Should women be on platforms?

woman-speaking-into-microphon_450If women can be called and equipped in speaking, teaching and leading by the Spirit just as much men (which I think is true), then should we expect to see 50/50 gender representation at Christian conferences? Steve Holmes believes so, and as a result he and others started Project 3:28 to monitor whether this is happening. Interestingly, there has been change:

In 2013, of the 431 speakers at conferences we counted, 24% were female; in 2014, we counted 1081 speakers, and 34% were female.

There are questions here about sample size, and year on year comparison, but my first response is ‘This must surely be a good thing.’ And yet Steve’s post made me think, and there are some big questions to be explored here.

One issue is the whole idea of a ‘Christian speaking circuit’. Steve is quite right; there is one. And I am pretty clear I am not on it. When I enquired of one of the founding organisers of Spring Harvest about this, I got short shrift: ‘Oh, everyone wants to speak at Spring Harvest.’ For anyone on the outside, it is a bit of a mystery how this all works. I think it is it akin to Facebook news feeds and committees in the Church of England: the more exposure you have had, the more you will get. In case you have not realised, Facebook will tend to show you newsfeed items that have already been looked at or commented on by others; the more views something has, the more views it will get. And C of E committees seem to be filled by people who spend all their time on other committees! As Steve notes:

The conference circuit operates as its own breeding ground: you get brought in to assist at a side-show because someone has heard that you might have what it takes; succeeding there, you get more and more invites to bigger and bigger platforms.

Steve then touches in passing on two related issues which I think are at the heart of this:

At every point on the way up, though, the process is gendered. Young men are more likely to be given a chance than young women, unless someone is very intentional about it. Women are more likely to doubt their own competence and say no…

He is absolutely right here; during my decade in theological education, I was constantly surprised by how many very competent women, clearly called by God into leadership, had questions about their own calling and competence—whilst some less able men appeared blessed by a complete absence of self-doubt. The reasons are many and complex, as they are in wider culture, but a significant factor for any evangelical women was the legacy of ‘conservative’ teaching that women should not be in leadership.

But closely related to this is the question of experience.

On the assumption (and it is an assumption, but it is one I believe to be well founded in Scripture) that God gives gifts to people regardless of gender, roughly half the ‘best’ speakers should be female, where ‘best’ = ‘most gifted’; if our platforms are 75% or 66% male, then we are not getting the ‘best’ speakers.

The problem is, though, that ‘best’ means more than ‘most gifted’; it means also ‘most experienced’, and so we get a vicious feedback loop: we want the same names and faces on every platform, because they have learnt through long experience how to do it well, and because they are famous names and so draw the (paying) crowds.

…the hard yards on this road come when, if you have family, your children are young, and it is generally harder for a mother than a father to accept invitations to be away from home.

And here’s the rub: if you think women should be equally represented in one sector of ministry, and you think that involvement should be on the basis of competence (which combines giftedness, whatever that is, with experience), then women should have as much experience as men—and that implies, for the majority who are married with children, that men should be equally involved in childcare and parenting as women. And it probably means that you need to see parental roles as interchangeable. My problem is, I don’t think I do. And there is a mass of evidence to say that this isn’t the case.

Steve accounts for this imbalance in ‘current sociological realities’, but I think it goes much deeper than that. In order for Project 3:28 to achieve its goals, it really has to be arguing that fathers should spend as much or more time in parenting as mothers, something I don’t think I have ever heard proposed in Christian evangelical ‘egalitarian’ circles. In fact, I am not sure that it is a major theme even in secular feminism; the repeated refrain on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour is much more about how women need to juggle home, family and career, rather than arguing that men ought to parent more. In my ministry, I have consistently sought to listen to God’s guidance within the constraints of allowing my wife continuity for her career as a GP—but I am struggling to think of many (any?) friends in ministry or academia who have said that they have done the same.

The awkward reality is that many women do want to invest their time and energy in their children, and will choose this above accepting an invitation to speak on a platform or being involved in another aspect of public ministry—not least because they feel this is what God has called them to.

And we need to allow this to shape the statistics on speakers.

Apart from anything else, we need to on the basis of logic. That God calls men and women does not logically imply that God calls men and women statistically equally into all forms of ministry.

If we don’t, then we will create a lot of frustration. Women will be frustrated at being expected to do everything—to be dedicated mothers as well as competent ministers and speakers. Men will be frustrated at the sense of being bypassed on the grounds of ‘political correctness’. (I know they shouldn’t, but they will.) It is supremely ironic that, at the same time people are complaining about the managerialism of the Church of England’s Green Report, the first woman bishop to be announced probably wouldn’t satisfy any of the criteria set out for ‘senior leaders’—mostly because she took time out to raise her children. I would counsel any man my age in the C of E who thinks he ought to be an archdeacon or bishop—forget it, regardless of your competence or experience, it isn’t going to happen.

For me there is one final, deeper frustration that is more important than all of these—the frustration that, yet again, we are aiming to squeeze women into a male mould in the name of ‘gender justice.’ There is powerful evidence that women think in different ways from men, and that women preach with a different voice from men. It seems to me that the notion of teaching and influencing people by offering a single, powerful figure standing on a platform at a conference is a particularly male way of conceiving ministry. (And, by the way, it is not a very biblical notion.) I would much rather see women’s ministry done in the ways that women find most effective—and perhaps we men might learn something from it.

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39 thoughts on “Should women be on platforms?”

  1. Hi Ian, I came across your post through the wonderful world of Facebook (yup, more comments = more readers), and I am not sure how to respond. There is some of what you say with which I agree, and I was glad to see your final paragraph on the different approaches of women and men to conference speaking as a whole (and I think there is more to be said here about whether the didactic teaching approached much favoured by the ‘big events’ is even the best approach to Christian education/communication, regardless of the gender of the person at the front). Sadly, it still seems to be the case that conference planners work through their mental list of male speakers (usually who they know and can vouch for as ‘sound/legit/good’ or whatever) before someone suggests we need a female speaker to balance things up. For many women invited to speak at some big event, there is the continuing nagging doubt that they didn’t really want me, they wanted my gender, and I would do. Whether male or female, surely we should be seeking the most able to contribute to the session being planned?

