101 Christian Women Speakers

How NOT to use this list: 

1. Please do not wait to consult this list when you begin planning your next conference! This is not intended to help you find your “token” woman.  This list is intended to introduce just a small portion of the talent, wisdom, expertise, passion, and faith present among women in the church. For better or worse, Christian conferences are a reflection of the Christian culture and so ultimately, the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough women in the typical conference lineup; the problem is that people planning the conferences aren’t reading, listening to, and following women to begin with.  So read these women’s books.  Add their blogs to your reader. Watch the videos in the links provided. Learn about their ministries and organizations. Subscribe to their podcasts. These are scholars, activists, writers, preachers, church leaders, artists, healers, and world changers. They are already speaking; it’s time to start listening. 

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It’s a miracle any of us survived youth group…

So as I’m writing my next book—a memoir about church— I started reminiscing about youth group and all the crazy games we used to play, chief among them Chubby Bunny—a game in which several “volunteers” cram as many marshmallows as they can into their mouths and attempt to say “chubby bunny” without throwing up or choking to death. I asked on Twitter if you remember playing such games and this is what happened: 

I received more than 200 responses. You can read through my Twitter feed for more. 

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5 Reasons I’m Glad I Was Raised Evangelical

'RSDigby_1553' photo (c) 2010, Robert S. Digby - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my evangelical brothers and sisters when it comes to politics, theology and gender, but there are many reasons I’m glad I was raised in the evangelical tradition. For those of us who wrestle at times with the religious traditions with which we were raised, I think it’s important to remember from time to time the gifts those traditions gave us. These are just a few that come to my mind: 

1.  I know and love the Bible. 

Whether I was slaying the competition in a sword drill or racking up crowns and badges in AWANA, I grew up knowing my way around a Bible. The images, stories, and words of Scripture so permeated my life that they gave meaning and direction to my own story and helped me make sense of things. My evangelical upbringing taught me to love Scripture, to consult it, and to believe it. And to this day, nothing sparks my creative energy more than a difficult passage, a stack of commentaries, and a few hours to dig in. The Bible just keeps on giving; it never disappoints. While I certainly wrestle with the Bible more than I once did, it is the love of Scripture my evangelical upbringing instilled in me that keeps me wrestling,  that keeps me from giving up. I am profoundly grateful for this. 


2.  I have fond memories of being a teenager, primarily because of youth group.

Anyone who grew up in youth group will know exactly why I’ve titled the chapter about it in my next book, “Chubby Bunny.” I was fortunate to have had an amazing youth pastor—Brian Ward—who to this day remains one of my most important mentors, champions, and friends. (And who actually kinda hated Chubby Bunny.) High school can be a disorienting, angsty time, but because of youth group I made lifelong friends, I got to travel, I deepened my faith, I had opportunities to teach and lead and use my gifts, I learned to not take myself so seriously, and I learned exactly how many marshmallows I could cram into my mouth without chocking to death. I am glad so much of my identity was forged in the context of church and in the company of people who really loved me. Not everyone’s memories of youth group or of high school are as happy as mine, so I never want to take that (mostly) wonderful experience for granted. 

3.  I've always had a deeply personal faith. 

It’s often said that evangelicalism is characterized by a personal commitment to faith, and this was certainly true of my experience. The activism, the testimonies, the active prayer life, the hours spent reading the Bible—these things emerged from a deeply experiential and powerful relationship with Jesus and the church that until my young adulthood went almost totally unquestioned. (Check out Evolving in Monkey Town for the story of how things started to unravel.) I know not everyone who was raised evangelical felt that same connection to God growing up, so there may be a personality component involved, but I’ve never been afraid to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” because I’ve spent quite a lot of time talking to Jesus already. And I think it was because my faith was so personal, so deeply important to me, that I couldn't just let it go the moment I started having questions and doubts. 

4. Potlucks. 

Evangelicalism introduced me to deviled eggs, macaroni-and-cheese casserole, chili cook-offs, and lemon squares…and to hospitality, and fellowship, and the value of just showing up with a chicken casserole in hand when your neighbor is sick or grieving or lonely. The healing power of a chicken casserole should never be underestimated. 

