equality is a bumpy road (and sometimes it makes me want to stand on tables & scream)

if there is no struggle there is no progress quote

i am coming upon my 10 year anniversary in full-time vocational ministry. january 1st of 2004 i went on a big church staff as the associate care pastor; the following year i became the adult ministry pastor, and then the year after that i lost my job after a big ugly bru-haha related to power & politics & inequality that would make your stomach turn.  since then, i have been co-pastoring our wild and beautiful little faith community, the refuge, alongside my friends & brothers & sisters.  i had no idea when i entered vocational ministry how jacked up the system was. i was naive. i was passionate about healing & transformation in people’s lives through community.  i was happy in my own little world.

until i began to see the realities of the system i was in.  like all male elders. women doing announcements but never teaching. all the male pastors going to play golf together and never getting invited. talk about “pastors’ wives” but never “pastors’ husbands” having it be completely okay for me to preach regularly to male addicts in recovery ministry but “real church” was somehow unbiblical.

when we left to plant the refuge, things within our own community were pretty easy related to equality for women. we really didn’t talk about it a whole lot inside the refuge. we just did it. i attribute that to my friend and teammate karl, who sacrificed a lot on behalf of a better way.

however, on the outside, in the wider church system, it’s always been a different story.

there have been too many weird moments to count, but the lowlights include my book not being able to be sold by the #1 christian retailer because i am a female lead pastor, being disinvited to speak at a baccalaureate once the conservative evangelical contingent discovered a woman pastor was coming, demeaning comments, sexist remarks, not being able to perform a memorial service in a church because of my gender, and speaking at a conference where the introduction was “okay, now let’s bring up the women” after a long line of male speakers.

it’s so hard to explain what it feels like. shamed is a good starting place, but it’s more than that.

it’s confusion, too. a weird mixed message.  we want you…but only when it works for us.

each and every time one of these things have happened i have asked myself “why am i still here?”  “why bother?”  “why stay in a system that does this to half the population?” “it’s a lost cause. patriarchy is so deep, it’s never going to change.”

patriarchy is deep,  insidious, ugly, and extremely pervasive in the world. the biggest travesty is that it is pervasive in the church of Jesus Christ, which i always say should be the free-est-most-inclusive-most-wild-and-diverse group of people in town.

but patriarchy won’t shift unless we keep working against it.

and the most strength over time is going to come from the margins.  however, power never goes down easy.

there’s a lot of bru-ha-ha over why women would even want to be part of conferences where patriarchy is so obviously embedded.  it’s tough, but if we’re going to get to a new place, we sometimes have to walk this crappy, ugly road to get there. it’s a dilemma. i don’t do that many outside gigs, but i know sometimes i am probably only invited to fill a female slot. and that sometimes sucks. some experiences have really hurt my heart, but i have this deep sense that the only way to get to something new is to suffer the realities along the way.

if i were only paying the price for me, it wouldn’t be worth it. i have so many beautiful things in my life, a wonderful community, and plenty of satisfying & challenging work in my own little world.  the last thing i need is the brain damage of sexism when it comes to some of these imbalanced events & groups-that-are-so-stacked-with-boys-that-it-makes-me-nutty.

but it’s not just about me.

it’s about my sisters & friends & daughters & dear-women-around-the-world-who-need-someone-to-break-chains-on-their-behalf.

and it’s also about my brothers who are trying to learn a better way.

some will never get there; their theology will never support equality for women.  however, i know far more men who want something different but are so used to the way it’s always been that they don’t even realize how hurtful they are being. most men aren’t friends with women and we all know we usually just play with our friends.

that doesn’t let them off the hook; it’s time for them wake up, break out of denial, and practice a better way.

women are on the hook, too. we are going to have to slog through some of this mess for a while. it doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be quiet and toe the line. we are supposed to call out the injustice and tell our stories so people will see. calling that disunity is an abuse tactic to keep people quiet.

but we are also going to have to keep coming to play. i’ll admit, after a few wing-dingers, i don’t want to. i am re-thinking some things for sure, but i know this–the road to equality is bumpy, and the very best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.

that’s why we need to support each other as sisters & brothers & advocates for change.

it’s why we need to look at the groups we are part of and ask ‘who’s missing and how do we invite them to the table?’

it’s why we need to give the microphone to people who have never had it before and learn from unheard voices.

it’s why we need to naturally model equality instead of just talk about equality.

it’s why we need to learn how to be friends, men & women alongside each other as equals in true healthy intimate relationship with each other.

it’s why we need to reconsider giving our money to organizations & events & churches that dismiss equality and remember we are a powerful economic influence, not to be dismissed. 

it’s why we need to vote with our feet and leave systems that perpetuate injustice over and over again and never try to change.

most of all, it’s why we need God to move in a mighty way to heal hearts that have been broken & restore dignity that’s been lost & call people to cultivating equality here and now in tangible ways.

some days i have more hope than others.today, i will say my hope supplies are a bit depleted. but i am going to borrow some from my friends who are bravely speaking out and risking their pride and scorning shame and calling out the craziness and reminding me that the road to equality is bumpy. it’s ugly. it’s going to hurt.

some days it’s going to make us want to stand on tables & scream.