    Secondly, regarding your comments about family and childcare, you proably need to say something somewhere (another post?) to support your comments about parenting roles being gender-dictated and interchangable or not, and if you do, you need to address the issues faced by single parents (of whatever gender), absent parents, or parents in same-sex partnerships (there’s another can of worms spilling open!). In terms of conference speaking, or even ministry roles more widely, women may make certain choices with regard to time spent with children, but so do many men, this should not be an ‘awkward reality’, but part of the calling/blessing of parenthood for both parents. And what about the many capabable women who do not have children? While family commitments may be part of this argument, I don’t think it’s as significant a part as is made here.

    Finally, when I saw the headline on Facebook ‘should women be on platforms?’ my immediate thought was ‘yes’ – I’m not very tall, and platforms come in handy when out and about in a world of things that are high up … oh, no, a women talking about shoe. Well, that’s what some of us do sometimes, and we like it!!

    • Thanks Julie. It feels as though some readers expect that I should criticise you for a. talking about shoes and b. suggesting that women are more interested in shoes than men. But actually I am happy for women and men to have different interests!

      I have said some things about gender roles before (see under Gender on the menu). I think I am just trying to point out that

      a. supporting women’s involvement in leadership and valuing their contribution is not, in fact, logically equivalent to arguing for 50/50 representation in any particular ministry

      b. the proportion in any actual ministry cannot be detached from what happens in home and family, at least for the majority who are married and have children

      c. I just don’t think it helps to ignore this issue, and in fact is damaging to both women and men in ministry.

      I am been interested that quite a few people commenting on Facebook do in fact assume that men and women are interchangeable in all roles. This appears to me to go against what evidence we have (whatever the theological arguments are) and it does seem to me to be prima facie implausible to suggest that *all* gender difference can be accounted for by social construction, and that biology plays *no part* whatever.

  2. Interesting thoughts about parenting. My wife & I both have fairly demanding jobs and we do split the childcare fairly equitably but this is still seen as counter-cultural in church and secular contexts.

    My wife, a grammar school Deputy Headeacher, recently got told by a school governor that she shouldn’t be at a school event on a Saturday because she should be home with her children. No-one batted an eyelid that her (male) headteacher with similar aged children was also at work on the weekend!

    And I often get praise from people for “babysitting” my own kids when my wife has to work. I respond by saying babysitting by their dad is called parenting!

    • Brad, that’s really interesting. We are in a slightly unusual situation that my wife has been the main breadwinner (as a GP) though has only ever worked part time, whereas most of my roles have been full time…just not very well paid!

      There is clearly cultural bias in the responses you get. The question underlying this is: from either a ‘secular’ or a Christian point of view, should we be expecting equal involvement in parenting, either in terms of time or roles? I don’t have a big axe to grind either way in terms of the answer…but my main point is that this question is integrally tied in to the question of whether we should expect 50/50 profile in ministry (and any other work, come to that).

  3. “I would counsel any man my age in the C of E who thinks he ought to be an archdeacon or bishop—forget it, regardless of your competence or experience, it isn’t going to happen.”

    Ian – anyone who thinks they ought to be an archdeacon or bishop ought not to be one. Full stop. I’ve long thought that you might be a bit sore about something and this is perhaps the give away. And now you think women are going to stop you as well. I’d counsel you to take this blog post down. It doesn’t do you or the Church of England any favours.

    • ‘anyone who thinks they ought to be an archdeacon or bishop ought not to be one’ I would be inclined to agree with you, and I have said something similar elsewhere…

      ‘I’ve long thought you might be a bit sore about something…’ If I am, then it is more likely to be the absurdity of people who don’t know me reading ridiculous things in! Do go and read my post about the Green report…or actually anything else I have written on this subject! I honestly can’t think of anything I would want to do less than be an archdeacon! (No offence to my archdeacon friends out there…)

  4. Julie wrote –

    “Whether male or female, surely we should be seeking the most able to contribute to the session being planned?”

    Absolutely correct. What really matters is not whether speakers are male or female but whether they are any good.

    Andrew – I have never gained the impression that Ian Paul has hankered after being an archdeacon or a Bishop – only in being a first rate biblical scholar.

  5. On the assumption (and it is an assumption, but it is one I believe to be well founded in Scripture) that God gives gifts to people regardless of gender, roughly half the ‘best’ primary school teachers should be male, where ‘best’ = ‘most gifted’; if our primary school teachers are 75% or 66% female, then we are not getting the ‘best’ teachers. Roughly half the ‘best’ engineers should be female; if our engineering firms are 75% or 66% male, then we are not getting the ‘best’ engineers. Roughly half the ‘best’ nurses should be male; if our nurses are 75% or 66% female, then we are not getting the ‘best’ nurses. Roughly half the ‘best’ construction workers should be female; if our construction sites are 75% or 66% male, then we are not getting the ‘best’ construction workers. Etc. Do any of us really believe this? I don’t think that Dr Holmes recognizes just how big his assumption is. We don’t have to believe that men and women have the same calling and gifting distribution to believe that their callings and giftings are of equal importance and value.

    The truth of the matter is that self-selection is an immensely important factor. As a general rule, men and women tend to be motivated to do different things. Men as a group tend to be more motivated to work with more abstract and less personal things, with systems, codes, and more theoretical ideas, to appreciate agonistic contexts, and contexts that privilege agentic traits. Women as a group tend to be more motivated to work with persons and in relational and communal contexts. Even in areas where the genders seem to be equal on the surface, one can often see this in effect, working along fairly predictable lines. My girlfriend, for instance, comments upon the way that, in her chosen discipline of history, men overwhelmingly predominate in political or military history, while women tend to gravitate to social history, especially areas dealing with gender or aesthetics (similar things can often be observed in Theology). The same is true in fields of medicine. Women show a marked preference for fields like pediatrics, while being least present in fields of surgery, where the patient is engaged with in the least personal manner. One can go through a list like this (of Philosophy within the gender weighting in US PhDs in 2010) and, most of the time, knowing men and women’s group preferences, the gender weightings of particular subjects are not surprising in the least.

    Even with the same innate gifts, natural motivations will drive people in very different directions. For instance, many of us have been blogging about the broader realm of theological ideas for years, before we ever considered studying the subject in an academic context. Theology is something that we feel passionately about and so studied it for that reason, not just as a matter of our formal studies, but as a deeper obsession that took much of our free time too. The breed of theological nerd, however, and contexts of theological ‘nerdery’ tend to be overwhelmingly male in my experience, even when women are welcomed. Male and female obsessions tend to take rather different forms. For instance, in the context of communities of online writing, Wikipedia has been about 90% male for some time (the breakdown by subject of article is also fascinating), while the fan fiction community is about 80% female. This shouldn’t surprise us: one is a body of largely abstract knowledge established through confident individual assertion and counter-assertion in a combative context, the other is much more concerned with the imaginative exploration and creation of relational worlds in a non-combative communal context.

