When a popular blogger accuses a major Christian event of gender discrimination, RNS' Jonathan Merrit decides to take stock of the industry itself. (Image courtesy of rbatina http://bit.ly/1e3oTkG)

When a popular blogger accuses a major Christian event of gender discrimination, RNS’ Jonathan Merrit decides to take stock of the industry itself. (Image courtesy of rbatina http://bit.ly/1e3oTkG)

Just when it appears we’ve crossed the rubicon on gender equality in the evangelical world, we realize we haven’t.

The 21st century has seen massive strides on the issue. Leading theologians like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Stanley Gundry, I. Howard Marshall and Gordon Fee  made cases for gender equality on Biblical grounds, and they’ve were joined by prominent pastors like Bill Hybels and John Ortberg. Books by women began filling the shelves of Christian bookstores, often outselling those written by men. In 2008, hoards of evangelicals voted for a Presidential ticket that would have placed a woman in governmental authority over them in the second highest office in the land. And perhaps the greatest sign of the times is that the most popular preacher in the Southern Baptist Convention is, well, Beth Moore.

And yet, debates among some Christians about women’s roles in the church and home still rage. Organizations like the conservative Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood still wield a lot of power in American evangelicalism. Many churches will not ordain women—though they often offer women the same jobs and responsibilities as other ministers with a lesser title—and refuse to let them teach men in any capacity.

And what of the state of the multi-million dollar Christian conference industry?

This question was addressed yesterday in the Twitterverse when Rachel Held Evans, a progressive blogger and author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, sent a tweet calling attention to the abysmal number of women speakers at The Nines, an annual online church leadership conference:

The dig annoyed Todd Rhoades, producer of The Nines, who then engaged Evans with the following response:

This set off a back and forth with dozens of others weighing in as well. It ended with Evans saying she felt Todd was being “patronizing” and “disrespectful” and Todd joking that Evans might be “the new Mark Driscoll.” (A partial recap of the conversation can be found on storify.)

Whether or not Evans chose the optimal forum to raise the issue, her point is valid. Having only four women out of more than 110 is flat out embarrassing, and Rhoades should be apologizing rather than sending passive-aggressive replies to Evans for simply calling attention to his blunder.

Yet, as I read their exchange, I began to ask an even bigger question: Is the Christian conference industry sexist? I’ve attended or spoken at many Christian conferences over the years and most had either an exclusively male speaker list or were male-dominated. But I haven’t encountered them all or even most of the major ones. So I decided to survey some of the biggest Christian conferences in the evangelical world to uncover what level of female representation they had on stage. Here’s what I found:

Catalyst Conference – East (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 13 / Female speakers: 3

Christianity 21 (Denver, CO): Total speakers: 21 / Female speakers: 9

Circles Conference (Grapevine, TX): Total speakers: 12 / Female speakers: 2

Cross Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

D6 (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 22 / Female speakers: 4

D6 (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 32 / Female speakers: 5

Desiring God Conference (Minneapolis, MN): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

Exponential Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 27 / Female speakers: 3

Experience Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 4 / Female speakers: 0

Gateway Conference (Southlake, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 1

Global Leadership Summit (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 13 / Female speakers: 2

Hillsong Conference (New York City, NY): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 2

Hillsong Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 2

Kidmin Children’s Ministry Conference (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 7 / Female speakers: 3

Ligonier National Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 0

Love Does (Austin, TX): Total speakers: 11 / Female speakers: 3

Mosaix National Multi-Ethnic Church Conference (Long Beach, CA): Total speakers: 50 / Female speakers: 6

National Worship Leaders Conference (Can Juan Capistrano, CA): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 2

National Youth Workers Convention (San Diego, CA): Total speakers: 80 / Female speakers: 20

New Life Leadership Conference (Colorado Springs, Co): Total speakers: 7 / Female speakers: 0

Orange Conference (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 2

Q (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 35 / Female speakers: 13

Resurgence Conference (Seattle, WA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 0

RightNow (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 8 / Female speakers: 1

Simply Youth Ministry Conference (Columbus, OH): Total speakers: 71 / Female speakers: 11

Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference (Houston, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

Story Conference (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 18 / Female speakers: 5

Storyline Conference (Nashville, TN): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 3

Together For the Gospel Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 19 / Female speakers: 0

The Nines (Online): Total speakers: 110 / Female speakers: 4

Thrive Conference (Granite Bay, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 0

Velocity (Cumming, GA): Total speakers: 32 / Female speakers: 3

Wiki Conference (Katy, TX): Total speakers: 47 / Female speakers: 6

Wild Goose Festival (Hot Springs, NC): Total speakers: 74 / Female speakers: 44

TOTAL
Total speakers: 805 / Female speakers: 159

By my count, that’s around 19% female speaker representation at these major Christian conferences–presumably better than it was even a few years ago, but still lower than it should be. While I don’t think we can conclude that the Christian conference industry is downright sexist, we can say that most conferences have some serious work to do if they want their stage to look anything like the 21st century church.

*Note: I counted these myself, so I may have made an error along the way. In most cases, I only counted plenary speakers as the workshops were more difficult to track down. If you find that my math was off somewhere, let me know in the comment section and I’ll update the post. For those conferences who haven’t listed their upcoming speakers, the previous year’s event was counted.*

219 Comments

  1. To be honest, I’ve just grown to expect numbers like these. So I look at these conferences much like I look at the tabloid magazines with their overly-perfect women that I don’t see any connection or similarity with at all and think: “Oh, they’re not speaking to someone like me.” And I ignore them and their message. Because clearly, they’re meant for someone else who is like that. In this case, men.

  2. I worked for years on the Urbana student mission convention. I cannot say how it is today, but in the thirteen years I worked for InterVarsity we worked at our diversity of gender and race. Not to meet quotas but because it was the organization’s value. It can be done.

  3. So–I am sympathetic to Rachel’s point and agree that Todd did not handle the exchange as well as he could have. But I am also sympathetic to the possibility that there were extenuating circumstances affecting not only the numbers of women speaking at the nines but also at the other conferences. What would balance this picture out would be:

    What are the total number of male speakers-for-hire vs. female speakers-for-hire (that fit into the mix of what each individual conference is trying to achieve)?

    What were the actual number of women invited to speak vs. who accepted the invitation? (In other words, rather than automatically doubting Todd’s assertion–as Rachel’s twitter response seems to have done–maybe it actually is true?)

    I suggest the last because I know personally the organizer behind the Story Chicago conference and he recently took a lot of flak for not having diverse speaker representation. Had the person who wrote that blog actually asked him for the full story, she would have learned about the numbers of diverse speakers who were offered to speak and did not accept (possibly because Story doesn’t pay very well as far as conferences go; they just don’t have the budget for it and rely heavily on donations and volunteer labor).

    So I agree that conferences seeking to represent and make big statements about something really ought to strive to be representative. I am hesitant, though, to assign blame or assume the worse, because sometimes we just don’t know, and the way Rachel responded makes it seem to me that she had already made up her mind that it was bias and blindness that fueled this lack of representation rather than other factors.

    I say all this while agreeing with the possibility that the Christian conference circuit may in fact be gender-biased; I just think care needs to be taken when speaking about any particular case.

    • You might not agree with me, but here is how I would respond. If a conference is so large and comprehensive as to have more than 100 speakers, but only 4 of them were women, I’d like to see the organizers say, “We cannot go forward. If we go forward, we will so embarrass ourselves and give creedance to the idea that Christians are sexist, we simply can’t hold this conference.” They could go back to their list, and they could beg. But ultimately, they should know that people will spend more time talking about the gross distortion of Christian community presented that they’ll never get around to talking about what the organizers hoped. Yep, I think its that big of a deal. Similarly, I think a national conference with over a hundred speakers that would see only 4 people of color — should be similarly cause for deep reflexion, not an “oh well, we tried.” That is how racism and sexism are perpetuated.

      • Tracy – thanks for the response. I would agree with you unless the conference was organized by, and directed towards, complementarians. As has been pointed out elsewhere, most biblical complementarians believe in women speaking to male/female crowds in some settings; but complementarian conference organizers simply wouldn’t share with you the equation of complementarianism (reflected in a conference speaker roster) and sexism. I think there are other things that give credence to the idea that Christianity is sexist, and those more systemic things probably need to be addressed before conference rosters reflect that reality; I am grateful that this supplies a talking point that hopefully pushes more people to addressing the systems and processes that might result in skewed figures at conferences *where there isn’t already a complementarian intent,* as that skews the pool significantly and confuses two separate and important conversations.

        • I agree. We cannot expect complementarians to promote anything else than male dominance and hierarchy. As well, the women who do speak will be expected to promote male dominance and hierarchy and not teach on issues that complementarians reserve for male tearchers only.

