, just as we work to improve the experiences of childbearing. Yet, male authority receives an enduring endorsement from the church, making it harder to question and challenge, without the fear of opposing God as well.
Weeks after Barna released their 20-year study showing the significant drop in women’s involvement in American Christian churches (the first drop in its history), two separate conferences were held to equip pastors in advancing male authority. Featured speakers, both popular and highly educated theologically, made an appeal to male authority based on what they perceived as a “masculine orientation” of Christian faith. Here we observe a new turn of events in the Christian patriarchal movement. These pastors believe that there is something about God’s being that is “masculine.” Why do they believe this?
They arrive at this position by drawing on the male language of Scripture. For example, Jesus was male and Scripture reveals God as father, not mother. Jesus selects twelve male disciples and teaches them to pray to God as father. Further, males are frequently noted as the leaders in Scripture. They are described as the “head” of women, and wives are described as being called to submit to their husbands. Most tragically, those pastors supporting male authority believe that Jesus submits, eternally, to God the Father.
They make this case because they wish to extend hierarchy they suppose exists within the Trinity on males and females. Hence they promote the incoherent—or inconsistent—notion of equal in being, but unequal in role, or authority. How can you be equal in being but unequal in authority? To do so renders the word “equal” meaningless. This “separate but equal” or “equal but different” rhetoric was used in the Unites States to segregate schools, restaurants, restrooms, hotels, buses, and even churches according to skin color. However, the courts decided that separate is never equal because “separate” too easily creates segregated social structures that are inherentlyunequal and unjust.
Even so, Christians employ the same flawed logic to exclude women from positions of authority in the church. To deny females equal authority not because of their character, their intimacy with Christ, or their giftedness, but solely because of gender—which is a fixed and unchangeable condition—is to create communities, organizations, churches, or marriages that are inherently unjust.
As these teachings attribute hierarchy to the Trinity, and further, connect this hierarchy to the masculinization of God, they construct the most extreme patriarchal worldview in all of church history. It is riddled with biblical and theological errors. Yet we can be thankful that decades of careful egalitarian scholarship means a reasoned response can be made.
Read next week’s Arise to find egalitarian responses to these challenges!

A Movement to Save Our Future

Renewing Gender Relations
People throughout the world are striving to create a global community based on biblical equality. The challenges are numerous, but we are making leaps toward a more equal world. One such leap will occur this November at Fullness in Christ Fellowship's conference, Renewing Gender Relations, Living Out the Fullness in Christ. CBE's president, Mimi Haddad, will be speaking at this life-changing event.
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September 11–14, 2013 Nashville, TN
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Just One Story? by Laura Buffington

This summer the word "agency" has been on my mind... Our agency is at the essence of our humanity.  Deep within our soul, regardless of the external circumstances we are born into, we all yearn for the freedom to chart our course, to have an impact. Many of us feel a calling from God that strengthens our agency and connects it to God's purposes. For those of us who find ourselves in religious contexts which still seek to restrict women's sphere of agency in the world to limited roles, finding one's life path is complicated by sorting through competing and confusing messages.  I just read this woman's story of growing up in a Christian subculture very much like my own and wanted to pass it along.  Her story, so powerful and so vulnerable at the same time, mirrors the larger story of so many women in the church. We women who were loved and nurtured by the church, who love the church, who found our life call in the church, yet we often feel betrayed by this same church which still in some places does fully embrace our humanity and agency. Laura Buffington shares beautifully the internal and external struggles of hearing and staying true to the calling she learned through the same "submission" that is often used to prescribe women's sphere in the church.  It is definitely worth the read and really humanizes the debate some  conservative christian settings are still struggling to sort through.

If you grew up sitting around campfires at camp you will definitely relate to her journey!  Thank you Kaitlin Hasserly for passing this along.

