Is It Time for Positive Discrimination at Emerging Church Events?

I’m thinking aloud here, rather than criticizing a particular event. We’re all guilty, and all need to change. But following a link on another blog to this EC conference and its 3 white male key speakers made me wonder: is it about time we tried positive discrimination?

Epposter1Email-776136For those unfamiliar with the idea, it’s something the Labour and Tory parties have both tried in an attempt to achieve a representative balance of MPs. ie more women, more ethnic minorities.

It’s something I’ve talked to a lot of people about at Greenbelt at their ‘brainstorming’ days for new speakers etc, and the various arguments always come up: people should be there on merit, there just aren’t the women/ethnic minorities out there who want to speak, men are just more forthright and enjoy the form more…

Trouble is, we’re left with an unchanging white male situation. And I just don’t think that’s good enough. The arguments pro positive discrimination seem strong: if you have such a policy for a while then the people will be raised up and discovered – which has certainly proved the case in parliament – and there has been such tacit discrimination pro-men for such a long time that proper action needs to be taken to redress this.

So… should people be deliberately, voluntarily making sure that for each big EC event there is a proper, representative balance? After all… wasn’t this meant to be about new forms of Church?

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35 responses to “Is It Time for Positive Discrimination at Emerging Church Events?”

  1. i’m with you on this kester – it’s not enough to say ‘we support women in leadership’ if there aren’t any to be found… anywhere…

  2. For the last generation or so in the U.S. this approach has been known as “affirmative action.” It’s not very popular right now, and is even criticized by some in minority communities.

  3. I agree and disagree. First, I agree that we need to be more intentional about the what we are talking about, especially where women are concerned.
    However, in events like this, the goal is often to be agents of change in a culture that is still largely hesitant, uneasy or hostile towards these ideas. Some people (consciously or otherwise) won’t hear anything unless it is from a famous (white male) leader.
    I think the change needs to start at the grassroots first and foremost, not necessarily at these splashy conferences.
    My greater concern is that it is a one day deal. One day? Yikes!

  4. A definition of insanity: to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result.
    we keep saying women need to have more profile… we keep asking white, male, middle class people to speak at conferences… we keep wondering why there aren’t women in visible leadership positions.
    at some point, if we have any integrity as christian community, we have to change one of those variables. affirmative action / positive discrimination may have its negatives. i honestly think it’s better than doing nothing.
    or let’s think creatively about what a third option might be… perhaps the real issue is how prepared are we to change stuff from its very foundations so that we create the kind of ‘conference’ (gathering / event / space) that suits the kind of speakers we need to be hearing.

  5. Cheryl,
    Again, I think it is unfair to assess what the church is doing by who they are inviting to speak at conferences. Yes, there needs to be changes, but lets not sell short the amazing leaps we’ve made already. (And this coming from a house husband who supports his wife who is the co-founding director of an inner city ministry).

  6. I should add, I am in agreement with the main thrust of this post. I am only cautioning against failing to recognize and celebrate the forward momentum that we are definately seeing in the church and our culture, as well as measuring the progress on the merits of conferences.

  7. Kester,
    Check out this post from Rachelle. Yeah, I’m a white male but I learn from people who know something I don’t.
    It’s stupid to talk about credentials. That’s little more than a requirement that speakers think like I do.
    Personally, I’m losing faith in the current Emergent Leadership because they’ve not lived up to their words. I wrote a post today about the lack of comment and trackback allowances at Ken Silva’s and Brian McLaren’s blogs. Neither of them understand that communicating with us rubble is necessary to maintaining integrity.
    Silva, of course, is not of Emergent but merely a stone thrower from afar. But McLaren should know better.

  8. Hi Kester, I understand the idea/concern (but I am white and male so maybe I don’t really), but +ve discrimination is not the answer.
    In this case, put three women as the speakers, and the event is something people won’t come to. They are coming becuase of those three people.
    And then should these speakers say no to speaking, because they are male, would that cause the event people to invite women…I doubt it.
    I think we need something better, having women involved intentionally at these events, sharing the platform, and being given visibility that way has to be a way ahead.
    And Bill I’m sorry you feel so upset by Emergent. Brian has thousands of e-mails and could not possibly reply to everyone, but he does try to, by posting replies to questions.
    Also givne this topic, he does encourage people to engage with others, and not have all roads lead to him, for comments. Try Rachelle’s site and see if she replies to you.

  9. Personally, I agree with Cheryl. If the current modus operandi is not giving rise to the change we *all* agree we want to see, we have to change modes. And conferences etc. (even at those special rates, agreed J!) simply don’t seem to be a way that women want to communicate.
    Jason, you mention that perhaps the people shouldn’t speak, and hope they invite women instead – agreed, that’s not going to work.
    But how about an agreement between some of these bigger names – yuk, have we got to that point in the movement aleady – that they won’t do events unless they are inclusive platforms. If they do have this (perceived) power, regardless of whether that’s right or whether they want it, they could use their status to huge positive benefit by taking such a stand… and, as I’ve argued in other posts on Leadership, thus keep pushing status away, sharing the limelight, devolving power and refusing to accept the projected image.
    Personally, I like the idea of that – and believe it would go some way to soothing the concerns that Bill (with many others) have about the way things are going with the leadership that has emerged.

