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Published Date: May 8, 2013

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On Why I Still Need You to Defend Me

On International Women’s Day, I read this blog post by Steve Holmes. And then I saw it retweeted by some other men.

I shall declare upfront that I like Steve very much on twitter, and I like his blog, and I really, really like this particular post, (and I really like the other men who I saw retweet it) but…

Oh, come on, of course there’s a “but,” if there wasn’t a “but” I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Now, listen, the argument is great (and well argued, not going to try and fight the rhetoric). He lists some amazing women who did amazing things, whose achievements really really should speak for themselves, and their right to be in ministry shouldn’t have to be defended by anyone. I really want to go with him all the way to the conclusion:

But I’m not going to try to illuminate the sun.
And I’m not going to try to dampen the sea.
And I’m not, any longer, going to try to defend the ministry of women in the church.

But I can’t.

I’ve spent a little while trying to work out why something about this declaration of the fact that women don’t need defending doesn’t quite sit right with me. I tried to get at it on Friday when I retweeted the post—but I don’t think I quite did. But it came to me yesterday morning: this blog post reminds me of Ainsley Hayes defending her belief that the USA doesn’t need an Equal Rights Amendment. Watch it here, particularly from 4:40.

I love Ainsley Hayes (and I love how Sorkin created the character as a woman I could both disagree with and engage with and admire all at the same time), and in her final speech on this subject she has me, she absolutely has me. Because she’s right: it is humiliating that women need an amendment to be considered equal to men before the law, and Article 14 should cover it. But she’s also wrong—because the same Article 14 doesn’t, in practice, cover it. Not every woman is Ainsley Hayes, they’re not all white, they don’t all come from a well-off family, and they can’t all go to law school just to make sure—nor can they all verbally defend themselves as articulately as she does. If we lived in an ideal world, Sam Seaborn wouldn’t need to try and safeguard the ERA for the women of America who aren’t Ainsley Hayes.

And in an ideal world, I’d be able to say, “You know, I don’t need a man to defend the right of women to be in leadership or in ministry.” But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Here’s the thing. I am a relatively well-educated woman, and a Christian, and in favor of women in leadership—and I had only heard of two of the women in that post. I need people to tell me about them, I need people to tell the world about them, and yes, I need people to hold them up as examples of the fact that God uses women in ministry—because we live in a world where that doesn’t happen as often as it should. And also, I need some of those people to be men. Because, unfortunately, a man has a voice that is more likely to be heard than mine is—or than that of most women is—even if a woman were to have the same public profile as him and be put on the same platform as him. I don’t believe this should be so—but it is so.

Honestly, a man says “I’m not going to try to defend the ministry of women…” and I start waving my arms going, “No, come back, we’re not there yet, we still need you…” We need you to defend us, and to promote us—because at the basest level, if it’s just us women doing it for ourselves, someone is going to say, “Well, of course you’d say that, you’re a woman.”

So, men, I need you to just deal with your feeling that you’re not worthy to defend women like Catherine Booth and Wendy Beech-Ward (women like them do stuff every day that the world tells them they’re not worthy of doing, and they deal with it, so you can) and not let yourselves go along with the feeling that the question of whether these women are permitted by God to lead and preach is such a stupid question that you can’t defend the “yes” position. Not yet. Because we’re not there yet—we won’t be until people stop asking that question. And until we are there, I need you to pull your weight on this, because in our deeply unbalanced world, you have more weight than me.

This column is a response to Steve Holmes’ blog and is posted with permission from the author’s blog, burbling gently.