    • There IS bias. It’s a fact. We live in a sexist society. This is not a problem limited to Christian conferences; you will find similar numbers if you look at any conference other than probably BlogHer.

      You can make excuses for each individual instance, but the facts are clear. Out of ALL THESE conferences, they ALL had “extenuating circumstances”? “Unique challenges”?

      This is clearly a problem.

      The way Rhoades reacted was patronizing, sexist, misogynistic; he is well-versed in silencing techniques. There were many more tweets that are not included in the Storify, including comments from others (including men) calling Rhoades out for his patronizing behavior. As someone in the comments of the Storify pointed out, if this was the guy in charge, no wonder women didn’t want to attend!

      What other issues could be leading to this? Unfriendly, sexist environments; condescending organizers. Are women still saddled with the brunt of housework and childcare, and that’s one reason they are not as free as men to go out of town for several days for a conference? Do these places offer childcare for participants and speakers?

      Asking to be treated with respect is not unreasonable. Asking for accommodations such as childcare is not unreasonable (especially if we’re talking about Christian events — I mean, for cryin’ out loud!!) The only reason someone would think providing childcare for participants and speakers is “too much” or unreasonable is because we live in a sexist society and we’re so used to living by these rules, which are designed to accommodate men and keep women tied to the home, that we don’t even notice them and come to expect them. Which is sad (and pretty darn un-Christian.)

      • Perhaps you should also ask why women need childcare to be able to leave the house? Can’t their husbands look after the family?? But obviously – anything that helps should be done whenever possible.

        • In some cases, yes.

          A) Not all mothers have a husband, not all mothers have a husband at home (single mothers, widows, military spouses, husbands whose jobs require them to travel extensively, etc.)

          B) If there is a husband, does his job allow him the flexibility to take time off or leave early to pick up the child from daycare? My husband’s job expects him to work 10-hour days; sometimes he has to be in before our daycare is open, often he has to work past the time they close (and our daycare is open 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.)

          C) If there is a husband, he usually doesn’t lactate, which would be a problem if the child is breastfed. (My 3yo still nurses at night; he was exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of his life, and nursed heavily for his first two years. I could pump enough to keep him fed for the 9-10 hours I was away at work each day, but would never have been able to pump enough to keep him fed if I were away even one night.)

          And these are just the first three that popped in my head, mostly from my own experience.

          We need better childcare EVERYWHERE; again, we have sexism in EVERY aspect of our society, which dictates that men are not the primary caregivers and are not expected to be the primary caregivers. Their jobs often do not give them the flexibility to be the primary caregiver, even for a few days while the wife goes off to present at a conference.

      • Criss – thanks for the reply. I don’t disagree with you about living in a sexist society and I think your point about the other issues leading to unbalanced conference rosters are probably the most important thing that this discussion should shed light on. I would just say that I think the presence of complementarian conferences skews these results, and that it’s important not to confuse complementarianism (responsibly and biblically held, as by someone like Craig Blomberg) with sexism. As you noted, though, this is not a problem germane to the Christian conference world, and that’s an important conversational direction.

        • “Complementarianism” (which I had to Google, so I may be off but based on the context in which you use it and Theopedia’s explanation I don’t think I am) sounds an awfully lot like finding “Biblical” ways to justify sexism.

    • Sure we should be careful when addressing individual conferences, especially when looking at conferences with relatively few speakers, but when you get to the point of having more than 50 speakers with only a few women among them it’s time to reassess what you’re doing. I mean if you can’t even find enough women to fill a quarter of your roster either your industry is seriously messed up or you’re not trying hard enough to bring in diversity although 50/50 is the ideal. In the case of the Nines, they’d have to have been turned down by close to 50 female invited speakers for me to feel like they attempted to get balance.

      • Jon, thanks for the reply. I’d agree with you in many cases, but not when it comes to complementarian-leaning conferences. What you mean by “your industry is seriously messed up” is, in this case, “your theology of gender roles is seriously messed up,” but surely that’s a separate and much broader conversation that can’t just be assumed here for the sake of criticizing these conferences. I agree with Caris above who points out that conference speaker imbalance is not germane to Christian conferences and I also agree with you that it’s *likely* somebody didn’t try hard enough; I think the most constructive direction is to think broadly and intelligently about the systems that produce those results (as a Canadian conference organizer noted below re: involving women in the planning, booking early, etc.).

    • I saw Ben’s response about Story and thought it was good. But I think if the answer is ‘enough women aren’t accepting the invitations’, then figure out why and see what you can do to help fix it. If it isn’t an issue for men to say yes and it is an issue for women, then addressing that needs to be part of the solution. And if that means you invite 200 women, to get 20 who say yes, then do it! Just ‘well they won’t say yes’ isn’t a sufficient answer, when there are many, many women out there who would say yes.

    • Rory brings up a lot of valid points that I agree with. I too have been a part of STORY as well as several other conferences listed here. Most of the leadership is trying to have diverse and equal voices, when it comes to sex, nationality, philosophy, even theology, but they aren’t always available.

      Another thing you’re not factoring is that many women speakers still do, and even feel called to speak at women only conferences. And until recently there was a disproportionate amount of Women Conferences vs. Men Conferences. Often these speakers are unavailable because they are committed to doing these conferences. It’s just a matter of days in a year. They can’t do it all.

      I believe (1) you have different theology* and practical limitations when counting % in real time of “Christian Conferences” as a whole, and (2) progress takes time to see more of an equal % shift.

      I agree that this is a problem, but it is changing. It takes time.

      I wonder though is the goal equality in % and not just getting the “token” _______ to appease though who are always counting. Is the motive and heart true equality, prayerfully finding both men and women voices God is using to expand the Kingdom that can challenge, equip, encourage, etc. or something else?

      *No disrespect, but the fact that you even have neo-reformed complementary conferences in your numbers above seems silly. Feels like you are trying to stack the data in your advantage, and are guilty of accuse leaders who are trying to make space with those who obviously don’t. Not really fair.

    • For every possible speaker at a conference, there will be many reasons why they might choose to accept an invitation, and many reasons why they might not choose to do so. Most of those reasons are largely the same. Saying “Well, we asked women and they didn’t choose to accept!” is disingenuous; even if women are less likely to accept speaking invitations because of other commitments, the difference in the rate of refusal is *not* as great as the difference in the rate of male and female speakers at the conference!

      If a conference has more than five speakers but the speaker’s fee doesn’t cover travel expenses to get there, that’s a sign that something’s wrong with the conference, I would say. It’s an imbalance, and one not likely to result in top quality people regardless of gender or race.

  4. Hey! Great article and definitely something worth consideration. I was at the Hillsong Conference and there were two women speakers: Bobbie Houston (Brian’s wife) and Christine Caine. Both had a full session on the main stage!

  5. Isn’t the bigger question actually about the Church vs the conferences? If Christian conferences are a reflection of Christian Culture, isn’t that formed by the Church? Why would we expect Christian conferences to be something vastly different or held to a higher standard than the Church itself? The root of this problem aren’t the conferences. The conferences are simply a reflection of the larger issue.

    So…I totally agree with your opening statement “Just when it appears we’ve crossed the rubicon on gender equality in the evangelical world, we realize we haven’t.” Unfortunately, it’s just easier to point fingers at conferences.

    • Totally agree with the idea that the conferences are a reflection of what is happening in churches. Sometimes I find that women are asked to speak at conferences but would never be hired to actually hold a pastor position at one of the churches represented. Unless of course she was hired as a children’s or women’s pastor. But in any capacity ministering to adults? Not very likely.

      I agree that women should have a much larger role in the speaking opportunities in these conferences…but until woman can use their God-given gifts to meet their God-given call in our churches, conferences probably won’t change much.

  6. Thanks for addressing this. RHE brought up a very valid point and it was embarrassing how she was treated. May be why women turned them down. Regardless, 4/112 is abysmal.

  7. I think it is important to ask these questions but it makes me feel all weird and confused too! I guess I’ve never really looked at the numbers but even seeing these do not necessarily make me feel like conferences are sexist. We just don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, I mean. Like Todd said in his twitter convo (even if it may have been executed poorly), they may have asked more women but they chose not to accept the invite. Case in point, we don’t know, and it may be a little unfair to assume.

    It doesn’t matter to me whether it is a man or a woman, I am going (and paying) to go to a conference to learn truth and sound doctrine. It shouldn’t matter whether it comes from the mouth of a man or a woman, should it?

    • It’s not solely the conferences that are sexist, it’s everything around them. The organizers. Our expectations. You never thought to even look at the numbers until it was pointed out that the numbers should not look like that — I never thought to look, either, until someone pointed it out to me, and now I see it (because I remind myself to look for it). We are used to being off to the side, not being important, while we let men be important — this is not unique to the church, this is a problem in society as a whole.

