Tuesday, March 07, 2006

sexism in church

It’s blog against sexism day tomorrow, and I got a little carried away, so here is something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I’ve been doing research for a paper about the rhetoric of the Emerging Church, so I’ve been doing a bit of emergent web-surfing as well (this is even more valid here, since much of the emergent rhetoric resides on the web). One of many things I encountered was the wikipedia page about the emergent church. What concerns me about the list of leaders (which seems consonant with my other reading) is that it is all men save one. Why are such an overwhelming number of the leading voices in this movement male? This is particularly troubling because it is a movement that often presents itself as a new reformation, a voice for change and renewal, especially in American Evangelicalism. This is great. But I wonder, what is keeping women from joining in? Or, if they are joining, why don’t we hear as much from them?

A few thoughts that have come to mind to explain this phenomena: evangelical seminaries continue to be male dominated. This is a change that will take several generations to occur, and it just isn’t done yet. The emergent movement is lead primarily by pastors who were dissatisfied with the state of evangelicalism. There just are more male pastors in general, so of course more of them are disaffected. Also, women pastors are still viewed with suspicion in many of the communities that emergent seeks to reform (some of the more liberal churches, and the more liturgical ones, are already doing some of the things emergent considers groundbreaking). Because of this suspicion, trying to purport a change in the church’s understanding of its mission might be a bit too much for the authority evangelical women pastors hold. These are, of course, structural problems. And just as the majority of postmodern philosophers are men, so are the majority of theologians. Also, many of the women doing work of philosophy, criticism and theology in the past few decades are working on gender-related issues that have been ignored for so long. They are otherwise occupied.

Although this explains the lack of women’s voices in emergent discourse, it doesn’t excuse it. Perhaps there are more women like Karen Ward who need to publish their participation. Perhaps we need to afford greater attention to women who are already publishing. The men in the emergent movement have some interesting things to say, and I certainly do not want to silence them in favor of women, but I am wondering if there are women being silenced who also have good things to say. How are we to go about listening to them?


o1mnikent said...

Great post, Bethany. This subject came up in response to a post over on Pomomusings a couple years ago (back in the early days of the Emergent Church - December 17, 2004). It's at http://cleave.blogs.com/pomomusings/2004/12/central_jersey__1.html.

There's an ironic picture of beer-drinking, cigar-smoking men in a bar having a conversation about inclusivity in the emergent church. An interesting discussion follows in the comments section. Check it out.

Ron Rienstra said...


It's also worth asking, when looking at the list of Emergent leaders, where the people of color are. Given the values they espouse, we expect to see them. But not so much. I know of one particular pastor -- one who you know well, Ms. Keeley -- who has said 'sayonara' to the whole emergent conversation for precisely this reason. He's now "post-emergent." Check it here.