Breaking Glass Steeples in a Man’s World (I was Published @Relevant!!!)

This post is associated with my first published article for Relevant Magazine, which was released yesterday: The Rise of Evangelical Feminism 

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It was a sunny afternoon in Virginia Beach at the beginning of 2014. As routine, I was picking up a Starbucks for the church secretary and myself so we could sit and gab at the office. A year and a half prior I had finally accepted “my place” in the evangelical church as a children’s pastor.

I had never felt called to be a children’s pastor, but I had student loans to pay back from seminary, and it had become clear to me that I was not “God’s man for the job,” as many job descriptions would boldly declare over pastoral positions outside of children’s ministry.

As I sipped on my vanilla latte, I received a text message from a college friend. “Have you heard of Rachel Held Evans? She is a blogger who advocates for women in ministry. I thought you might care to know, since she is doing what you want to do someday.”

I had tried blogging years prior, but only my parents read my posts, so I gave up. Yet, in that moment, I had no idea that Christian women were out there on the front lines advocating for my freedom and equality of opportunities in the evangelical world.

I had grown weary with the Church and was spiritually dead inside. I loved my team of women volunteers as a children’s pastor and sought to be a good leader, but I struggled with the fact that I had a master’s degree in biblical studies and my male bosses did not. I swallowed my dignity every day.

I felt like I wasted my life pursuing ministry.

It is a man’s world, but it was either be a children’s pastor or wait tables. I was nitched. All my education and training was in ministry/theology and the Church was not taking me seriously because of my gender (something I have not control over).

I wanted to preach and teach the Bible to adults (if even young adults), but that was not my place, evidently.

Towards the end of 2014, I decided to take a major risk. I quit my children’s pastor job, gave up my title and paycheck, and began my own ministry online advocating for gender equality in the Christian Church.

I dusted of my master’s thesis, in which I used the Bible as my primary source to prove that women were called by God to serve at all levels of Church leadership. I channeled my inner Christian feminist, put on my warrior armor, and joined the online world of evangelical feminism (find my ma thesis under “about me” on my blog).

I ran into General Rachel Held Evans out there on the battlefield and asked her why she continues to advocate for gender equality in the evangelical church, even though she “searched for Sunday” and found a new home at the Episcopal Church. She said,

Evangelicalism gave me many gifts, so I will always be invested in that community. (After all, it was the community that first introduced me to Jesus!) There are a lot of people doing good work to advance gender equality within evangelicalism, and I want to continue to support those efforts and be a part of them myself. I get too many emails from too many women who have suffered under the weight of gender inequality in their marriage and churches to simply let it go. Also, just because mainline Protestant traditions typically support women in leadership doesn’t mean those women never face gender-based discrimination and expectations in that environment. So there’s a lot of work to do, no matter where I worship on Sunday mornings.

Rachel is right, since I began my advocacy I have heard from many female ministers in the mainline church who are being treated unfairly. In fact, statistics show the gender pay gap among female clergy is worse than the national average (see post below).

http://tobingrant.religionnews.com/2016/01/12/gender-pay-gap-among-clergy-worse-than-national-average-a-first-look-at-the-new-national-data/

Unfortunately, gender inequality in the evangelical church is not just a problem in the United States. Sarah Bessey, Canadian author of Jesus Feminist, is another soldier for this cause. When I asked her why she bothers, she said,

The Church is often a mirror of the culture and since our culture continues to be caught in the lie of patriarchy in ways big and small, the Church has absorbed cultural mores and almost baptized them in sacred language. But to me this is also a deeply spiritual issue. I believe that there are a few things holding back the Church from embracing full equality and almost all of them track their way back to fear and to a love for power and control at the root. I believe that until we really root that lie of scarcity, that lie of fear, that lie of power and control and pride from our hearts that we will continue to cling fast to a system that is actually the antithesis of God’s dream for us.

Evangelical feminist, professor, and author, Carolyn Custis James, echo’s Sarah’s concerns when I asked her about how patriarchy hurts men too:

Patriarchy is equally harmful to men and boys, putting them in ravenous conflict with each other for supremacy on battlefields, in boardrooms, on the political stage, in athletics, and even in the Church. Experts link patriarchal definitions of masculinity to violence, wars, and the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS. Millions of men and boys are trafficked today for sex, forced labor, and soldiering. Men and boys are humiliated and stripped of dignity globally by injustice. 

Male evangelical feminist and author, Zach Hoag told me,

I can’t deny the prominent place that women have in the Jesus story: how Jesus seems to break cultural norms and boundaries and treat them as equals.

