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