      Todd’s dismissal sounded way too much like Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” — completely clueless, patronizing, and indicative of a wholly uninviting atmosphere. Who would WANT to work with people who treat you that way? They’re not looking at women as equals, worthwhile individuals who have something important to bring to the table, they’re only including women because they’ve been told they have to in order to meet quotas and appear “diverse.” How did Todd invite female speakers? “Hey, we need someone to talk about pregnancy and marriage to the women”?

    • I understand what you’re trying to say Maggie, that truth is truth no matter who speaks it. But the reality is we are a body that should operate together and if half of the body is being silenced, not taken seriously, or not heard for whatever reasons, then we are missing some important perspectives. I am more sensitive to certain aspects of the bible’s teaching and the holy spirit leading than some of my brothers in Christ. By having a diversity of perspectives given a voice we get a more complete picture of who God is.

      • “if half of the body is being silenced, not taken seriously, or not heard for whatever reasons, then we are missing some important perspectives” <– THIS!

      • When you say “silenced” what I hear is “oppressed”, and I’m not sure if that is how strongly you mean that to come across, because I do not think that women speakers are being oppressed. Left out maybe, but again, my point was merely to see this from both sides, we do not know the whole story. Many women could have simply declined the invitation to speak.

  8. Jonathan, I think this reveals the glaring lack of male-female friendship in the evangelical culture at the leadership level. Men are the purveyors in the evangelical world of knowledge, authority, insight, and creativity. Strong and rich male-female friendships have not overcome the private-public dichotomy in the evangelical world on male-female friendship.

    The last two Sacred Friendship Gatherings (off the radar map for most evangelicals) have included more either more female speakers than men or a equal number. http://sacredfriendshipgathering.com/

  9. Thanks for doing the work on counting these up. One thing that stands out to me is that Wild Goose accounts for over 3 of the 19%. If you take out the Goose, we’re down to 15.7%. It’s like a sorry baseball team with one good hitter in the line up.

    • Considering the Wild Goose Festival leads people, on a wild goose chase with there terrible theologies I am not so sure holding them up as an example helps anyone.

      • Well now there’s an opinion! Curious, Frank, on what basis you make this judgment? As one who appreciates the Celtic Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit as “wild goose” and who attended the 2013 festival in Hot Springs, NC, I hold a slightly different position.

          • Jimmy Spencer Jr

            How odd. (But, not really) The conference with the ‘worst theology’ is the only one that has a good record on including women as speakers?

            …and right-winged leaders wonder why the public has revoked Conservative Christians ability to set social norms.

        • It would also be fair to take the opposite perspective and exclude conferences like Ligoniers and Resurgence that have theological objections to women as pastors/leaders. It isn’t really fair to those who don’t have such objections to skew their statistics based on those who think women speakers would be unbiblical.

          • Just some quick math. If I exclude the conferences that I know off the top of my head would have theological objections to women in leadership roles the result changes to 21%.

        • I an not a big conference guy. Rarely do they accomplish anything significant. Just a bunch of emotions that fade and a lot of affirmative head shaking from those that already agree with them.

    • Frankly I would not even include Wild Goose in this group because they are intentionally inclusive. I would not go near a so called “evangelistic” gathering but I went to Wild Goose and loved it.

  10. This is something that I’m acutely aware of and am so pleased that there’s a conversation going on keen to raise the profile of this.

    In our church, this is something that our senior pastor is trying to address and resurrect as the preaching team has been male dominated up until this point – women would get the opportunity to preach at women’s conferences and on mothers day (which ironically are the most highly attended Sunday’s of the year, with the least experienced preachers preaching!).

    I find the most frustrating thing is that in our team, none of us female preachers have the same experience (or perhaps confidence?) as the rest of the male team due to never having the opportunity opened before, so there’s a very obvious difference in skill and aptitude when a woman speaks in comparison to men – in my mind, I’d imagine that this just adds to the arguments of those who oppose female preachers. I think we find that we have added pressure to ‘perform’ well (it’s not God that we need to perform for, but those who are unsure of female preaching) as we’re representing the female contingent and leading the way for future female speakers.

    I wonder whether at this moment in time this gender imbalance is not because conference leaders are avoiding selecting women, but because there are a lack of sufficiently trained, experienced and “excellent” female speakers simply because women have never had as much of an opportunity on smaller platforms?

    At my church, although the leadership team are proactively encouraging us and recognize teaching gifts in us, I find it frustrating that my church is having to compromise on excellence with us female preachers at the moment as we’re still gaining more experience and coming up through the ranks. My hope is that in years to come, there’ll be equal numbers of experienced male and female preachers and the gender gap will not exist.

  11. Jonathan,

    Interesting article and thoughts. I appreciate it. I do, however, have some thoughts.

    First, it is hard to label a conference “sexist.” Conference are their own animal. People choose to go to confernces. I don’t attend certain conferences, not even because of the lineup, but because of the topic. It just doesn’t appeal to me. For example, I am not a Calvinist. I wound’t expect a Calvinist conference to have a certain percentage of non-Calvinists. That’s just not who they are appealing to. Therefore, I would not label them “intolerant” of non-Calvinists, its just simply what they want to do. Why fault them for that? It’s their conference. People can choose to come if they want.

    Second, a women may not be an “expert” in every single field of ministry. Just like men are not an expert in every single field of ministry. I mean, what about how many men speak at “typical” ladies conferences? I am pretty sure the numbers are pretty close to the same. Why? Because conferences are for certain types of people. That’s why there are so many. They are not churches, or seminaries, or even ministries to an extent. Just conferences.

    Personally, this may be blowing things a little out of purportion. Just my two cents though.

    Thanks for provoking my thoughts and your writings. I enjoy it!

  12. While many of you here are clearly in the “egalatarian” camp, there are many, including myself, who believe that “complemenatarian” is the appropriate biblical view of pastoral leadership. I am not posting to argue either side. What I am here is to remind each of you of is that we are called to love each other through differences, not belittle each other before an unbelieving world.

    The Nines is an online conference of pastors to pastors. If there is still a large number of “complementarians” out there, then don’t begrudge their honest biblical interpretation. And if it is there honest biblical interpretation, then by default, the overwhelming majority of speakers will be male, since that fits their (and my) interpretation of the scriptures that pastors/elders are men.

    I won’t scream at you for having women pastors, although I won’t agree with it. Why not extend the same grace in this direction? It’s not sexist…in our biblical view, it’s appropriate.

    • Then the appropriate answer to RHE would have been, “Our speaker list appropriately reflects our Biblical understanding” rather than “we asked women” and being passive aggressive.

      • Joanne, I agree with your response…and such a reply from Todd would have been far better. I can only guess he felt like she was forcing an agenda and responded in kind without the necessary grace.

      • Conferences like these have no reason to define a consistent theological charter. They are big tents, and most, indeed, seem encompass a swathe of the evangelical world that is more complementarian than egalitarian. It would have been better if you’d investigated the implications of the data itself–i.e. what conference demographics say about the success/persuasiveness of egalitarian gender ideology on the ground, local church level. A missed opportunity.

  13. This describes me and my experience to a “T”:
    “Many churches will not ordain women—though they often offer women the same jobs and responsibilities as other ministers with a lesser title—and refuse to let them teach men in any capacity.”

    I was even told in my previous church job that I would never make what a man in my position would make.

    I was a director, not a pastor, because I wasn’t a man.

    In my denomination, I could receive my ministerial credential, but not ordained because I am female.

    The church has a long way to go towards equality between men and women, and unfortunately I have experienced this first hand.

  14. I think this column has made a critical blunder in assuming that the theological arguments from these influential Christian figures for gender equality represent a fait accompli for the synthesis of feminism and evangelical Christianity. We ought to remember that these conferences are more akin to popular movements than divinity schools or even mega-churches, and they attract millions of evangelicals who are outside the influence of the above Christian thinkers. Further, the article is too quick to scan the demographics of these conferences for evidence of how well the ideology of our evangelical “betters” has trickled down to the masses, as if thoroughgoing gender equality is bound to someday totally define the evangelical mindset and it’s just being held up by a few elites. Taking the tone that one’s position ought to be the more favored because a number of notable theologians and pastors endorse it is not a very convincing one for the simple reasons that a) everyday Christians think for themselves on the matter and often come to different conclusions than theologians and even pastors and b) that there are just as many prominent theologians and pastors that expound the opposite position. Perhaps Wright, Fee, Ortberg, Hybels, McKnight et al. have simply failed to convince a large slice of the evangelical world (perhaps prominently sampled in Christian conference attendance) who still find theological grounding and experiential commensense validate a complementarian position on the matter. The error is to think that there is some Rubicon to be crossed at the far end of debate on the issue–history is never so inevitable. The denoument of this controversy will more likely be mutual disagreement and the continuation of separate Christian teachings (neither any more contemporary than the other) on gender between churches and traditions. Additionally, we need to consider the possibility that these Christian conferences represent a different theological sphere than the above thinkers and pastors, one that is much more sympathetic and convinced by complementarian positions. I think that there is good reason to think that they do, having had the personal experience of growing up in just the sort of small-town church–whose women and men take complementarianism to be both reasonable and beneficial to their everyday lives–that is attracted to these conferences.