Evangelical feminist, Kate Wallace, co-founder of egalitarian blog The Junia Project, adds her biblical two sense,

Right now the evangelical church seems to be known for what we stand against and who we exclude. I pray that the Church can live more fully into who God wants us to be – a people who care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the prisoner. A Church that acts out of love and not fear. I pray we can be a Church whose leaders are less concerned with wielding authority over others, and more concerned with loving others. A Church that raises up both its sons and daughters to preach the Gospel to all nations. A Church that recognizes and utilizes the gifts of all its members, and not just those whom the world favors. I pray that instead of creating a hierarchy among God’s people based on race, socioeconomic status, or gender, we would recognize the words of Galatians 3.28, that “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The evangelical church is walking with a limp, as half of our members are being limited to some degree, and it is urgent that we address the problem in our local and international ministries. Evangelical feminists are doing just that and our movement is certainly on the rise as Christian women and men join forces and challenge the status quo.

Perhaps like me, you sip your latte today as a female evangelical minister who has allowed church politics to put you in an ill-fitting place. Maybe you are afraid of the words “evangelical feminism,” but I am here to tell you that we have coffee here too, and it is fair trade! 

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18 Comments

  • Dear Jory,
    anne+i celebrate God’s favor in your life, and we affirm your heart and passion for full functional equality for women. We pray many hear your voice and prophetic message- especially church leaders. And we pray God’s kingdom advances as women and men humbly walk together, side-by-side.
    Hugs from Colorado,
    tim+anne evans

  • Jory, this was excellent. I don’t typically respond to blogs , but I felt compelled to do so today given I have no other way to communicate with you more privately. I hope you’re okay with the length and reflections I intend to share here:

    I appreciate and perhaps understand a little of your drive, enthusiasm and conviction. There was a time when I was younger that I, too, possessed zeal and focus to remain steadfast in sharing my convictions within the Evangelical community. In fact, my husband and I did so for over 30 years. There is a lot of history there! Never did I understand how serious of an impact though this decision would be until our children grew up. Four adult kids later, I’ve watched and listened to their reflections of having been immersed as young people in this camp, where tremendous bias towards women and gays reside, alongside of other damaging issues of literal interpretation arose (especially science). To be authentic, my husband ( a physicist) and I (educator) had to ask ourselves why we hung in there for so long while varying degrees of subtle damage was done to our kids in their formative years while faithfully attending and participating in this community. Believe me, we have had to do a lot of damage control and soul searching. With that said, and to be truthful, it also wasn’t all bad all the time, but the oppression of people groups / stringent fundamentalism occurred even when “good” and “life giving” experiences were occurring in the end did not, did not…in our opinion now, justify our decision to stay, endure and press on to try to be an influence and agents of change. Looking back,we both agree the cost was too high. One of our adult kids even mentioned it was neglectful to not have removed impressionable children from such an environment when in fact, we did not as adults embrace those key elements of the church – women’s roles, inclusion of the gay community, literal intrpretatonnof scripture. Our response was we embraced the people the other elements and we could be more effective within the camp (so we thought) that it seemed to justify the choices at the time. Praise God our adult kids are forgiving, and wiser and smarter for the experience but I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. My husband and I concluded our pride and fear of losing community kept us in the evangelical world. Mind you, to leave eventually was still a huge decision. My husband was raised in a large family on a mission field, and his family of origin is bonded to this community with superglue. But finally we did leave. After much denominational searching we (like Rachel), found the Episcopal denomination fit our understanding of God better than any other expression. It majored in inclusiveness, not just people groups but also the inclusive use of our minds. Now we could fully communicate our thoughts, concerns and opinions and most importantly, love the Lord with all of our being including – our heart, our soul, and our MIND. Within this community we are more effective and experience tremendous peace, that inspires and energizes us, even while being on the outside of the Evangelical tribe, we reach back into this world to provoke change. We love people there and value all that was positive. An example of working from the outside, is that we are very involved with The Reformation Project (Matthew Vines). I share this personal reflection because I find your journey and blogging intriguing. And as I inferred, I / we can identify with many statements you write about. However, I hope you consider giving your strategy further thought, especially as time marches on. You may actually be more effective from outside than from within.
    Peace + Grace to you…and your husband.

