8 ways men can advocate for women's equality.

Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing on a panel alongside 4 other female pastors & leaders in a room filled with about 25 male pastors & leaders in Denver. Most everyone had evangelical roots, and while some pastored churches others were leading nonprofits and various ministries in town.

There was only one purpose: to listen to what it was like to be a woman in ministry. 

We had told our stories several months before in a similar forum, but last time the number of women listening far outweighed the number of men. This time around, it was specifically for men and some dear friends worked extra hard to invite men to be part.

I admit, I was a little edgy on the way there. It is so vulnerable to share our real stories, not knowing what the consequences might be. Even though I’ve been an outspoken advocate for women’s equality for many years, when the conversations are in a more intimate but also professional setting, there’s more at risk.

The thing that kept me going was remembering change won’t happen unless we are willing to risk, to rock boats, to ruffle feathers, to disturb the status quo. Yeah, Well behaved women won’t change the church.

And it always seems like the way toward something new together comes from a weird combination of humility & openness & discomfort & vulnerability for everyone involved.

While the agenda wasn’t beyond listening, it was clear there was a desire for a lot of the men attending to learn how to become better advocates for women’s equality.

What does that tangibly look like? What helps heal the divide between men and women in the church? How can men better participate in healing the deep grooves of patriarchy?  How can we become equals, true equals?

I’ve written so many posts about equality over the years; sometimes it feels like I’m a broken record. Yet, yesterday I was reminded, yet again, that the path toward change will mean keeping the realities in front of us and working together–both men and women–to create a  better way.

We need each other on this one.

We will need to educate, advocate, agitate (I love these three words together!)

It will require all of us to put our hands and feet and hearts and egos and paychecks on the line to participate in creating a better reflection of the kingdom of God here and now.

It’s so possible. I see it every day in our little Refuge community. It’s truly one of the prettiest things, a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven in such a simple, sometimes-hard-to-describe way.  Men and women living, loving, leading, learning alongside each there as equals.

One of the things I’m most thankful for is the men who have risked a lot as advocates and leaders and friends. When I think of the list below, I think of them because I have seen them do this in all kinds of ways through the years.

Here are 8 ways men can advocate for women’s equality:

1. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Yesterday made that even more clear to me. Stories change everything. It’s so important to listen and not jump to solving and fixing and justifying or rationalizing or a host of other things that prevent true listening for understanding. There’s nothing better than being heard.

2. Cultivate friendship. The road to equality begins with friendship. Healthy redemptive friendships with women change everything. In a lot of circles, there’s great resistance to cross-gender friendships, but to me, it’s one of the most important ingredients for true advocacy and change. We play with our friends. Friends aren’t over or under another. This will take practice but is foundational for true transformation.

3. Speak up. When you see an injustice against women, say something. When you notice that women are missing at the table or in a certain conversation, bring it up. When you see or hear women being sexualized, be bold to call it out.

4. Learn from other leaders who are cultivating equality and integrate their input. What are they learning?  What has the cost been for them?  What have the benefits been? What mistakes have they made along the way?  What are some ideas they might have for your organization, church, or group? There are a lot of people who have been at this for a while and are glad to share their experience and encouragement.

5.   Re-consider the teams you are on.  How balanced are they? Are they all men, or maybe all men with 1 or 2 women? How can you shift things to make room for greater balance?  Building more balanced teams is an important step forward.

6. Keep talking about power. But you can’t just build teams without talking about power, too. Bring conversations about it into the light instead of keeping it underneath the surface. Process it. Honor it.  Re-think itGive it away. Help others discover that it’s not like pie, there’s plenty to go around.

7. Prepare to pay a cost. There’s a cost to equality, there just is. Power never shifts easily, and so you will hear things like “the church is being feminized” or “…but the Bible says…” or “that donor’s not too happy with that decision” or “we’re uncomfortable.” It makes me think of Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

8. Lead by example, not words. While it’s great to talk about it,  the truth is “doing it” is the best way to advocate.  Equality is a verb. Share the microphone, invite, submit, share, encourage, advocate, practice.  Help others see men and women leading together as a normal, beautiful, natural part of life together.

This is just a quick list off the top of my head today.

What would you add?

I also want to offer my deep & sincere thanks to all the men in my life who have been such great advocates, not just for me but for so many other women I know, too.

You matter.

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.


  • Hi Kathy,

    Love your wisdom on this … as life-long egalitarians, may I suggest another important step, one that dovetails with your steps, is for people to make it a life-long goal to get their own healing.

    Anne+my experience is when people better understand their true identity—that they are a beloved daughter or son of a good God, they are more open to reviewing God’s original design for man and woman before sin entered the story.

    In the beginning … the man and woman enjoyed mutual equality- both made in God’s image; and mutual authority- both given the dominion and procreation mandates. And this often becomes the pathway to re-consider principles like equality, mutuality, shared authority … and to live as reciprocal servants.