    Once we have moved beyond theological questions that immediately impinge upon women’s experience and contexts, it is much harder to find female theological reflection. For instance, I spend much of my days reading technical exegetical commentaries, complex theological treatments of the sacraments, analyses of early Church liturgies, and philosophical discussions of hermeneutics. Female voices, while they exist and I am pleased to encounter them when they do, are very few and far between here. Of course, theology has rather a lot in common with the related fields of history and philosophy here, which has a similar gender weighting (things change in those areas of theology that are more analogous to, say, counselling).

    I don’t think that Dr Holmes is taking sufficient account of the steps that will lead one to become a conference speaker, the sort of traits that will be selected for along the way, and the sort of people who will be inclined to drop out. Speaking involves travelling and being away from home for potentially long periods of time over the year. Women, especially mothers, are much less prepared to make this sacrifice, even when they have more supportive contexts. Confidence is an immense factor. Again, confidence levels are heavily gendered in favour of men and this difference seems to have some measure of a biochemical basis. Easy though it might be to say that confidence is irrelevant to competence and knowledge, it is confidence that gives people the capacity to fight their corner, to put their viewpoints forward, and to present their case in a firm and authoritative manner. The confidence of conference speakers will often be forged through many combative and disputational interactions over many years and this confidence will be crucial to their authority. It is through ritual ideological combat that ideas are honed and one gains a measure of one’s abilities. However, women seem to be less motivated to pursue the sort of risk-taking, competitive, and combative interactions that men do, the sort of interactions that serve as the crucible for both skill and measured confidence.

    In the areas of Bible teaching and theology, a natural passion for abstract ideas and systems is a real benefit. Much of Church history, biblical language, exegesis, and theology is not immediately personally engaging, but demands study of abstract concepts, for which a natural intellectual appetite for systems and impersonal ideas is a huge benefit. Much of this study will occur within contexts of dispute, for which one needs to develop a thick skin and patience with and strength in agonistic engagement. Becoming a conference speaker will usually presume Christian leadership in other contexts, for which a preparedness to experience intense exposure to conflict and criticism and a capacity to maintain a strong and firm stand within it will be a prerequisite. Add to all of this the natural advantages that men often possess in the field of public speaking—deeper, more ‘authoritative’ voices, a more commanding physical presence, etc.—and it shouldn’t be surprising that this is a male-dominated field.

    Principal conference speakers will generally be expected to be ’rounded’—knowledgeable in and able to speak on a very wide range of areas of Scripture and theology, rather than just on a limited range of issues within a narrow area of particular interest. One of the things that concerns me about some (definitely not all) of the female voices being advanced in certain quarters is that their field of study and interest is so theologically narrow. For instance, once you have moved beyond the areas of feminism, gender and relations between the genders, LGBT issues, and certain other ‘live’ or trendy issues, it becomes clear that many don’t have a great deal to add to the conversation. Rather, the wider field of Christian thought can sometimes only seem to register to the extent that it impinges upon their pet issues (which often leads to theologically naive treatments of those issues too). Besides, just how many people do we need to have speaking on some of these subjects before we lose all perspective of their significance in the broader spectrum of Christian truth?

    The real problem here is the assumption, as my girlfriend puts it, that ‘if women aren’t [speakers] (and presumably, further, if women aren’t 50% of the [speakers]), that is some referendum on their spiritual worth, spiritual giftedness, etc.’ Rather than treating conference speaking as one among several gifts and callings that the Church should celebrate, it is implicitly being privileged over other callings. Of course, this privileging is often part and parcel of the Christian conference culture itself, which is just one of several reasons why that culture needs sturdy critique.

    • Alastair, thanks for this full and thoughtful response. I agree with you that there are many and complex factors involved here. I suspect that many readers of this post (and certainly many commentators on Facebook) would want to take issue with some of the things your raise—or perhaps want them to be singled out as injustices rather than as neutral factors.

      But I think this supports my notion that you cannot translated support for women’s ministry into the numerical goal of 50% representation. It will be interesting to see if you have any other responses to your perspective!

      • Alan, my real worry about this conversation is just this sort of claim, which I don’t think is supportable.

        The best explanation for why the vast majority of engineers is male has to do with brain science and cognitive skills, not social construction. I have linked to some of the debate in the post on whether gender difference is innate.

        The idea that recognising women’s ministry should translate into 50% (or why not 66%?) representation in e.g. conference speaking makes a large number of assumptions which need thinking through.

        The idea that *none* of the differences are accounted for by biological and/or brain differences between men and women looks very implausible.

      • Social constructs don’t just fall down from on high, but tend to result from the crystallization of typical patterns of behaviour in a given environment. Alternatively, they can be seen as the ruts that are driven by such behaviour, which make non-typical behaviour increasingly difficult. Social constructs are often unhealthy and need to be changed. However, although the behaviour that underlies them can frequently be redirected by strategic changes, the behaviour itself will always tend to push in some directions rather than others. In short, social constructs cannot be divorced from or escape underlying biological and other realities.

        For instance, patriarchy of some form and degree or other is near to a universal trait of all but the most primitive societies. If social construction were ambivalent to sex, this wouldn’t be the case. This doesn’t justify the abuses of patriarchy, but it does suggest that men will always predominate in some spheres of our societies’ lives. Faced with the same realities and obstacles, typical men and women tend to make different choices and this fact will tend to exert a centripetal force on each sex, pulling them towards the more typical behaviours of their sex.

        There are a number of factors to take into account here:

        1. Women bear, give birth to, and nurse children, tying them much more closely to their children, not just practically, but in their sense of identity. This relates them much more immediately to the domestic realm and means that they are generally more likely to prioritize it over other realms than men are. This means that they are less likely to engage in the sort of risk-taking that men do, or to have the same sense of freedom to throw all of their weight into activities outside of the more domestic environment.

