Rose Madrid-Swetman

ā€” Random Thoughts, Stories of Life, and Questions about the Journey ā€”

June 25, 2008

Women and Evangelicalism

Category: All Posts,Leadership,Questions about the Journey,women – Rose – 12:53 pm

If you read my blog you know that I care about gender equality. I have recently come across a blog by a young female professor that is very interesting to me. Jenell has a perspective that I find myself sometimes cheering (see an insert from her blog below) and other times reflecting (wondering if I would agree)…she has an article up at CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality). What strikes you as you read her article? What makes you say “yes” and what makes you wonder?

Recently I was at our Regional Conference and was facilitating a time for women in leadership to meet one another. I won’t go into all the details but another woman leader said to me (to be fair she probably meant in this setting) “I don’t think we need to activate women for a cause.” I was a bit taken back by this. This came as a response to my question, “do you think many women in this room come from churches that do not recognize women in senior leadership?” Because I was taken back I have been reflecting on why…why did that response hit me wrong?

I guess I am actually feeling the need to activate women for a cause. The cause for biblical equality is not just personal…it feels to me a bit like…well we don’t have slaves on our plantation but let’s not activate the neighbors slaves to think they could be free…

I am thinking about this more and more. Thank God Lucy Burns and Alice Paul felt it was their place to activate men and women for a cause.

Looking back on many of the civil rights or social movements there has always been those (usually Christians) who activate men and women for the cause.

I am not of the persuasion that women in leadership fall into “disputable matters” (adiaphora), rather I see it as a justice issue. So in my own movement, I wonder if at some point I (along with others) will be seen as an agitator, activating men and women for a cause rather than those trying to participate in Kingdom Come?

From Jenell’s blog on this topic:

“I believe that the young Reformed movement legitimates and reinscribes the repression of women for a new generation, carrying an ages-old injustice into the future of the church. They may do it via what Mary Stuart Van Leeuwen dubbed ‘soft patriarchy’, a gentle, well-intentioned protection of and headship over women, sometimes even allowing all manner of social equality short of access to the pulpit, or they may do it through more blatant discrimination or even misogyny. Soft or hard matters sometimes, but not in this case — it is what it is. If your movement excludes women from full equality with men, then just call it a men’s movement and don’t try to make me pay attention to it.”


  1. Rose, I don’t know much about the young Reformed movement and have read little of Jenell’s blog, though what I’ve read about the gender issue, in particular, has quite impressed me. Of course, it’s not really fair for me to respond to your issue since, in general, I’m pretty sure I’m your lost and separated at birth, Siamese twin.

    Rose, I particularly struggle as I am deciding how to formulate my doctoral work. I know I will do it on something related to the issue of gender equality in the church,and I’m told that, Toppling Patriarchy, might be too broad and a bit grandiose, but, I agree with you that the gender issue is and always will be a justice issue. To say it is a matter of conscience has huge, and I believe, disturbing and debilitating consequences.

    Sadly, I’ve lost many friendships (or at least they’ve been quite diminished over this issue). When well intended brothers and sisters describe “soft patriarchy” by saying, “Adey, we are so close in our perspective.” I am deeply saddened. I do not want a benevolent master. It is paternalistic and diminishing.

    Rose, at 51 I am weary of saying the “right” thing to promote “unity” which I utterly believe insults the very heart of God, as apparently did Jeremiah, for his own reasons, in his day.

    I am ready to live with and embrace the cost of my beliefs. So, activate away!


    Comment by adey wassink — June 26, 2008 @ 8:48 am

  2. Thanks Adey,
    The young Reformed movement Jenell is speaking to is Mark Driscoll and others that are outspoken about “soft patriarchy”…
    I hear you on being weary…
    I know you will land on the right focus for your doctoral work and I will enjoy cheering you on through the journey!

    Comment by Rose — June 26, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

  3. Coincidentally, I also found Jenell’s blog recently and read her article on CBE just the other day (as well as just finished reading Living on the Boundaries, which she quotes from in teh article)–lots of coincidences! Oh, and coincidentally, I’m a big fan of Adey’s and will also cheer her on her doctoral way.