Reposting from

Today my friend Laura Buffington shares her story about growing up in the Christian church, sensing a call to ministry, and trying to honor that call as a woman. I’m inspired and encouraged and saddened and challenged by her words, and I’m grateful for their honesty and humility. Simply put, I HAD to share this–thanks, Laura, for telling your story so well and allowing me to publish it here.
This will start out looking like a story about me.  But if I tell it right, hopefully it will end up being about much more. Even our seemingly small stories have that kind of potential, to communicate something giant about who God is, and why the world exists at all, and what the Gospel has to do with bringing the two together. Sometimes our narratives, and our church’s, matter even more than we can handle.
It would be fair to say I wasn’t just raised in the Christian Church, but by the Christian Church.  If my memory can be trusted, my parents had me and my sister at church whenever the doors were open. They had been a part of the group that planted the new church near Columbus, Ohio, so our lives were closely tied to the community.  I have vivid memories of refusing to sing along during children’s church, fighting with the boys during Vacation Bible School, and honing my crafting skills in the church basement.  I certainly went through seasons where I would have rather stayed home to play, but eventually I came to love the church and to feel loved by the church.  By middle school and all the identity crises it brings, I thought of the church as a safe haven, as a place I belonged.  Like a dutiful church kid, my summers always included a stint at camp.  One year, I was given the prestigious “camper of the week” award.  The next year, I had the quintessential “come to Jesus” moment as “I Have Decided” played quietly in the background and I stepped out to come forward for baptism.
My high school years were textbook enculturation in the Christian Church.  I was moving right along the “Five Finger Exercise.”  I went to youth group every Sunday night.  Occasionally, I sang into a giant puffy microphone accompanied by cassette tape tracks for the worship service.  I served every week at the local Christian-church sponsored nursing home.  I was part of a small group for discipleship.  My summers were packed full of mission trips and Christian college conferences.  I went to public school but I gathered every September to pray around the flagpole and I looked for opportunities to bring Jesus into conversations.  When it was time for me to get my first job, I applied at a Christian bookstore and they hired me to sell Sunday School and VBS curriculum.  A large part of my growing faith had to do with my youth minister and his wife, along with other adults in the church, nurturing me and modeling faithful lives for me.  With my parents’ blessing, the older Christians around me took me into their lives, encouraging me towards maturity.

The summer before my senior year of high school, after extensive conversations with mentors and friends about all the impending future decisions, I sat around the campfire and felt compelled to attach my future to the church.  It was the granddaddy of all camp “decision time” options: Full-time Christian Service. 
For some reason, I didn’t step forward to announce it.  I simply resolved in my heart that my career would somehow involve the church.  Up to this point, I didn’t have any other ideas so this made sense.  My life had been saturated in ministry.  The people around me affirmed this decision and encouraged me. I felt an inescapable sense of calling.  Looking back now, it’s hard to know exactly where the movement of God collided with my own desires, or the pressure of other people, or the emotional power of a good campfire with acoustic accompaniment, but at the time I was convinced that the next faithful step was to train for ministry.
For all my years spent inside the circle of the church, and for all my exposure to different missions and ministries, my calling came without any specific directions.  I had no idea what job I wanted to do, or was supposed to do, depending on your understanding of where freedom ends and God’s sovereignty begins.
Up to this point, after 18 years in the church, no one had ever told me what women could or could not do in the church.  When Christian leaders and preachers made appeals at camp, or during worship, for people to give their lives to service, it was a universal call.  We were all supposed to use our gifts, surrender our lives, join the big story God is telling.  So I went by what they said and not by what I saw—which were limits and roles reserved for certain genders.  I saw women sing, but only men could speak.  I saw women prepare the communion but only men could march down the aisles to serve it.  Women taught children and men taught adults.  I knew enough to know all of this had to do with Paul’s letters to the churches.  I trusted enough to see this as the way God must have wanted things to be.  I hoped that somewhere in this established order, I would find a place to fulfill my campfire promise.

The next step towards a life of ministry seemed to be a Christian college so I ended up at Milligan College in Tennessee.  Choosing a college has always seemed like far too important a decision to leave to an 18-year old, but in my case, I think I ended up exactly where I needed to be. After years in public schools, it was both strange and refreshing to learn alongside other people of faith.  I loved the powerful experience of Christian community that is unique to the Christian college experience.   But more than anything, I loved having a safe place to ask tough questions.  We were encouraged to think about humanity, and art, and war, and faith, and what they all had to do with each other.  College is where I learned the value of asking the right questions over having all the right answers.
I loved my Bible classes.  I knew many of the stories but loved learning about authorship questions and translation issues and contextualization.  I loved learning about all the different hermeneutics we use without knowing we’re using them.  It felt like I was getting frames to put around all the great pictures the church had given me.  I learned that loving the Bible meant wrestling with the things it said.  Sometimes education and coming-of-age can threaten young faith and cast doubts and shadows onto Scripture.  But for me, Scripture became a living, breathing, choir of voices singing along to the world opening in front of me.
There were a million things I learned that had nothing to do with gender.  But since I was trying to sort out how to serve the church with my life, several gender-related conversations held my attention.