  10. maybe there’s a broader question here about why we run conferences… how we ‘transmit’ information, and how we value those who transmit it… conferences are a very odd model, when analysed, that don’t often encourage learning. we repeatedly put people of great wisdom into situations where it’s virtually impossible to absorb thier wisdom… conferences do, of course, serve other purposes, but it’s odd that we rarely question the model, that we don’t ask how all we are learning in the emerging church about sharing power, devolving leadership, etc. can be applied into this context.
    i just don’t think i can bear the irony of going to another conference where i’m lectured on post-modernity…
    (i suspect I am reacting to my own context here, not to the church global…!)

  11. Absolutely. Keeping the conference model may actually be helping prop up the male status quo. So insisting on balanced platforms might well just serve to burn the fingers of any women with great things to say?
    And you’re right… If I here any more sermon yak on PoMo, I’ll do something violent with a post.
    [Funny story on this this morning: tried to go swimming with my little ‘un, but was barred because it was a ‘women only’ swim session. “So when’s the men only session?” “We don’t have one.” Seriously – is that really needed? Help me out here – is going to a mixed public baths really that intimidating for women? Why not an Asian Only session?]

  12. If we see conferences merely as models by which to trasfer information, then yes, their days are numbered (or should be), but as one who goes to conferences a great deal (out of necessity, not always choice), they are highly relational and one of the best mediums to networking outside your regional sphere. Some conferences are better than others at doing this, but those who do it well create amazing space for community.
    I guess I am just concerned that a lot of the critique here is simply “lopping the heads off dandelions”- in other words, attacking symptoms and not the cause. Conferences get the most attention, so people assume they have the most power.
    However, I think it is a GREAT idea for people like McLaren to make requirements of all his speaking venues to help in this regards.
    P.S. Does no one agree with me that the “male status quo” HAS and IS changing? Is it fair to paint a bleak picture? Yes, we need more change, perhaps even at a great pace, but let’s not neglect to honour all that has happened already.

  13. It is *beyond time for reverse discrimination. Thanks for asking this great question.

  14. They are good points you raise Kester, and ones I very much agree with. As you say the present methodology is simply not working, even if in theory emerging church is bipartisan when it comes to gender…
    I am all for positive discrimination, if, as I suspect, it will help change this unacceptable situation.
    As luck would have it, for the first moot/blah learning day you will be outnumbered 2 to 1 by female speakers 🙂
    We are hoping at these events to have at least 1 or 2 female speakers out of 3-4, even if they are not the ‘main draw’…

  15. Ha! Great stuff Gareth – seriously – that’s good. I might even wear a dress.
    You’re right too… It’s just not good enough expounding a theoretically balanced theology/ecclesiology unless you’re prepared to take hard action to make a difference.
    I agree with Jason: “Conferences get the most attention, so people assume they have the most power.” The point being that it is precisely at these showcase events that even more care must be taken to present a different model, because it’s there that people are perceiving what’s going on locally, even if they are wrong in that perception.

  16. very much looking forward to seeing you in a dress – might even put it on the publicity email 😉
    just found this really excellent post by Rachelle on women in the EC in the US – she makes some very sensible suggestions. I particularly like her ideas about scolarships for women and ethinc minorities to ensure that they are represented at conferences… anyway have a look here

  17. Saw it – excellent post. But some strange other sort of discriminationn going on there, as my attempts to comment got locked.
    The scholarships idea is spot on. But would have to be done in a very sensitive way.
    One thing I’ve heard on the subject is the ‘look, we just don’t really give a damn like you guys do’. In other words, you go ahead and do your conferences, blogs, videocasts etc… we’re not interested, nor particularly enamoured about being forced to take part.’
    Resonate with anyone? I hope it’s not a true feeling. But I wonder if what we’re discussing is akin to trying to get equality at a deer shoot (tries to think of the most pointless mascaline thing and turns to Simpsons episode for help ;0 )

  18. Dana Ames

    All of this conversation raises good points.
    Kester, I think the Women Only time at the pool is (at least) about women feeling inferior re body image, and feeling intimidated by men, particularly if they have been abused. Somehow having a Women Only pool time allows the women to feel safe around whatever issues they have. I’m sure there’s more. Just my two pence as a woman.

  19. saga arpino

    ….and male only swim sessions are veiwed as perfect gay cruising events.

