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The “crisis” in the blogosphere

According to Christianity Today, as a spiritual blogger, speaker and author, I’m part of a “crisis in the church.” I agree there’s a crisis, but I disagree on what exactly that crisis entails.

Me, being dangerous.

What gives Christian bloggers and writers like me (or Jen Hatmaker, or Beth Moore, or Christine Caine) the right to teach and write books and blogs about spiritual life? This is the question posed by Tish Harrison Warren, in her article, “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” The article, the first in a Christianity Today series called #AmplifyWomen, has served as a lightning rod in, well, the Christian blogosphere, and spurred lively Twitter discussion.

What makes this response hard to write is that I know Tish, and I respect her. But in this instance, I disagree with her. And I don’t have to ask someone who is “in charge” of me if it’s okay if I make that disagreement public. Because freedom of speech, and that pesky lack of oversight. I’ve respectfully told Tish that I see things differently.

The author is herself a spiritual writer and blogger, but also, an Anglican priest and co-rector (with her husband) of a church. She states in the article, “In this new cyber age, authority comes not from the church or the academic guild but from popularity.” She labels this a “crisis of authority, especially for women.” Why is it only a crisis for women? There are plenty of Christian men blogging and writing.

Tent revival during the Second Great Awakening

A Tent Revival in the Second Great Awakening By Kelloggs & Comstock [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the thing: change in the church has often come without the approval of the traditional church or the academy. From The Great Awakening, to the rise of mega churches, many movements of God challenged the status quo. Why is this now a crisis, particularly for women?

 

Because she is in a denomination that apparently celebrates her gifts and allows her to be a priest, Warren may not be able to see the struggle of women in other traditions who are denied those opportunities. The people “in charge” in her world affirm her leadership. (Although I don’t know whether they provide oversight for her blogging and writing). They have given her the authority to be not just a leader but a priest. Yes, she is subject to their oversight theologically, but no one is telling her “no, you can’t teach because you’re a woman.”

Many of the people pushing back against this article (and there are a lot of them) are, conversely, in a faith tradition that will not allow women to use their gifts of leading and teaching. The real crisis is not that they have a lack of oversight, but too many restrictions.

Warren’s denomination, conversely, gives her authority to teach, administer the sacraments, and so forth—rights not given to women in many other denominations or contexts. That is a position of privilege. All of us are blind to our own privilege. To ask why women don’t serve within the authority and structure of the church is a bit tone deaf. The people “in charge” of many Christian women have told them to sit down, be quiet, or go change some diapers in the nursery.

The popularity of the recent #thingsonlyChristianwomenhear conversation on Twitter, in which women reported on sexism in the church, shows why women leaders are speaking in conventional halls instead of church basements, and why women are following them. They’ve been denied a seat at the table or an opportunity within the church to lead. They’ve endured sexism or even harassment. They have something to say, and nowhere to say it.

Just as women who bump into a glass ceiling in the corporate world leave to start businesses (at a rate five times higher than men), women in the church bump into a stained glass ceiling and leave to start entrepreneurial ministries. I believe they’re motivated not by ambition, but by a sense of calling.

Women are tired of being told “no” when they are certain that the Holy Spirit is saying yes. Warren’s article is just another “no.” What gives writers and bloggers the right to speak, she asks. Maybe, I don’t know–the Holy Spirit, which blows where it will? I would argue that the growing ministry of women speakers and bloggers is a movement of the Holy Spirit which ought not be quenched.

The article mentions  how Jen Hatmaker changed her mind on the LGBT issue—and cites that as one reason for needing oversight. First, as Jen would say, for the love! Can we let Jen alone? She’s not the only one who has changed her mind on this issue. I know I have—and not from being led astray by Jen or any other Christian blogger. I’ve read books by authors like Matthew Vines and Justin Lee.  And I’ve had discussions with gay friends, studied the Scriptures again. I’ve prayed about it and sense that God is calling the church to compassion and kindness on this issue—we have centuries of damage to undo. He’s using bloggers and speakers like Jen and others to do bring about change. But I think Jen’s change of heart on this issue, like mine, was brought about by the Holy Spirit.

While a few have succeeded in building a large platform, there are plenty of spiritual bloggers who toil on, writing and speaking to much smaller audiences. A huge platform is not a given—it happens for a number of reasons, and I think the Holy Spirit is one of them. For centuries, the church has repressed women, denying them a seat at the table, a place to use their gifts. Today, we are again seeing the fulfillment of prophesy:

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28-29)

Certainly, women can serve in “women’s ministries” in their church, in many conservative and traditional denominations. But I’m sorry, for many women, the whole “church women’s ministry” thing just makes us roll our eyes—and makes our daughters shrug and walk away. Daytime events featuring tea and crafts, and maybe an inspirational speaker, serve only a sliver of the women in any given church—the ones without a full-time job, who happen to like tea and craft. Most of the women I know are tired of tea parties and crafts, or wonder, what does that have to do with living out my calling and following after Jesus? Nothing against tea (although I’m a coffee girl myself) or crafts (although I’m awful at them). But “women’s ministries” traditionally offered what could charitably be called light, frivolous events. Women want more spiritual depth, and deeper connection.