5. Grace at home. 

I didn’t always experience grace in the church. I saw my fair share of legalism, division, and exclusion there, and, like most people, I’ve been hurt by other Christians. But there was always grace at home. Always. My parents—committed evangelicals—taught me, by example, to be compassionate, empathetic, patient, forgiving, open, inclusive, curious, and kind. They taught me to focus on the most important thing—Jesus—and to hold the rest of my theological and political beliefs with an open hand.  They gave me the space I needed to become my own person with my own faith, and they were never afraid to say, “I don’t know” when that was the truth. No parents are perfect, but mine have been pretty great. And so when I’m at a progressive/liberal Christian conference and people start bashing evangelicals as closed-minded and exclusive, I pipe up and say, “Hey, that’s my mom and dad you’re talking about.” They totally ruined my ability to paint all evangelicals with a broad a brush, and I’m glad. 


Of course, this is not to say these experiences are unique to an evangelical upbringing. Certainly you can find a love for Scripture, personal faith, deviled eggs and Chubby Bunny in other Christian traditions as well. 

So I’d like to open the floor to all—those raised evangelical, those raised Catholic, those raised Presbyterian, those raised Mormon or Jewish or even as secular humanists….

What are you thankful for about the faith with which you were raised? What positive effects did that tradition have on your life? 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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On being ‘divisive’….

'Splintered' photo (c) 2009, Steve Snodgrass - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For writers, tone is a tricky thing to get right.   

It’s also one of the most important things to get right.

And like most writers, sometimes I get tone right and sometimes I get tone wrong. As a Christian, I work especially hard to make my writing as irenic and winsome as possible, while remaining faithful to my authentic voice. Which is hard. Because my authentic voice is kinda snarky. 

But when I began writing about gender equality in evangelicalism, it became apparent to me that no matter how careful my tone, no matter how reasoned my arguments, no matter how gentle my critique, my work would inevitably be characterized as “divisive.” 

“How dare you challenge a man of God?”

“The world can’t see us disagreeing like this; it hurts our witness.”

“We should be talking about more important matters.”

“Let’s just focus on what we agree on and let these minor issues go.”

“Can’t this be settled privately and not publicly?”

"You need to calm down and stop being so emotional."

“Stop being so divisive. Jesus wants us to be unified.”

Just yesterday, when I raised some challenges about an evangelical leadership conference in which just 4 out 112 speakers were women, another writer characterized the situation as a “meltdown…from which no one has seemed to emerge more Christlike” and then issued a call for unity, complete with a prayer.

Similarly, when a group of Christians in the Asian American community recently released a letter detailing some of their concerns about common stereotypes and prejudices within the evangelical community, I saw many on social media critique this action as “divisive” and “harmful to Christian unity.” One person asked why this group had to “air the church’s dirty laundry” before a watching world?

This is a common response to those of us who speak from the margins of evangelical Christianity about issues around gender, race, and sexuality, and it’s an effective one because it appeals to something most of us value deeply: Christian unity.

Like most Christians, when I read the prayer of Jesus from John 17, my heart aches for the day when the Church will be unified, when our love for one another and for the world will be our greatest witness to the truth of the gospel message. And any time another Christian suggests I’m not doing my part to help make this happen, I feel a sharp stab of guilt.

Maybe I shouldn’t say anything.

Maybe I should just let it go.

Maybe I was wrong to bring it up.

At times, these are good instincts to follow and it’s best just to let something go. But far too often, the “stop-being-so-divisive” line is used by those in power to diffuse, or even silence, difficult conversations about why things might need to change. 

In fact, I know from speaking with several survivors that in some extreme cases, this same rationale—“You don’t want to cause division in our church, do you?”—has been used to discourage victims of abuse from reporting their abuse to the authorities.

One of the easiest ways to discredit another Christian is to label their questions,  concerns, or calls for justice as too "divisive."  

Obviously, there are issues of privilege at play here. Because the reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.  

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. And if friction is equated with divisiveness, then the powerful can appeal to Christ’s call for unity as a way of silencing critics. This was an effective strategy for white clergy who opposed Civil Rights. 

Meanwhile, those on the margins are typically working with less power, smaller platforms, thinner finances, and fewer numbers and in the face of subtle but pervasive stereotypes, prejudices, and disadvantages that make it nearly impossible to advocate for change without causing friction.

For example, it always makes me laugh when I’m told that women shouldn’t use social media to advocate for gender equality in the church, but should instead do so quietly within their own congregations. These people seem to have forgotten that social media is often the ONLY platform women have for speaking to the church! That’s kinda what we’re trying to change! And when it comes to discussing gender issues in particular, things get extra challenging because where outspoken men are often described as “passionate,” “convicted,” and “strong,” outspoken women are often perceived as “shrill,” “emotional,” “whiney,” and “bitchy.”  So women speaking about gender issues in the church have a lot working against them when public questions or critiques are automatically dismissed as divisive and whiney. 