For all the Old Testament stories I had learned growing up, I couldn’t remember ever hearing about Deborah, or Huldah.  I started to appreciate how these stories of faithful women survived in a culture that thought of women as property to be traded along with the land and the livestock.
I listened carefully to the conversations about how Jesus destroyed cultural barriers by talking to women and valuing them.  I came to a new appreciation of his deep talk with the Samaritan woman at the well.  I saw new layers of meaning when he healed the bleeding woman and straightened the walk of the woman living with her head bent low.  In all my Easter mornings, I had never noticed it was the women tending to his tomb who were the first to know he was back on his feet.
I learned about the communities receiving Paul’s letters and how he tailored the nuances of the Gospel to their particular needs.  For the freewheeling, grace-abusing church at Corinth, Paul prescribed order.  For the rules-bound, grace-neglecting church at Galatia, Paul called for freedom.  I came to love how Paul always put the Gospel first.  When he had to decide between this new understanding of how God was reconciling the world through Christ and the traditional way of understanding law, he chose the new way.  When he had to decide between his own ego and reputation or the furthering of the Gospel, he never chose himself.
I learned about Paul’s co-workers and paid attention to his greetings and personal admonitions at the end of his letters.  I was surprised to meet Pheobe the Deacon, Junia the Apostle and Priscilla the co-teacher.  I imagined them getting together with the other women who figured prominently into the early days of the church, like Lydia the bi-vocational pastor, and Tabitha the mercy-worker, and Philip’s prophesying daughters.

With these new frames around the life of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the picture of the early church, I felt conflicted about the church of my youth.
I started to wonder if the Christian Church movement had tried so hard to be faithful to certain texts that they missed the beautiful complexity of the bigger story.  It seemed like so much work was going into obeying Paul’s note on keeping women from teaching but very little was said about anybody covering their heads.  When had it been decided which notes of Paul’s were meant for a certain time and place and which ones were for all times and all places? I wrestled with what it means to be a part of a church tradition so bent on restoring the idyllic days of the first century church that they sometimes forget to do what Paul actually did and translate the Gospel to the world right in front of them.
And when things got really quiet, I wondered how the church could treat me so well, and encourage me so much, but still see limits for how and where God could use me.  I never doubted, and still don’t doubt, that it’s out of an attempt to be faithful to their best understanding of what God wants.  But it made planning for the future a painful and confusing process. I knew all these questions and all this wrestling would eventually become intensely personal, as I tried to sort out what the calling by the campfire meant and how my gifts could or could not serve the church.

The first time I spoke to a large crowd was largely by accident.  I had been invited to speak during chapel and had politely refused.  Or at least I thought I refused.  Then I saw my name on the schedule to speak.  I was to deliver a “Senior Sermon,” a tradition in the school’s spring chapel lineup.  Despite my reservations, I got up and said some words.  I was sick the whole next week.  Depending on your interpretation, it was either a virus, or nerves, or God’s wrath.
I decided I needed more time, to learn and sort out what it meant for me, or for any of us, to further the story of God in our world.  I went on to pursue a Master’s of Divinity at Emmanuel Christian Seminary. As I learned and participated in the Christian community of east Tennessee, the professors and pastors, along with my friends, continued to encourage me towards teaching and preaching.  I accepted the occasional invitation to speak in chapel or to lead a class at church with some hesitation.  I knew stepping into that role came with burdens.  This is true for anyone who dares to stand in front of other people and speak to the mysteries of God but it felt particularly true as a female.  For those who supported full inclusion of women into the life of the church, I wanted to represent women well.  For those who did not, I struggled with creating conflict and having my girl-ness become a distraction from the greater purposes of gathering to hear from God.

All these tensions haunted me when it came time to find my first job.  I still wasn’t sure what kind of job description I could fit in many of our churches.  I knew there was a chance I would find myself serving a church that called me the “director” of something rather than a “minister” of anything.  I might only be able to teach high school kids or younger.  I also knew working at a bookstore instead of a church was a very real possibility.  I had watched a number of other female friends leave the Christian church for denominations that would hire them and allow them to use all of their gifts in every area of the church. In some cases, I also saw the job search lead only to wounds and bitterness.   Frozen with fear, I played an incredibly passive role in finding my first job.  Professors were kind enough to recommend me to churches and, before long, I was considering different options.  But truth be told, I only cared about one thing and it had nothing to do with being able to preach.  My only sister was dying of cancer and I knew I had to be in Ohio near my family.  That was my only condition for a job.
Through very little effort on my part, I was hired at a church in Dayton, Ohio.  Long before my arrival, this church had prayed and struggled through what role women would play in their young church.  The critical story for them was the very first one in the garden.  When they read the story, they noticed that the separation between men and women was a result of the fall, and not God’s intention.  They concluded that the coming of Christ was the ultimate do-over for creation and instead of living up to the world of the fall, the church should live up to the dream of the garden.  Women had already served as elders and had preached occasionally for their worship services.  To be in Ohio, to stay in the Christian church, and to be able to speak and preach seemed to be either an incredible stroke of luck or the hand of God.  As a seminary student, I was hesitant to speculate on which it was, but years later, I try just to be grateful.