  15. Are we just not gonna mention the word of God here? I am with Mark on this one. These numbers aren’t surprising or even disappointing when you take into account that most leaders of these conferences have a complementarian conviction of the word of God. I am not saying egalitarians are clearly unbiblical, but we need to respect our brethren having a biblical conviction in this area. To even suggest that they are sexist because they are behaving upon their conviction of God’s word is incredibly unfair. It would be like me suggesting that a conference is unbiblical and unchristian because they have more women than men speakers. To even suggest it would be offensive.

      • You just can’t posit this without making a straw man out of the other side. To sum up the range of complementarian viewpoints as “no women teaching men ever” betrays an unwillingness to even investigate the view or the sources of people’s convictions. It makes no sense to insist these conferences adhere to one or another article of consistent doctrinal purity (that you define) rather than simply reflecting the broad tendencies of the churches and ministers that attend. It’s still a big tent, just one that encompasses more complementarians than egalitarians.

        A conference with mostly male speakers and a few women actually makes sense given the demographic: promoting female wisdom, but not co-headship. Similar situations exist in the actual churches that sign up for these conferences: female guest speakers and Sunday school teachers, but not head pastors.

    • that would be true, Tyler, unless the Bible doesn’t teach comp at all and those who see it there are seeing it only because of their overt or latent sexism. Then their decision not to invite women in a significantly meaningful way is sexist.

      Blessings,
      Tim

      • Tim, those are sharp words that may just cut through hardened boundaries. To me, it is more than just a respectful disagreement over theology. It is power dynamics in place among Jesus’s kingdom, which He clearly said must not exist.

  16. Mike Sonderegger

    Thanks for writing about this Jonathan. I sat in on a “lab” of yours at Catalyst Dallas in 2012…enjoyed it! One thing that I remember about the other “labs” that I chose to attend, all of them had female speakers. In fact, one of them had 3 speakers, all who were female! It was a great experience and as someone on the verge of entering full time church ministry, they were very insightful, engaging, and helpful.

    With all of that being said, this column of yours today helped me learn more about other conferences. I have been to Catalyst Dallas 2012 and Drive 2013. Both were excellent. However, I feel that Wild Goose Festival 2014, where ever that may be, would not only be a great fit for me but my family!

    I appreciate all that you do, in Jesus name,
    Mike Sonderegger

  17. The problem is the pipeline. For instance, i may or may not be conference speaking material, but who would ever know? Have I ever once been invited to speak at any church I have ever been involved in – or for that matter, has ANY single woman ever been invited to speak at any of the churches I’ve ever been involved in? How would anyone know what or which women have something to say if they are never given an opportunity to teach (ahem, I mean, outside of ‘teaching women’ which usually means there are only a few subjects that one teaches on, because lets face it, women’s groups aren’t inviting women to speak about evolutionary science and the scriptures – they’re inviting them to speak about….women’s issues.)
    The problem is the pipeline – if one hasn’t written a book, or isn’t married to someone who gives them a platform, one is invisible. (Even people who have written books are invisible – if you don’t have a large enough blog following, who even knows about your book?)
    It is changing in the younger crowd. There are a bunch of 20 something women in some corners that are speaking at various conferences I have been at – but if you’re already over the hill and – gack – in your thirties, there just is no pipeline to even try one’s wings out as a teacher or preacher and let anyone even hear what you might have to say.

    • You might be in the wrong denomination. Seriously, there are many, many out there that do embrace, encourage and rely heavily on women in ordained ministerial roles. Women of all ages, women of all races, etc. And in my denomination women who used to be men. God calls us all! I can’t imagine being a member of a congregation or wider church that wouldn’t allow me in the pulpit. Or in what ever leadership role I felt God was calling me to from the kitchen, nursery, Sunday school classroom, choir loft, or pulpit. Find a pipeline that will lift you up and not shut you up. It sounds like you have something valid and faithful you want to be heard.

  18. A word to the complementarians:
    It’s ok to be a complementarian, but just realize that complementarianism is, by nature, sexist. Let’s just call it what it is.
    I’m actually a complementarian myself – so I’ll admit my sexism. But there is a spectrum of complementarian viewpoints, and depending on the range and pervasiveness of how one’s complementarianism is applied, is how one might view this thread.
    That said – choose one side or another. Either ban all women from speaking at conferences, quit it with the token 2 or 4 that get to speak – or open the floodgates and glean from the talents of gifted female servants of Christ as well as male in some measurement representing the giftedness that is out there.

    • This is a serious confusion of terms. We’re talking about two worldviews running against each other. Complementarianism is only “sexist” if you take egalitarian ideas as basic. Not everybody does.

      Also, you rightly point out the range of complementarian viewpoints. But given this, conferences with mostly male speakers and a few women actually makes sense: promoting female wisdom, but not co-headship.

      • Wait, so discrimination magically ceases to be discrimination when one feels it to be justified? I can see, linguistically, you might want to go that way, but only if you start by accepting the modern expectation that discrimination is always wrong even though that’s a rather egalitarian assumption.

        • Again, you can have no intelligent discussion when you hijack the terms. Discrimination implies injustice. If a belief is justified (not just if people “feel” that way) then yes, it ceases to be discriminatory via common sense not “magically.” But this is just what the debate is all about. What you’re asking is “People don’t think they’re being discriminatory because they don’t accept my definition of discrimination and the egalitarian anthropology goes with it?” It ought to be obvious to you that the answer is yes.

          I’m saying that it does no good to extend intellectual credibility to complementarians (as the author does), then turn around and call their conferences “sexist.” Of course they’re sexist to you. To them, you are a political libertine misapplying the language of human rights and naively destroying the structure of right male/female relationship. But if people start by slinging that around, then nobody’s going to have a productive conversation.

          • It really is unfortunate the way the Civil Rights Movement ruined the word “discrimination”. It is, or at least was, one of the best ways to refer to the practice of barring individuals from particular jobs and roles based on their category (like race, gender, or educational attainment) instead of on a careful, thorough consideration of the sum of their needs, abilities, and attitudes. Still, what word would you prefer we use for such theoretically driven role and job assignment?

            Or have I missed the spot where you tried to provide empirical proof that all women lack the competencies to preach, teach, and/or lead?

          • Let’s play a game: replace “women” with “Black people.”

            “Complementarianism says that Black people and white people have different skills/abilities/gifts/etc., and therefore some roles/jobs are reserved for white people and others for Black people.
            “Black people should be nannies and McDonald’s employees. White people should be managers and CEOs. Hispanic people should be gardeners.”

            Is this a “belief” or what people “feel,” or can we call it racism now?

      • Alex –
        Some complementarians believe in differing roles in marriage, some believe in differing roles in the church, some believe in differing roles in all of society. Some types of complementarians lump all those things together – and some separate them out, teaching egalitarianism in one sphere but not others.
        Inherently, any place complementarianism is taught, it is by definition, sexist – but I can embrace sexism in some degree or another in a romantic relationship and thus in marriage – thus I consider myself a complementarian. In my public and church life, I just don’t see it as an option.

  19. I am a female professor and dean at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I have noticed the inequity between the numbers of men and women represented in evangelicalism. This even happens on our faculty – we have just a few women compared to many more men. Since we value diversity, the few women are on every committee. Often it is a struggle to find a woman to participate who is not already overcommitted. Our trustee board, responding to the president’s desire for female leadership, recently appointed our very first female trustee member. She is also an author and radio personality – thus very busy. I have also noticed that the number of women who have a public platform seems relatively low when compared to their male counterparts. For every famous Christian woman I can name many more famous Christian men. This became increasingly evident to me when I approached possible endorsers for my upcoming book. I wanted females to write the endorsement because the book was written to a female audience. Unfortunately, the “big names” among Christian women were relatively few – and those women were incredibly busy. Many said “no” due to overcommitment and overscheduling. The problem is complex and widespread. I appreciated the clear and persuasive way you showed so much evidence of the issue.

  20. Mr. Merritt, I think your article is a false alarm full of subjectivism. I consider those lists of “guests speakers” are about competencies and spiritual gifts and not about gender. If we can accept the gift from God overcame the gender(more important than genders) why we cannot accept the reality that some of us are more gifted to fit into a specific theme or to transmit a message to a particular audience. We are not all blessed with the same gifts form the Holy Spirit so is not a matter of inequality. Other thematic conferences (related with financial world or science or other subjects) has an disproportional rapport of gender speakers. If so, why it’s all this noise only in christian segment?

