Women Are the Leaders the Church Needs: Reflections on #TakeDownThatPost

Here is my column from today’s paper in which I discuss the Leadership Journal / #TakeDownThatPost controversy from last week. Spoiler alert: I think the great lesson learned is not the power of social media, but rather the power of female leadership.

Last week, a prominent Christian journal for pastors published an online article about a former youth pastor who is now in prison for statutory rape. The first-person tale told the story of how its author developed a growing youth ministry while also getting involved sexually with one of the female students in the church.

 

take down that post

The editors meant for it to be cautionary tale of what can happen to a pastor when he or she loses perspective on what’s important. But many people didn’t read the article that way.

Strangely, its tone read with hubris, like the author was more humiliated than humbled by his experiences. And worse, he referred to what happened with a teenage girl in his care as a “relationship” and as “adultery.” Almost as if he was minimizing his crimes, he did not use more legally precise language like “statutory rape” and “child abuse.”

Within hours of the story being published, the twitterverse was buzzing. People were questioning the editorial process: How could an article with this kind of tone get vetted? Why wasn’t his sin named for what it was? Where was the voice given to his victims, including both the young girl he abused and his wife?

The objections to the article coalesced around a unified hashtag – #TakeDownThatPost. After two full days of Twitter uproar, the editors did just that. They removed the post from their website and issued a full and admirable apology.

Some people might look at this occurrence and credit the power of social media. Twitter provided a unique means for people from all over the country and world to rally around one clear idea – that this article needed to be taken down because it did not fit with the values that ought to define a Christian publication. Without boycotts or histrionics, the message was sent and – thankfully – received.

But personally, I don’t credit the power of Twitter for the success of #TakeDownThatPost. I credit the power of women.

Every member of the editorial board that approved and published the article is a man. Unfortunately, this particular group of men read this article and failed to see its triggering language or gauge its offensive tone. To appreciate the full story, and therefore to serve the church effectively, they needed the insight, wisdom, and guidance of women.

I grew up in a church environment where women were not allowed to serve in leadership positions. Only men could serve as pastors, deacons, or elders. Only men could teach adult Sunday school classes. Only men could be the “spiritual leaders” of their homes.

The great irony of this, of course, was that women provided unquestionable and necessary leadership in every church of which I have ever been a part. Whether or not they were recognized for it or received formal titles, women led. Through their faithful attendance, unwavering service, and consistent generosity, women led.

It’s tragic to me that the real leadership of women in so many churches is undermined by religious patriarchy. There are millions of women who deserve to be appreciated and thanked for the unsung leadership they have provided, many of them for decades.

These church experiences and the success of #TakeDownThatPost demonstrate that women have been, are, and will continue to provide the leadership that church needs.

In my estimation, it’s past time for male leaders to recognize that the church is severely weakened by old, patriarchal management. The equal voices of strong, passionate, wise, godly women are needed in every church.

Frankly, without their voices, I probably would have missed how offensive that article really was. Without their voices, I wouldn’t have realized how easy it is to objectify and minimize others. Without their voices, I wouldn’t have a fuller picture of what God is like.

And so, in true Twitter fashion, let me summarize in 140 characters what I would like to say to the millions of women who lead and serve, some with recognition but most without: Lead on, my sisters. We need your voices. The church needs your leadership. Thank you for all you have done. I will be following your lead.

 

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