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Friday, December 19, 2008
Hierarchy, Freedom, and Emergent
cross posted from my blog...

I was out shopping recently and saw a baby boy onesie (it was blue, so in the strictly color coded baby clothes world, it was intended for boys and boys only...). On the front was the phrase "Second in Command After Daddy." Now as a good feminist that pissed me off. Who in their right mind would stick that on their baby, even as a joke? Even tongue-in-cheek promotions of such family hierarchy encourage the myth that having a penis somehow makes you more important than women.

If you haven't gathered it by now, I'm not a huge fan of hierarchical leadership (even when it's not based on gender). I prefer flat networked structures that allow for input from all. And in truth, it's less about equality or sameness and more about simply respecting people as people. Letting voices be heard and appreciating contributions for what they are.

So on one level, I appreciate that fact that Emergent Village is transitioning to a more decentralized structure. While some may be heralding Tony Jones stepping down as National Coordinator to symbolize the dismantling of Emergent, it was meant as an opportunity to allow a wider variety of people to step up into leadership positions (as the amusing series of I Am The Emergent National Coordinator videos demonstrates). And as Tony mentioned on his blog yesterday, "Any time you can dethrone an overeducated, loud, brash, white man,people just feel more openness for their own voice to be heard." It's all about reducing hierarchy and opening up the conversation.

But will it work? In brief discussions with other women leaders in the emerging movement, I've heard the question raised if the lack of a central leader will actually help women become more involved in the conversation. Many post-evangelical women still struggle to jump into the conversation, much less assert themselves as leaders. For good or bad, they still seek invitations to come alongside and be a part of the in-group. With no one to officially offer that invitation, the question remains if the women will step up or just remain on the sidelines peeking in. I honestly have no idea. It would be easy to say that women just need to get over it and assert themselves, but that would stray into dangerous psychological territory and miss the point. I don't want to need a man's permission to do anything, but an invitation (from someone) is still what many women are looking for.

So I'm curious to see how the decentralization of power affects the presence of women in Emergent. I'd of course like to see a vibrant representation of women in Emergent leadership. I'm encouraged to hear from some that at The Great Emergence event men at times seemed like the token voice. But to the best of my knowledge, I haven't seen any women making national coordinator videos. That's not a criticism, just an expression of curiosity of where this will lead. I hope the speculation of other emerging women will be wrong and we will see an increase of women's voices in Emergent. But at the same time be proactively aware that the opposite could just as easily occur.

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posted by Julie at 12:18 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 12/19/2008 01:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I doubt that a void is the best place to empower the formerly powerless ...

    But then I don't see that Emergent is a good place to be spending my energy in any case. So it really doesn't matter to me. They blew it out of the blocks by failing to include women in leadership, they're not going to change now.

  • At 12/19/2008 01:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Case in point ... Top 10 blog posts of 2008 and only 1 woman blogger.


    You've got to be kidding me ...

  • At 12/19/2008 02:39:00 PM, Blogger Raffi Shahinian


    Doesn't help that the list was created by a man, huh? (That would be me, BTW).

    In all seriousness, though, I've been conscious of the lack of emergent female voices in my ear for a while. Any suggestions on some such voices that I should be listening to?

    Grace and Peace,

  • At 12/19/2008 03:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Excellent food for thought ... I've said repeatedly that Emergent Village's greatest strength is in helping those from fundamentalist backgrounds discover a healthier and more holistic theology. I hope they continue this work. If one is accustomed to being relegated to the nursery, then it's a significant move that you've been invited to participate in a theological discussion. But in my research for "Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church," where I was interviewing people who work within mainline church traditions (or speak to these groups), I found that the women (and some men) who were doing the work that was truly transformative chose not to self-identify as emergent largely because they didn’t see a role for themselves in what they saw a white, male, Phd, post evangelical movement.

    I’m much more interested in exploring my fellow Christians where we can find common ground despite our theological differences around issues such as the environment and sex trafficking (two areas where I’m finding synergy among the humanist community). These strike me as much more fruitful conversations than continuing to fight for a seat at the table.

    Any chance to hear Phyllis Tickle rocks. The problem with the vast majority of church conferences is that they continue the hierarchical model where for the most part authors speak or conduct workshops for a largely passive audience. This emphasis on authors implies that those writing books are the only experts when I’ve found that often the practioners (who often don’t write books) are the ones doing the work that truly excites me. This is also why I love festivals – I can sample worship, music, talks, interactive activities, or just chill with some food – I get fed in a variety of ways.

    Raffi – check out Andrew Jones’ blog in the archives. He did two postings on Female Christian bloggers – under the comments were a lot of additional suggestions.

  • At 12/19/2008 04:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Just found this blog today so I'm new to the 'conversation'.

    I find this 'conversation' to be confusing. Can I ask some clarifying questions?