So why aren’t churches offering that? Maybe, it’s because women are simply denied the right to lead. Women leaders are tired of being told “no” by the church simply because of their gender.

Into the void of women’s ministry step the women’s conventions and stadium events the article mentions. Why have they succeeded? In part, people love events. The Women of Faith conferences, and the men’s Promisekeepers before that—and even things like Billy Graham crusades before that. Big stadium events are exciting, fun, and an effective way to reach a lot of people with a message.

While content is important, community is crucial. The Belong Tour’s success (which features Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist, among others) is in part because of the “popularity” of the speakers—perhaps. But their strategy for filling stadiums is brilliant—and meets a felt need. They encourage women to invite five friends, who each invite one friend. Then, as they say on their website, “Boom!” you’ve got a group of ten, you are the group leader, and you get free admission to the event. Women don’t just want to go to an event, they want to go with their friends. They want to lead, but they want to wade in slowly because they’ve been denied that opportunity in the past in their church. Events like The Belong Tour or IF: Gathering provide that sense of community and connection.

Spiritual bloggers (and their comment sections) also provide a place of community, a place where women can connect with others and never even have to do a craft or sip tea if they don’t want to. An exhausted mom of young kids who feels lonely finds other moms in the same boat to encourage and reassure her, simply by opening her laptop during naptime.

Women find community online.

In the article, Warren states, “From the comfort of their living rooms, lay people suddenly became household names, wielding influence over tens of thousands of followers.” As a Christian author and speaker, I can tell you, this was not my experience. Despite working hard at it for more than a decade, I did not acquire “tens of thousands” of followers. Most authors and bloggers have a small readership, but write because they feel called to do so.

So how did Jen Hatmaker and others like her arise? In part, because of the influence they already had, (or got from a television show) and in part, because of the Holy Spirit. In part, because they fearlessly built ministries, working hard to do so. God is blessing their efforts—and it’s not been an easy road.

If a man plants a new church or ministry, and it grows into a large, influential organization, people often remark that the Spirit must be moving, God must be blessing their efforts. When women lead and have influence, why is it suspect?

God is speaking through these women, even about controversial things, because the church needs to know that the way it has dealt with race, with LGBT people, and with women must change. Through these brave women, God is calling us not to greater restriction, but greater freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

  1. “Most authors and bloggers have a small readership, but write because they feel called to do so.”

    That’s been my experience, Keri. If my goal were to be popular with thousands of people, I’ve failed miserably. But if it is to do what I think God wants me to do – write on how life always seems to be intersecting with spiritual matters – then I’ve marginally succeeded.

    • Tim, thanks. I would say you’ve succeeded in many ways, because of the way you make people think, encourage them, and model respectful dialog on the internet. That’s not “marginal” it’s right on target! Thank you for the way you faithfully respond to your calling.

  2. Keri, I respectfully disagree with your use of the word privilege. In some cases the reason women are not allowed to preach is theologically based. God is their authority. Having read Dr. B, I know that good minds can differ.

    • Hi Sandra,
      Privilege, by definition, means advantage. A person with privilege gets to have or do things that others do not. Regardless of the theological reasons, a woman allowed to be a priest has that privilege, while others (again, for whatever reason) do not. I agree that good minds can differ and I appreciate your comment.

  3. Keri, I think you’ve given a really helpful and wise response to the article. The suspicions raised in the piece, especially the emphasis on “crisis” related to what women are doing, bothered me a lot. I appreciate your points.

  4. Great response. I find it interesting that when I taught a few classes at my last church (the one I wrote the letter to that you commented on), it was *only* women who came to them. We did Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Luke. I kept hearing over and over “why was I never taught this before?” Well, because deep Bible stuff doesn’t always happen in a sermon and almost never at women’s events, that’s why.

