educate, advocate, agitate.

educate advocate agitate

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.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy,
    Thank you so much for this post. You are so right. I have had to be the one to educate, advocate, and agitate for my son with special needs. It has been a lonely road and as you said, I am having to learn to live with disapproval. But it is already proving to be worth it. Probably the biggest difficulty is because I am a woman — I am seen as a bit of a “trouble-maker” because I refuse to accept the status quo. Thank you for your reminder that advocating for the true gospel message is not only the right thing to do, but the commission that Jesus gave us.

    • Hi Sheri,

      I have a disability. It’s great that you are educating, advocating, and agitating for your son. I encourage you to teach him how to do that for himself!



    • Hey Sheri,

      I have a disability and I am familiar with the fight that is needed for equal oppportunites fomr people with disabilities. I am an adult so big enougth to fight for myself. Being different is lonely, I wish as kid I had someone to fight for me. But the disabilty I have with dyslexia wasn’t recognised then so I was regarded as being lazy which my paernts thought too. So I know how valuable it will be to your son to have you to fight for him. Thankfully for many kids today, disabilities are recognised which they weren’t when I was growing up.

      I don’t think the issue is because you are a woman, thouhgt I understand it will feel like that for you. I think the biggest issue is prejudices against disability. And in that light anyone can be seen as a trouble maker – I know I have. I’ve learnt to have a survival sense of humour about this and know when to see that I am being perceived as a trouble maker as a compliment! Of course, it could be the case that I am actually being a trouble maker – I’m not perfect yet!

      I hear what you say about being worth it. I am on my way to fifnishing a Masters degree in a few months. There’s no way that I would have been able to do this without the diagnosis of dyslexia and the support I have got. It will be a proud moment when I finish. I intend to take a long braek. Hang in there with your son, it will be worht it. Sometimes the folks with “special needs” are the geniuses that are overlooked at times *wink*

      • Thanks, Adam. It always encourages me to hear from adults with disabilities who are thriving! My son is definitely one of those “geniuses” like you! Congratulations on completing your masters!

        • Sweet – a feww weeks to go on the dissertation yet before the masters ins completed, so pressur on for that but thanks! I’d love to hear how your son is doing sometime 🙂

    • thanks, sheri, for sharing. i am so glad he has you for an advocate; indeed, that is a lonely hard road with so much push-back and resistance along the way.i have several dear friends in the same boat and they embody the meaning of “advocate” in a very special and powerful way. peace and courage to you as you using your voice on behalf of change.

  • Kathy, thank you for your voice! We at CBE Houston Chapter are so proud to have you expand on our motto: Educate, Advocate and AGITATE!!!!

    • Mabel, when I read that phrase I thought that sounds like CBE HOUSTON! Your group is outstanding – thanks for all you do to stand up for women.

      • yes, they are an amazing group, and it was a privilege to meet mabel and shirley taylor. her new book “dethroning male headship” is on my list.

    • it was such a gift meeting you, dear mabel, and it encouraged my soul more than you know! look forward to hanging out with you guys at some point so i can keep learning from you, too. keep stirring the pot and influencing change! God is using you in all kinds of wonderful ways.

  • Great mantra for resisting injustice everywhere! Educate, advocate,agitate. I totally agree….and CONGRATZ on being a recipient of CBE’s Priscilla award. YAY !! So loving that you are being honored and that your influence and voice are expanding. I have been a long time Kathy fan and totally CELEBRATE the woman and leader that you are. Can’t wait to see what is next for you!!

  • I too as you know am passionat about this kind of thing. I am curious about one thing which I must bring up and I wonder if this is a cultural thing. When I hear discussions about gender equality from folks like yourself Kathy from the satates it is always inthe light of men being in power and needing to be advocates for women and the assumption that this is so. That the evil here is partiarchalism. Well, in a culture of ptriarchalism and where women have victim status, then it is easy fo forget that the issue is about abuse of power, and that a woman in power is every bit as likely to be abusive as a man. Crime statistics in the UK suggest that one in three cases of domestic abuse are conducted by women. In Scotland the figure is 17%. This is not insignificant.