    1. Do 'Emerging Women' consider themselves Christians?

    2. If so, does Scripture play any guidance in your decisions concerning church/ministry leadership?

    3. If not, by what/whose standard are decisions made concerning church/ministry leadership?


    Yvonne @ Fragrance of Truth

  • At 12/19/2008 05:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Well ...Raffi, there's the blogroll here, for starters.

    There's the blogroll at my site, Calacirian, for another.

    There's the blogroll at Kathy Escobar's site. Or really, any of the women have great blogrolls. But you're going to have to actually work to find them.

    At the risk of sounding too blunt, or aggressive, your gender is hardly an excuse. The problem is that most (not all by any means, but many) of the men do not have women in their blogrolls. They link to one another, and leave the women out. It's the new & improved old boy network ... in the virtual world. I'd hope you'll spend some time looking at the women's blogs and then edit your best of post. The way it stands now, it's fairly insulting.

    Hence my comment, a void is not the best place to empower the formerly powerless.

  • At 12/19/2008 11:22:00 PM, Blogger Euodia

    Welcome Yvonne:

    To respond to your questions with a few more:

    - What/who/how do you define as "Christian"?

    - What Scriptures are you referring to?

    - What kind of church/ministry leadership are you referencing?

    I'd like to respectfully suggest resisting the knee-jerk temptation to equate "feminist", "equal" or "egalitarian" with "non-Christian" or otherwise "unbiblical." (There are as many "flavors" of "feminism" as there are choices at Baskin Robbins. Defining which type one is talking about is key.)

    Another site you may find helpful is the Council for Biblical Equality:


  • At 12/20/2008 09:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    sonja - its hard to both support flt leadership and yet work in a void. we are not accustomed to seeing it work that its hard to imagine it functioning.

    raffi - thanks for stopping by. Sonja's right there are a good number of thoughtful women blogging in the emerging world who are well worth discovering.

    Yvonne - the answers to your question are yes.

  • At 12/20/2008 11:45:00 AM, Blogger Jenny Rae Armstrong

    As the new Emergent National Coordinator, I am hereby instating affirmative action, effective immediately. *snicker* (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    Seriously, if men are truly interested in hearing what women have to say, they're going to have to lower their voices and listen. It's a good discipline for Christians to practice anyways. Any wonder Solomon personified wisdom as a woman? She shouts her warnings from the city gates, instead of trumpeting her dictates from an ivory tower.

    So men, shh... I have something important to say, but your low, boomy voices are kind of overpowering. Not to mention, I sound infinitely less pleasant when I have to resort to screaming. A little consideration and restraint would be nice, thanks.

  • At 12/21/2008 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Steve K.

    hey everybody,

    I posted this comment over on Julie's blog, and I wanted to re-post it here as well:


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here on this. I just want to say that I realize the Emergent Village blog is a pretty prominent platform for Emergent voices, so this is just a wide-open invitation to emerging women to email me things for the Emergent Village blog. If you’ve already posted it on your personal blog, please email a link to your blog with a note that says “check this out.” (I’ll assume you are giving permission for me to re-post something on the EV site, and I’ll probably ask you for a photo and a short one-sentence bio to go with it ;-)

    I try to read a lot of emerging women blogs, but I can’t read everything, so I appreciate it if/when you can email me stuff and bring it to my attention. I think I’ve posted/re-posted some really great, thought-provoking, conversation-starting posts from emerging women over the past year or so. There’s a great discussion going on right now in response to Jenell Williams Paris’ Santa post, and Kelly Bean is writing something for Emergent/C and the EV blog about the upcoming Convergence event. (Just to name a couple of recent examples.)

    As a side note, I think the “great emergence” of Phyllis Tickle as a prominent Emergent voice/thinker has really been a hugely influential thing over this past year. What do you think of Phyllis’ impact/influence? I think the Great Emergence event in Memphis was more gender-balanced than previous Emergent events because of her influence and because of the ongoing work of emerging women (like you, Julie) in the blogosphere and beyond. Just my two cents.

    I just regret that there isn’t more Julie Clawson on the EV blog! Maybe there will be in 2009 … Here’s hopin’.

    Steve Knight
    knightopia AT gmail.com

  • At 12/22/2008 08:48:00 AM, Blogger Raffi Shahinian

    OK, OK...I stand convicted, and repentant.

    Thank you, sisters.

    Grace and Peace,

  • At 12/24/2008 06:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    @Raffi - I left this comment at your post too, but I wanted the folks here to see it.

    Raffi ... your apology is gracious and kind. Thank you for helping to spread our blogs around.

    My apologies for not getting here sooner ... I've been buried in Christmas preparations.

    Signed ...

    The pugnacious petticoat who wouldn't let it go (aka ... Sonja)

    @Steve - I really am asking this question because I'm curious. But what is the process for getting published on the EV blog for men? Do they also self-submit? Or do you have a stable of authors? How does that work, exactly?