  20. Three women ran the very first gatherings in Canada in 1998, 1991, and 2001. I hosted so that there would be a woman on stage and each year we had a main speaker who was a woman. We specifically dedicated money to bringing women in to lead seminars. We asked male church planters to donate money from their budgets wo we could bring in women students who weren’t going to end up in church but were going to end up in the arts, academia, kinship (the family), and medicine.
    It can be done. We did it. Three (at that time) young women working out of a basement in Calgary with just a computer and a phone and no connections.

  21. That should be 1998, 1999, 2001. Obviously I have aged since then and everything is blurring together…

  22. My perspective doesn’t fit here because I’ve never been to a church/religious conference. I’m not in the church business. I’m just an engineer. But I have been to several professional conferences and training sessions over 25 years. Here’s what I learned.
    Because the attendees/students were professionals from different experiences, I usually learned as much or more from the other attendees/ students as from the presenters. Presenters are just that—presenters. I can learn more from someone who’s been in the trenches than I can from someone who travels and presents for a living.
    Yes, I understand that these presenters have many years of experience and climbed a mountain or two from which experience they earned their reputations. But they cannot spoon feed their wisdom into me, anyway. I need interaction. I need it over time. And I need it for what ails me. Not for whatever is the hot topic this tour season. So, I won’t be going to any of these conferences. Therefore, you can just ignore me.
    Thank you Jason for the attempt to explain why Brian McLaren doesn’t engage the rest of us. That’s a really good excuse. However, the big problem for him and for presenters at these conferences, here being discussed, is that the world is rapidly changing. That excuse is no longer good enough.
    Writing a book and throwing it over the wall, isn’t good enough anymore. Giving a stellar presentation at a conference that only those with spare money and time can attend, doesn’t cut it anymore. In the 1980s we had concurrent engineering which involved R&D and operations engineers in the whole process. And the whole process means from conception to implementation through maintenance. The Internet that you’re enjoying came out of collaboration. It wasn’t invented by the military, as you’ve probably been told. It developed over time with an increasingly large group of smart people working together, sharing their solutions and helping fix each others problems.
    Lets quit the glamorous dog and pony shows and create sharing networks. Like this one, BTW. Kester wrote a book and now talks to his readers. McLaren needs to do that. If he can’t keep up with it then he has too many fans. Because the world has changed and the riffraff are too smart for the same old excuses.
    Never mind me. I get more out of reading the book than listening to a compressed version from a stage. The only conference that I’d be interested in attending would have unknown and little known presenters holding group discussions. And I want to hear from women and minorities. Why? Because they have different perspectives. I want to hear from single mothers who succeed nonetheless. Not the high salaried speaker who has a secretary to take his calls and do the uninteresting stuff. I want real people. But then again, I won’t be coming to any conferences, so you can just ignore me.

  23. I say we do away with the culture of celebrity all together. Why have a conference where a bunch of people go sit in a room and listen to someone who will say, more or less, the same thing they’ve said in their books and at the previous 57 conferences they’ve spoken at? Why do we feel that it takes the presence of somebody “famous” to validate a gathering?
    For an alternative type of gathering, you should check out Sadly, I think they’ve run out of money, but the format of the gatherings was great. It was all about relationships and asking questions. Every single attendee did a five minute panel presentation, there were no big speakers, no one was famous and everyone was smart. Brainwave of a woman, BTW. The Damaris Project did a really fantastic gathering I went to as well – very decentralized and all about conversation and story. That one was all women.
    As for me, I don’t want to fight for inclusion in a hierarchy I don’t believe in – I want to do away with the hierarchy – and conferences where we all sit and hang on the every word of someone who travels on airplanes and talks for a living, and is therefore far removed from most people’s daily reality.

  24. Agreed Christy and Bill (though there’s a sneaky side that would love so many people to have read the book I couldn’t keep up ;[)
    2 interesting articles I’ve just read. One in a slightly mad-cap book “You Are Being Lied To – The Disinformation Guide…” which talks about the move from Domination to Participation. Rulers, Kings, Generals… Men, want to have power and dominate. But this domination rule has always been eroded. And my argument in the book is that God is always trying to erode it, to bring participation and community. The rise of the web etc. is one way that this is happening now.
    Interestingly though, it’s a tension that exists in each of us. We want status, but we long for belonging. In other words, we want to be top, but we want to be together… and the lack of resolution in this brings us all sorts of tension… In fact ‘the fall’ is basically the archetypal story of this tension, and the dramatic effects it has on us.
    The other article is in this month’s Prospect (link left bar) which asks whether we need to be more cautious about opening up superhighways of information in every place. It compares the road-building programmes of the 50s and 60s, and the effects this had on local communities, and asks if we ought to be more cautious in building free fast web access everywhere at every time lest we continue to damage the physical relationships that we actually need.