        2. While women generally seem to place more value on the more intimate relationships of the family than men, men generally seem to place more value on status and recognition in a broader field of interaction than women generally do. Men are, as a general rule, more combative, competitive, and confident. They are also physically stronger and less conflict-averse. As a group, women tend to be more communal than men, while men tend to be more agentic. Male groups tend to be more thing- and task-oriented than female groups, which tend to be more person-oriented than male groups. There is a tendency for some, in the name of gender ideology, to stigmatize the more typically male traits and argue that the more female traits are better. Men’s dominance in society is because men are supposedly deeply dysfunctional as a sex. If only men were more egalitarian, non-hierarchical, inclusive, non-competitive, communal, affirming, sensitive, empathetic, non-assertive, and relationally-oriented the world would be a better place! However, despite the dangers in their extremes, more typically male tendencies in behaviour are not bad. In fact, they are crucial for a rounded and well-developed society, much as counterbalancing female tendencies are. Without those traits that are more commonly found among men, society wouldn’t have advanced in its structure, knowledge, power, organization, and self-definition in many of the ways that it has and certain moral virtues would be at risk of being neglected. Conversely, a world without tendencies more commonly found among women would be a much less civilized and meaningful place.

        3. These differences of traits seem to be closely related to biochemical factors. Testosterone is known to encourage a number of the stereotypically male traits, for instance. This is interesting to listen to on the subject.

        4. In turn, these traits and inclinations have a fairly natural tendency to lead to the sorts of divergences between the sexes that practically every human society exhibits. Not only power structures and broader interactive and organizational networks, but also individual genius (which is a particular form of intelligence that is highly agentic) and forms of pioneering and risk-taking behaviour will be more encouraged in the male sphere of activity. These sorts of activity are those that will tend to produce and accrue social power. By contrast, a sphere that places a greater value upon intimate relationships will have a much greater homeostatic impulse and will tend to remain much smaller (as larger and more powerful human organizations tend to be less personal, more task-oriented, and more inclined to seek disjunctive effects—where action produces differences between parties).

        5. Our natural tendency to identify with our own sex and disidentify from the other will have the natural effect of pulling us towards more typical behaviours of our own sex and away from atypical behaviours and will also discourage us from engaging in behaviours that are more distinctive of the other sex.

        6. People often make the mistake of thinking that all of this is primarily about natural ability and, as a result, miss the huge importance of motivation. My primary claim is not that men are more gifted in conference-speaking, for instance, but that they are more motivated to engage in the sorts of activities that qualify them to be good conference-speakers, to accept the burdens and expectations that come with regular conference-speaking, and to do the conference-speaking itself. There are many fields of activity (engineering, for instance) that are often bending over backwards to get women engaged. However, young women just don’t seem to be as interested in designing, creating, and manipulating mechanical objects as their male peers and far prefer to pursue other vocations instead. This difference can be observed from an extremely early age. This isn’t really the fault of engineering, any more than the shortage of male kindergarten teachers is the fault of pre-school education. It is just a natural difference in general areas of motivation and interest between the sexes. It is a difference to be celebrated, not an injustice to be rectified.

        6. A number of these different tendencies are naturally related to the internal goods or virtues that relate to particular practices. For instance, theological thought thrives in contexts of challenging discourse, where people hone each other’s thinking as they spar with each other. Such discourse plays to the strengths of those who are agentic, confident, and not conflict-averse.

        7. None of these differences in tendencies need to be universally exhibited in each individual of a sex for the general tendency to have an immense effect upon society. We don’t need to pretend that there aren’t exceptional female engineers, who are passionate about engineering, to acknowledge the reality that they are not and are unlikely ever to be the norm.

        8. None of this means that we shouldn’t be proactive about ensuring that women with genuine gifts and motivation get to develop their gifts and later to exercise them. We should be seeking to remove any unreasonable obstacles that gifted women speakers face and should be employing their talents. However, we shouldn’t presume that the result of this necessary work will be equal presence of men and women on the conference podium.

        • I agree very much with what you are saying, Alastair, and commend your insights, honesty and courage in saying this.

          No amount of socal engineering will change the fact that primary school teaching will simply not appeal to most men – and neither will most forms of social work, which my wife teaches. About 90% of social work students are female, if my impression is correct, and interestingly an ever growing number of them are from an African background.

          So there is another riff on your observation about self-selection: social work in the UK is becoming the career of choice among African British women – and communities reinforce themselves. It is notable that there are now more female students in law and medicine than male, but it will be interesting to see what branches of these disciplines they end up in. My impression is that a lot of women lawyers will gravitate to family law.

          As for the Church of England: the truth is, there has always been a significant ‘platform’ ministry of women, but more typically in the past this was women speaking to women, speaking as missionaries or in Mothers’ Union or similar interests. As men have retreated even further from involvement in the church, the concerns of the church have become ever more self-focused and introspective, and not much about engaging a post-Christian world in evangelism. I do not think having women bishops will change this one little bit, to judge from Germany, the Nordic countries or North America.

    • Sorry Alastair, but you really don’t seem to take enough account of biology as Ian does. You wrote:
      “Roughly half the ‘best’ engineers should be female; if our engineering firms are 75% or 66% male, then we are not getting the ‘best’ engineers.”
      Speaking as a highly qualified engineer biology messes up your statistics a treat. Some women are very good engineers and I know some. Nonetheless engineering is predominantly a male business because of biology.
      The famous example is to ask men and women to draw a bicycle. predominantly (but importantly there are exceptions) men will draw a bicycle that works whereas women will predominantly draw something that looks like a bicycle but doesn’t actually work.

      • Sorry, Clive, I should have been clearer in the way that I made my point. I was quoting Dr Holmes’ words and substituting other vocations in. I was suggesting that the logic of his claim doesn’t hold. 50-50 gender balance is very seldom encountered in life, as men and women seem to have rather different distributions of interests, motivations, passions, preferred modes and patterns of behaviour, and aptitudes. Although I agree with you that science suggested that men have certain greater natural aptitudes that are relevant to engineering, I think that the more significant difference results from the fact that women exhibit a greater preference to work with living things and other persons, while men as a group seem to have a much greater passion for working with impersonal systems, for task- and object-based activities, and the like. Even were they to have equal levels of natural talent, this will mean that men are more motivated to develop and hone those talents. It will also have a reinforcing effect, as contexts where engineering skill is most celebrated and developed will tend to be overwhelming male, discouraging many women from joining.

        There are, of course, occasions when some women may feel very envious of opportunities that a male engineer may enjoy. For instance, my brother’s expertise in mechatronics meant that he could be a higher paid member of a team designing dresses for Lady Gaga. However, while many more women might have a passion for that particular opportunity, few of them demonstrate the same degree of passion about the things that enabled my brother to enjoy it. I wonder whether the same isn’t true of conference speaking.

        A lot of people complain about the gender ratio of editors on Wikipedia, now that Wikipedia is the world’s primary encyclopaedia. Now that Wikipedia is a powerful source of knowledge, it has suddenly become desirable to have women’s voices represented on it and problematic that so few are. However, relatively few women seem to have much appetite for what is involved in becoming such a voice.