I have now served in this church for ten years.  I’ve played different roles as the years have passed, in worship arts and discipleship.  I serve as the “preacher” for our weekend services a few times a year, as well as teaching other classes.  I have occasionally stepped into traditional pastoral roles, leading people through weddings or funerals.  But I have also learned that the official affirmation of church leadership does not end the struggle of being a woman in ministry.  Of course, ministry in itself is a difficult life for anyone, but there are issues I face as a woman that the girl by the fire never saw coming.
Even though the church affirms me in ministry, there are still cultural, perhaps even emotional, barriers for people to see me as a pastor.  I see the people who get up and leave the church when they realize I am up there to preach and not just to deliver the announcements.  More than once, I have had people from the church awkwardly introduce me to their friends as the “lady pastor.”  I have made myself available for weddings and funerals only to be asked not to do it because they wanted a male pastor.  If I get passed over for an opportunity or I’m left out of a meeting, I have to fight not to get swept up into assumptions about de facto sexism that wound me and everyone around me.
When I step outside of our church and take part in events involving the larger Christian Church movement, I hesitate to reveal what I really do at the church.  I know my life can easily become a divisive topic.  I know there are people from my home church who struggle with knowing their support led me to preaching.  I suspect they feel torn, supporting me personally but not supporting me ideologically.
This tension feels like nothing compared to the turmoil I often feel inside.  Something as small as filling out the “profession” line on forms at the doctor’s office becomes a struggle over identity.  Writing “pastor” feels somehow loaded, defiant, more complicated than paperwork should be.

When I listen in on the conversations going on in churches or online forums about the role of women in the church, I want to mourn, to battle, and sometimes hide.  On my better days, I’m at least glad the conversation is happening. So often churches settle on answers without ever going through the difficult work of holding Scripture up next to the world, and their own hearts, and letting them push on each other.  On my worse days, I find myself wanting to justify my own life and ministry.  I want to defend myself and my choices, to demand that people see me as worthy when the real truth is that none of us are.  I want to make the case that it’s exactly the submission people prescribe for me that brought me to where I am.  What do I do with the way submission brought me to leadership? What are people afraid God will do if I preach?  If I sense God on the move in my life, am I just being fooled?
There are also days when I see just how much bigger this all is than me.  I see how all of us are called to be conduits of the good news of Jesus in the world.  I see how the Gospel is written on our own lives through the work of God’s Spirit and how we are all called to tell the story.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s over a conversation, or in a meeting, or a church service.  Any one of us, on any given day, might be just the right person to proclaim the story of God at work in the world.  We may also be just the right hindrance for a person.  This is the chance God takes—to tell a perfect story through people whose only qualification is their unworthiness.  This is why the broken, beautiful church is the absolute wrong and right vehicle for a message about grace.

So if this is the call of the church, what story does our view on women tell the world about who God is and how God works?  More importantly, how does the life of the church reflect the reconciling work of God?  Are we modeling separation where we should be modeling cooperation?  What are we telling the women and the men of the world about who God calls us all to be?  Are we settling for a lesser picture of what the church can be, and ultimately a lesser kingdom than God wants to bring?
This is partly about what we should tell the young girls gathered around the fire. But it’s also about what it means for the whole world that the church is the Bride of Christ.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"It is easy to be for yesterday's change. It is quite another to make the change your own time requires." -Bill Clinton, in a speech honoring the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

This is so true, especially in the call for gender justice. As Christians, we like to think that we would have been on the right side of the civil rights struggle, but why are so many Christians still uncomfortable with the basic concept that women are fully equal in the church and the home? Why is the church so behind on so many important issues to women? Those who hold to limiting gender role theology but claim to speak for justice are for the easy change of yesterday. Confronting the ways that our own flawed theology undermines women is the hard uncomfortable change that God calls us to today. Working to uplift women worldwide from the scourge of gender violence and abuse is indeed the moral challenge of our day. That there is resistance shows where the moral edge is in God's continuing call for a higher justice.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Do You See These Two Faces of Adam in Our World Today? by Emily Nielsen Jones

