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)