        If you are really passionate about something, you will typically find a way of making it happen. I am passionate about theology and Bible study. As a teenager, I started investing most of my free money into developing and reading a theology library (now well over 3,000 books in size). I started and ran a weekly Bible study in a local student nurses’ home with a friend. Being theologically isolated in my views, I explored the Internet to find people who might share some of my perspectives. I participated extensively in online forums and email discussion lists. I read a couple of academic theology books a week. I listened to theology lectures while commuting to classes or work, and also during my breaks. While working, I had permission to listen to audio—I listened to six hours of theology lectures and biblical studies every day. I corresponded with theologians. I read through the Bible several times and listened to hundreds of biblical theology lectures. I preached and delivered lectures and Bible talks dozens of times for no pay. Later I started another weekly Theology study with some other friends. When I studied Theology at university, I started a weekly preaching group with fellow students. I had already been blogging for a few years at this point, thinking through the ideas that I was encountering in the books that I was reading. I had already developed networks with a large number of theologians and theologically minded laypeople online. To this day, I blog, comment, and write extensively, on a very wide range of issues (in the past year, not including the writing involved in finishing my PhD, I have written 10,000 words on theology on average every week). I have written a couple of guest posts a month for other sites on average, have also served as the contributing editor of a theology journal’s blog, and now participate in a weekly podcast. I don’t get paid for any of this: I do it because it is a passion. However, now my name is relatively well known in certain quarters.

        One of the things that became glaringly obvious in all of this is that the vast majority of my fellow travellers—people who share this deep and general passion for theology and intense biblical study and devote much of their free time to it—are male. Where are the many women regularly blogging on biblical theology, for instance? The obstacles to women getting involved, while some definitely exist, are greatly overstated. Most of the time, you just need to take the initiative, as things won’t be handed to you on a plate. And anyone who has a passion for something will usually do this. You make it happen. Many of us didn’t have anyone to hold our hands through the process of developing our theological voices: we just had to do a lot of hard work by ourselves and under our own steam, often fairly isolated from others.

        The fact that women aren’t equally represented in Bible teaching on the platform at conferences probably has a lot to do with the fact that they aren’t equally represented in many of these other areas—areas without prestige, visibility, or financial reward—places they would be welcome to join (or create) if they wanted to. These are the areas where the people with real passion for biblical study are seen, where the skills that make people great biblical teachers are often honed, and also where people get to know you. It is a mistake just to focus on representation at the front. The expectation that women should be equally represented at the front, when they haven’t generally equally represented themselves in the less visible and prestigious contexts of passionate and intense biblical and theological study and debate, may mean that far worthier male Bible teachers are passed over and the whole Church loses out as a result.

        • Again, I must agree with you and add that if people are going to offer themselves as serious teachers of the Bible, they must be prepared to do the hard work of immersing themselves in language studies, ancient history and philosophy. Unfortunately, modern preoccupations like feminism and sexuality, the predominance of psychology and sociology in a lot of ‘theology’ courses and the degrading of language studies mean that fewer people have the tools to do solid classical theology and engage with its interests. Look at the intellectually limp courses that feature in Episcopal courses in America.

  6. Positive discrimination

    Steve is absolutely right to point out that gender bias exists all the way through the journey of ministry. One of the problems as I see it is that systems do not essentially regulate themselves in order to produce change. The patriarchal flavour of church ministry will not wake up one day and redress the balance. In part that is because the most influential voices either benefit from the status quo or at the very least are not harmed by it. This is why it is not enough to watch and wait for change to happen. As I see it the equity of all people is an essential component of the kingdom and it seems significant that we are told that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force. Action is needed.

    This is why in every area of inequality there needs to be a ‘preferential option’ for the poor, disadvantaged, oppressed, and overlooked. I would call this positive discrimination. Change does not happen without change makers.

    Unfortunately there are not enough leaders on the ‘circuit’ who will stand up and be counted to make change happen: the fact that most of them are male seems somewhat significant.

  7. I think your final point is the most important – why do we need to see ‘speaking at conferences’ as something important that we ‘should’ be doing ‘equally’? Surely this is really about ambition? We are set free through grace to blow a raspberry at this sort of thing and get on with doing what we think God wants us to do in the way we think he wants us to do it.

  8. I agree with you, Ian, and I can’t even begin to understand why so many of the women responders on facebook declared themselves “disgusted” with your post. What could possibly be disgusting about it?

    As a woman, no matter how gifted I might be, my children and my connection and my input into their daily lives is more important (not to me, but *for* them) than any representation I might have in any sphere…whether that is local church or on a conference level.

    This might seem like a moot point, in that, I’m *not* famous and I’ve not been asked. 🙂 I’m not uneducated, however, and I’m theologically driven. I’m articulate. I’ve got a good personality. 🙂 The point is, that had I deemed leadership at any level worth more than my children, I have the skills and would have pursued it.

    It was not remotely worth it.

    Investing in our children is worth so much more time and focus than we give; I’m sad to read of so many mothers within the church who believe that their contribution to their children is interchangeable.

    I find positive discrimination offensive as a woman. If I’m not good enough to achieve something on my own, I don’t want it handed to me on a platter (and especially at the expense of someone else who has earned their place) simply because of my gender. Positive discrimination compels people to apply for something as a career vs. a calling.

    • Holly, thank you so much for your comment here. You express from your own experience the kind of perspective I was struggling to put into words.

      I think Steve is mistaken when he says ‘It is not a zero sum game.’ We only have one life to live, and to devote energy to parenting means making the decision not to do other things.

      I fully concur with your evaluation of the two callings!

  9. Your assertion in the first paragraph that the statistics have improved is very questionable. as I have pointed out to the authors of the document ( and they have accepted)-the figures are skewed by the fact that in 2013 they did not have numbers from seminars -but only included figures from main stage speaker counts. in 2014 they included seminar figures. in the case of the One Event in Lincolnshire ( one of the prime offenders in terms of main stage representation) the figures have not changed in years-there is usually only one female speaker on main stage alongside 4 or more male speakers. in seminars women only ever speak alongside their husbands.

    I fully agree that the ethos of main stage speaking is largely unbiblical and unattractive to many female speakers. Surely large events should start examining their own practice and theology in this respect?

    • Deborah I suspect you are right about the stats. I hinted that they might not be so promising in my comment about them. It seemed odd to me that the sample size changed so much.