Women's Liberty Bell Blog is so grateful for all the male allies that have "chimed in" this past month about how they have seen and been apart of the movement of men "stepping up" to lay aside the privileged position religion has historically given to males. (See and past postings to review the conversation.) I don't know about you, but I have always been so drawn to and touched by stories of people reaching across lines of difference to work for justice for another:  Christians hiding Jews during the Holocaust, white abolitionists fighting along side black abolitionists to end slavery, the 1% standing with the 99%, Protestants building a bridge with Catholics and vice versa, Israelis advocating for a just peace for Palestinians, the countless other examples of people/groups who have worked to transcend and dismantle an unjust ranking system which privileges one group over another.

Indeed, all of our world's great social movements which have continued to "bend the moral arc of the universe" toward justice (Martin Luther King) have been rooted in some movement of common humanity/empathy across lines of difference, a shared commitment to fight for justice not just for one's own particulular group but also for the rights and cause of another.  Without some sense of shared commitment connecting one group's struggle with the larger human struggle for Liberty and Justice for All all we are left with is separate groups vying for power and jockeying for their own rights and privileges at the expense of others.

When it comes to working for gender justice, empathy across the gender divide is what the world needs more than anything is to transcend our base we-them tendencies which see things in terms of a zero-sum gain, a gain for you is a loss of power for me.  We all know what gender battles look like and feel like on a personal level... either covertly or overtly trying to "man up" or "woman up" to get the upper-hand in a relationship.  On a collective level, gender battles are not different.  From the fledgling beginnings of the women's movement, advancements of women's sphere and rights have met resistance from men and from invisible forces in society to preserve the imbalance of power between the genders which have made females the "lesser than" gender with restricted rights, human agency, dignity, power to contribute to society and pursue life opportunities.

What is it that enables a man to transcend these "powering up" we-them dynamics and not feel threatened or diminished by women's advancement on both on a collective and an individual level?  I find it really interesting today to see the broad spectrum of different masculine "faces" responding in various ways to this particular stage of the "women's movement" where we see as a global culture a large scale commitment to gender balance as a human and social ideal to be worked toward but we also see forces of resistance every where in various forms, efforts to hit the rewind button and put some limit on what women can or cannot do, men's movements all over the world to "reclaim their rightful place as the leaders/decision-makers of the family, religious body, and society.  Change is hard, and always involves some level of backlash even as things are moving forward.  When it comes to changing deeply entrenched gender norms which govern how we all exercise are God-given power and agency and gifts in the world, change seems to be extra slow and vulnerable to backlash, regression, and either-or power dynamics.

How can we together transcend these tiring zero-sum power dynamics and find greater solidarity across the gender line to work toward a more gender-balanced world?  

What is the role of faith in transforming the women's movement from a "women's issue" into a broader movement of justice in our world?

Particularly within faith contexts, where religious gender ideology is appealed to as divine sanction for exclusive male authority models in the church and the family, without men coming along side of women in human solidarity with passion and conviction to take another look at the "sacred gender cows" which have been used by our religious traditions to justify exclusion and subordination of women, women's basic human equality will remain tenuous at best... in it's own separate category, separate from the larger stream of justice... a "women's issue" disconnected from the larger themes of scripture... a never-ending battle ground vulnerable to backlash and regression depending on the cultural and religious winds of the day.

Glimpsing Adam
If you look around the world today, we see so many hopeful signs of women rising up within highly patriarchal cultures to claim their basic human rights, heal from abuse, reclaim their voices and their full God-given human agency and potential and also work for a more just world for all.  I wrote another article which I called "Glimpsing Eve" in which I shared how I see two faces of "Eve" in our world, in and through my work with the Imago Dei Fund:  Eve Rising up to Heal Our World and Eve Victimized & Submissive.

Both faces of Eve are alive and well today.  What about Adam?  What faces does He show today in this particular moment of time where gender equality/gender balance is a presumed ideal to be worked toward in most cultural contexts yet there are signs of regression and backlash everywhere.  In my work as a donor activist and in my involvement as a Christian in our local community and broader evangelical world, I see two faces of Adam, not the literal historical figure, more so the collective masculine life force in the world.

