equality is much more than giving someone a microphone.

It’s been a bit since I’ve blogged here. My dad died on April 16th, and it’s been a wild season of living into that new reality in the midst of so many other celebrations with our kids and life. I wrote about my dad for SheLoves for May—Golden Repair—so you can read more there.

The news cycle goes quickly, but since things went public about sexual misconduct and the resignation of Bill Hybels at Willow Creek (a flagship megachurch that is constantly referred to as a beacon of egalitarianism), I have had a few thoughts swirling around in my head. Then, last week, Beth Moore’s letter about calling out sexism in conservative evangelical circles adds another element to the mix. A best-selling author and bible teacher, Beth Moore has lived in Southern Baptist circles for her entire career and finally spoke out more clearly against the patriarchal establishment.

While I am so glad both of these stories are coming to the surface, they point to something that I wish we talked about more and are often overlooked in the conversation.

We need to remember: equality is much more than giving someone a microphone.

It’s a start, for sure, but real equality goes far deeper than what’s on the surface; it’s about what’s really happening underneath. 

I often hear Willow Creek being praised because they have had women in leadership and teaching from the front for years or now have a co-pastor who is female. I am so glad for this, and I’m not dismissing this kind of progress. However, please do not think for a minute that because a woman has a microphone more often than at a lot of other churches that somehow this implies equality.

Equality is much more than giving someone a microphone.

The power differentials in systems like these are not equal.

Ultimately, the power in most of these systems is still held by men. No matter how many microphones are shared here and there, contemporary Christianity (especially evangelical Christianity but definitely not limited to) is completely tangled up with patriarchy and it runs deep, deep, deep.

Beth Moore, for all of her successes and incredible impact on many, holds no real decision-making power in any of the systems she is in. Yes, the letter she just wrote is strong, clear, and convicting, and I deeply respect her courage. But the system that runs the world she has lived in her entire ministry remains completely and utterly imbalanced when it comes to male power.

Equality is more than giving someone a microphone.

Kingdom equality is about sitting at tables together as equals, with equal authority and equal power and equal voice and equal dignity and equal value and equal respect.

Kingdom equality is about power being diffused among all instead of being held by a few.

Kingdom equality is where men and women are working together as friends, brothers and sisters, living out their gifts, calling, and passions with mutual submission.

Kingdom equality is about when those in power recognize the ways they’ve harmed, hurt, sinned against, and oppressed others and don’t just say, “I’m sorry” but do the painful and sacrificial work to find practical, tangible, and urgent ways to change it.

I love seeing glimpses of kingdom equality in the life of The Refuge community and in others I know around the US and abroad. I know there is a lot of good work being done around the world on behalf of equality. However, we need to be honest—we’ve got a long way to go to break down the ravages of patriarchy, people, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there.

I wish I could believe that the pain of Willow Creek would lead to greater kingdom equality; because of the power structures in place, the result will likely translate to better policies that maintain distance between men and women. It will lead to more oversight and all kinds of other weird and business-like decisions about men and women working together that will be far from kingdom equality even though women in leadership there will still have the microphone.

I also wish I could believe that Beth Moore’s letter would have significant impact in the world of conservative evangelicals and lead to greater kingdom equality.  I think the “I’m sorry’s” will come here and there, and that’s always a solid start, but I don’t have a lot of encouragement it will shift anything when it comes to the power systems. Beth Moore will still have a microphone and use it well. And power in those systems will continue to be held by men who might value a woman’s voice or teaching but aren’t really willing to sacrifice their power to begin creating new wineskins.

Kingdom equality is much more than giving someone a microphone.

It’s about cultivating completely new wineskins and leadership structures, new ways of moving in the world together as friends and partners, new imagination that will require a new level of courage, and new practices that will stretch, grow, and inspire us.   

God, may your kingdom come. 

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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.

2 Comments

  • As an elder male in a Methodist Church I can’t agree more with your thoughts. I have for some time been outside of my faith because I believe women can hold leadership positions and many better than men! I current have a female pastor and what a message every Sunday – God has blessed this lady with the WORD!
    I facilitate a SS class and I’m extremely thankful for the ladies in the group because they bring real insight and depth to our discussions – every Sunday!

    Reply
  • First of all Kathy, much condolence for the loss of your father… first I’d heard of it.

    Thanks for taking time to write this post. It is right on and very important. Keep “pounding the pulpit” on your point of the depth of systemic patriarchy, and how it is a serious, serious imbalance. It certainly is not easy to remedy, having been built up over many, many centuries. And, unfortunately, church institutions from small independent churches to many of the largest American denominations, are some of the most powerful reinforcers and preservers of the dysfunction of this imbalance and oppression of not only females but minorities, the marginalized, etc…. It is all intertwined. And it definitely includes both unconscious and conscious racism in many parts of the country.

    As you know, I’m a former Evangelical, now very “progressive” or maybe “Red Letter Christian” (not exactly), and I see keenly how the false certainty of orthodox theology plays into resistance to change. I call on others, who are like you in standing in a “golden mean” position, to promote interaction between Evangelical churches and progressive ones. Some on the progressive side of the spectrum, such as “my” United Church of Christ, have largely (tho not yet fully) come to genuine balance of male and female leadership, with MANY lead and associate women pastors and a good balance in local leadership (we are heavily congregation-led, not denomination-led).

    Reply

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