    • While I would agree that not all of us have the same gifts and competencies that would recommend us to speak on a given subject, I don’t think that would break down along gender lines but along individual lines of both genders. I can’t agree with you that there are some gifts and competencies that only men or only women have; my experience in the world tells me otherwise. And I don’t see Scripture as saying that some gifts are divided along gender lines either. But even if that were the case, do all these conferences cover topics where there aren’t gifted and competent women? There are certainly gifted women speakers–Jonathan mentioned Beth Moore, and there are many, many more. Gifted women leaders. Gifted women worship leaders, youth leaders, etc. What specific topic or topics would you point to where there is a paucity of gifted andcompetent women out in the evangelical world?

    • artzar, I agree that there are some people in the body better equipped than others on some points. And many of the people better equipped than I am are women. Yet I get asked to speak occasionally when they don’t. Sad.

  21. What if there are just more male speakers than women… And what if (God forbid) the men that were hired were simply more qualified to speak than other women options? Why would they suffer quality for the sake of pleasing a bunch of people who will find something else to whine about anyways?
    Your next article should be about the staggering statistics on the amount of male construction workers vs the amount of female construction workers!!

    • “A bunch of people”

      That “bunch of people” is 50% of the church body.

      I can’t even… open your eyes Jared. Your dismissive and condescending attitude persists the problem at hand.

      • Do you? Because it sounds like you’re claiming the same silly hypothetical…
        All I’m saying is that phrases like “step into the 21st century” are so worldly… As if Gods Word changes with the ages… I’m not saying women shouldn’t be motivational speakers or even evangelists… But God clearly created man to lead, so why then, wouldn’t a man be more inclined to be a public speaker than a woman. We want to be led! Not that women can’t lead, but that God designed men to be leaders… So, logically it only makes sense that there would be more men in that field than women…
        Gods word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow… So please don’t try to change it because “it’s the 21st century”…
        Jon… I would challenge you to grow out of trying to please the people of this world… Found what you think upon biblical grounds instead of worldly ground, because it will fade soon… Galatians 1:10

  22. Marcus Johnson

    I’m pretty positive the conference would not intentionally exclude women from its lineup of speakers. However, there are a lot of institutions in which there is a great disconnect between intent and reality, and there has to be a deliberate effort on a deeper, foundational level to create an inclusive gathering that is an appropriate representation of the community.

    Take my line of work, for example: admission counselor at a private, non-religious college. Ask practically anyone working in college admissions, and they will tell you that they welcome a diverse range of applicants, that their campus features a diverse, inclusive community of students and faculty. However, if you look at the racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, etc. demographic of many institutions, the intention is far from the reality that many campus communities struggle (and fail) to achieve a truly diverse student population. Good intentions are okay, but they cannot accomplish the job unless admission counselors make a deliberate attempt to find college-ready students from different cultural backgrounds.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that the intentions of these conference designers are in no way sexist, but intentions alone are insufficient in and of themselves. There has to be a deliberate effort to encourage leadership formation in women (and minorities, too, right?) and to use conferences as a way to represent a growing sense of awareness of the need for diversity in leadership.

    • I feel that this approach, sticks conferences with the duty to advance structural social change. This is unrealistic, given their goal of service to the church as it is. These conferences are, more often than not, popular movements, reflecting the tendencies of hosts of local, Christian churches not setting the program for them. The sort of change you outline needs to happen on the local church level, not from above.

      • This response is true to a point, but is also somewhat of a cop-out. Conferences do transmit the themes and ideas that are trending in local churches, and in so doing, they are also simultaneously INFLUENCED BY and INFLUENTIAL TO those same local churches. If you think I’m wrong, then listen to a recording of a preacher who just came back from a conference, and tell me if you don’t hear at least anecdotally some reference from some speaker at that conference.

        The conference leaders, if they are Christians, do not have any duty other than to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. But in the case of The Nines and other conferences like it, their failure to address the obvious structural and cultural inequities that result from sexism and racism, inequities that result in a plethora of deplorable conditions far worse than simply not having enough women speakers on the program (though that in and of itself is still pretty deplorable), is what inhibits their ability to advance the gospel.

        The changes that need to happen in order for the gospel to be advanced… they must not be shunted off to the local church to address, as if local pastors are the only ones responsible for living out the great commission.

      • Marcus Johnson

        Gotta agree with Jenlai here. It is a cop-out. If conferences are merely popular movements, glorified worship services that last for several days, then there is a serious problem regarding their relevance.

        I would also point out that, for every other conference sponsored by a professional organization, you will probably never see that excuse used. If a report comes out that demonstrates that people with disabilities have less access to colleges, you can rest assured that the next national student affairs conference will address that issue. If a medical organization recognizes certain problems with the Affordable Care Act, no one would expect them to say, “Well, that’s something that hospitals have to figure out; we’re just running the conference.” Why should the standards for a church conference be lower than every other organized professional conference in the secular world?

  23. I’m probably not the first to point this out, but if the % of women who speak at conferences is higher than the % of women who pastor churches, is that really so bad? According to Barna, in 2009 the percentage of women who pastor was at 10%. Doesn’t that make a this percentage, which is almost double that, actually weighing too heavily toward women speakers, if indeed you are attempting to reflect the culture into which you are speaking (which in this case is the culture of church leadership, not the general population)?

    • In my experience church leadership conferences are not just aimed at senior pastors- they are attended by pastoral staff as well as lay leaders. I don’t have any hard and fast numbers for you, but I’m positive the number of women who serve in any sort of leadership position in the church is greater than 10%. And even so, church conferences should be modeling what we strive for (which in this case is a bigger number of women in church leadership) and not just letting things remain as they are.

      • But why? Why should a conference, which is attempting to reach a specific audience, try to change the audience? If my church is in a community which is 20% Hispanic, should I try to strive to make the membership in my church 50% Hispanic? If we are really looking to create churches which look like our communities, why wouldn’t we create conferences, which are targeting leadership teams in churches, reflect those teams rather than try to become something they aren’t?

        And I guess from my experience, being involved in 5 churches and 4 denominations, the leadership teams still tend toward male leadership. Certainly there are females, and while that number is growing, so should the conferences which are trying to reach them, but one jumping a great deal before the other doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

        In addition, I’ve attended different conferences by different groups, trying to reach different groups of people, (Leadership, church planting, general church leadership, etc.) and I don’t think the percentage of attendees is 50/50. It probably isn’t 98/2, like the conference which started this whole discussion, but probably 70/30 is a fair guess. Admittedly, this is a guess, as I don’t count too closely, but that’s my unofficial observation.

        • “If my church is in a community which is 20% Hispanic, should I try to strive to make the membership in my church 50% Hispanic?”

          Here’s the thing. There are many communities around this country where the population is only 20% Hispanic. I challenge you to find me a community where the population is only 20% female.

          In addition, while I don’t have any proof for this assumption, I’m going to guess that Christian conference planners haven’t excluded women from their speaker line-ups simply because of demographics- it runs infinitely deeper than that.

          • My point in that argument is that those you are trying to reach as a church should reflect your community. A conference should do the same. If a conference is trying to reach a group of people who are 90% male (or even make that 80% if you want), then how you try to reach them should reflect that.

            And I guess I choose to believe that the ones who plan conferences I choose to attend are simply trying to get the best speakers, and that there isn’t a hidden agenda. I think we as Christians would do well to always think the best of each other rather than allow ourselves to think less of a person whom I don’t know. If I can’t trust them, why go?

        • Why? Because the church should strive to look like God’s kingdom! Why should we try to make these leadership teams look different than they demographically are? Because the way there are doesn’t reflect God’s kingdom – every tribe, tongue, and nation! Because the church should probably be trying to lead the way into God’s kingdom and not just following the “demographic trends.”

          It takes intention to look like God’s kingdom. It is not the normal way human beings relate. Kind of the core struggle of the early church, was it not? To include the “other,” the Gentile? The more you look like me, think like me, act like me, have the same amount of money as me, the more likely we are to know each other. Those conference organizers don’t know all the “best speakers.” They know the people in their circle. Unless they are intentionally looking beyond what they already know, seeking to include people in the planning who know some of the “best” speakers that just happen to be in other circles (Hispanic, African American, Native, Korean, and yes, female) of course it will look like all the “best speakers” are white men. The church must PURPOSEFULLY strive to include someone who is “other” than you, someone on the margins of power. I’m pretty sure that’s how Jesus lived – drawing in those on the margins. It’s why we have fisherman who were disciples rather than Pharisees. It’s why Jesus had followers who were men AND women. It takes intentional, purposeful work to bring those marginalized talents to the fore.