  5. ” ‘From the comfort of their living rooms, lay people suddenly became household names, wielding influence over tens of thousands of followers.’ As a Christian author and speaker, I can tell you, this was not my experience. Despite working hard at it for more than a decade, I did not acquire ‘tens of thousands’ of followers. Most authors and bloggers have a small readership, but write because they feel called to do so.” // I don’t have tens of thousands of followers either, even after writing and speaking and teaching for over a decade. But I do have a voice, and a message. I believe we need voices and messages from both inside the church walls and outside the church (ie, living rooms and coffee shops). It’s a vast and sometimes wild and turbulent river of thoughts and ideas and spirit and passion and teaching and theology and practical self-help that is not going to be dammed up, diverted, or diluted. Nor has it ever been, for very long. Writers write and speakers speak and prophets prophesy. It’s who they are and what they were made to do. And the better we get at it, the more we allow the Holy Spirit to speak through us (and the less we allow self to dominate) to those who need what we have to say.

  6. Keri, thank you for your response. Your observations are spot on and the reason I write on social media – there is no place for me as a woman in my local church. I definitely see the Holy Spirit doing a work through the many writers/teachers/preachers on social media and I find it exciting to see all God is doing.

    • Thanks for commenting, Tamararh. Heading over to your blog now to see what God is saying through you! Write on, sister.

  7. Keri. I am a Christian blogger, and I did not like Tish’s article very much either. The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, including reunification talks that are on-going, is only a hair’s diameter away from Roman Catholicism anyway. (Please do not get me wrong. I love the Roman Catholic Church and Catholics.) The point I am trying to make here is that both churches are extremely heavy on a highly formalized Patristic Order and a heavy weight of historical church tradition. Therefore, being a part of that tradition, Tish would naturally feel this way. For people like me, who were born and raised in the various churches of the American South, the notion of “hanging judge” ecclesial authority and Patristic Orders does not mean very much—so Tish was pretty much talking to the wind as far as Protestant folks like me are concerned. The problem with women in the churches of the American South, in my opinion, is a deeply historical, Scots-Irish, secular cultural tradition of demeaning women and keeping them in “their place.” One of the responsibilities of the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches is to support that secular tradition by keeping its spiked jackboot pressed down hard on the necks of women.

    Another thing I did not like about Tish’s article, which I detected by reading between the lines, was a bit of snarky self-congratulation on having studied her way to a seat at the table with the male priesthood in the Anglican Church. While it is fine to have done this, I do not think it requires an “attitude.” She may be “one of the boys now” and feel some sense of power from being there—but power comes with a responsibility to be humble, use it wisely, and never forget the lowly place from which one came and the others who are still trapped there. I was not seeing that.

    The most disturbing thing I saw in her article, and I do sincerely believe it was there, is a national call for the high leadership of various established Christian churches and denominations to implement a formal American Inquisition and begin burning Christian bloggers at the stake in the eye of the American public. I have only four things to say here:

    (1) This is not in the historical and cultural spirit of how we do things here in the United States. Those who oppose Christian bloggers have large blogger followings to contend with too—not just the blogger alone. These followers can easily shout back to these established churches their own shortcomings—and make their cases stick in the minds of the American public. However, any such American Inquisition would soon find itself burning at its own stake.

    (2) Americans love the underdog, and the so-called “liberal news media” will crucify and roast alive any church official(s) or church that tries out such an American Inquisition—be it formal or informal. The news media loves Christian bloggers and religious dissent, and they often pick up their blog articles and flash them around the world as part of their own news feeds.

    (3) Many Christian bloggers have both money and attorneys—and churches and denominations will get their pants sued off if they try an American Inquisition against Christian bloggers. That much is a given when you premeditatedly attempt to destroy a Christian blogger’s reputation and ministry in the eyes of the American public.

    (4) Many Christian bloggers have given up on organized churches and denominations—and for very good reasons—and are no longer part of them. Tish may claim some sort of “church authority,” but I can guarantee her that no sitting judge in an American courtroom is ever going to recognize any such ecclesial authority. The First Amendment solidly prevents it. The judge’s first question to Tish and others who would mount an American Inquisition against Christian bloggers is going to be: “What formal legal standing and recognized authority gives you the right to destroy this blogger’s personal life, reputation, and ministry?”

    I and many other Christian bloggers believe that a New Christian Reformation is now underway in the early 21st century. We strongly believe it is being led by the Holy Spirit because the existing organized and institutional churches here in the United States have failed the words, deeds, and examples of Jesus Christ. The mainline Christian denominations have been loosing members for decades and continue to do so. The Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches—well–it is all just too ridiculous, horrible, and evil to talk about—and they too are now losing members, especially their own children. One Christian fundamentalist group claims that 88 percent of the children raised in their churches leave them at age 18 and never come back to them or churches like them for the rest of their lives. Something is terribly wrong in the American church establishment—and it is not a “sinful world pressing in on it from all sides.”

