in july i had the privilege of attending a banquet at the christians for biblical equality conference in pittsburgh. i couldn’t participate in the entire conference because of my kiddos, but my daughter and i went for the evening because they gave me the “priscilla & aquila award” for standing up against gender inequality in the church. it was an unexpected surprise earlier in the year and definitely an honor. i was also grateful to hear from such passionate and dear men and women dedicated to gender equality around the world and i had the chance to share my recent story of not being able to perform a memorial service in another church because they couldn’t have a woman in the pulpit (yep, in 2013).
one of the things i loved most about the presentations i heard was that it was an international conversation. gender injustices around the world are rampant, and the question is “what is the church’s response?” how are we going to participate in change? how are we going to be the hands & feet of Jesus setting captives free? and we certainly can’t be catalysts of change if we ourselves are perpetuating systems of injustice in our own homes, churches, and organizations.
after the awards banquet i heard 5 presentations centered on diverse textures of gender equality. the group from haiti provided the best simple definition of equality i have ever heard: “equality is balancing the power between men & women”. balancing the power between us. that is equality. this gathering was centered on gender equality, but the truth is we can substitute all kinds of other differences for men & women (balancing the power between the rich & poor, privileged & unprivileged, black & white, etc.)
the outflow of that definition can always be “what can we practically do to balance the power between men & women?” equality is a verb.
i also met a new friend & an amazing wise woman who is deeply passionate about gender equality in the church and balancing the power between men and women. she shared words that i will never forget and i think are the start of how we work toward balancing the power between men & women. she said, “kathy, i always say we need to educate, advocate, agitate!”
educate, advocate, agitate.
the way to balance the power between men & women is to educate, advocate, and agitate.
educate – we have been programmed by deep grooves of patriarchy to believe that men are over women and we are stuck in this position. many people assume that’s somehow God’s plan without understanding there’s a completely different way to view the scriptures that is liberating instead of oppressing. also, when we hear the realities of gender injustices around the world, we can begin to see that our liberation is tied up with each other’s and we have an important responsibility to do something about it. we must help people understand that the kingdom of God is about “on earth as it is in heaven” and that we are called to participate in creating it, here & now. i’m pretty darn sure heaven doesn’t have half of the population underneath the other. freedom is not something we get once we die. it’s available now. that’s the gospel.
advocate – you all know i love that word! we need to stand alongside each other and advocate for one another. men with privilege advocating for women without it. women with privilege advocating for women without it. people using their voices when others can’t yet for all kinds of reasons. people telling their churches they refuse to participate in injustice. people with power sacrificing their reputations, resources, and time on behalf of those without power. our responsibility is to call out the beauty, dignity, and glory of God’s image inside of every human being, and especially the most vulnerable. when we do, that’s a taste of heaven. change will not happen when we are silent. change will not happen when we go to churches who perpetuate inequality because we like the music & the teaching. change will only happen when we stand boldly and clearly on behalf of those who can’t stand for themselves. when we advocate for change through our voices, our actions, our resources.
agitate – anytime the status quo is challenged, there’s sure to be trouble. we will be known as rebellious, trouble-makers, loudmouths, unladylike, “those liberal feminists”, you name it. i’ve come to take it as a compliment. change comes at a cost. there’s no way around it. the forces against women in this world (not just the church) are strong; there’s a horrid bent against women in almost every culture and we won’t get to new places by being quiet and hoping and praying the systems will change. the only way to something new is to stir the pot, subvert the system, risk our pride, and agitate the status quo through educating, advocating, and stepping into our passions and callings. for those of us who are people-pleasers, that’s the hardest part. we will have to live with disapproval, but it’s worth it.
elizabeth cady stanton, one of the greatest advocates for the rights of women, said this important reality that’s good to remember: “the bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s emancipation.” instead of being the ones who catalyze freedom, we have been the ball and chain.
Jesus came to set the captives free, to turn the forces of this world on its head, to break down strongholds and show us a better way was possible. he left this earth and commissioned us to carry on his work. and it won’t drop out of the sky.
we are called to play our part in balancing the power between men and women, to step into our freedom and help others step into theirs.
to educate, advocate, and agitate.