The most prominent indicator of whether a female will be trafficked, killed as a fetus, abused in her family, or denied food, healthcare, legal support, or an education is not her gender but the value a society attributes to females compared to males. Known as the girl effect, researchers show that when communities esteem both males and females and invest in their potential equally, these communities are less likely to encounter suffering and are more likely to enjoy flourishing. Both secular and Christian humanitarians increasingly recognize the influence faith leaders have in promoting the dignity and agency of females. To speak for God is the greatest power a leader has. Yet, when male authority is framed as God’s design, patriarchy gains an unfathomable force!
A large majority of the world follows a faith tradition. Since most religious traditions have supported male authority, fostering gender equality represents a significant opportunity for humanitarians, especially among Christians. The good news is that the teachings and practices of Christianity have, from the beginning, largely identified with the oppressed. The challenge is that Christians have assumed men in authority is the biblical ideal. Even among egalitarians, who affirm gender equality as coherent biblically, male leaders outnumber female in many fields, especially in the academy and the church. As Karen Longman has shown in her research on women in leadership, women in the Christian academy do half as well as women in secular institutions. And women represent less than 6 percent of members of the Evangelical Theological Society where membership is only given to those with terminal degrees.
While 53 percent of Americans share the concern that significant obstacles still make it harder for women to get ahead compared to men, research from Barna Group has shown that three in ten people believe gender obstacles are largely gone. Women, however, are more likely to believe those obstacles exist compared to men (59 percent vs. 46 percent). Significantly, Barna reports that “evangelicals are the most skeptical of the existence of barriers for women in the workplace. Less than one-third (32 percent)—fewer than any other segment Barna studied—believe significant obstacles still exist.”
This is why theologians, pastors and Christian humanitarians are convening at CBE International’s conference in London to explore the social impact of failed biblical interpretations. Our goal is to consider the confluence of three different yet overlapping spheres: (1) global development/humanitarian work, (2) Christian faith, and (3) gender equality—three distinct disciplines that when aligned hold unrealized and extraordinary potential for human flourishing. The diagrams below represent both the challenge and the unique opportunity the conference sessions will address. Conference sessions will consider both the theological flaws of male-only authority while also showing the impact of gender equality in humanitarian work. When harmonized, the gospel frees us to build a more just world to the glory of Christ. We hope you’ll join us!
This article appeared in “Freedom to Flourish: Aligning Christian Faith and Women’s Equality with Humanitarian Work,” the Summer 2020 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.