In April, Christianity Today featured a series of articles on the state of women’s discipleship in evangelical America, starting with an article written by Tish Harrison Warren, “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” This article discussed ecclesial authority and accountability, which brought many responses on all sides. The iAt staff has asked four women to respond to the article in a “roundtable” format–with all engaging in the conversation one by one. Throughout this series various voices will be added, interacting with one another as they responded to the article, the topic, and to one another. Last week, Chandra Crane began the series with the article, “Gender and Authority: The Legacy of Sibling Rivalry.” And, Kristin Kobes Du Mez continued the conversation with the article, “Gender and Authority: Tish Warren, Jen Hatmaker, and the ‘Crisis’ of the Female Christian Blogosphere in Historical Perspective.” Check back regularly to read more of the conversation. And, feel free to add to the conversation by leaving a comment below.
Many thanks to Chandra and Kristin for kicking off this series. It’s a subject that I’ve been thinking about for a long while, having marked ten years of blogging last year. I’ve devolved into one of those writers—the person who wakes up in the morning and clicks through the Internet looking for controversy to comment on, trying to break the shackles of writing about motherhood and the funny antics of my children. Some of my children are hilarious, but the longer I blog, the less I want to write about them. Back in the golden age of mommy blogging, any one of us could click through to a blogspot and immediately connect with other women about the trials of modern motherhood, commiserating over the purgatory of sitting with little children in church, swapping recipes for getting a child to sleep… It was a heady time, a time of commenting and connection, of uncovering virtual community from the isolated comfort of suburbanism.
But, children grow, and Facebook overtakes the world, and as all my various friends dropped out of the blogosphere, I kept going, looking for anything else to write about. I woke up one day and remembered that I had a masters of divinity, and that I’d ridden the wave of literary criticism and deconstruction in university that is finally taking over mainstream twitter conversations. I rediscovered websites like Huffpo, National Review, and goop. I dipped my polished toe into the theological and cultural fray and began to write about everything.
One of the things I wrote about last year was the controversy surrounding Jen Hatmaker’s announcement that she is gay marriage-affirming. In the vein of all internet discourse, I was pretty snarky about it. How brave, I said, to come out in favor of what the culture believes is the bee’s knees. At the time, I had never heard of Tish Harrison Warren and hadn’t had a chance to read her helpful and comforting book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. And then, of course, Tish dove head-first into the ocean of evangelical controversy, and asked under what circumstances the church might have anything to say over what happens in the blogosphere.
And, that is the crux of it. Because Jen, like I did, had her start in blogging. She was the best kind of blogger—funny, personable, truth-y, the person who said what you were thinking and gave you permission to feel the way you actually felt. And so, everybody read her, and she got a book deal out of her great writing, a chance to participate in the Belong Tour: to rub shoulders with the cream of celebrity evangelicalism.
I’ve been listening to her new podcast, For the Love, and the warmth of her voice and the friendliness of her tone is overpowering. She loves all of us, listening in as we are. We’re welcome to be part of her Tribe.
And so, essentially, there is the church, where you go to sit with all your children, trying to keep them from wiggling and running away, listening to a man exposit the Scriptures—however competently depends on so many variables—and then, when you wander out, there is not only the blogosphere, but now also the conferences and books and tribal pull of women gathering together to make their way through life. Many of the men standing up there in the pulpits of little churches (some pretty full, some of them dismally empty) have never heard of Jen, or Tish, or me, and don’t know what we’re saying or how many people are reading us (I have a small but devoted following). The two spheres are essentially separate, brought occasionally together by Lifeway who acts, now, as a bishop might act in my own denomination. Although, let us not kid ourselves, many bishops and elders do not know what is out there to be read.
There are historical reasons for this, as Kristin so brilliantly outlaid, but there is only a single practical one, and only one solution, as far as I see it, if anyone ever wants the two spheres to join together.
The practical historical reason is that the conservative portion of evangelicalism largely traded behavior modification for a biblical gospel. “Be a godly woman and here’s how” was on the docket from the pulpit, rather than relentlessly curious and systematic exposition of the Christian Scriptures. So many, many women—and this was me growing up—knew how long the skirt should be and what kind of attitude to have, but could not think and reason from a coherent Christian worldview. And, while loyalty to the church might have remained at least in form, an intellectual way had to be made elsewhere, alone, even on the internet.
The solution, then, is deceptively simple—invite ordinary women into the intellectual center of the church.
You might protest that they are already there. And, perhaps in some churches here and there, that is so. In fact, my own is one of them. There is no special “women’s ministry” in my church, nor men’s. The only people who get shoved off into their own special wing are the children, not because we don’t like them, but because adults—men and women—have to have space to engage with the intellectual underpinnings of the Christian faith. The children have their own robust arena for engagement. No one gets left out. There is not one kind of gospel for the women, culturally expressed by study guides and perfectly coiffed, itinerant life-tips speakers, and another for the men to work on being who they are. No, there is the gospel, the Scripture, the intersection between theology and practice, for everyone. In fact, it’s how we describe our Sunday school hour—Education for Everyone (which doesn’t mean home-making for the ladies, and theology for the gentlemen).
Of course, it requires the pastor, whoever he is, to study, to preach a sermon that is truly about the Bible and not about his thoughts and feelings about himself or the people sitting in front of him. If he wants to keep the men and the women engaged and coming back, he has to have something to say.
And, it would mean that hierarchical church structures must consider being as curious about the blogosphere as the blogosphere is about the intersection between theology and life. Some pastors would have to read what the women in their church are reading—whether hard-bound, soft-bound, or brightly lit on the screen of a phone—and be knowledgeable and compassionate enough to form a fully orbed opinion. I say this knowing that many already do a very good job of it… and yet… the reality of the multimillions of dollars to be made by women untethered from church structures indicates that there’s plenty of room to grow.
It was ever thus. The church always takes a while to catch on to what’s happening under her nose. And, once she’s realized it, it is too late, and she can only cry out to God for mercy, who always comes to save her at the eleventh hour, even and especially when she doesn’t deserve it.