      And if, as you say, the ‘ethos of main stage speaking is largely unbiblical and unattractive to many female speakers’ then it would be strange to expect 50/50 representation.

  10. I do wonder why the relative prominence on the ‘Christian speaking circuit’ is considered such an important frontier for ‘gender justice’.

    When I think of large-scale religious celebrations like Spring Harvest and the Big Day Out, I am reminded of the banquets of the Jewish calendar and the shameless self-marketing of the teachers of Torah.

    ‘“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

    “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.’ (Matthew 23:5 – 9)

    The Greek word philopr?teu?n is translated as ‘loves to be first’. It describes perfectly this self-promoting love of celebrity that characterised the dismissive arrogance of the first-century church leader called Diotrephes (3 John 1:9)

    ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.’

    Diotrephes viewed John’s prominence as a rival to his own and, on that basis, rejected apostolic ministry.

    Those who dominate the Christian speaking circuit have become a clique principally because they are set apart by themselves and fans as an elevated priestly caste far removed from ordinary ministers of the gospel. They are more ‘rabbis’ than brothers.

  11. I was with you right up to the point where you said, ‘Women have children! And I believe a women’s place is looking after children, therefore they will not have as much speaking experience as men, therefore they will be inferior speakers.’
    First – not all women are married, or have children. Some women have grown-up children. Let’s not resort to stereotype.
    Second – the insinuation is that there just simply aren’t the women who are as ‘good’ (by what ever sheepish Christian margin we measure these things) as the men. To which I say – there are maybe 100 speakers at each conference. Can we find 50 women ‘as good as the men’? In a New York minute. Honestly.

    There are perhaps 10 keynote speakers at a conference. Can we find 5 women who are ‘as good as the men’? We really, really can. Just because you haven’t heard them, doesn’t mean they’re not good. Take, for example, my friend Sarah Dunlop. She has a PhD in theology, and she is a gifted and engaging communicator, combining biblical rigour with charisma and humour. With her husband, she runs a church plant, and she has preached at large churches eg in Oxford. She hasn’t spoken at a large Christian Conference, that is true, but she has spoken at large academic conferences, and to large crowds. She has two young children. Do you think she is unqualified to speak as a keynote speaker at a big conference? If so, why?
    She hasn’t ever been invited to do so, however. And this is the heart of the initiative behind the conference speakers database, so that the whole church benefits from the significant gifting of women like Sarah.

    • Tanya, thanks for the interesting comment. One thing these posts has taught me is the reality of communication.

      I was particularly interested in your comment ‘I was with you right up to the point where you said, ‘Women have children! And I believe a women’s place is looking after children, therefore they will not have as much speaking experience as men, therefore they will be inferior speakers.’

      It was interesting because I didn’t say any of those things.

      What I did say is that some women believe their calling is to look after children, and more women than men feel that. Therefore more women than men will have taken time out, and will neither want to or be as well qualified to speak as men, as a whole cohort. The goal of gender justice therefore needs to take that into account. I hope you read Holly’s comment above.

      ‘Can we find 50 women ‘as good as the men’? Yes, of course…and to do so you will have to pass over even more men, because there are more of them that are qualified. By what sense of the term is this gender ‘justice’?

      ‘Take, for example, my friend Sarah Dunlop. She has a PhD in theology,’ Great. So do I.

      ‘and she is a gifted and engaging communicator,’ Great. So am I (according to feedback)

      ‘combining biblical rigour with charisma and humour.’ Great. So do I. And I have published on the function of humour within speaking.

      ‘With her husband, she runs a church plant,’ Great. I have 20 years’ experience in ministry, including 8 on the staff of a church which grew 120% in the time we were there, and now as Associate Minister in a city charismatic evangelical church. And I have spent 10 years teaching others about ministry.

      ‘and she has preached at large churches eg in Oxford.’ Great. So have I.

      ‘she has spoken at large academic conferences, and to large crowds.’ Great. So have I. And at diocesan events, and to lay and clergy groups. And I have published extensively both academically and devotionally.

      ‘She has two young children.’ Great. I have three teenagers.

      ‘She hasn’t ever been invited to speak at a big conference’. Neither have I.

      So what on earth has this example got to do with gender???!

    • I completely agree with Ian’s response here. I know many exceptionally gifted men who aren’t invited to speak at conferences. If we are looking for gifted Bible teachers with PhDs who are overlooked as conference speakers, we will find many, many more men than women. If we are looking for gifted pastors and priests who are overlooked as conference speakers, we will also most likely find many more men than women. This is because both of these populations are male heavy. Theology PhDs are overwhelmingly held by men and this will probably be the case for many years to come. Well over two-thirds of the Theology PhD students here in Durham are male, for instance. Women still only represent about one-fifth of the clergy in the Church of England and even fewer among the most experienced clergy (the percentage of women clergy is even lower in many other churches especially among those who are full time). Should we pass over many, many exceptionally experienced and gifted male clergy and Bible teachers who haven’t been invited to speak at conferences in order to invite many women who, although gifted, don’t have the same level of experience, training, and study behind them?

      Ian’s point about children is also an important one. Women are more likely as a group to place a priority upon caring for and being present to their children than men. And there are good reasons for this difference in priorities that don’t have to do with institutional sexism or male pathology, even though those may be factors. This priority means that women will be more likely than men to have greater restrictions on the years and the times that they give to ministry. For instance, women will be more likely to be part-time than full-time and many women will take time out during their children’s early years. This means that, even were the number of female clergy equal to the number of male clergy, they would be less likely than the men to have the time for conferences in addition to their other commitments.

      Furthermore, the assumption that gender should have little bearing upon a person’s aptitude for , gifting in, or motivation to engage in a particular activity is often not borne out by reality and this is especially the case when we are looking at the most prominent figures in any field. Startling gender disparities have a habit of arising where we really would not expect them. For instance, the world of Scrabble clubs is typically a world that is predominantly populated by women (80%+ women isn’t uncommon). The same is generally also the case among ranked players. However, the nearer to the top you get, the more male heavy it gets. In the top fifty, one hardly ever finds more than five or six women and they tend to be further down. The differences there probably arise from a number of factors: 1. A greater male drive to secure status through competition; 2. The greater prevalence of an obsession with mathematical patterns, anagramming, and dictionary memorization among men, along with autistic traits; 3. Less of an emphasis upon the social dimension of the game among men and more of a focus upon mastering the game as such; 4. Men being more likely to be obsessive in their devotion to the game, having fewer life priorities beyond it.

