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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The Dark Stories (A Tribute to Victims of Violence)

'Hejaab' photo (c) 2006, Khashayar Elyassi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I'm reposting this excerpt from A Year of Biblical Womanhood. 

 

"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you."
—Maya Angelou

I’m glad I have a biblical name.

It’s a name as old as the storied shepherdess of Paddan Aram—a woman so captivating her husband pledged seven years of service in exchange for her hand, a woman whose determination to bear children sent her digging for mandrakes and bargaining with God, a woman brazen enough to steal her father’s idols and hide them in a camel saddle, a woman who took her last breath on the side of the road, giving birth, a woman whose tomb survived obscurity, conquest, earthquakes, and riots to become one of the most venerated and contested sites of the Holy Land.

Beautiful, impetuous, jealous Rachel. Rachel who fought to legitimize her existence the only way she knew how. Rachel who, though it killed her, won.

With Rachel, I notice the details. I absorb her stories as a child does, wide-eyed and attentive, the distance between long ago and yesterday as close as a memory. And like a child, I long for more, wishing at times that I could sit beneath Anita Diamant’s fictionalized Red Tent, where Dinah learned the history of her family from four mothers—Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah—who Dinah says “held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember.”

We recall with ease the narratives of Scripture that include a triumphant climax—a battle won, a giant slain, chariots swallowed by the sea. But for all of its glory and grandeur, the Bible contains a darkness you will only notice if you pay attention, for it is hidden in the details, whispered in the stories of women.

My quest for biblical womanhood led me to these stories late at night, long after Dan had gone to sleep, and I conducted my nightly research by his side in bed, stacks of Bibles and commentaries and legal pads threatening to swallow him should he roll over. The darkest of these stories mingled with my dreams, and I awoke the next morning startled as if I’d been told a terrible secret.

Perhaps the most troubling of the dark stories comes from the lawless period of Judges.

Jephthah was a mighty warrior of Gilead and the son of a prostitute. Banished from the city by Gilead’s legitimate sons, he took up with a gang of outlaws in the land of Tob. Jephthah must have earned a reputation as a valiant fighter because, years later, when the Gileadites faced war with the Ammonites, the elders summoned Jephthah and asked him to command their forces.

When Jephthah reminded them that they had expelled him from the city, they promised to make him their leader if he agreed. The opportunity to rule over those who once despised him proved too much for Jephthah to resist. As Jephthah charged into battle with his countrymen behind him, filled with “the Spirit of the Lord” (Judges 11:29), he made a promise to God: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (v. 30).

The text reports that God indeed gave victory to Jephthah. He and his troops devastated twenty Ammonite towns, thus deterring the Ammonite king from further attacks. When Jephthah returned home, glowing with sweat and triumph, “who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines” (v. 34). She was his only child. The Bible never reveals her name.

When he saw her, Jephthah tore his clothes and wept. Surely he had expected an animal to come wandering out of the first floor of his home where they would have been stabled, not his daughter. He told his daughter of his vow and said he could not break it. The young girl resolutely accepted her fate. She asked only that she be granted two months to roam the hills and weep with her friends over a life cut short.

Unlike the familiar story of Isaac, this one ends without divine intervention. Jephthah fulfilled his promise and killed his daughter in God’s name. No ram was heard bleating from the thicket. No protest was issued from the clouds. No tomb was erected to mark the place where she lay.

But the women of Israel remembered.

Wrote the narrator, “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (vv. 39–40).

They could not protect her life, but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story—year after year, for four days, in a mysterious and subversive ceremony that perhaps led the women of Israel back to thesame hills in which Jephthah’s daughter wandered before her death. It was a tradition that appears to have continued through the writing of the book of Judges. But it is a tradition lost to the waxing and waning of time, no longer marked by the daughters of the Abrahamic faiths.

I wanted to do something to bring this ceremony back, so I invited my friend Kristine over to help me honor the victims of the Bible’s “texts of terror.”

…We prepared for the ceremony for weeks—Kristine with wood and paint, I with poetry and prose. Finally, just before Christmas, while the tree was lit and paper snowflakes hung from the windows, Kristine came over with a heavy paper bag in her arms. We sat on the living room floor with the coffee table between us and began the ceremony.

We started with the daughter of Jephthah, whose legacy inspired me to honor her the way Israel’s daughters once did. I read her story from Judges 11, followed by a short poem by Phyllis Trible recounting the young girl’s tragic end. Kristine lit a tall, white taper candle on the coffee table, and together we said, “We remember the daughter of Jephthah.”

Then Kristine read the story of the concubine from Judges 19 who was thrown to a mob by her husband, gang-raped, killed, and dismembered. I lit a tiny tea candle, and together we said, “We remember the unnamed concubine.”

Next we honored Hagar, whose banishment from the house of Abraham nearly cost her life. I read her story from Genesis 21 and a poem by Tamam Kahn titled “No Less Than the Prophets, Hagar Speaks.” For Hagar, we set aside a damask votive, which we lit before saying together, “We remember Hagar.”

Finally, we remembered the Tamar of the Davidic narrative, whose rape in the king’s house left her desolate and without a future. A heartbreaking poem from Nicola Slee pulled each of the stories together and connected them to the silent victims of misogyny from around the world. We resolved as Slee had to “listen, however painful the hearing . . . until there is not one last woman remaining who is a victim of violence.” We lit a white pillar candle and said together, “We remember Tamar.”

Then Kristine unveiled her diorama. Constructed of a small pinewood box turned on its side, the diorama featured five faceless wooden figures, huddled together beneath a ring of barbed wire. Nails jutted out from all sides, with bloodred paint splattered across the scene. Glued to the backboard was a perfect reflection of the five feminine silhouettes cut from the pages of a book. Around this Kristine had painted a red crown of thorns to correspond with the circle of barbed wire. Across the top were printed the words of Christ—“As you have done unto the least of these, so you have done to me.”

ceremony2.jpeg

 

Kristine and I talked for a while after the ceremony was over—about our doubts, about our fears, and about how sometimes taking the Bible seriously means confronting the parts we don’t like or understand and sitting with them for a while, perhaps even a lifetime. Ours was a simple ceremony, but I think it honored these women well.

Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories. They have forgotten that the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.

We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces between our hands and make them promise to remember.

***

From A Year of Biblical Womanhood. 

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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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