Throughout history, charismatic men and women of God have risen up, almost out of nowhere, to lead spiritual movements and shape theological discourse. These leaders often build churches and large followings before the institutional church pulls them in for a chat. The air is tense, awkward. At some point in the conversation someone asks a deceptively simple question: “Who gives you the authority to do the work you are doing?”
My first lesson on the dangerous pitfalls of sexual sin and subsequent public scandal came one ordinary day in 1988. I arrived home from church to my dad sitting in his comfy chair, mesmerized and leaning close to the television. Popular televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was confessing to millions of people that he had sinned against God with a prostitute. He knelt on the podium with tears streaming down his face and beseeched God to forgive him.
As a fourth grader at a local public school, I got into a classroom debate over the rights of women, and in particular, the right of mothers to work outside the home once they have children. The other outspoken Christian in my class, a boy hailing from an extremely conservative home, stated with deliberate clarity that a woman’s place once she had children was at home, tending to said children.
In the past few years, numerous people have asked me why I make such a big deal about gender equality. Have I experienced such extreme inequality? What traumatic experience drives my activism? Why am I so passionate and outspoken about this issue? People often assume that a tragic event in my personal life led to this behavior.
Imagine a four-day road trip and a diverse group of thirty-four evangelical leaders from eighteen states. Imagine a collection of prophetic women who have the ear of ten million social media followers traveling from Seneca Falls to Washington DC. Picture a bus of female authors, activists, and pastors immersing themselves in the historical struggle for women's rights. This was the #RubyWooPiligrimage.
The oppression of women spans centuries and borders. In virtually every country and culture in the world, women have less-than-equal status to men and they are often relegated to subservient and submissive roles. Women suffer from domestic violence, job barriers, lack of control over their bodies, and fewer options for healthcare. They often do not have a voice in matters as broad as politics or as narrow as what happens within their own families.
The doctrine of the fall of humanity is easy to verify — all we have to do is pay attention to the news. Injustice is easy to spot, both blatantly and subtly, in institutions such as the Church, government, corporations, families, and my own field, Christian
I recently spoke with a mental health case manager about the importance of male vulnerability. He shared with me that most of the men who use his services do so because they never learned how to process and express emotion beyond two extremes: happiness and anger. I was unsurprised by his admission, because I have long observed and grieved the intense cultural pressure on men to suppress their emotions and by extension, their humanity.
The epidemic of women’s unpaid work is a serious problem and it’s one that should concern us as Christians. Whether by implication, necessity, or demand, women aren’t being credited or compensated for their work. They are often taken less seriously as professionals and expected to take sole responsibility for housework and other traditionally feminine kinds of work. Not all labor—such as household work—is the kind of work for which we give and receive a paycheck. But it remains that for much of history, patriarchy has ensured that all of women’s work—official and unofficial and paid and unpaid—is seen as less than, and that women’s labor can be taken for granted.
Last night, Sarah Bessey (we’re fans!) began a conversation about the strange, sexist, abusive, and toxic things Christian women are told on a regular basis. We’ve been leaning into the conversation and doing our best to keep a record of the profound and heartbreaking stories women and male allies are sharing. We’re collected some of the most powerful tweets so far in a list below, and we're inviting our audience to follow the ongoing conversation happening on twitter under #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear.