Emerging Women? Is the Emerging Church Dominated by White Men?

image During the question and response time at a seminar last week by Dr Peter Rollins (a philosopher whose ideas have been associated with the emerging church movement), a member of the audience asked: where are all the women? About 30 people had turned up to listen to Rollins, and there were only three women among them (myself included).

This question prompted some discussion about the emerging church in general, and whether it is dominated by white men. This thorny question has been generating debate in the US, as explored by Prof. Gerardo Marti last month on Duke University’s Call & Response blog.

The US debate, however, is focused primarily on the race/ethnicity issue rather than the gender issue. Marti cites an article in Sojourners, where Soong-Chan Rah laments his experience of emerging church,

In terms of the public face of the emerging church, white males dominated. It seemed like the same old, same old. As per the lyrics by The Who: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

In the conversation after Rollins’ seminar, we wondered if the white-male domination of the emerging church is simply a by-product of its roots in evangelicalism – a religious expression that has been known to be top-heavy with white men in the US and in Northern Ireland.

I pointed out that the group with which Rollins is associated in Belfast, Ikon, seems to me quite gender-balanced. A number of women are involved in planning and organising its events. But as Rollins wryly acknowledged, the Insurrection Tour – a sort of portable Ikon featuring Rollins, Pádraig Ó Tuama, and Jonny McEwen – was fronted by three white guys.

While the question of race and ethnicity is particularly important for the emerging church to consider in its American contexts, I hope the question about women doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Women often bring distinct and important perspectives to conversations about religion – and it would be a shame not to hear what we have to say.

For example, my School’s recent surveys of religious faith on the island of Ireland found significant differences in the way that women think about faith issues.

For instance, women are much more likely than men to prioritize reconciliation as a religious value – and it is evangelical men who place the least value on reconciliation.

In percentage terms, just 20% of evangelical men have a ‘high’ view of reconciliation, while 47% of evangelical women, 46% non evangelical women, and 42% non evangelical men have a high view of reconciliation.

We ranked views of reconciliation as high or low depending on answers to a range of questions about reconciliation. (Open the powerpoint on this blog post to read more.)

So I’ve been searching for women’s perspectives on the emerging church in recent days, and have discovered the ‘emerging women’ website, which prioritizes women’s perspectives (without excluding men).

On my initial perusal, this seems an excellent source for broadening perspectives on what emerging is and what it might become.

(Image from Emerging Women website)

4 thoughts on “Emerging Women? Is the Emerging Church Dominated by White Men?”

  1. I think I should point out that it is not white men that prevent women, black, white or other, from participation. Most issues raised against women participating in church, particularly in a clerical capacity, come from other women. Some of these issues are very overt and well publisised, others are more sumliminal and make it difficult for women to feel comfortable in taking up post. It is therefore only the very brave or very aloof who come forward and take up emerging posts. Only my view, but it bourn out of experience.

  2. From my perspective it is indeed a by-product of evangelicalism. You only have to look at ‘women’s ministry’ across the country to witness the affirmation of what is perceived to be God’s divine ordering of the world… Men, Women, Children, Animals, Plants etc etc…

    Our major festival for women ‘Focusfest’ and recognised discipleship programmes like ‘Soul Sista’ consistently fail to address questions of gender. They do affirm women as leaders but only in very prescribed contexts. Free thinking women are few and far between in most churches; questioning is often discouraged and so it is the same old same old…

  3. In terms of participation, my limited experience of Emergent movements on “mainland” Britain suggests that gender is less of an issue affecting overall participation, but perhaps more so within leadership, which is indicative of the “established” churches the emerging groups have grown out of. The gender/racial make-up of leadership in the British Emergent movement is much less balanced however.

    I think the question in Britain is less one of gender, but more of social class, which goes some way towards answering the race issue. Emerging movements tend to be led and participated in by the middle classes – who happen to be overwhelmingly white. The “middle-class-ness” of it is not necessarily a matter of income, but perhaps more one of social and cultural values.

    Churches serving Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities have not generally been approached to participate in Emerging church movements. I am uncertain of how many have expressed much interest in participating in the emergent movements reader of this blog are most familiar with, either. Prehaps a language barrier may explain this in some cases, but more so a clash of cultures and values. Most of all, many churches serving BME communities are very much “emergent” in their own way.

    The questions surrounding multi-cultural (ecumenical) worship and co-operation on a pastoral level are only beginning to be explored and addressed.

  4. My sense of the emerging church movement is that it is trying to reclaim the old evangelical emphasis and movement that exsisted outside of and in some ways oppositiion to Fundamentalism. While more open to exploring various issues the Emergent leaders are still closed to the various issues expressed in the varient Human Sexuality Liberationist theologies, that is Women and Gays, so it is no surprise that it is still white male dominated.

    As to the issues of reconciliation, which from a biblical perspective is the proper sense of “salvation”, even the majority of women don’t hold to that dynamic, just more women than men. The other item I would wonder is how many of the evangelical men that hold it as a value are of a Historic Peace Church position. Second wonder on this is more related to human sexuality questions. My quess is that those who hold to reconciliation as the biblical value are more likely to have experienced life as a minority within a negative majority situation. That is as caucasians: women and gays.

    Just some of my thoughts as I drink my first cuppa of the morning.

    Peace all.

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