    What Jenell says about the new reform movement “legitimating” patriarchy all over again really strikes a chord in me. I remember when Mark Driscoll and all he represents first came on the scene. I actually met him 8 or so years ago and was so in awe of what he was doing–He was the “hip” new poster child for young (then) twenty-somethings like me who wanted something different out of how we did church. I met his worship pastors and his staff and talked to them about what they were doing…only after my visit did I go away and realize there were no women in significant leadership roles. When I first learned his position on women, and came face to face with some of his teachings/comments, I began to feel just nauseated. It was one thing, i.e. expected, for one of the white-haired elders at my local evangelical church to say women were out of the running for particular leadership positions, but to have a guy who looked like “my” people, “my” generation, who talked “my” talk about church, to an extent say the same thing, well, it felt like absolute betrayal. Driscoll is wildly popular among various demographics, and I absolutely feel threatened by the message that is being “resinscribed” (as Jenell puts it) for new segments of the population, some previously unchurched. Man, it makes me shudder. I don’t have a relationship with him personally, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about what he represents to believers in my demographic and the unchurched on the west coast.

    I do love how you frame the issue of women in leadership, Rose, as a “justice” issue rather than something disputable. I am very much on that side of things, but some people I’ve talked to haven’t even considered it as an issue of justice rather than something disputable. I am feeling encouraged to reframe the conversation in the future….

    thanks for your thoughts

    Comment by Heather Weber — June 26, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  4. Hey Heather,
    Thanks for your comments. I think some people don’t like us using “justice” to describe the situation for women in the church. I think they don’t understand the aspect of justice as “putting things to rights” as N.T.Wright would say. The theology of the Kingdom is that the future (when it’s all put right) is invading the present and as it does we have justice. I don’t think of law court when I think the Kingdom and justice. So, for me this is about Kingdom …we (the church) are to be a sign, agent and witness to the Kingdom…men and women partnering with God as the Kingdom comes that is the justice I long to see for men, women, children and all of creation.

    Comment by Rose — June 26, 2008 @ 7:36 pm

  5. Yep, how you define justice is what I”m thinking too. A kingdom thing. Righting the wrongs. Lifting up the lowly, the cast-off, cast-out. Thanks, Rose!

    Comment by Heather Weber — June 27, 2008 @ 7:35 am

  6. Rose,

    Thanks for this post. In particular, though it came from Jenell, I have to echo her perspective on the young reformed movement of which, regrettably, my sister-in-law is an active part.

    I think the difficulties are when the issue ends up creating a dividing wall that wouldn’t be there otherwise. I don’t think this means we need to stop naming it, but, like Adey, I have lost the intimacy of very near female friendships as the result of landing on opposite sides of the issue.

    This arises because not only do movements like the young reformeds or Piper-ogues align themselves with “soft patriarchy,” but they also make it a CORE issue. Choosing the side of egalitarianism ends up meaning that we choose out of the “true faith” in the eyes of these our sisters.


    Comment by Ali BG — June 27, 2008 @ 7:47 am

  7. rose,

    you gotta know by now that i am soooo with you on this. and i love your courageous heart to do the right thing.

    in this justice issue together,

    Comment by amy powell — June 27, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

  8. Rose, I admire your involvement in activating men and women for this cause and know I have much to learn from you on this issue. A number of years ago I read a book called, “Growing Strong Daughters” by Lisa Graham McMinn. It shook my world. I have four daughters and I want them to grow up in a kingdom culture that allows equal access to both men and women in the mission of God. That’s one of the reasons I will be visiting Vineyard Community this summer. Thanks for being an activator and a forerunner!

    Comment by Elizabeth Chapin — June 29, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  9. Rose,

    I am a 23yr old staffer at the Sugar Land Vineyard, and Nancy Southern (I think you’ve met her) recommended I check your blog out as I have been wrestling with issues surrounding women in church leadership. I just wanted to say that I appreciate your wrestling and it has helped me to think and pray about this topic with greater clarity (or at least help me ask better questions). All this to say, your “agitation” is a good thing…at least for me.

    Comment by Audrey — July 7, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  10. Audrey,
    Welcome. I did meet Nancy in Chicago last March. I met several women from the Sugar Land Vineyard and it was such a treat! The older I get the more I realize that for me, the issue is one of biblical equality in the church and I hope and pray that your generation has a wide open space to pursue any gift and function (in the church) that God directs. I hope you will stop by from time to time and enter the conversation.

    Comment by Rose — July 7, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

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