My husband received a brochure for the Together for the Gospel conference in the mail last week. I was immediately struck by the irony of the title, “Together for the Under-estimated Gospel” juxtapositioned against the photo.
Do you see what I see? Or maybe I should ask, “Do you see who is missing?” I see men. I do not see women.
It is important to note that this conference grew out of a group of four pastors and originally was designed for pastors (which in this circle of evangelicalism means men only). Its purpose was to promote unity around the central truths of the Bible, as a counterbalance to all the division over things like baptism, the action of the Holy Spirit today, and the second coming of Jesus. They wanted this gathering to provide a shot in the arm of these hard-working servants of God and rally preachers to return to a certain kind of preaching (what they call “expository” preaching of the Bible itself). It has done exactly that for all of the men I know who’ve attended. They can’t say enough about the joy of singing to God with thousands of other men, and about the inspiration to dig into study and serving their churches with renewed vigor. But the conference has expanded greatly since 2006.
I would love to attend a conference striving to build unity and grappling with the deep things of God. I would especially love to do so with my husband – we enjoy discussing these things together and pushing each other to think hard and root out inconsistency and hypocrisy.
But I don’t see women in the materials here. Men fill the images used. Men fill the words used, e.g. “We are brothers.” Women are mentioned only in the affirmations and denials section – “We further affirm that the teaching office of the Church is assigned only to those men who are called of God in fulfillment of the biblical teachings,” but “We also deny that this biblical distinction of roles excludes women from meaningful ministry in Christ’s kingdom.”
It makes me wonder whether they think about women when they think about their respective churches and what they need in the way of teaching and preaching. Do they ever ask the women in their churches what challenges they are facing and what questions of faith they are grappling with? Do they take those challenges into account when choosing what to teach and preach? Shouldn’t this be part of their ministry – to make sure their women are being equipped and trained for “meaningful ministry in Christ’s kingdom”? If so, why don’t they talk about it at conferences like this? Why do I never see panels of women speaking about the questions and dilemmas they face in their day-to-day ministries? If conferences like this are designed to equip pastors to better serve their churches, shouldn’t they talk to and about women, and perhaps hear from a few?
As Sarah wrote so powerfully here, women don’t only want to talk about cooking and children and home organization. We aren’t playing at church. We don’t always want to be segregated, separated from the men with whom we’ve been commissioned to serve God and served froo-froo fare while the men dine on steak. We share the mission God gave us in Genesis and in Matthew – to govern this earth and to share God’s love and truth with others.
Women dive deep and think hard. Women grapple with how to understand the doctrines and traditions of the church, with how to allow Jesus to permeate every part of us, with how to live like Jesus where we are each day. We find ourselves under-trained, under-equipped, and under-estimated every day. Many of us have also learned a thing or two that might be helpful to others, both men and women, who are wrestling with the same challenges.
You would think that with a name like “Together for the Gospel” and a subtitle like “Under-Estimated,” I would feel welcome and hopeful that if I attended I would be built up, encouraged and inspired dig into study and serve my churches with renewed vigor. Last time they held this conference, they welcomed women. Because of that, I suppose that women are welcome again this year, but I can’t tell from this brochure. With no women featured or mentioned, I just don’t know.
What do you see? If you’re a man, would you welcome women at this conference? Would you want to hear what women are wrestling with in their faith? If you’re a woman, do you think you’d be welcome?