Gender Diversity & The Nines

Gender Diversity & The Nines

November 13, 2013 by

The Nines is an online church conference happening yesterday and today. And yesterday a smackdown came courtesy of Rachel Held Evans:

An awkward conversation followed on Twitter, with some helpful comments and some less so.

Oh boy. Not a fun situation for a conference trying to help churches.

So can local churches learn anything from this little exchange?

1. Diversity Matters
It’s time we embrace diversity—all kinds of diversity, including gender, race, culture, class, etc. It’s not about diversity for diversity’s sake, but there’s so much we can learn from different perspectives. The wider world is learning this lesson, albeit slowly, and the church needs to get on board. The church should have been leading. During the civil rights movement we were, but today the church is still one of the most segregated places in American society.

Local churches need to find ways to embrace diversity. Learn more about why diversity matters from Scott Williams and Trillia Newbell. We even took a lesson in diversity from 13th century hero Bar Sauma in our Church Communication Heroes ebook.

2. It’s Hard to Achieve
While only four women out of 110 speakers is a clear failure in gender diversity, it’s also clear the Leadership Network and Todd Rhoades, the folks behind The Nines, understand the importance of diversity (they just blogged about it Monday). Some of the talks at The Nines even cover it, this year and in the past. But the problem (and Rachel’s frustration) is that despite knowing it, the lack of diversity continues.

Todd says they invited more women but didn’t get a response. The intentions were good, but the results didn’t deliver. Sometimes we only see the result and it’s easy to assume a malicious intent. But achieving diversity is hard. Being diverse in the Midwest, where it’s 80% white, can be a challenge. It’s something you have to continually work at. Diversity doesn’t happen by accident.

Don’t expect your church to become diverse overnight. You have to work at it. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while for your results to match your intentions. And if you’re on the sidelines watching, be careful not to judge intent from the results. We could all use a little grace.

Full disclosure: Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. Our nonprofit parent, the Center for Church Communication, has had a number of women on our board of directors (yay!), but right now it’s mostly guys (doh). Our new ebook profiled diverse heroes—only five of the 15 were white men (yay!), but our recent Certification Lab was led by all guys (doh). We’re not perfect either.

3. It’s Hard to Talk About
Not only is diversity hard to achieve, but simply talking about it is hard. Some of the comments between Todd, Rachel and others who jumped in were becoming defensive, snide and in some cases rude. Defensive and even snide is understandable—it’s a tough conversation—but it’s not helpful. I think in some cases Todd was trying to be funny, but Rachel (and many others) saw it as patronizing. Social media invites the off-hand comment and being easily misunderstood, which only complicates a conversation like this.

I think inviting Rachel to speak next year and asking for suggestions for next year’s speaker list were good steps. But then explanation started to sound like excuse or even blame.

Talking about diversity is difficult and painful—remember Deadly Viper? Or the 2004 Rickshaw Rally VBS that generated an apology earlier this month? It’s tough on both sides of the discussion.

Understanding and forward progress can only come with openness and grace. As you have these conversations in your church, be honest. Acknowledge the difficulty, pain and even embarrassment (no one likes to be accused of racism, sexism, etc.). Don’t let explanation become excuse or blame. Don’t be dismissive. Own your role and responsibility, even if it means embracing failure. Avoid accusations. Don’t confuse a failure in results with a poor intent. Be willing to work together for a better result. Don’t complain if you’re not willing to help.

These will be hard conversations for your church, so you need to approach them with special care.

4. It’s OK to Be Broken
Todd Rhoades and many others have complained that this conversation is “throwing the baby out with the bath” and a distraction. Maybe so. The Nines has a lot of great content and some of it is being overshadowed by this debate. Others in the #TheNines2013 conversation keep clamoring for unity.

Yes, unity is great. But it doesn’t mean we can’t voice problems and pain. These calls for unity can inadvertently send the message that hurting people need to get over it. Unity doesn’t happen because we yearn for it. It happens when we address these issues and can move forward together. Sometimes that’s messy.

People asked Martin Luther King Jr. to slow down for the sake of unity. Thankfully he didn’t listen. But when women complained that they weren’t represented in the March on Washington, they were told to be quiet for the sake of unity.

Yikes, awkward.

Sometimes we think brokenness and failure make us weak or undermine our message. But I think the reverse is true. Jesus showed us a path of humility. The church of all places needs to embrace our brokenness.

So be careful that you don’t push aside difficult discussion for the sake of unity. You need to have those hard discussions to arrive at unity. As history has shown us, sometimes that conflict needs to be public.

5. Let’s Pray
Over at Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog they posted a prayer for unity. Again, don’t let cries for unity push away the need for discussion.

But yes, we need to pray. Let’s pray that Todd and Rachel can shake hands over this and we can all learn and move forward from this conversation. Let your church come together for prayer and healing as you address diversity.

The conversation continues…

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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5 Responses to “Gender Diversity & The Nines”

  • Carrie Gubsch
    November 13, 2013

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Kevin.

    I remember about two years ago, I attended the online conference Church Marketing Sucks hosted that was all men and mentioned it on twitter and someone responded that you will work harder next time to include more women in the future and pointed me in the direction of a few women to follow online. (It was my second week as a church communicator and that conference and this website have shaped and continue to shape the work I do.)

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      November 14, 2013

      That’s so encouraging to hear, Carrie. Thank you.

      I don’t remember which online event that would have been–was that Cultivate in 2011? Was that online? At any rate, it’s something we’re continually working at.

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  • Kyna
    November 14, 2013

    I really appreciate your take on this situation. I’ve told this to Cleve, but my continued ability to help at Creative Missions has actually done a lot in the way of helping me work through some gender discrimination I have faced from the Church. One of the big reasons I am a big CMS fan is because of the way this group continually handles tough church conversations with care. Just wanted to share how much I appreciate it all.

    Thanks for handling conversations with care and humility. I agree, we need to have the conversations, and when handled with proper care, they can be helpful for advancing the kingdom.

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      November 14, 2013

      Thanks Kyna. These are never easy conversations. We always try to approach them with humility and grace. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we end up with our foot in our mouth. Hopefully we’re doing more of the former. ;-)

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  • Eric Dye
    November 15, 2013

    Great topic, Kevin.

    In fact, we recorded a podcast on the subject of women in church tech a couple of weeks ago!

    Thank you for being awesome. :)

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