Two great Christian resources for International Women’s Day 2018

I spent a good chunk of Thursday (International Women’s Day 2018) at the launch of two excellent resources. One is the Sophia Network Minding The Gap research. This is a survey of 1200+ women in the UK church, asking them about their experiences. There was much hope in the stories uncovered, and much darkness too. My friends at Sophia were kind enough to ask me to respond to the research at the launch (my first time speaking at an event in the House of Lords…); what I said will appear on their blog soon, and I don’t want to pre-empt it here, but I do want to honour them for doing the work so well, and for their ten years now of advocating for gender justice in the UK church.

The second is the Project 3:28 Database. This is, simply, a database of female Christian speakers in the UK, created in the hope that it will become big and comprehensive enough that the endlessly tedious, and always weasel, suggestion that ‘we couldn’t find a woman’ to speak at this or that conference will be rendered obsolete. I’m honoured to be able to name the people–Natalie Collins; Hannah Mudge; David Bunce; Vicky Walker–who made this happen as friends, but I also feel a tiny slice of ownership. Natalie collated the stats on Christian conference speakers in the UK in 2o13; on the back of this, a group of us got together about four years ago and asked what we could do to change things. It was one of those tables that it was an utter privilege to have a seat at: I looked around at Natalie, Hannah, Paula Gooder, Elaine Storkey, Wendy Beech-Ward, and Krish Kandiah, and wondered what I had ever done to merit being in that company.

We committed to continue to publish the stats year on year, which we have (Natalie has done most of the work), with visible results. Some conferences embraced the implied challenge: Spring Harvest, for example, committed to producing their own data, and to working towards improvement. Others didn’t–I remember the day we received a formal letter from one organisation’s lawyers, the sinking feeling of what that might mean, and then the elation of realising that they were actually scared of our little collective, because we were speaking the truth in public.

We dreamt at that first meeting in 2014 of some resource profiling and championing female speakers at conferences; we continued to dream and pray. We were committed to doing it well, or not at all. An astonishingly generous anonymous gift of nearly £5000 pushed us to try to make our dreams a reality; we raised a good chunk more, and Natalie, Hannah, Vicky, and David created the website we now have. We are grateful for the donor who gave thousands, and for the many donors who gave £10.

The website is both beautiful and wonderfully functional, and I am hugely impressed with the way my friends have brought it to reality. I have just checked and, three days after launch, there are over 120 gifted female speakers registered. Some–Amy Orr-Ewing; Paula Gooder–are as well known as almost anyone in the UK church; others are much less famous, but are women who have something to say. I hope and pray that it will grow ten-fold or more, that there will be a mighty army of gifted women offering themselves to the UK churches to preach the gospel and to teach the faith. I hope and pray too that event organisers–from the biggest national conference to the most modest local church away day–will use it to expand their imagination of who could come and speak.

It’s not perfect. I look at it already and think and pray about questions of intersectionality, about how we prevent this thing, if we can, from being another way of silencing other oppressed groups. We want all women, not just white women, not just able-bodied women, not just straight women… We will have failed if somehow our structures exclude some class of women.

East of Eden and longing for the End, however, perfection isn’t available to us. All we have are our best attempts to make things a little better, and the promise that, in the redemption won by Christ and in the transformation brought by the Spirit, our best attempts might be graciously taken up by God and made into something truly significant. Could this be one such?

I don’t know. I do know that at the small launch event we were joined by Veronica Zundel. I’d not met Veronica before; I discovered that she had worked back in the day with John Stott, no less, on the Men, Women, and God conferences. She has given a lifetime to campaigning on this issue, at times, at least, alongside the very greatest of UK evangelicals. She said to us ‘I’ve been dreaming of a database like this since before I knew what a database was.’

The God we worship is in the business of making impossible dreams happen; I dare to believe today that the little collective I have been on the edge of these last four years has been a part of God’s purposes in making Veronica’s impossible dream happen, and that God might yet use this website, and our little collective, to make a hundred hundred other impossible dreams happen, and that God will be glorified as God’s daughters prophesy in a thousand different places.


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