    I agree with what you say Kathy, about the balance of power us all having a part to play in stepping into freedom and helping others step into thiers. You have mentioned how valuable it has been for you to receive advocacy from somenone in a position of power when you were not in such position. It is understandable why you are passionate to be that person in a position of power to be an advocate for others.

    I have shared before that I have been on the receiving end of sexism with a leader being abusive and saying that what she was doing was prophetic, being supported by her the pastor in that, which resulted in me leaving the church. And how 6 sessions of compassion therapy and meditation helped for me with healing from that, that I am now finding in fulfillment in activities outside of chuch and have moved to a different chuch with stronger boundaries for myself which is going OK.

    What helped me along the journey with thea Kathy was your brave risk of sharing something that could have resulted in you being disliked or judged. I appreciate the
    courage and humility it took to confess and risk being judged and not liked her
    what say about “when i was on a big rocking church staff, i remember the high of feeling so much better than everyone else”. You mentioned things happened in leadership that you were part of that were not OK and were overlooked
    because they were being done for “the sake of the kingdom” causing people to
    have “big gaping church wounds” and being worn out by “church elitism”. to have that acknowledged was healing and freeing for me. As was something someone shared on Gavid Hayward’s blog whane she confessed to having been an abuser. And mentioned that it took for her to be abuse to realise what she had been doing, to experinc being on the receiving end of that, and her asking for forgiveness. She mentioned that it takes a miracle for someone in that positon to realise what they have been doing.

    Having reflected on this, I considered what the bible had to say about such painful things. We will remeber that when Adam and Eve sinned, the consequences were pain. For her it was pain in childbirth, for hom is was pain in his work. They were both afraid in the presence of God when he asked them how they knew they were naked. And that Adam would rule over Eve and Eve would desire meaning she would want to control Adam. So what do we have, thoughout histroy, humankind has predominiantly been patriarchal and women if you are honest you have wanted to control. Brene Brown talks about her research and the purposes of doing so is to control and predict.

    It is easy to forget with humanity having a history of patriarchalism that the core issue is about power and abuse of power, the sinful nature of the ego, rather than gender. And such can be men over men men over women, women over women or women over men.

    I just yesterday, needed to take a day off fomr my college work because of an abuse of power from a member of staff. What she did brough back all the feelings that I had expereinced in the church that i menitoned. I am better equipped now to deal with such with compassion and connectedness with God through meditation.

    It is a lot easier to point the finger at others in their abuses than self. I must add that I am ex- Air Force and some of the conduct that would be considered necessary examplary in thiat context and worthy of honour is in a civilain environment hurtful and abusive to others. I first of all had to be compassionate to myself to be able to to be compassionate to others. And I needed the 6 therapy sessions to be enabled to to that. So like the lady I spoke of who confessed, it needed someone esle to make me aware of what I was doing that was damaging and the therapy to become aware of what I coulf do to take care of myself and be tht for others with compassion. It doesn’t mean that life gets any easier neccessarilty, and in some ways life has got harder as a result. But it is better than before.

    I hope that I have been part of others freeing, healing and equal power sharing journeys as others as I have described here have been for me. It ha been my intention to be so thought the expereinces I have shared :).

    Keep up the good work of equality, fighting for each other, power sharing, mutual edification and mutual submission Kathy!

  • Thank you for sharing Kathy,

    When I think of how power has been diesired and exercised in ways that are not helpful, my thoughts go to this quote:

    Not necessity, not desire — no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything — health, food, a place to live, entertainment — they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied. Daybreak. Nietzsche

    The love of power, people with it wanting to keep it, people without it wanting it and everyone wanting more power. Something I think is ironic about the States being the most powerful nation in the world is that even with that I hear of people wanting more power. Christopher Hitchins called this kind of thing “quaint”.

    My mind goes to a couple of films: Michael Douglas Wall Street “Greed will save … that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA”. Demi Moore Disclosure “I am a sexually aggressive woman and I like it, Tom knew it and you can’t handle it“.