God, show us what it means to be a reflection of you.  what we’ve created sure isn’t. 

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.


  • It is very difficult or impossible to talk about thing when we have wht Brene Brown calls “the olympics” of a flight or fight threat response going through our head. And we need to be in a place where tht has calmed down before we can engage creatively and with the vulnerability we need for love and connection.

    I have been thougth similar pain and expereinces prejudices the other way in being deonsed for being a man and being told all men need to be demonised. The build up to that and that made me ill. And I have just finished seeing a psychologist and worked thouerh issues and found heling. Her expereince was that with the women she sees is that they are victims of abuse ore often from femal bosses than male bosses. Her view is that things are like the because women overcompernsate.

    Brene Brwon say when she gets readt to blame her husband on the phone and shame him, what she hears is the dial tone.

    Jesus is not patriarchal in spite of how the church might look. Neither is he feminist. There is no patriarchal not feminist no capitalist not marxist no rebublican no demecrat no American not British no man no woman no slave no free for we are all in one in Christ Jesus.

    We need to keep our eyes fixed on heaven. We have heavenly power and perfect love available to us. All this worldy power is transitory. Like you say Kathy – being holy is about letting go and letting God. when we put up walls and fight each other when we focus on distance then we can;t share joys and sadness with ech other, we can’t be vulnerable to each other we can’t have unity with ech other.

    But oh wy beauty, joy, peace, love connection belonging being there for each other strenth, reap power there is when wer are together in uninty with Christ Jesus. Loved and empowere to live life to the fullest.

  • Thank you for this, Kathy. I did not follow the recent twitter fiasco (I seldom follow Twitter – beyond my technocapabilities!) but I have sure been reading about it everywhere. And it just makes me tired. Weary to the bone to think that we are still facing these ugly, thoughtless, mindless examples of misogyny in the church. Thanks for your voice, for your life, for your call. I am grateful for your faithful, prophetic voice and for the fact that you live the truth every.single.day.

    • thanks diana! me, too, on twitter. i’m just so lame and just don’t quite get it. thankful for your strong and beautiful voice and presence out here, too. you are a gift. hopefully it will continue to get better for those much younger than us!

  • Kathy, we agree on all this and more. Yes, these religious systems do not allow for the equality of men and women, but also exclude LGBTQs, the poor, quite often Democrats, addicts, the homeless and a very long list of other people. Remember – These are religious systems. They look nothing like Jesus. What have they to do with Jesus? – Very little.

    We can refuse to participate in or support such systems and speak and write against them. I know very few people under 35, male or female, who support such systems. Change is coming and those unprepared will wonder where most everyone has gone. Don’t despair. Continue to speak out.

  • “okay for me to preach regularly to male addicts in recovery ministry but “real church” was somehow unbiblical.” – this just unclicked something else for me. It’s really about them not thinking women are worth saying anything important. That’s probably completely obvious but it just hit me. It’s not really about ‘biblical authority’. It’s about them not thinking we could have anything that important to say about God. augh. I just got a whole new brand of angry up in here, haha.

    I had a pastor tell me once ‘I think you’re an important part of this church’ and listed a couple reasons why, and then I got home and I was offended, and I should have been like, ‘of course I’m important, b/c I am here. What I ‘bring to the table’ should have no relevance on how important I am to ‘the church’.

    This is so frustrating. And really awful to see happening live. “okay, now let’s bring up the women” – this isn’t some theoretical issue. The more I learn about it, the more ridiculous it is. Of course women have just as much to say about God to everyone. Of course women have just as many good ideas about church and loving people.

    And when stuff like this happens? It’s so obviously patronizing. I think this thing was like the final straw for me…..it stopped being just an ‘issue to discuss but doesn’t affect me’. Of course women are fully equal. Anything else is just ridiculous.

    • Behind all of this I don’t think is ultimately a gender issue, but one of power.

      I left my last church because I had been vulnrable to someone in leadership about some mistreatment I had endured who then treated me as if I had been the one doing the mistreating. She claimed to have been doing so because she was being prophetic and that God deale with men in the first instance because it it the men that have the power.

      She offered to meet me with the pastor. When she conducted herself similarly and I broke down in tears. She left after having said what she wanted and he said “we love you and we value you”. Hmmmm value me enough to have me breaking down and in tears and not pushing back agaist the one who is treating me in a way to cause that?

      “okay for me to preach regularly to male addicts in recovery ministry but “real church” was somehow unbiblical.” I hear your anger at that.

      So what do we do in situations like we have described? Do we get angry, power up and armour up and fight? Or do we surrender to perfect love and real power in the Spirit and have sharing in our joys, our pains and in mutual submission and unity fight for each other against dark forces in the world with the armour of God?

      Seems to me we have a choice and that being angry at patriachalism without equally addressing anythign from feminism that is also destructive is not the way to go. It’s difficult sometimes to see that these are gender issues ultimately but ones of misappropriation of power.

