Years ago a friend from The Refuge hosted a Listening Party for Christian men to listen to a panel of women on our experiences as female leaders. It was a brave thing to pull together. We looked forward to having a space to share our experiences and be heard by our Christian brothers. The only problem was when we showed up, there were about 40 women in the room and 7 men. His efforts were incredibly sincere; the reality is that men just didn’t come.
Listening to the other participants on the panel as well as the sincerity and depth of the responses from the audience was beautiful nonetheless.
As I was sharing, I felt strong, clear, empowered.
However, afterward, I went home and literally curled up in the fetal position on the couch and sobbed for the rest of the afternoon (and I’m truly not an easy crier).
That much pain, that much reality, that much oh-my-goodness-these-are-such-amazing-women-and-how-could-we-be-treated-as-less-than-for-this-long really got to me. I was flooded with painful memories of countless instances of sexism, power differentials, and lip service that never equated to any real change.
Others present expressed a similar response; we have so few venues to let out these feelings that when we do, it floors us.
Last week at House of Refuge–a wonderfully eclectic group that meets weekly at our house for spiritual conversation–my male friend (who is a millennial and gives me hope for the future) facilitated. He started with a simple opening about patriarchy’s power. Then he shared that no men were allowed to talk that night, opening the floor for the women. What did men need to know? What was our experience? What needs to be said?
As I shared, I could feel an intense and overwhelming feeling of wanting to yell for not just a few minutes but for the rest of the night and into the morning.
The space was sweet and tender and I was grateful for it. Yet, I could feel the magnitude of this many years of trying to stand tall in the face of the deep grooves of patriarchy as a female Christian pastor and leader.
Frankly, it’s just taken its toll.
Here’s what’s so hard about this stuff.
It reminds me that even though I, and so many women I know, have come a long way in Christian ministry over the last chunk of years, we are still on the bottom rung in many systems.
It’s owning that even though there are anomalies people can point to, on the whole men still hold the power, even in the moving-toward-being-more-progressive systems. Many are making space for women in new ways; however, the truth is that if women replaced men as leaders in the identical capacity, their donors would dissipate. Power does beget power, and in the end, white males (especially evangelical ones, but not only) form a significant and hard to reckon with power base of money and resource that truly does affect a Christian organization’s ability to sustain a true move toward equality. We see this when a group becomes LGBT+ inclusive or begins being bolder about race, too.
That night after House of Refuge, I scrolled through the list of Denver ministries and organizations that I love and respect and are lead by men who are dedicated to equality and trying to do things differently. One by one, I realized that if any of them shifted to a woman as the executive director or lead pastor in the near future, their donor base would quickly crumble.
That puts me back on the floor.
Yes, we’ve come a long way, and I am grateful for the organizations working toward change, but we must acknowledge the truth—we’ve got a long way to go to full equality.
It will take a power shift I don’t think we truly respect yet (#metoo is helping).
Until we strongly acknowledge patriarchy’s deep and dangerous grooves into all of our systems, we will keep denying and minimizing, spinning around the truth, hoping for an easier way out.
It robs dignity, limits potential, destroys passion, and damages organizational health.
It harms those on the underside of it as well as those who benefit from it.
It offers crumbs to the hungry while the fat are feasting, and is often so familiar that sometimes we don’t even notice it.
Patriarchy’s tentacles are strong and insidious; things will not shift without some major heavy lifting from the men.
This is where despite all my efforts to stand tall and push against the patriarchy and do whatever I can to empower other women and nurture healthier systems, I sometimes land back on the floor again.
Here’s why: I know so many humble, kind, compassionate and willing-to-give-up-their-power men. I have watched them listen, learn, play their part in change, and embody Jesus’ example.
Yet, to be honest–they’re rarely the ones at the top of a system.
The power at the very top rarely shows up, rarely listens, rarely plays, rarely changes. That’s why the bigger system never changes.
So why keep trying?
First and foremost, in The Refuge, I see up-close and personal every day what is possible when patriarchy is smashed. It truly is a taste of heaven on earth, when power is diffused and men and women can lead, love, and live alongside each other as equals.
Secondly, because eventually, over a lot of time with more and more passionate-for-equality women and men standing tall together in creative, beautiful and tangible ways, the healthier power underneath will get so strong it will eventually topple the dysfunctional holdouts on top.
The patriarchy will be smashed not from the top but from the bottom.
Which resonates deeply with Jesus’ ways.
That’s what makes me peel myself off the floor and out of the fetal position yet again and do what I can to stand tall the next day.
It won’t come down easy, but let’s keep crumbling at the foundation.
How are you doing with conversations about patriarchy?