A Friendly Audience

A woman stood up and preached a message that everyone agreed with, articulated beautifully, but with obvious discomfort.

A man stood up and preached a controversial message, filled with rebuke and challenge, but with great comfort.

Two different audiences. Two different speakers. Two very different experiences.

The woman gave what the hosting pastor called "the best talk I've ever heard." But although her message was one he endorsed and although he invited her to speak, she preached like she was preaching to a hostile crowd. And, though I detected no hostility in the crowd (quite the opposite, people really responded to her), I understood.

The man I mentioned above spoke at InterVarsity's Multi-Ethnic Staff Conference. He's a white man, speaking in a room where white folk were not in the majority. He challenged us on our discipling practice, on our hesitancy to innovate, on our lack of love for the marginalized. And he did this comfortably. Again, I understood.

Why the difference?

Both were competent and confident communicators, seasoned and experienced. Both had messages they passionately believed. Only one felt confident that who they were as a person would be welcomed.

It is a difficult thing for women with teaching gifts to find a place of welcome in the evangelical community, especially in the white evangelical community.

This is not an attack on complementarianism and those who believe that Scripture prohibits women from serving as elders or pastors. Not at all!

But we need to see the consequences of the culture we create.

Theologically and biblically, everyone in that complementarian crowd seemed fine to hear the woman who taught at the conference several weeks ago. She wasn't taking up a pastorate, she was clearly under the authority of the conference leadership, she didn't preach expositionally. All complementarian mile markers.

In the defense of gender roles, perhaps some have overstated their case. And gifted women have been undercut by culture despite the encouragement of doctrine. Though challenged by the Bible to put their talents to good use, some feel restricted by church culture, and so bury their talent in the sand.

Compare this to the experience of the man who taught at the ME Staff Conference. If anyone had the right to feel uncomfortable, it's the white guy speaking as a minority. It's the white guy who walks around every day and sees a country mostly filled with people who look just like him, but stands up to preach to an audience that doesn't.

Why did he feel comfortable?

I'm not sure. But I'd like to find out.

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