    What’s wrong is that many of the established churches have abandoned Jesus Christ and his New Testament ministry of love and reconciliation—and much of it has sold out Jesus for the Earthly power and glory of American politics. Tish and others like her need to remember one baseline historical fact. Religious reformations do not begin in the power centers of organized, establishment religious authority. They begin out on the fringes of societies and cultures with people like Martin Luther. Jesus and his disciples were fringe people relative to the Judaic establishment. That is precisely what is happening today with Christian bloggers (the fringe people of today) who hold the words and deeds of Jesus Christ near and dear to their hearts. We are tired and sick to death of the “Old Testament Christianity” taught within the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical establishment here in the United States. Indeed, a New Christian Reformation is underway today, and Christian bloggers are a MAJOR part of it. The Holy Spirit is leading it. I have little doubt about that. If Tish wants to oppose it. Fine. However, I can tell her that no one successfully opposes the will of the Holy Spirit.

    Lastly, just to comfort Tish here, I think she misunderstands this New Christian Reformation and the Christian bloggers who are part of it. I do not recall any Christian blogger I have encountered who is raising cane about the Anglican Church, Roman Catholic Church, or The United Methodist Church. The New Christian Reformation here in the United States is not particularly about the mainline churches and denominations. Rather, it is a tsunami reaction to the apostasy and heresy that pervades the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical church establishment in the United States. Bloggers like me have no particular “beef” with the Anglican Church or the The United Methodist Church. Indeed, I am a United Methodist. We tend to think you are pretty doggone good folks who are faithful to Jesus. If you will look closely and count the numbers of Christian blogs, I am pretty sure you will find that most of them are a reaction to Christian fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, the so-called Religious Right, and their many parachurch hate organizations and hate ministries. Breathe easier Tish.

  8. Hi Keri, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on many important topics. I’ve chimed in on the Twitter conversation many times over the past 24 hours so don’t want to overstay my welcome.

    I did want to offer a word of caution, however, to the comment that the author enjoys a great “privilege” for being in a denomination that ordains women. The Anglican Church in North America, to which Tish belongs, allows each diocese to decide whether or not it will ordain women. Its Archbishop, Foley Beach, opposes the ordination of women. I need to double-check this number, but there are like 7 dioceses in all of the US that ordain women. Further, Tish has experienced plenty of hostility for being a female priest, and many of her Anglican peers do not believe she should be preaching or administering the sacraments. So I think it’s a bit simplistic to cast her freedom as a “privilege” without acknowledging the barriers and downright sexism she herself has experienced over the years.

    Hearty debate and disagreement are appropriate when the stakes are so high. And the stakes are really high in this conversation, for women leaders and for the church. But I don’t think Tish’s piece has been read charitably or even that carefully. You could easily say that her ecclesiology and vision of church authority is *different* from yours and even wrong, given your reading of Scripture. But to cast the article as a “no” to women pursuing their calling and exercising their gifts is a stretch–especially when there are plenty of evangelical teachers explicitly and repeatedly saying this!

    Thanks again,
    Katelyn

    • Thanks, Katelyn. I appreciate your comments, and my hope is this will open up an important conversation. I see my post as a part of a conversation, not the “final word.’ I’m very open to hearing about the sexism experienced by someone within a denomination that ordains women. However, a call for “oversight” begs the question: from whom? the Anglican church? the Baptists? my own non-denominational mega church? I’m glad to reach out to Tish to talk about this.

    • Thanks Katelyn. I have stopped at several different blog spots today, and all of them are responding negatively to Tish’s blog article. The responses I have seen are from English majors and persons with theology degrees, so I very much doubt that people are misreading her. The very best rejoinders I have seen are two related articles published by Ms. April Kelsey on her “Revolutionary Faith: Taking Back Christianity” blog. If you do not know April already, both you and Keri should acquaint yourselves with her and get to know her because she would be a blessing to both of you. Her clarity of mind and heart are unsurpassed. You may read her posts with regard to Tish’s article at the following safe link:

      https://revolfaith.com/

      Have a great day!!!

  9. As someone who works directly with Women’s Ministry leaders, I see a generation of women who want “Women’s Ministry” to be deeper than tea parties and crafts and can’t get a leg forward to make it happen. Either they are held back entirely in leadership, or the Church leaders have an antiquated view of Women’s Ministry that has put scales over their eyes to even see what this new generation of Women’s Ministry leaders are trying to do. I serve two counties of leaders, all from different denominations/non-denominational churches. For 3 years these leaders have been trying to put intentional Mentoring and Discipleship in their WM programs and get nothing but push back, and what few events they were allowed are being scaled back even further. If we can’t even lead, really lead, a Women’s Ministry… Lord help us trying to lead anywhere else in the church. 🙁

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