    What is common with both of them? Sure there is independence, freedom and power in both with what is being expressed. And with that, is there love, is there connection, belonging with others? Lies are most convincing when they are dressed up with elements of truth and appeal to the senses. Greed or having power over another whether expressed sexually or on other ways will not save America. Participating in either of these is a path to fear, pain and power struggles and missing out on love and connection.

    The apostle Paul was concerned about such in the conduct of Christians at the church at Corinth. He wrote, “I am writing to you that you must not associate with
    anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy”. (1
    Corinthians 5:11).

    I appreciate where you are coming from Kathy with balancing power, stepping into freedom and helping others step into theirs. And the comments from other women show that what you say is resonating. Brene Brown is another who with the way people are responding is showing that she too has influence in terms of women’s empowerment. It is important at the same time to remeber that this is not an issue of gender, but about abuse of power. Also I’m not hearing anythign about love being expressed.

    I agree with you Kathy about the need for advocacy. And in that where advocacte in one of the clips says “Ms Johnsone the only thing you have proved is that a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man”.

    Nietzsche said
    “He [or she] who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself [or herself]; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you.”

    You mention men with power and women with power being advocates for women wihtout power. There isn’t any provision in that for equally adressing men not in positions of power. As Sheri has shared about her son, it is not always women that are the victims of abuse. Let me ask you a few questions, do men deserve less than what you are advocating for women? And if they don’t deserve less, then why are you not being as strong an advocate for men who are without power as you are for women who are without power?

    One thing that you have mentioned in the past that has won respect fomr me has been the mentione you made about being a pastor and “when i was on a big rocking church staff, i remember the high of feeling so much better than everyone else” things that were not OK were overlooked because they were being done for “the sake of the kingdom” causing people to have “big gaping church wounds” and being worn out by “church elitism”.

    If every leader and person in a positon of power were to show self awareness as you had expressed then and then used their positions of privelidge to serve others rather than their own egos then there would never be any need for any concern over power. If all of us get in touch with perfect love and live with each other according to that, wearing and employing God’s armour and power then we will be in a lot better place. Let’s look to love and serve one another.

    Glad to hear about how things are going with The Refuge, I hope you and Phyillis are finding what you do there fulfilling and that your new book is going well.

    Kind Regards


    • thanks adam,for sharing your thoughts. it’s always important to note that when i write a post about women’s equality, i am probably not going to focus on every aspect of equality, too. that’s not the reality of an 800 word blog-post. i am never talking about stripping power from one to give it to the other to use and abuse. i am always talking about balancing the power between people, not just men and women, but all groups where power is imbalanced and not a reflection of the kingdom of God.

      • And thank you for your reply. My understanding from your response is that you would beliver that men dereve such attention and that your reason for focussing on the needs for women without power is because of that being your focus. And that you are for a blance of power between all groups of people.

        Since writing my original comment I have had a couple of thoughts. In the interest of equality in a culture of patriarchalism then we doo need greater focus on the needs for women given that it more often is women who are worse off and I can appreciate this being behind your focus.

        At the sme time, I recall you shring as a woman, needing the advocacy of men given that men were in posiitions of power that you weren’t and therefore able to do what you weren’t to meet your needs. I oftern feel powerless in spite of what is said about men being in positions of power and privelidge. And I appreciate the position for men as well as women equally. If you are ever in a situation again where you find yourself in a position where you need man to be in advocate for you I would like to be enabled to do that for you or for women who find themselves in similar situations. There are some people who woud argue for differening roles between men and womn and it not being a place for women to lead men. If the forcus is on needs for women, I can see how that would play into their argument of ledership fro women being restricted to other women and children. And I woudl like to be in a stong position to argue in avoccy for you against that given that as a an apparantly I am in a position of power and privelidge to do so where you would not be according to what you have said, or likewise for women in similar situations. I don’t have and “game plan” for this if you like, so I would be coing for a position of wekness not strength to such a scenario. And I woudl liek to engage in such with strenght and confidence in the interests of equality.

        Does that make sense?

  • Love this Kathy! So good to have you back. Your thoughts on gender issues always make me think and evaluate where I am and where the church is. Thanks for challenging the status quo!!


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