Is anyone paying attention to a growing corps of evangelical female Christian bloggers out there?
Earlier this week, Religion News Service profiled four such bloggers with a headline saying they had spawned a “crisis of authority.” While I don’t believe they’ve begun any such thing, these women -- and the underlying frustrations causing them to write what they do -- deserve a closer look.
The piece begins with a vignette about blogger Sarah Bessey (pictured in this piece), who’s been plying her wares on the Internet for some 12 years.
In many places, blogging seems to have become all about personal branding. At the same time, Bessey’s blog has brought her speaking engagements and inspired two books -- “Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women” and “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith” -- with a third in the works. Bessey now has nearly 43,000 followers on Twitter and about 38,000 on Facebook.
“The internet gave women like me -- women who are outside of the usual power and leadership narratives and structures -- a voice and a community,” Bessey told RNS by email. “We began to write and we began to find each other, we began to learn and be challenged, we began to realize we weren’t as alone as we thought we were. Blogging gave us a way past the gatekeepers of evangelicalism.”
For many Christian women, including racial minorities, and others whose voices traditionally have not been heard by or represented in institutional churches, the internet has created new platforms to teach, preach and connect.
That includes countless personal blogs and social media accounts like Bessey’s. It also includes online ministries that have grown to include offline events like Propel Women, (in)courage, The Influence Network and IF:Gathering, and Bible study communities like She Reads Truth, which started as a hashtag by several online strangers to share what they were reading in the Bible and has grown to a website, app, book and specialty Bible that counted 500,000 active users last fall.
I get the frustration that Bessey and many other women feel. I too see how secular and religious media quote only men when it comes to anything theological; how men get handed book contracts, radio shows, TV spots and pulpits that will never be open to a woman. I’ve seen female authors relegated to the marriage-and-family genre while men get their pick of all other topics. Yes, I’ve been among the women who’ve been turned down for jobs in the religious sphere that have gone to lesser-qualified men.
I was once a regular writer for a women's blog at Christianity Today and one thing that galled me is that none of us writers were paid. Would the magazine have assembled a corps of male writers and told them they had to do it for free? So, the double standard is out there.
But, if the furor on social media this past month is to be believed, the abundance of faith bloggers also has created what the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren called a “crisis of authority.”
“Is literally everyone with a computer -- do they equally hold authority to teach and preach?” said Warren, an Anglican priest, who wrote a commentary for Christianity Today titled “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?”
Warren’s CT piece is an interesting read but she’s speaking from a theological and ecclesiastical perspective most evangelical women just don’t share.
I suspect few evangelicals are part of a hierarchical denomination that has priestly lines of authority from bishop to priest to deacon. I suspect most evangelical women hold to a “priesthood of the believer” paradigm that you see in the non-denominational churches that cluster the American religious landscape.
Because there is no central defining authority, as tmatt has repeatedly noted, evangelicals themselves are tough to define, much less what constitutes an evangelical leader. So it’s understandable why a lot of women don’t want to sign up for that debate.
But many don't fit the stereotypes. They are not Donald Trump voters but their personal commitment to Christ is to a depth that they can’t -- doctrinally speaking -- simply move over to where many of the mainstream Protestant women exist in a world that seems to despise religious freedom for traditional believers and approves of any kind of abortion or same-sex marriage. Yes, this is about doctrine, not politics.
The piece goes on to explain the Jen Hatmaker controversy and the Twitter battle that caused, then brings in quotes from some other female Christian bloggers. It brings up lots of good questions and is worth reading.
Of course, I would have liked at least one dissenting voice included, just to show that not everyone is enamored of the denizens in this blogosphere. There’s a whole corps of Christian women out there who don’t subscribe to these branded bloggers and while this article isn’t about them, a mention of someone other than Beth Moore would have helped.
I think the RNS piece is a good example of fermenting trends that are going to result in some change that may shock most observers except for those who’ve kept their ears to the ground. One trend I’ve seen that’s close to two decades old is how many of these evangelical women are beyond disenchanted with their churches and have long since left. I tracked such women in my book “Quitting Church” and I’m convinced the exodus is still going on.
So I’d like to know how many of these bloggers are even part of a congregation and if they’re not, do they agree with Tish Warren’s belief that bloggers should be under spiritual authority? I doubt it.
Instead of a “crisis of authority,” these women don’t buy into any authority. And is there really a “crisis?” Only one person is quoted saying there is one.
Also, why is it that women are told to submit to authority while similar male bloggers are not? As one commentator said:
Mark Driscoll's spiritually and financially devastating antics spawned no crisis (under whose authority did he plant his churches?), but a few women getting publishing contracts and the sky is falling.
Seems that at least part of the story here is that if the church doesn't move in the right direction these days, a lot of people will move without it. There are options out there that weren't in place before. And there's a lot of trends popping up that weren't there, either.
Let's hope that reporters in the secular media will note this potential sea change. Will evangelical women stay in most churches or will they create their own networks and leaders? And will media folks understand that the story is not so much about a split-off as it is about a die-off. And when the gatekeepers are gone, women may take over.