I don’t like being divisive. Believe me. 

But I don’t like being silenced either.

There has to be a way to discuss controversial, difficult topics—even on social media—without resorting to outright hostility on the one hand or sanctimonious silencing on the other.

And I wonder if it begins with acknowledging that friction doesn't mean division.  

We Christians suffer under this rather fanciful notion that no one in the early church ever argued about anything, that the first disciples of Jesus sat around singing hymns and munching on communion bread, nodding along in perfect agreement about how to apply the teachings of Jesus to their lives.

But the epistles would suggest otherwise. The epistles would suggest that when you throw together a group of people from vastly different ethnic, religious, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds there is going to be some serious friction. Within the early church raged debates over everything from the application of the Mosaic law, to whether Christians should eat food offered to idols, to how to handle the influx of widows in the church, to disagreements around circumcision, religious festivals, finances, missions, and theology.

So when Paul urged the Ephesian church to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” he followed this with an acknowledgement of the Church’s diversity, in which there are “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

This Body is still growing, so there will be growing pains. 

But if we love one another through these growing pains, “then we will no longer be infants…instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

I suspect Paul combined this call for the Body’s unity with an acknowledgement of the Body’s diversity because he knew that unity isn’t the same as uniformity.

We’re not called to be alike; we’re called to love.

We’re not called to agree; we’re called to love.

We’re not even called to get along all the time; we’re called to love each other as brothers and sisters, as people united in one baptism, one communion, one adoption.

Maybe we need these differences to be animated, to be alive, to mature. Maybe friction isn’t a sign of decay, but of growth.

The world is certainly watching. But this doesn't mean we hide our dirty laundry, slap on mechanical smiles, and gloss over all the injustices and abuses, conflicts and disagreements, diversity and denominationalism present within the Church;  it means we expose them. It means we talk about them boldly and with integrity, with passion and with love. I suspect that talking about our differences is better for our witness than supressing them, and I'm sure that exposing corruption and abuse is better for our witness than hiding them.

And when it comes to injustice, a far more important question to me than "What will the world think if they see us disagreeing?" is "What will the world think if they don't?"

So when we find ourselves in a position of privilege in the Church, this means listening with patience to the concerns of our brothers and sisters from the margins, even when their calls for change strike us, at first, as bitter or unwelcome.  

When we find ourselves speaking from the margins, this means putting in extra effort to ensure that our challenges are issued respectfully and kindly, even when it seems exhausting and unfair to do so. And it means responding to shaming tactings (deliberate or inadvertent) by pressing on and continuing to speak the truth, even when it makes people uncomfortable.  

For all of us, I think it means abandoning the notion that unity requires uniformity and that arguments, even heated ones, mean we don’t love one another.

We are, after all, brothers and sisters. 

Let's fight like them. 

***

[P.S.: I think Jonathan Merritt responded in a helpful way to the situation by taking a few steps back and examining the overall Christian conference culture here.]

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Diana Butler Bass thinks I'm wrong (and she's probably right)

Diana Butler Bass is one of the smartest women I know. A historian with a hand on the pulse of contemporary religious culture, I admire her like crazy, so when she expressed some disagreement with my post at CNN, "Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church," my first instinct was to curl up in a ball and cry. My second instinct was to listen. Because it's Diana Butler Bass. She's probably right. 

Anyway, Diana gave a lecture on the topic which is super-informative and insightful and gently corrective. Her thesis is that “rather than being particularly unique in their generational concerns, millennials have inherited three significant sets of questions that weave throughout American religious history with some regularity. These are questions related to doubt, disestablishment, and diversity.”   

In other words, the questions and issues I raise in the post aren’t new; these questions and issues are recurring ones in American religious culture (though they have manifested themselves differently through the years) and have been inherited by my generation. This observation is really helpful because it helps me understand where we millennials are situated in the larger story of American religious history.  

So I suppose it's less that she thinks I'm wrong and more that I need a little context. Point taken!  

I learned a lot from the lecture, and if you resonated with my post, I suspect you will too. (The lecture itself is only 40 minutes or so.) 

Enjoy! 


 

 

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