    Keep up the great work

  • Kathy, I love the idea that men should listen, practice humility, openness, allow themselves to feel discomfort and vulnerability. This is hard for men because of gender stereotypes and a lot of us do not have the courage to get outside of the box of the gender stereotype that tells us we have to be in control, aggressive, powerful, productive, detached emotionally and look strong like we have all the answers. A lot of leadership models in the church are 8’s on the enneagram and an unhealthy 8 is very much into power, is aggressive, has a big presence, is loud and shows almost no vulnerability and openness leading them to become extreme narcissists. Men who follow this path will never be okay with equality and will always use the Bible to promote patriarchy. But when the church is seen as a network of relationships rooted in a particular place in everyday life and become neighbors, the whole questions of patriarchy doesn’t even make sense because leadership is now about loving our neighbors, showing hospitality, being kind, listening, collaboration, humility, and empathy instead of speaking or administering programs inside of a building. And to say that women can’t do the stuff to care for others in everyday life is just ridiculous. Women are often times better at this than men, but we don’t want to think about that. Maybe loving our neighbors is not a part of the body of Christ anymore. It is not a part of the mystery of the gospel anymore. Everything seems to be about believing in A, B, C, D of our “correct theology.” with almost no focus on an embodied spirituality in community. Patriarchy is one of the biggest mistakes the twenty-first century church is making. And for that we have lots of unhealthy men creating unhealthy systems in the name of God and it is pushing a lot of authentic people away from any collaboration with the body of Christ in North America. Keep speaking out Kathy, men need to hear this over and over again!

  • Thanks for these reminders and suggestions! This is all so right-on and important.

    As Mark points out, we are bucking both a patriarchal culture and sub-culture (church) AND powerful biological and psychological forces within individual men… and the two tend to reinforce one another.

    I’m curious to know how many independent churches (not in a denom. or a network like Vineyards or Calvary Chapels) DO have women pastors or key leaders (elders, etc.). Given such churches are generally more conservative than they are progressive, I’m guessing not many of them do have women in genuine leadership roles and have some form of “complementarian” philosophy over against egalitarianism (which can still recognize some valid gender differences, in my view). What do you observe? (I ask because I am serious about wanting to help, and my own UCC denom. is already pretty gender balanced and seriously egalitarian, at least here in the Southwest conference.)

    • hi howard, i think there are some progressive denominations that have made incredible movement over the years for sure. i still wish co-pastoring was more of an option; it so rarely gets considered in so many structures and i believe passionately in its value for all kinds of reasons.

      • I take it you’re saying that no, not many independent churches (denominationally unaffiliated) have women pastors or co-pastors. It IS a strength in “my” UCC that we have many women pastors, but we seem to lack some other elements also needed to promote more vitality and growth.

        In relation to your Refuge’s theme re. people on margins, I’m not so far observing (limited view yet) that UCC churches (or Methodist, etc.) actually incorporate many marginalized people “in community” tho they are pretty good at services TO them. One exception might be that gays in some congregations are particularly welcomed and find a good home.

        Separate subj. I don’t think I asked you yet: Do you (or anyone reading) know anyone who will be at the June 4-7 “Seizing an Alternative” conference in Pomona who I should try to meet? There will be more than enough, but I’m trying to particularly find others with parallel interests to mine, perhaps from among Emergents and similar folks. Or Mainliners who share some of my interests. (I’m doing the Process theology track with Bruce Epperly, and expect that to be great. Not met him yet.)

        • oops, i am not saying that at all. a lot of the female pastors i know are planting independently, free from some of the denominational ties (which can be a good and a bad, especially financially). i think you are so right, about the “to” and even “for” on the prepositions. “with” is always the hardest for everyone, especially denominational churches that are often established that way from the beginning–we have something to give to others…not about journeying with others…i don’t know anyone off the top of my head going to be in pomona next week but if i see anyone on FB, i’ll let you know. i need to read bruce’s book. i’m not a very good theology geek 🙂

          • Well that’s good news about female pastors of independent churches. On a side note but related, I just heard part of a long interview on Public Radio with Nadia Bolz Weber (sp?) who I imagine you know and/or follow what her church is doing. Interview was very interesting. Their church format and congregational involvement in worship and leadership sounds like it might overlap quite a bit with The Refuge. I was pleasantly surprised to see NPR covering someone like her and her innovative church.

  • I disagree. This whole idea has evil behind it and these type of women are false teachers who are working to get evil into the church and aid in its ruination.

      • Yes we do. Tell me, what biblical verses do you use to support your position?

        • i have read the link backs to your blog, where you pick my blogs and other people’s blogs apart line by line, and know that absolutely no good can come out of a scriptural toe-to-toe with you. feel free to go to christians for biblical equality (www.cbeinternational.org) for a strong biblical framework for equality.

          • That tells me two things:

            1. You are afraid to tell me how you come to your position biblically

            2. you have nothing to support your position. (and you know I already know that)

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