          Why? Because it’s what Jesus did.

  24. I appreciate both sides of this debate. As lead coordinator for a large conference in Canada this year, I can speak to the issue of gender representation on a couple of different points.

    To be completely truthful, we on the planning committee did not consider our ratio of men to women when it came to our selection of keynote and workshop leaders. We were simply looking for qualified people to fill the roles required from our list of personal contacts regardless of gender. When it was pointed out to us that our initial list of contacts was almost (not entirely) men, we realized the need to make a change.

    When we did begin seeking a more balanced approach to our speaker list, we found that either we simply did not know a woman who could speak to the particular issue or else the women we did know were already booked for other engagements or did not have room in their calendars. In the end, we had roughly 72% male and 28% female representation in our speakers. Not good enough.

    In the end, we identified three key points for our next conference: 1) Be more cognizant of the need for gender balance right from the outset 2) Invite a woman to be part of the planning team and 3) Book ‘em early! Lessons learned too late for our first conference, however, our next event will make gender equality a priority.

  25. Allan Thompson

    I wonder how many of these numbers are skewed by the fact that we are simply not educating women to be able to speak at these kinds of levels. That seems to be a bigger tragedy to me as it impacts all areas of ministry when men are not allowing women to equip themselves. It’s a vicious cycle.

    • Amy Hutchison

      Allan, I was actually thinking the same thing! I was blessed to have a mentor who had incredible speaking mentors (many who would have made the lists above), but once my internship ended, my opportunity to have someone work with me on speaking ended as well.

      A couple of my own observations in this area. 1, no matter how you slice it, it is very difficult for a man to coach a woman in the area of speaking. For many reasons. They speak different, they carry themselves different, and the male/female relationship in this kind of situation can get complicated (boundaries!!) 2, I personally do not have women accessible who speak on a regular basis. 3, I have been overlooked time and time and time again as a speaking resource for smaller events, which means I have nowhere NEAR the experience needed to speak on a larger stage. My guess? I’m not the only woman who can say this. 4, many of these conferences are still networked on the “old boys club”. Not necessarily out of sexism (necessarily), but out of the fact that these are sometimes guys who have grown up together, went to seminary together, worked at churches together, met at conferences, sometimes mentor/mentee… the gender divide both ways is that boys tend to stick with boys and girls tend to stick with girls, so if you’re inviting your buddies to speak at conferences first, and you’re the man in charge, it’s just naturally going to end up being guys first.

      Is all of this right? Nope. I hate it. But is it a little understandable? Sure. It’s at least a reason behind it. And if conferences start becoming more intentional, eventually some women will be better trained to lead in the future.

      • Very true. Thanks for this comment, Amy! Both sexes please take note. Let’s train the best candidates, regardless of gender. Ladies, when asked to speak, don’t refuse the chance simply because you are inexperienced; ask for help with whatever area you need mentoring in, and keep asking until you get that help.

  26. As a writer and speaker (and a woman), I often feel on the margins when it comes to speaking to mixed crowds. Slowly, slowly, slowly I’m getting invited to these kinds of venues. I don’t consider myself a woman’s speaker. I’ve been a church planter overseas. I’ve discipled people. I’ve written fifteen books, several laced with theology and praxis. I believe my message, about living an uncaged, healed life, is for men and women.

    Honestly, seeing these numbers depresses me. But they won’t stop me from continuing to speak and trusting God to open doors.

  27. Our youth ministry training event this past weekend – The Summit – slipped from 50% female speakers last year to 44% this year. While I agree with the comment that this is partially a pipeline issue, an organizational commitment will get you there, even if it’s a little extra work.

    • And then there’s the other Summit in WNCC that has zero women leading. Not worship, not speaking, nothing. Granted, there are only 3 leaders, but I found that really interesting after reading this. In a denomination that is famous for easily putting women on stage, I found this interesting (and yes, I checked after reading your post).

  28. Earold Gunter

    Are Christian conferences sexist? Of course, because sexism is a Christian value, taught in your holy book. However, your beliefs are not alone, there are other religions that place women in second, and even sometimes third place behind the man, and even dogs, with Islam being one of the worst. Now, is it more likely an all loving God wrote those words through man, or that man wrote those himself?

    • Sam Halverson

      I think, Earold, that, rather than it being a Christian value, it was a cultural value that happened waaaay back when the scriptures were written. Actually, if you take a good look at the Christian stories and accounts, you’ll find that Jesus and the early Christians were on the cutting edge of bringing women into equality. Jesus spoke with and discussed theology and faith with women, the early church acknowledged women as leaders in communities of faith and allowed them into worship, women were the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection, and women were the first told to spread the news of the resurrection. None of these things were cultural then. The problem, though, is that as equality began to progress, certain denominations and beliefs continue to hold onto the suppression of women. It’s changing, but very slowly.

    • Sexism is taught in the Bible? No it’s not, Earold, as shown in the reference above to a number of theologians who hold gender equality as being found in Scripture. Painting with such a broad brush as you do is not going to do much to advance anyone’s position in this discussion.

  29. Sam Halverson

    I love that the Wild Goose Festival (the last one on the list) had more women than men (Total speakers: 74 / Female speakers: 44). From what I know of that festival, its organizers would go out of the way to try to find at least an equal number of female presenters. That’s just the way those folks think, and I appreciate that. I just wish everyone would have such a mindset as that. This is always…always…the first thing I check when I see the pictures and names of people presenting at conferences and retreats. The next is race. Too many, though, are led only by white males.

  30. While I’m by no means advocating for inequality, I wonder if it’s fair to assess conferences by groups explicitly opposed to women in ordained ministry alongside those by groups that, at least in theory, have no such opposition.

    At least the first group has a well-known reason for their bias. The second group may well have no such intention behind their failing. (This isn’t to deny they have biases, of course. I think the Evans/Rhoades exchange demonstrates this well. Rather, I think we have more reason to expect better out of groups that do indeed allow women as leaders, even if only in theory.)

  31. I realize this makes me sound like an idiot, but I didn’t even know there was a multi-million dollar Christian conference industry. Why do we have this? Who goes to these things and why?

  32. When did Twitter become the biblical model for telling a brother he has offended you? Rachel raises a good concern, but to write a blog post that takes on another brother in Christ is biblically wrong! Rachel would have gained more ground by calling Todd and working together to bring about change.
    Rachel is about building her brand, Todd is about his brand, and the conferences are about their brand.
    Recently the blogosphere has been the location for the church to talk about the dirty laundry, it’s time to stop! Use the phone, get on a plane, talk face to face! but don’t tweet or blog. The biblical model is different than the world let’s be different, if not maybe your just about your brand.

    • Dave, I think when someone uses the blogosphere to say something wrong, then using the blogosphere to point that out and correct the person is appropriate as long as it is done in a way that honors Christ. And this goes double for those who are so famous that their use of the blogosphere is extremely influential, because trying to approach them in a different mode is like speaking into the void.

      • Being a blogsphere doesn’t justify the biblical way of handling disputes. Just because one person is in the wrong using technology or a blog christians still should use the biblical model of rectifying the situation at hand.

        • Wouldn’t it be great if we all solve the matters of conflict privately and not make a huge deal? However, private messages and voices of women are often ignored in larger context. it does not matter. And how to bring attention and awareness to change what we believe is wrong? raise the awareness. Not sharing these tweets were christ-like.. but holding private messages do not work usually unless both are willing to listen to each other.

  33. Thanks for this discussion. I made a similar point in a presentation I made last Spring at Regent University. In Pentecostal denominations the statistics are comparable, even in those conferences which are supposed to be “missional” or more appealing to millennials. The point I have been making is that there are certain “ways” and forms of rhetoric that are considered “proper” and those are also the ones traditionally gendered male. So, as Piper contends, “Christianity has had a masculine feel”. He is correct, but that is a, pardon the term, “man-made” contrivance, rather than a Spirit-led one.

  34. When I was in high school (some 10 years ago) I annually attended the Assemblies of God Southern California Youth Convention held at the San Diego Convention Center. There were easily 10,000 students there every time. As I got older I started to notice that the speakers were never women- not once in my 6 years attending. Sometimes there would be a woman on the worship team (never leading worship, mind you, usually as a background singer), but never as a headlining speaker. So church youth are learning in their formative years that women don’t belong in positions of respect and authority (and I’m not talking “authority” as in “in charge”, I mean as in an expert in a particular field). This needs to change in order for future generations to make better choices when it comes to giving women their rightful voice in the church.

  35. I along with many of my credentialed female colleagues would love more invitations to speak at conferences. Who are these women that turned him down?