      I see no reason why similar disparities shouldn’t emerge in the world of Christian teaching and ministry, even if we did have gender parity at other levels. However, even if parity at the front could be expected if we had parity in gifted persons, we don’t have parity in gifted male and female conference speakers (it is important to remember that gift isn’t just innate talent but is developed skill). We can tackle this disparity, but the responsibility for it shouldn’t be dropped primarily at the feet of conference organizers. The real disparity arises principally from other causes: from the limited development of women’s gifts in many churches, from differing levels of experience between men and women in the current pool of potential speakers, from women’s typically lower levels of confidence, from the greater priority that women place upon being with their families, from women’s self-selection out of or lesser participation in certain forms of ministry and study, etc. Without addressing these disparities first—the disparities between men and women in the factors that equip them to be teachers and speakers—in expecting gender parity in conference speakers, we will simply be choosing less gifted teachers and speakers over more gifted ones, which isn’t really fair to anyone, not least conference attendees who, on account of some gender dogma, are denied the ministry of particularly gifted teachers.

      • Thanks Alastair. The example of Scrabble is fascinating, and an interesting test case—it is hard to imagine that the culture of Scrabble-playing suffers from any structural sexism, and outside its own terms of reference it has no particular, wider cultural significance.

        But one question: how do you know these things? Are you a secret Scrabble enthusiast?!

        One point where I would use different terminology: you say ‘gift isn’t just innate talent but is developed skill’ but I would invert that and say ‘talent [ie the ability to do something well’ isn’t just innate gift but is developed skill.’

        • Haha! Yes, I am a Scrabble fan. However, my knowledge of the world of Scrabble mostly arises from my passion for Boggle, which is a game many top Scrabble players use to hone their skills. I have played and beaten some of the top Scrabble players in the world at that. It used to be an obsession, but I largely gave it up when I started my PhD. When I was really invested in it, I memorized every word from two to five letters in the dictionary and vast chunks of every word length up to eight letters. I compiled and memorized huge lists of anagrams, reversibles, embedded words, cluster sets, etc., etc. (I even made a website devoted to the subject!). Stefan Fatsis is one who discusses the gender disparities in Scrabble in his book Word Freak. People are more familiar with the gender disparity in competitive chess (only two women in the top hundred, none in the top fifty), but in that case the difference is often attributed to the male-dominated character of chess clubs and the game more generally.

    • If we are insisting that women should be proportionately represented in conference speaking, should we also insist that other groups are proportionately represented? Clergy and laity? Those with higher education and those without? Different classes? Different age groups? Introverts and extroverts?

      The problem is that aptitude, study, experience, training, and motivation are unevenly distributed among these groups and not all of these groups will be as proportionately apt to be teachers and speakers. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to make all of these groups visible at the front and elsewhere in various ways. However, visibility doesn’t mean that they will be represented among teachers in the same proportion as they are represented in the general population.

      Most of the teaching that occurs at conferences, although predominantly taught by men, won’t be focused upon male experience. The fact that women constitute half of the population doesn’t mean that half of our social discourse should be about issues concerning women in particular. Brown-eyed people constitute the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, but this doesn’t mean that the overwhelming majority of our social discourse should be about issues concerning brown-eyed people. Gender just isn’t that relevant an issue much of the time, nor should discussions about our gendered experience hold much interest for those who don’t share it. It is great that women are having conversations about the experience of young motherhood, for instance, but why should men be any more interested in this than women would be in, say, a conversation about men’s experience of the place of sports in their sense of masculinity? When we are looking for teachers in a conference focused on the book of Galatians, for example, the primary focus should be on training, experience, wisdom, and gift in biblical teaching and there are very good reasons to believe that, in the current situation, this is much more likely to be found among men.

      Most people don’t complain when 80%+ of their children’s teachers are women. While it is valuable for primary school children to have male teachers and role models and a context that is appreciative and supportive of particular gendered needs, aptitudes, and struggles, gender isn’t directly relevant to most of what is taking place there. One’s gender has little if any bearing upon one’s ability to teach children how to read, for instance. The same is the case in Christian conferences. The extreme focus on gender parity is unhealthy.

      One of the reasons that it is unhealthy is that women speakers, by overestimating the relative importance of and by focusing so intently on women’s experience and issues, tend to self-ghettoize. My girlfriend (a PhD student in History at Cambridge) has described her frustration with this in her field, where women regularly tend to focus narrowly on gendered issues relating to women’s experience, to the exclusion of much else, and often push other women into this mould, while leaving vast swathes of the mainstream of the discipline to men. She goes to conferences and is put into special women’s panels by other women, in contexts focused upon niche women’s issues (unsurprisingly, few men will be interested in such discussions). However, while her thesis addresses the issue of abortion, it is from the perspective of its place in political and denominational history, rather than as a women’s issue (she observes that, if she were a male with the same topic, she would be classed very differently and would be included in much broader and more challenging discussions). She also points out that women often narrow themselves methodologically, focusing upon establishing affirming and experiential contexts of discourse, where challenging questions and criticisms are not welcomed. She finds this claustrophobic enough as a woman and finds it hard to see why it would hold much appeal for men. Unfortunately, most work also won’t be well served by this approach, which is not conducive to academic rigour.

      If women want to be equally represented, it is important that they equally represent themselves on mainstream issues and in the mainstream conversation. The same applies in the area of Christian teaching. The overwhelming majority of Christian teaching has little direct bearing on gender, which means that theologians who focus largely on feminist concerns or on issues with particular relation to women lives and experience, for instance, are greatly narrowing their realm of concern and their relevance to the broader conversation. Equal representation of women in theology will be more of a reality, for instance, when women are as active as men in writing technical commentaries on the book of 1 Kings, text critical analyses of the book of Isaiah, detailed discussions of the filioque as an issue in contemporary ecumenism, histories of Protestant scholasticism, studies of the discipline of homiletics, philosophical treatments of the sacraments, or tomes on the development of political theology. Working towards the greater presence and visibility of women in theology and Christian ministry is a good thing, but the presumptions that seem to underlie many of the approaches being advocated in this conversation are sorely misguided, I believe.

  12. Hi Ian,

    OK, I realise I’m coming a bit late to this discussion – sorry about that! But here are a few of my thoughts…

    I’m single & don’t have kids so don’t really have anything to contribute to the parenting side of this debate. But I have been thinking a lot about the question of men & women on platforms & whether or not it’s necessary/helpful/positive for us to aim for 50:50 representation in that.

