say something.

Oh, it’s not worth rocking the boat about.

It’s not that big of a deal.

They’re doing the best they can.

They aren’t going to change anyway.

I don’t want them to think bad of me.

I don’t want them to think I’m bitchy or petty.

I don’t want them to stop respecting me.

I don’t want them to ___________ (you fill in the blank).

These are just a short list of things that often rattle around in our head about speaking up when we notice something about equality in our churches or organizations.

I’ve thought all of them at some point (and a whole lot of other ones, too).

I spent so many years staying quiet. Toeing the line. Being a good follower.

Honestly, it did serve me well in many ways because I was more “liked” in the systems I was in and received a lot of kudos for my “good-Christian-woman-ness”.

Over the years, I have so many stories of inappropriate comments made to me about looks and gender, inuendos, of male power dominating decisions and not for a moment considering women and others from the margins, and of down-right sexist moments.

And honestly, for many years, I never spoke up.

I smiled, absorbed the shame, and remained scared to say anything because I didn’t want the repercussions. For a woman in the evangelical church, I had it pretty good in terms of leadership, and was just thankful for the opportunity to do what I loved. I didn’t want to jeopardize that in any way.

Oh, I know so many other women in that same situation. Crumbs are better than nothing. Being part is better than being excluded entirely. We’re pretty sure the grass isn’t greener.

Fortunately, over time, I knew I couldn’t just sit there anymore.

I had to say something.

When I started speaking up and out and rocking the boat a bit, there wasn’t a warm response. No one overtly told me to be quiet but I could feel the chill. I could feel the awkward silence. I could feel my golden Christian girl glow begin to fade.

But oh, I’m so glad I started saying something when it needed to be said.

Things like,

“When you talk about women like that, it is really offensive.”

“Where are the women in this lineup of speakers?”

“I want to share how that feels to those of us who aren’t in your inner circle.”

“Have you thought through what saying ‘But we let women lead’ implies?”

“I’m not sure you are aware of how disrespectful your introduction was.”

“It is so painful when I see how women aren’t included.”

Every single time it was–and is–uncomfortable. 

And every single time there’s been some kind of temporary cost–maybe not being invited again, being axed off the A list, an uncomfortable silence, hearing through the grapevine that negative things were shared about me.

But every single time I know that it’s worth the cost.

Jesus was clear that kingdom of God doesn’t come cheap or easy.

And it won’t come from silence about issues of inequality.

If we don’t say something, things won’t change.

They just won’t.  

Many leaders and groups are truly unaware of the realities of inequality because they haven’t had to be; homogeneity has been a very efficient tool for systems.

Things are shifting, though, and there is definitely a change of tide in the right direction. More groups are noticing their lack of diversity and making conscious efforts to shift it. I’m so glad.

However, while we should celebrate any inroads toward greater equality, it’s critical to not rest on our laurels and assume we’re “there.” Hierarchy and power are still the name of the game, and a big part of the Christian empire has a theology that keeps women underneath men (and almost all underrepresented groups underneath as well).

The stained glass ceiling is real.

This past week I saw something on Facebook that I knew I needed to speak up about. Every single one of those thoughts I listed at the beginning of this post rattled through my head. I seriously thought of just ignoring it, not getting involved, letting it go.

But then I considered that it’s quite possible that if I didn’t say anything, no one else would. Not in that particular circle of leaders.

So I gulped, and sent a message to some friends I knew who were involved.

I’m so glad I did.

It was received with conviction and humility.

Plus, I discovered another amazing female leader I deeply respect said something, too. Knowing we weren’t alone in saying something was comforting to both of us.

The reason I wanted to write this post wasn’t just to encourage everyone to “say something” when confronted with these issues of inequality, although that is my hope.

I also wrote this post to remind myself that it’s worth it.

That speaking up even when it is uncomfortable is how we will get to another place.

That sucking it up like I used to was damaging to my soul and didn’t help anyone else, either.

That a whole lot of men and women “saying something” is how the tides will keep turning.

God, give us courage when we know we need to say something but we are afraid. Help us push through our fear and just say it.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

18 Comments

  • So good and timely for me. Thank you.
    I would add for my own life, “God, give me the humility to receive the hard words when I speak or do something insensitive or marginalizing to others. Let me have a heart to always listen, learn, grow.”