What flavor of masculinity do you see around you?  Do you see these two faces too?  Shades of gray in between?

the beautiful face of "Adam":  a redeemed, empowering masculinity
I was recently at a gathering of pastors and their wives in Haiti (there are not many female ministers in Haiti) convened by a group called Beyond Borders which is working to create a change of consciousness around the underlying power dynamics which underlie gender-based violence in Haiti.  It was the most inspiring, very tangible conversation around everyday gender dynamics, male presumption to power in all its forms, and the vision of moving from a hierarchical to a partnership model of gender relations.  One of the people leading the dialogue was this beautiful charismatic Haitian man who was so on-board with gender equality, so passionate and winsome in his demeanor, and so refreshing in his solidarity across the gender line with women who in that society still have such an uphill battle to have an equal voice and dignity in society.

I wish I had a better picture of this man, but I carry him in my heart as a "face of Adam", a beautiful empowering picture of a redeemed masculinity which is "man enough" to share power with women, affirm our differences yet find our common humanity, and embrace each of our forms of strength without any need to dominate or power-over the other.  What stuck with me most about this man was how he was not just "standing with" women, not just supporting a women's cause, rather he was invested himself in working toward a society where men and women in very practical tangible ways can live in mutuality, shared power, and true complementarity without needing to prop up one gender over the other.  I could not help but express to him and the group how beautiful men are when they are unambiguously onboard with gender equality, not just giving lip service to the idea of it, but putting some skin in the game and showing in tangible ways their solidarity across the gender divide to create a more gender-balanced world that is not just good for women but for all humankind.

Do you see this face in the men in your life?  I do!  Thank you to you all. : )

the threatened face of "Adam":  a retrenching, powering-up masculinity
I wish I could say that my world, our world was filled with only this beautiful "face of Adam", but the reality is there are forces of gender regression in our world, mostly wrapped in religion, that seem bent on preserving the unequal gender scales which have created a whole myriad of humanitarian problems which continue to keep girls and women around the world in a subordinate, victimized place and prop up male privilege to a greater sphere of agency, respect and power in society.  Pictures speak a thousand words.  This picture and article below featuring male students in Afghanistan protesting what should be seen as a very basic bill to protect women's human rights to me captures this other face of Adam that we see in various forms throughout our world:  the threatened male who has grown so accustomed to women being submissive and subordinate and diminished that he cannot even see how he is twisting religion to preserve his own presumption to being a "higher ranking" human. AP
 22nd May, 2013

— File Photo by Reuters
KABUL: Hard-line Islamist students protested in the Afghan capital demanding the repeal of a presidential decree for women’s rights that they say is un-Islamic.
More than 200 male students protested in front of Kabul University on Wednesday against the decree, which includes a ban on child marriage and forced marriage, makes domestic violence a crime and says rape victims cannot be prosecuted for adultery.
Protester Fazel Hadi, 25, said the decree was ”imposed by foreigners” and violates Islamic Shariah law.
Conservative lawmakers on Saturday blocked enshrining the decree’s provisions in legislation.
The backlash highlights the tenuousness of women’s rights provisions enacted in the 12 years since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime.
The international force that toppled the Taliban is now preparing to withdraw.
Yes, this is an extremely scary face of masculinity struggling to preserve its place of power, but if look look beneath the surface of all of the religious "reasons" used across all faith traditions, all cultures, and across time to exclude, marginalize, or diminish women's spheres of agency in society--whether it be denying women the right to vote, to attend school, to avoid early marriage, to own property, to live free of violence, and to advance into positions of leadership however they are gifted--do not all these rationales boil down to men over the course of religious history being a little too willingly to accept at "face value" a religious interpretation which has given them an unfair advantage?  The same scene of an angry mob of men protesting women's expanding sphere of involvement has been repeated throughout the course of history.  (The very first gathering of women abolitionists (who were not even working yet for women's rights) was met with an angry male mob which burned down the building they were in justified in their "rightness" with their Bibles in hand.)

Yes, most people of faith, even those with conservative views of "gender roles" do not advocate violence.  However, in this world where gender equality is a presumed ideal and facet of our collective values, those who are advocating excluding women from leadership roles in any form based on some notion of it being "un-Christian" or "un-Muslim" or un-feminine are making a statement which to many girls and women today can feel aggressive and like a diminishment of who we are collectively as women.  Even little infringements much less egregious as this story below send ripples out into the world which if you "scale up" make women's standing in the world feel very tenuous.

May we all work to show our highest and best face to the world, both as men and as women, and seek to live in solidarity with one another creating a more just, gender-balanced world where all humans can thrive and flourish together.