  36. All very good points and comments but I’m disappointed that I see no one (and forgive me if I’ve missed anyone who has brought this up) taking the issue to The Lord or have any biblical reference to the situation. Too much reference about us (men and women) and nothing about Him or the good will of these conferences. Who should be glorified….speakers or God? Let’s come together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let The Lord take care of anyone who may be insensitive or unjust. Don’t let it bring quarrel among Christians.

  37. Well then do it better! If you are unhappy with the conferences then don’t go. Don’t speak at them! If you create a conference with more gender equality and that is what people want then you will do great because that is a very open field. This is a business, organizers bring in speakers that will attract the target audience. If it didn’t work they wouldn’t do it.

  38. I’ve been complaining about this for years – and being blamed for being a complainer and a poor sport because of it. One of the worst offenders was a Christian adoption conference where all the keynotes were men. Now if there is one issue that isn’t tied to theology and where women are experts and involved, it’s adoption but the organizers just could not bear to squeeze one female into the top lineup. Look at the pages of Christianity Today and Charisma and you’ll see the 90% male speaker list – and many of the women who do make it on happen to be married to the male speakers. Yes, there are a few women at the top who are very busy and will turn you down but there’s a ton of us who are authors and speakers in the second or third rung who’d love to be invited. One reason why women’s books don’t always sell in the Christian marketplace is because the authors aren’t invited to speak at the big conferences – like men are – where you get known and your book is circulated. It’s ironic that it took a male columnist to bring this up to get people’s ears to perk up.

  39. You should add The Leading Edge conference to your list (http://www.middleproject.org/2014-presenters). Although given that the church I work for is hosting it I might be a bit biased. And while it falls in at just under 50% women, it’s a fantastic array of ethnicities and faith traditions for a conference held at a Christian church!

  40. Hillsong (LA) had Brian Houston speak twice, so I guess that’s where you’re getting four guys- other than that, it was two guys & two ladies. The roundtable included husband and wife teams. I love that they understood, and even talked about, the importance of introducing couples as just that. When women were introduced, they mentioned them with their husband and vice versa.

    I’d be interested to see the breakdown of worship leaders. I’d guess that while it is not an even breakdown, that it is higher than conference speakers.

  41. Are there statistics concerning conference attendees? What percentage are male, and what percentage female? Does this statistic matter in your consideration of sexism and conferences? I am just curious as I didn’t see any information about this in the article or comments. (might have missed it).

    • I think anyone justifying the speaker line-up by the demographic of the attendees does a disservice to the attendees. If we only listen to people who look, think, and act like us, then there is minimal room for growth. If a bunch of white men are talking to a bunch of white men, do you think any of them will be challenged as much as if someone with a different viewpoint speaks to them? If the demographic of attendees is homogenous, I think that is a stronger argument for diversity of speakers.

  42. Having read through the thread thus far, these are the thoughts circulating through my head:

    the guys that are negative think that women don’t have a biblical basis for leadership – so if I say anything about a biblical basis, I’ll get attacked. Its been a 16 hr day so far and I finally caught a break to myself, do I have the energy not to just be crushed by the wall of “God says it” that is just theologically blind and answer nicely? Hmm, guess they never read about Deborah, bothered with Priscilla and Aquila or thought Susanna or any of the others were part of the leadership in establishing the early church. So I guess if I were around them I should shut up and just listen too since God doesn’t use women in that way (sarcasm for those who don’t recognize it)…SIGH

    — yes seriously, that is what is going through my mind in reaction to what you guys have posted about how women don’t have that role biblically…—

    Not enough female speakers, wonder if that’s for the same reason I’m not a speaker. Life is too busy to even try. I’m too far behind already. When I told someone I thought God wanted me to be a speaker they forgot it and even asked me months later why I was attending the Pastoral prep class….facepalm …or in bible school when I got told by other students that God wanted a female missionary but he wouldn’t have called a female pastor. Shrug. Maybe they were right, now I’m not either. And did I mention I had a 16 hr day already and this was my first break?

    Honestly, its not about sexism. Its not about complementarianism or anything else. You all can keep whatever theology you want. I don’t think God really cares if your i is properly dotted and the t is crossed. The real question is if God tells someone they are going to speak, He’s going to put them in places they could. And if they get shut down, the places they could have spoken are going to miss out on what He wanted to say to them because they felt the wrong person was trying to do what God wanted. And if they ( the person God is talking to) don’t ever get a chance, they aren’t going to gain experience or make the network or get up on stage. And its not about whether men are saying women cant, women say it too and are uncomfortable with it – and this is the culture we are raising the children inside and trying to protect them with – a culture that says “don’t, you cant and God couldn’t say that to you” Congrats, you leave them wondering why God hates them and what to do when God asks them to do something. Oh dear, do I ignore God because that voice must really be Satan… its not biblical…And seriously folks, you can sub gender discussion for any non local ethnicity and get the same conversation.

    I think we get too bound up in wondering if God is following the “rules” and forgetting that He is the one with the message for us. He uses who he wants to and whomever He can get to stop being afraid and say yes to Him…

    I hope God uses the internet to give people a voice in a discussion that they are too afraid to have face to face – or quite honestly, too tired to have.

      • Thanks Joy that was an encouragement.

        I think there’s a whole subculture out there of people God is asking to do things but they don’t fit what the culture thinks is the right profile…and so they let themselves get shut down by that negativity. Should we? Should I?

        God keeps telling me to trust Him to let Him do what He wants to do and quite honestly, its more a reflection of my level of faith and my own fear that I haven’t gone out and let Him do it yet. He’s working on me slowly and patiently. But I think its also a matter of waiting for the open door, because God doesn’t force us to do the right thing, doesn’t force us to listen to Him, doesn’t force us to do what He’s working on us about. I have to stand up but others have to be willing to look for God and seize where He chooses to work and support it.

        We made the box, He exists outside it. We better be prepared for Him to work outside our box.

  43. A few years ago a conference organizer said, when pressed why there were no female speakers on his roster, that he could not find any female speakers who could help with ticket sales as much as the more popular male speakers could bring in.

    Would that still hold true today?

    I once counted all the titles in a publisher’s catolog. Of more than 300 books, less than twenty were authored by women and several of those had the female as the co-writer.

    This is about voice. The cultures and systems of the nations of the world oppress a women’s voice and personhood. She is born into oppression and then born again into a Christianized oppression. Jesus empowers the voiceless. The way the church and conference scene treat women does not match how Jesus treated women.

    Thanks for this post Jonathan. I’m an instant fan ( via RCE!)

  44. Who cares what we think. What does GOD tell us about the role of women in the church, and does His revealed will found in the scriptures change with the times and culture, or like GOD, is it the same yesterday, today and forever?

  45. I found some studies online between the % of liberal/progressive churches and evangelical churches and interestingly there wasn’t a drastic difference between % of lead pastors being female vs. male. The round number of how many clergy are female today is around 10% that you can read about in a study Barna did http://bit.ly/1cqqsXK

    In fairness to Todd though, you have to remember when you are looking for female voices who are leading churches it is not as easy to find and if this 10% number is accurate. According to what Todd wrote online about this, this wasn’t an event focused having people speak who are in churches but were leaders of churches. I experienced this recently as I put together a conference in Portland http://www.regenerationproject.org and looking for local leaders of churches who were females in growing churches with younger people in them (that was the focus of the event) wasn’t easy. We did maintain a 1/3 female speakers and we had a female who was the MC for the whole event. But even writing that, I didn’t choose her because she was a female. I chose her because she has a great personality for being the host and is a friend and loves God and the church. Anyway, interesting discussion!

  46. I wonder why Jesus was not representative with his 12 apostles

    it looks like the supposed christian author needs to read a bible before accusing individuals of sexism.

    looks like Jesus was one of the biggest sexists by his uneducated definition

    • Came across this on a post on another (but related) topic, thought I’d share, maybe to refresh your memory Kash:

      “Lookadoo may have no room for independent women, but the Bible is FULL of them. What about Phoebe, whom Paul calls a “minister” in Romans 16:1 (do NOT be fooled by translations that make her into a “deaconess”–that’s NOT what the Greek says). What about Junia the apostle in Romans 16:7? Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles? The Samaritan woman who was the first to preach the gospel in John? And what about Anna the prophet in Luke, who was the first to announce to a wider public about Jesus after he was born (Luke 2:38)?”

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-jaime-clarksoles/justin-lookadoo-girls_b_4281587.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

  47. Two thoughts:
    What does Scripture say about the situation both in command and principle?
    Sounds like a bit of fusing among those who would like to be the flavor of the month in the Christian celebrity wars..

  48. I suspect the disparity in gender representation today is largely a result of centuries of patriarchy.
    In the realm of ‘mature and authorative’ Christian speakers there are many fine women, but the industry is still male-dominated. Add to that the fact that many Christian conferences are put on by bigger, wealthier churches with corporate structures that look more like McDonalds than a community of the faithful, and the odds are stacked even steeper against women, who meet with both religious and business barriers.