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  • I don’t know about gender equality – as patriarchy is so entrenched in Asia that a lot of us just stop noticing, shockingly – but for me, it was always the money issues. How horribly the church uses the money entrusted to them. How they manipulate for me. I’ve kept quiet thinking that if I rock the boat, my life would be hell, people would hate me etc. But I find that even if I do something, people will plug their ears and go lalalalala. People want to be happy with their illusions. Still, I do my tiny bit with my writing, and hope that somehow one day it’ll reach someone. Someday. 🙂

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  • Most people think gender issues are women’s issues (and they are), but they are men’s issues just as much because men often remove themselves from the conversation and want to preserve the status quo ignoring women in the process. A lot of men do not want to face what is going on with inequality and are addicted to a male gender stereotype of oppression, control, and arrogance. I want to say that male gender stereotypes are bullshit! My own father tried to teach me patriarchy in the way he lived as a “faithful Catholic” with five daughters. It was totally unfair how he treated my sisters differently. As I have grown up, I do not want to follow his path in his “male gender stereotype” as I have chosen a way of humility, vulnerability, hospitality, simplicity, compassion, love, solidarity, equality, and community – in which I have had to create boundaries with him that have taken a lot of courage. As a result, he sees me as a failure and unacceptable to what he wanted as a son. This has caused deep sadness and grief in me over the years, but I have accepted that this is who my dad is and I can’t change him. I did not ask for him as a father, but I guess you don’t get to pick who your dad is. But I am much more myself by not following in my father’s footsteps sad to say. I do not want to be anything like him. So I would say I have a lot of issues with men, being a man myself, it is hard to deal with men, connect with men, and have compassion and love for men! One time I said to my dad, “Why don’t you treat your wife with a little bit of kindness.” He immediately got in my face yelled at me, swore at me, degraded me telling me that I knew nothing about life and to just stay out of it. But what he doesn’t understand is that I cannot just sit there while he emotionally abuses my mom and be okay with that.

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    • At least you grew up with your dad, some of us weren’t so fortunate

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      • This is such a dismissive statement. What Mark went through with his father’s rejection doesn’t need to be compared to other people’s losses and it is not any less significant.

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        • isn’t your comment dismissive of my experience? That’s unavoidable to be honest.

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          • well, because it’s really so important to keep this space as safe as possible, i am going to say that the comment that you made, mark f., was painful to read because mark v. shared his heart out here publicly in such a tender way. if we were in a group together, we’d all sit and thank him for sharing and the next person could share. it would be inappropriate for anyone in the group to say back to him, “well, at least you grew up with your dad” as that would invalidate everything he shared and he would probably never want to come back to the group again! i get where you are coming from and what you were trying to communicate but i do believe a more honoring way to say it, for both of you, is to honor mark v’s sharing and share what it stirred up for you personally because that’s what the point. that’s the part of sticking with “I” that’s so important. i personally think we’re all always learning these things and none of it is masterable, but i do want to honor that when statements get made like that, it shuts down sharing in whatever context it is. i’m glad you are here.

          • This is me being the me kind of person that I am and I feel like I know enough about where you are coming from to know that it is most definitely a good place. Yes my comment was short and to the point but it was no less heartfelt than any other comment on here. I do hurt and have massive gaps due to not growing up without my dad and of course taking it out on someone else is not the best I admit. Apologies for my frustration out loud (oh the joy of online forums)

    • mark, thank you so much for sharing this tender part of your story. it is so hard to be continually faced with it and not have an easy way around except for to keep being as authentic you as you can–which so often does come with fallout. it always reminds me of the ongoing healing we are all in the midst of and how beautiful it is, and how hard and oh-so-brave it is, too. i also love you pointing out that women’s issues are men’s issues, too, and that we’re all tangled up together.

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  • “They aren’t going to change anyway.” Often that is true. In recent years however, some of “them” have figured out that not changing can mean they won’t be able to pay the bills (often their own paychecks), so they must at least pretend they’re changing.

    For too long we stayed and tried to speak up and bring change. They pretended to listen, but our very presence was interpreted to mean that what they said and did was somehow acceptable. Otherwise we would leave. Now that the church in the USA is experiencing large losses in people and money, some are changing, but it seems to me that many are only pretending to change in an effort to stem the losses. This is shaping up to be a case of doing too little, too late.

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    • yes, i think there are some situations where that is most definitely the case and it’s just not worth the effort at all. it will just end up as wasted effort. it’s a fine line i knowing where to push and where to let go, i think, and probably looks a little different for each person. there are certain situations i won’t even put myself in at all anymore no matter what because i know how they go. and then there are other ones where i believe there’s a spirit of openness and humility and there just needs to be some pushing & saying something & modeling some possibility 🙂

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  • In Rising Strong Brene’ Brown defines vulnerability like this: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” Speaking up/being vulnerable requires risk well worth taking. It is also how we learn to trust God more.

    Reply

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