    Holy Moly there’s a big take on thisd one, Krusty.
    Like I said to yer, dog, you gotta let yer bird take the riens… but there’s the problem… it’s the gifts of the people that matter, and if those gifts belong to the white males, then maybe we is all screwed… so rather than allow positive discrimination for the sake of it – which is just as mysoginistic – maybe we should allow our forms to be those that are being generated by the “minorities”. IF CONFERENCES MEAN “LED BY HETERO-MIDDLECLASS-WHITE-MAN”, then hold a carnival!!! Or some other “ethinic” event.
    I aint meaning to be simplistic, it’s just my way!!!!
    On a reverse-tip, at Art College I led the “God is a Feminist” campaign simply because it is the nature of Christ for the powerful to lay their power down… my feminist message means more to some because I am male – also I can be attacked and draw the fire while the real heros (heroines) storm the MANsions.
    As long as the dog is laying his power down, stuff could be led by a Tory-Fox-Hunting-Son-of-a-Bush-Toff-Capitalist for all I care! Or even by you, Krusty 😉 Hehe.


    Oh, and me spelllinnz sux.


    I said it before and I’ll say it again… let the “non-christians” lead our churches.

  28. Carnival’s, not conferences. I like the sound of that. In a way, that’s what I love about Greenbelt… It’s a carnival really, and although there are seminars and speakers, people don’t really get away with conference style crap there. It forces people to be more real, to be more participatory, to think more inclusively.
    And you’re speeling does suck.

  29. Dana Ames

    Flandrz, I could just hug you!
    Your comments always make me chuckle- and there is more to you than a (cheap) laugh.
    God bless you.

  30. Have come to this rather late so it could be that the conversation is all over, everyone has gone home and there’s only the cleaner left to talk to. But anyhow – I feel that nothing has changed in the last 20 years from the days when I used to do a certain easter teaching event. It’s the same issue just in a different arena, but, as people have said, you’d hope and expect that emerging church and places like Greenbelt would be different.
    I used to think that a directory of women speakers would be useful. It could be web-based and could be something that you could point people to when they asked ‘but where are the women who speak?’ what do other people think? As Christy points out, it’s easy to see the flaws in conferences and maybe we should just leave the guys to it.

  31. Really glad you’ve contributed Jenny….Guess I’m the cleaner round here, so happy to chip back in!
    It’s depressing you feel nothing has changed recently. In some ways I see you as being in a unique position to comment on that, and if you think it’s just ‘the same issue in a different arena’ that’s not good.
    One worry in trying to address the issue is that any attempts to ‘positively discriminate’ might lead to female speakers feeling ‘token’, rather than fully there on merit… what do you think?
    I’m more convinced now about the problem of form. Conferences, blogs, sermons… I’m worried that they are somehow forms that appeal to the male psyche and play to desires for organisation and power. Just a look at my ‘blogs’ links here causes me concern… 2 out of 12 is hardly a good count. So have there been *any* improvements you’ve noted in Emerging circles? Or are you just going to leave us to it? God forbid… we’ve screwed up enough times already.

  32. positive discrimination???

    Though I dont always agree with his every conclusion (which is a good thing) Kester Brewin has a way at getting at some of the critical shortcoming of the whole emerging church thing. His post Is It Time for Positive Discrimination at Emerging…

  33. Firstly, I don’t think simply changing up conference line ups will be very helpful. Although it could be a great start.
    Secondly, a part of what needs to happen is intentional practices that help create a culture ready for more diversity. There has been little narration why gender and ethnic diversity matters. Just as we narrate modernity, epistemology, consumerism, and all the other -isms and -ologies in this conversation we need to begin to have more intentional theology and praxis as to why this even matters.
    Why should aesthetics matter? why should power relations matter? What is the history? How is this connected to the bad habits of modernity? How is this connected to Christendom or Constantinian Christianity? How are our current practices and theolgizings complicit in the continued racialization of American Christianity?
    We talk about living simply in consumeristic/materialistic culture. We talk about epistemological humility in the midst of Christian theologies that worship at the altar of absolute certainty regards knowing the mind of God. We talk about embodying the Christian tradition as opposed to simply holding to dis-embodied abstract beliefs. Just as we narrate and conversate over these particular issues we need to do the same regarding gender and ethnic diversity.

  34. Excellent thoughts.
    Interesting rejoiner to the debate in here in Prospect.


    I was struck this week by the impact of a simple advert that, coupled with the film it was preceeding, has brought about quite a bit of contraversy and talk with my mates, here and particularly in the USA.
    ^^^ There’s the Ad ^^^
    And the film was Lord of War. I just thought it was good to see two mediums – Amnesty International and Hollywood – complimenting one another in such a powerful way (I’m sure AI gained prestige and LoW increased in sales)…
    It just struck me as a possible alternative to conferences… mass appeal thru movies coupled with awareness and action available thru related groups.
    I also just wanted to post that great link!!!