    • thanks for sharing, caris, i really appreciated your inspiration after this last exchange. it will go down in my history books for sure. yes, so much can be masked under terms, but the unvalued message is the most important. i recently had a friend who asked about women in leadership here to start inviting to things, and i was so glad, but i did tell him, “please, dear God, share with them why you want & need their voices in the kingdom of God not that you are trying to get more women at the table.” thanks for telling it like it is.

  • I have a few friends who are females in ministry. I can’t imagine how difficult it is. I know for myself, when I was in grad school/seminary and started looking for a ministry job in the baptist church. I found questions regarding whether women could be deacons or pastors on the application. I bit my tongue, because I knew if I answered honestly I would likely get passed over for a job; however, if I lied I wouldn’t be truthful to my convictions. Oh, and did I mention I got 250 characters to describe my viewpoint, ha ha. that’s all!

    So, I pressed submit on the application. Submit. How ironic I thought, considering Ephesians 5. But it was then when I came to the realization that I think a lot of men actually want women to be pastors and deacons, more than we think. I think a lot of men are scared of being called liberals, or being called feminist, or being turned down for job, and seen as not “taking the scriptures seriously”. To me, anyone who goes against the current to follow their conviction is taking something very seriously. I pray God gives you and other women the strength to stay strong on this journey. I also pray he speaks to the hearts of men, for those who feel the same to speak and stand up, and for those who do not to either have their hearts changed or at least be able to be civil in their disagreement on this issue. God bless and great post!

    • There seems to be a lot of people scared. Perhaps a lot of men are scared of being thougth of as liberal, feminist, not getting a job or not being serious in their biblical interpretation. Perhps a lot of men men need to help, influence and support women. Perhaps a lot of men are scared of being opressed or perceived as mysogenistic and patriarchal. Perhps a lot of men need to speak and stand up when they are mistreated by women.

      If only everyone knew the perfect love of Jesus and real power. Men, women together not any men over women, not any women over men. But together in justice, sharing joys and sorrows centred on love and empowered to serve and live life to the fullest.

    • thanks daniel, 250 words, eh? crazy. it is so true, how quick the liberal and feminist labels get thrown out there, like they are dirty words or concept somehow. truth is, jesus was both of them 🙂 i really appreciate your sharing a bit of your story and experience.

  • Praying for you in the battle lovely friend. It does get discouraging facing the same battles over and over again. I have tasted just a little of this from my old church friends since I have changed my views on women and a lot of other things. I could always get back into the inner circle if I would just repent and go back to their way of thinking. Guess that really isn’t an option for you. We appreciate what you do, and because I want my wife and daughter to be everything God wants them to be, I pray that you, and others like you, continue your struggle.


  • this is great. Along with other things, like healing & recovery, the motivation often comes back to the younger ones having less of an uphill battle. Picturing faces of the little girls (and boys) and teens in my life is enough to keep caring about this battle. And using the actual terminology of said ministry. 🙂

  • I’ve come to the (current) conclusion that it will take our generation’s ongoing action to give our daughters a new reality. Merely modeling and taking the opportunities given to us aren’t gonna do it anymore.

    Thank you for this, Kathy. It’s heartbreaking!!!

  • Maybe hope does come from the margins. Maybe it comes from our little Congregational church up on the tundra in Minnesota which built equality into our bylaws over 50 years ago. Our governance leadership alternates male/female each year. Our governing body is 50/50. Our deacons serve short terms and are 50/50. Our search committees are often lead by women. We embrace all of our leaders regardless of gender.

    As I bike around town and look at church signs, my impression is that most of the churches with female lead pastors are of the Congregational/UCC variety.

    Maybe the Pilgrims were on to something!

    • yeah, sometimes i wonder what it would have been like for me had i come to faith in a totally different strain of christianity. my guess is better in many ways but alas, this was the path i ended on and in the midst, i always realize it just…is. it does give me so much hope, my mainline friends, where this is so less of an issue.

  • Kathy, I couldn’t agree more. If it were just about us, it totally wouldn’t be worth it, but it’s because of all those who even now are staggering under a burden of unjust and infamous patriachy, as well as all those who come after. I now have 6 granddaughters who I do not want to be damned with faint praise, or hindered or smothered or waived away. I want a new world in which women and men together bring a great gospel of freedom without bias or badgering. Sisters… and brothers in arms.

      • ugghhh… unless it’s June or July, we won’t be able to! After 18 years, Rick and I are moving back to Australia in December. You thinking about going there at all?

  • Thanks Kathy. Unfortunately, I identify with your story. Soul wounds for sure. Love the work you are doing and the team that is positioned around you!

  • Kathy wow. Thank you. I’m new to Ministry as a woman. There are days like today when I long to have someone to talk to about the struggles I face as a female in ministry ( especially in acadamia). Thank you for your post. I can’t say I feel as hopeful as you but that’s probably because I just got back from maternity leave and that makes the issue even worse. Thank you for your courage. (Btw my name says annoyed but I don’t know how to change it.i guess it still fits lol.)

  • ‘The brain damage of sexism’… and so say all of us. Kathy, once again, an excellent post. Excellent because of its truth and raw determination to hang in there to make a better world for others who are coming behind us. Kudos for your courage and dogged faithfulness.


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