    I have to be honest here ... what you're asking from women feels very scary and out-of-bounds of what is considered good behavior for us. Thanks for the clarification.

  • At 12/24/2008 09:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Raffi - Thanks for your kindness and generosity. Adding women to the blogrolls is definitely a step in the right direction.

    Steve - Thank you for posting the Proost UK blog post I sent to you. All someone has to do to submit something is send it to Steve and he posts it.

    The Great Emergence was a good step in profiling women leaders. Also, Brian McLaren had two women co-leading the Everything Must Change Tour and his worship leader was female. So, those were two very positive changes in 2008.

    But it's almost 2009 and I can count on one hand the number of women regularly invited to speak at conferences, churches, emergent cohorts, etc. not to mention publishing books. The emphasis seems to be on seeking out folks with PhDs as though that's the only kind of learning that's valued. (Even so, one can find plenty of women with PhDs by trolling the halls of say AAR and SBL).

    A few things stood out among these 13 women I interviewed for Ashes (and I could have easily done a lot more but my editor wanted a gender balance) - only one had a PhD, almost none of them self-identified with "emergent," and most of them had not published a book. As they were practioners, the focus was on their ministry not building up a writing/speaking career. But what they have to say were invaluable to the conversation.

  • At 12/24/2008 10:07:00 AM, Blogger kathyescobar

    late to the convo as usual but wanted to add something really quick before i sign off for christmas! i so appreciate what you said, steve, and while i do believe that is so true, the reality is that without you ever asking me to send you something from my blog, i wouldn't have ever done it. it's just not on my scan and it does sort of feel, even though i know that's not the intent, that there's some kind of insider network (and that isn't really just a gender thing but i do think it exacerbates it a bit) and that there's some kind of a plan on who's writing and posting and the "open" part isn't really clear. i also agree with the comment about the reality that many of us are practitioners, not writers, and so getting things re-published isn't really a top priority. but regardless there's no doubt that while there are more and more women speaking & writing, we know it's way in the minority. and, like sonja said, i really do think when it comes to inclusion it will take some intentionality. i know that puts more pressure in certain directions, but i think that is how things will shift over time. again, i am thankful that you contacted me. it did help encourage me that maybe some of the things that i was writing were being read outside of my little sphere. anyway, we're on the right path for sure and i look forward to continuing to learn together...merry christmas, all.

  • At 12/29/2008 05:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Emergent is nothing but a white, middle class, male dominated club. There are some really great men pulling for us women and say they are supportive. But, the proof is in the pudding and i have yet to see many more women added to the conversation. We get accused of being too strong if we push our way in but then we sit and are STILL waiting for the invitations. Nothing has changed since 2005 when i was in Nashville for the emergent conference. There is very little diversity in that i see very little minorities such as Latinos, African Americans, LGBTQ, and women. i am so over trying to reach out and have pulled back a lot from emergent. i refuse to put the 'Friend of Emergent' badge on my blog.

    It appears to me that emergent is a boys club that enjoys intellectual masturbation with one another. If a woman pops in now and again to join the conversation they are ok with that, but anymore than i think they feel threatened, unless you are a big wig like the lovely and enjoyable Phyllis Tickle. i do not know the way forward but am tired of trying to figure it all out.

    Ok, i've ranted enough.

    Happy New Year!

    Warm Regards,

    Existential Punk

  • At 12/30/2008 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I am a 66 year old Evangelical woman, born-again since 1973, raised Catholic before going to college and "losing my faith" there (the nuns were right.)
    For too many years I tried to find a niche for ministry in a Baptist church - other than cooking, cleaning or child care.
    No go.
    So, started off on my own.
    I ready Mark Noll's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," and agreed - no one is taking care of the students who want to study something beside ministry in grad school. Living by a university (U. of Cal. Santa Cruz) I asked some students "What's you biggest problem?" As I suspected, it was having profs make fun of their faith.
    I did some research and decided to become the rep for The Veritas Forum, a seriously great group. (www.veritas.org)
    One thing led to another and this year I'm also the president of the University Interfaith Council. Opportunities for ministry and leadership have opened up tremendously.

  • At 12/30/2008 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Raffi -
    I want to second Sonya's question about how to get on a blog roll. I have a MA, if that qualifies me. I also identify with "emergent" as these books and posts speak to the very problems I'd had for years (how many..?) in the Baptist fold.

  • At 1/01/2009 09:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I realize everyone's on vacation. But, bored, I've been speaning all my time reading emergent church posts and sites.
    I'm seriously appalled! The sexism is rampant! how do these guys get off treating women this way!
    This has to STOP!
    PS Would someone please write me back?

  • At 1/02/2009 04:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Excellent post and food for thought. Although I fail to be alarmed or upset about the child in the T-shirt. Is happens to be the child was male. A female child could have easily been wearing the same T-shirt. Would your reaction of been the same? I stand strong on women and power, however let's not lose our sense of fun and good cheer in the process.