    I confess my gut instinct is that it isn’t. I say that with some trepidation because when I’ve said it in other contexts women have looked at me in horror as if I’m somehow letting the side down! But my worry is that when positive discrimination is practised, and known to be practised, it can lead to the women feeling that they’re only being asked to do things because of their gender, which devalues their gifts, skills and calling; and to the men feeling grumpy that in spite of their own gifts etc, they have been overlooked.

    I know for myself there have been times when I’ve been asked to speak at an event & instead of thinking “wow, they think that out of all the possible people they could have asked, I will do the best job”, I’ve thought “they want a woman & out of the few of us available they happen to have gone for me.” I realise this may say almost as much about me as about the situation, but there it is!

    I understand all the reasons for positive discrimination. Friends whom I respect have often tried to convince me of it! But I find many of the arguments unconvincing, & I can’t shake the belief that as long as positive discrimination is practised & advocated for, women will wonder whether their gifts and callings really are being valued and appreciated, or whether they are simply filling a quota.

    In our Diocese, both of our Archdeacons are due to retire in the next couple of years & the talk everywhere is that we *must* get a woman to replace at least one of them. I’m tired of replying “I’d just like us to get 2 good Archdeacons.” I don’t care if they’re both female, both male, or one of each, any more than I care whether they’re black, white, red-haired, disabled, single, left handed, etc etc. I just want the people God has gifted & called to that role. It would be fab if that was a woman, but if it isn’t, I think I’m ok with that.

    It often makes me nervous when people say to me “ooh, you should do that job/role/speaking engagement etc.” because often I’m sure they’re only saying it because I’m a woman, because I feel sad for my many fabulous male friends who are missing out, because I worry that we’ll start appointing people to certain roles because of their gender instead of because of their gifting & calling & I think that the church of Christ is too precious to mess with in that way!

    Don’t get me wrong, I am massively in favour of women speaking/leading/ministering in as many varied contexts as possible. I’m thrilled that the first woman bishop has just been appointed & I can’t wait for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th & until we stop counting. I look up to & admire many fabulous female leaders & speakers (as of course I do many men too). But it doesn’t put me off a conference if there aren’t equal numbers of men and women speaking (though I confess it concerns me if there aren’t any women!).

    I guess I think general attitude is more important than numbers and quotas. You see, it would be possible to host an event where there were 5 women & 5 men speaking, and yet the women were treated badly, given half as long to speak, put in smaller venues, only invited to speak on certain ‘feminine’ topics, etc. Or there could be an event with 2 women & 8 men speaking but where the women are accorded the same amount of respect, invited on the same basis, treated the same way, etc. I know which I’d prefer…

    I know the choices aren’t as binary as that. But those are some of the reasons the quota idea makes me nervous. It’s a great debate to keep on having though – & I look forward to the day when we’re not having it at all!

  13. The answer to the question, “Should women be on platforms?”, is one that most will answer “yes”, but which a few will answer “no”. On principle, some of the “yes” people might stay away from conferences which, on principle, had no women speakers. The “no” people would be very likely to stay away from conferences that allowed any women speakers at all.

    Ian Paul has put in a lot of hard work on writing this thoughtful post. My only small criticism is that he seems to have missed the chance to emphasise the following point: Nobody has made a case that there is something wrong if substantially fewer than half of conference speakers are women. There really is no need to chuck ideas around that could one day be used to refute that case, if anybody ever gets around to making it, when nobody has yet made that case.

    As for Project 3:28, this is motivated by utterly the standard misandric progaganda found all over the place nowadays. Cliche after cliche after cliche. Project 3:28 is unmistakably a front movement of gender feminism. It’s objective isn’t to get more female speakers. It’s objective is to get more GENDER FEMINIST speakers. Nothing could be clearer, from the following statement on Project 3:28’s own website.


    As these statistics demonstrate, an imbalance exists in the church – the current voice is predominantly male, yet the body female.

    We believe this reflects a wider issue of gender injustice – the on-going limiting, diminishing or silencing of women – affecting us all. From women’s representation in public life, stereotyping & ‘everyday sexism’ through to global epidemics of exploitation, domestic & sexual violence, women are not equal. Both men and women are limited by this. All lose out.

    Women and men together, we want to create a church that is a safe, nurturing and positive place for women and girls, men and boys – a profound example to the world. By working together we can see change happen and be light to the world, a city on a hill.


    This is all poppycock, which needs to be challenged. The objective is to engender conflict within the church. Project 3:28 is a *faction*, not a “ministry”. It’s method is Marxist.

    The following posts on my own blog (four of them promoting the work of female activists against gender feminism and its fruits) touch upon various aspects of the malevolent, misandric, “gender feminist” agenda:

    Brainwashing boys: Feminist doctrine for the early years – by Karen Woodall
    Marxist Feminism’s Ruined Lives – by Mallory Millett
    Ched Evans – a poor choice of battlefield for a gender war pitched battle
    Masculism, Feminism and the Euro Tunnel
    Abolish rape!
    Belgium to open its first shelter for battered men
    Man shaming and victim blaming: The A-Z of male suicide in the UK (Karen Woodall)
    Children screaming to be heard (Rosy Stanesby)

    John Allman
    “Let every child have both parents” candidate, North Cornwall, British general election of 7th May 2015

  14. Hi Ian,

    I firstly wanted to say I really enjoy your blog posts: I find them thoughtful, challenging and interesting. However, as I embark on a piece of analysis as part of my MA on the New Testament precedent and theology of women in leadership (and as a woman in church leadership married to a non Christian husband), I wonder if you could unpack this phrase:

    “In my ministry, I have consistently sought to listen to God’s guidance within the constraints of allowing my wife continuity for her career as a GP”

    I guess the key verb I am querying is the verb “allow.” Since I view marriage as a partnership but also because spiritually, I take the lead in my home, I wonder about the implications of this word. If you could clarify, that would be marvellous.

    Thank you for the many ways in which you are challenging and moving the church forwards.

    • Hi Helen—thanks for the comments!

      Thanks for picking up on the ambiguity. I don’t think I was intending to communicate the idea that she can only do what I ‘allow’ her to. I think the ‘allowing’ is mutual—so she is currently allowing me to follow God’s call on my life to write by being the main breadwinner. I was really making the point that God’s call on my should never simply override his call on her, and so there is always a process of mutual discernment for what God is calling each of us to do.

      At times that has meant her career path taking priority; at others it has meant the direction of my ministry taking priority.

      Does that help?


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