  • The problem with the term “Evangelical Feminism” is that the “Word of God” is not compatible with such. Just because the USA has embraced feminism does not mean that is morally correct. The Holy Bible and for sure the New Testament is loaded with scriptures that oppose this mindset. Everyone has the power of “free will”; however, the Almighty does not allow for us to overthrow His Word and His wisdom. Women are of equal value to men of course, but they have different roles and in this sense men and women are not equal. A person has to twist and force the words in the Holy Bible to get it to say what feminists are forcing it to say. These are simple basic truths that I am able to easily back up.

    • @ Mickey McConnell…interesting take but the Word of God is not compatible with patriarchy either…the fact that every “ism” around the world is based on patriarchy is suspect don’t you think? After all, do you really believe patriarchy is God’s will? Do you then admit that Islam, Hinduism, Communism etc. are all God’s will because they all support male “headship”? Is it not more in line with the fall of man in the Garden that patriarchy came about and infiltrated the whole earth. It certainly isn’t God’s will that we remain in the fallen state…so what do you think happens when a man or woman ‘returns’ in repentance to God IN CHRIST? As a new creature are we to go on living as the rest of the world does emphasizing universal EARTHLY manhood and womanhood?

      Please don’t tell me you think I am of equal value to you…that is truly twisting the meaning of equal if you say I am equal to you while you require that I have to be a contortionist and become all that YOU say I am to be instead of a creation of God in HIS image, just like you. Where is Biblical womanhood and manhood defined in the Bible?…I find nothing of the sort…but rather the individual communication directly from God to every women in the Bible with no involvement of father, brother, husband…no other mediator. God always ignores the men in a woman’s life throughout the old and new Testaments, when He communicates with women.

      In fact, the culture that has gotten into the church is actually patriarchy, not feminism…feminism is just God’s way of highlighting the error of patriarchal domination and oppression. Patriarchy is the ongoing cultural disease that will not leave the church even though we are now new creatures in Christ…in fact you will not allow women to be new creatures, but just the same old, same old creatures we were under Satan….no ‘BROKEN DOWN WALLS OF PARTITION’ broken down by Christ…no sir. Keep those walls up high, dividing men and women and retaining the enmity between despite what Christ did…make sure we keep DEFINING male and female…we will have none of the work of Christ that says THERE IS NEITHER MALE NOR FEMALE….no we must keep that emphasis on gender DIFFERENCES despite the work of Christ to remove it…why do we bother with Christ for we don’t listen to Him or accept His work in this respect anyway?

    • The Word of God is Jesus… The Bible is scripture and it drives us to Him. Try using a cruciform hermeneutic when wrestling with scripture–you’ll be surprised where you end up.

      • Yes, I wrestle with this. I know that Jesus is the Word of God, but I think there is room to call the Bible the written Word of God. Maybe I will change on this view though, as I progress.

    • You know Mickey McConnell what God values more than “correct theology” is a heart for Him and truly thinking of others as equal. When there is a but in the sentence such as in yours and the term “different roles”, that is the to say that anything else is unimportant to you.

      Women are not your equals, they are lesser to you and that is something God never intended. The original intent of God’s plan was for women and men to have equal roles. You talk about the world, look at those who are lost or just around the world, they think the same as you and really other countries without Christ think as you do.

      So who is more Christ minded and who is more with the world, it looks as if your view falls in the worldly category. Thanks but no thanks.

      • Oh and yes I can easily prove my point by reading the Bible from front to back and not just cherry picking a verse here and there making theology come from it.

      • A missionary I would strongly suggest everyone read is Lottie Moon, missionary to China. She was an incredible lady who understood what the Bible said on women and while respecting her denominations wishes, also went with what scripture taught concerning women and freely shared her frustration through her letters. She died because of her giving spirit and had more courage than anyone I have ever read. She is my hero and she will be someone I will be conversing a lot with in heaven. Incredible woman of God.

  • @K.B. yes…the abusive nature of fundamentalism is tragic, without a doubt. So many damaged souls are its heritage. It is good that you got out of the ‘disparaging’ organizations that go against the teaching that ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are IN Christ Jesus”. Too many people have been assaulted with blaming and shaming in light of the fact that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. The institution will miss so many of us in the future…and that is a good thing! Christ still builds His church, and better it is, without our interference.

  • Jory, I love your story and have read it in a few different ways since I’ve known you.

    As women and men rise again and again, making the choices to eschew cultural mores dressed as theological standards, change is coming. I thank God for you and for others who courageously determine to live according to the reality of His truths. Change is coming. People are reading beyond the broken interpretations of the Word, and into the heart of God… I salute you and so many others who are orchestrating the change.

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