My daughter deserves better than 19%

Five to one.

That’s the ratio of male to female speakers at major Christian conferences in the US, according to an eye-opening analysis by Jonathan Merritt. Only 19% of speakers at these events are women.

As Jonathan writes, “Just when it appears we’ve crossed the rubicon on gender equality, we realize we haven’t.”


It all started with a Twitter exchange between Rachel Held Evans and organizers of The Nines conference. The male-to-female gap is even wider at The Nines: 25 to 1.

rhe tweet

A similar problem exists across the pond: fewer than 25% of main speakers at Christian conferences in the UK are women, according to one blogger’s tally.

Setting aside misgivings about the whole Christian conference culture in the first place — the idolization of celebrity pastors, the endless chasing after “the next big thing,” etc. — this is a problem.

And it’s not just conferences. Only 10% of senior pastors of Protestant churches are women — and most of them are in mainline denominations like mine. At my former seminary, an interdenominational school with Baptist roots, only a third of students are women (that in itself is likely an improvement from when I was there), and 89% of the faculty are male.

All of which makes it easy for conference organizers to throw up their hands and say, “Hey, it’s not our fault there aren’t more female leaders to invite.”

Well, yeah… if you buy into the mindset that says the only pastors worth listening to are those with the biggest churches and the biggest platforms. (Even at just 10% of the senior pastor population, there are still several thousand female pastors out there.)

Besides, to quote a thoughtful post from UK blogger Jenny Baker:

People who say ‘forget about gender, just pick the best person for the task’ show a stunning lack of awareness of firstly, male privilege, and secondly, how Christian conferences are put together. People tend to invite who they know, who they’ve heard recently, who has published a book, who their friends recommend/blog about/are reading, who has spoken at a similar event. If you want to change the status quo, you need to be aware of the imbalance and you need to be intentional about changing it.

In other words, everyone needs to own the problem. Everyone needs to be involved in changing it, rather than just pointing fingers or waging a “chicken-versus-egg” defense.

And when I say “everyone,” that means those of us who’ve already embraced gender equality, too. It’s easy to think we’ve “arrived” because of our support for women pastors, priests and bishops. But in my experience, this attitude can blind us to subtler, more entrenched forms of sexism in our midst and in ourselves. The “boys’ club” mentality that still exists in many of our churches and Christian organizations, even the “progressive” ones. The tokenism of appointing one or two female leaders while the overwhelming majority of leadership remains male. It’s one thing to articulate a vision of gender equality; it’s quite another to actually practice it.

This is not a problem “out there” somewhere. Gender inequality is something I have to own, too.

So when you hear someone raising a concern about gender inequality in our midst, listen. Don’t dismiss them as “shrill” or “divisive.” Don’t tell them to stop whining and definitely don’t tell them to “man up.” (You probably don’t need to compare them to Mark Driscoll either, as The Nines organizer Todd Rhoades did in his Twitter exchange with Rachel Held Evans. Which is just, um… really?)

The bottom line is, my daughter deserves better than 19%. She deserves better than a 10% chance at becoming a senior pastor or a 4% chance at becoming a Fortune 500 CEO someday, purely on the basis of her gender.

When Rachel Held Evans calls out gender inequality at Christian conferences (or anywhere else, for that matter), what may sound “shrill” or “divisive” to some — to me it sounds like someone demanding a better world for my daughter. And I like the sound of that.

7 thoughts on “My daughter deserves better than 19%

  1. I love this. As someone who has fought for justice in other arenas, I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to change something from the outside, looking in. That’s why I feel like Leadership Network (for example) is only going to show us some diversity with their 9s conference when the speakers they invite challenge them on their lack of diversity. Speakers don’t have to say yes. They can say, “Call me when your lineup is more diverse.” Maybe it’s the pragmatist in me. I love some of those who spoke at the 9s. I really, truly do. But to me *they* are the ones with the power to change the situation. Leadership Network wanted them and therefor they have the ear of Lead Net. If I were mapping out a strategy to getting more women and people of color and diversity there next year it would be by convincing the white male sought-after speakers to put their feet down. I firmly believe that people of privilege have to step aside sometimes–or at least be willing to threaten to step aside–to make room at the table. I’d love to see dozens of them band together and do that next year, but I am a hopeless dreamer.


    1. That’s a good point. To use another illustration, if only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and there are only so many Fortune 500 CEO positions available (perhaps…500?), then in order for their to be a more equitable balance, some of us privileged white males are going to have to step aside to make room there as well. There are some places where it’s “the more, the merrier.” But you can only have so many CEOs. You can only have so many conference speakers. Somebody is going to have to realize that they’ve had their day in the sun and now it’s time to give someone else a turn… preferably someone who’s been denied their turn far too long…


  2. Thanks for writing about this. I attended the Nines online and followed the debate on Twitter — honestly before I even hopped on Twitter, after seeing just a couple of videos, my first thought was “what, so this is just going to be a bunch of white males running churches? zzzzzz….” and then I saw Rachel’s tweet and subsequent tweets from everyone (including me) and realized I wasn’t the only one noticing the obvious. 🙂

    Kinda sad, kinda mad about this. Wondering what, if anything, I should do. Maybe if there’s enough noise, LeadNet will actually start to do something about it.


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