  49. Elizabeth Westbrook

    How can a man be the head of the house if the woman is the head of the church? If it were my way, or GOD’s, no women would be speaking.

        • Folks always say that, but that’s not exactly what the Bible says. I believed it myself until one day I was reading Judges 4 and Judges 4:4 jumped out at me, and suddenly I saw that Deborah became a leader prior to the events that are used to back up that claim. Where the idea comes from is that Deborah agreed to go into battle with Barak when he said he wouldn’t go if she didn’t go with him, BUT she was judging Israel before that (Judges 4:4-6). In other words she was already an established leader before Barak even came on the scene. One can still argue that no men were available, but it’s supposition based on a later situation. Barak’s refusal to go without Deborah speaks to me of his great respect of her as a leader. One could read Deborah’s subsequent prophecy as a rebuke, but I read it as an affirmation that women have a role to play in mighty deeds. I also read it that it would have been a stigma then (as it probably would be for many now) for the victory to go to a woman rather than to Barak.

  50. Jonathan,

    Great job at perceiving the issue. I personally try to be aware of this particular issue when planning out our own organization’s events and conferences. However, it’s not always a 50/50 margin. Personally, what I’ve noticed are two distinct factors that play into this issue. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Christian conferences are totally operating and choosing their speakers through a sexist lens, however they choose their speakers through two filters:

    1. Relationships
    2. Their perception of “prominent” speakers.

    Most conferences, including the organization I work for, base their speakers on relationships that they currently have. It’s not that we are sexist, we just happen to know more men than women. Also, with such a high “Christian celebrity” mindset in the church today, the goal of any conference (for financial sake), is to get butts in the seat. They want to fill the place up. Unfortunately today, it seems that there are way more men than women that people get excited about hearing and willing to pay to come and hear.

  51. Regarding your numbers for Catalyst East, there were really only 1 woman speaker. Priscilla Shirer was the only woman to speak by herself. Rachel Cruze co-led with her father, who was really the headliner. Angela Ahrendts was interviewed by Ken Coleman.
    A problem I had with the conference was that John Piper and others were on the main stage, but Priscilla Shirer spoke from the center stage, which was lower and less ‘pastoral’. While it may not have been intentional, it was noticed.
    Andy Stanley, Malcolm Gladwell, Jason Russell, John Piper, Angela Ahrendts, LeCrae, Judah Smith, Reggie Joiner, Priscilla Shirer, Dave Ramsey/Rachel Cruze, Cory Booker, Jud Wilhite (10/3, but I’d say 10/1.5 was closer to reality.)

  52. I wonder if this issue is complicated by the fact that there’s a lot of money in the conference industry. Women fare worse in most of the activities where you get paid for your work.

  53. Walter D Vaughan Jr

    Almost a third of the woman speakers came from the last conference in the list. As a male clergy-spouse I see gender-bias on a regular, but unwelcome basis.

  54. Laura Simmons

    I mentioned this conference in a piece on E-Quality a few years back:

    In January 1941, the Archbishop of York hosted a conference on “The Life of the Church and the Order of Society,” and over 220 people attended. About ¾ were men: mostly bishops and other clergy. Women who were identified with organizations were “head deaconesses” or in charge of women’s schools or committees in churches and government agencies. Nine men spoke: more clergy, plus some academics and writer T.S. Eliot. And then there was the tenth speaker: “Miss Dorothy Sayers.”

    That was 1941…

  55. The Church needs women’s voices, and not just on issues of marriage, family and parenting or other so-called women’s issues. We need to listen, and we need to give up the platform.

    Not to be patronizing and not to be politically correct, but because it’s right and good and helpful.

  56. Thank you for this information and the article. As a speaker/minister/writer who is a woman, I have also noticed this at each conference I attend. Beyond the obvious reason that sometimes conferences don’t want women to preach, I wonder if they really know where to look for quality women’s speakers. As women we usually find the same 5 big names represented at every conference, but there are those of us who would love an opportunity to be involved and speak, even though we aren’t Beth Moore. I think if conference organizers dug a little deeper, they’d be able to find some great options out there.

    • From the looks of this, its definitely hit a sore spot in the hearts of a lot of people – on both sides of the fence. As a mom, I’d rather clean out a wound and heal it, than cover it and let it get more infected.

  57. Take a look at some of the Mainline denomination conferences, numbers look drastically different. In your article you mention evangelical, but if the title you mention Christian conferences. The Presbyterian (PCUSA) conferences are close to 50/50 for speakers and leadership.

  58. I’m ordained and work in full time ministry. I have opportunities to preach on a low-scale but I lead worship, as the primary worship leader, almost every day. I’m not sure what is actually going on in these ministries but I do know that there seem to be less anointed female preachers than men. Not that I’m for that statistic( if it’s even a valid stat) but that’s just what I’ve observed from going through a ministry school and being in ministry. I meet fewer truly anointed female speakers. However, I think that with anything, opportunity to grow as a preacher comes from trying. If women were given more of a chance to preach (and therefore grow) as the anointing was recognized, I think more woman would be invited to speak at larger conferences. This is also a fairly new acceptance and new ideas take time… Change doesn’t happen overnight.

  59. So it’s safe to assume that the outcome of this is that we can pick and chose which part of the bible we will follow and which parts we will rip out and burn because we don’t like them. So I should ignore 1 Timothy, 1 Corinthians and Titus? Cool! How about Ephesians and Galatians too? What the heck, why not rip out Deuteronomy and the Gospels too, that whole sin thing is a big downer.

  60. I attended the annual conference for my job for several years. There were usually 15,000 to 20,000 people there. The conference organizer and planning team members are usually women. Most of the speakers are women. I love being in the presence of so many high-achieving professional women!

    I was surprised when I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit with my church this year. The speakers were 8 men and 1 woman. I thought, “Where are all the women?” It just wasn’t the same, listening to men almost all day.

  61. Thank you so much for writing this! I have been wondering the same thing for years, gender and ethnic diversity. Even if the Nines conference did ask women who turned them down, there are plenty more they could ask. There are a good number of ethnic women as well. I didn’t see this conference listed, I really wanted to go: http://qideas.org/womenandcalling/ I believe more people are wanting to see changes in the face of the conferences, so they are creating spaces where this can happen, organically and on a smaller scale. As much as I like Christine Caine (I am a part of the Assemblies of God), there are other women I would love to hear from.

  62. Maybe another valid question is – why all the conferences? Do we really need all of these conferences? There’s a spectrum/continuum of cynicism one could bring in here, but honestly – why?

  63. Thanks for the analysis … hard truth for evangelicals to face … either no women at all, or those with “perfect” bodies. But, then, the guys are into that “perfection” mode, too – perfectly pressed jeans, shirt tails out (the uniform of the megachurch) … tanned and buff. It’s the nature of conferences – celebrity worship, and all the wannabes … been there, done that in the 90s, for about 5 years. Amazing how it works.

  64. I preached at my church not too long ago. I am not the senior pastor, I am not on staff, and I am part of the North American Baptist church–which to date does not licence women as senior pastors, and more then a few of our sister churches would take serious issue to what I had done. But I am not here to ask for permission to preach, or to shame those that do not believe my validity to preach–I was affirmed when a dad came up to me and told me that the best thing was watching his 14 year-old daughter and her cousin watch and listen to me, because “they need to know that they could [preach] too.”
    Having an official stance on women in leadership is not enough, because if you only ever see a man preaching/teaching/leading the message is to women you cannot do this–and maybe even that this message of Good News isn’t for you either. I will not stop speaking of the great love of my savior, and for now I am thankful for the voice I discovered–and I hope that I will help another woman find her voice too.

  65. What I gathered from this article is that no one likes to gather data and instead likes to spew their opinion before getting anything to back up their opinion. Its an extremely valid question to ask, but if you ask it, you need not come off aggressive as Rachel did. I don’t care who you are, don’t make wild claims without carrying some data with it first. She took surface numbers and spun it. According to her tweet, the assumption is that they asked 96 men (who agreed) and 4 women (who agreed). What if they asked 200 men and 200 women? 106 men declined and 196 women declined. Which is a completely different story all together.

    If they made the attempt to invite and had a poor turnout, I fail to see how that’s his fault without digging deeper. Did they invite the men differently from the women? Somehow not make it as attractive to women leader? The next move is to figure out why the women declined. That’s an awful assumption. Her tweet should have been held back till after her or someone in her circle gathered the data.

    Its her kind of tweet that just sets me off. Shows me that people don’t care to gather whats needed to make an informed decision and then they set off on some sort of crusade via the internet. Internet just makes it too easy to say whats on our minds without first understanding if its the right thing to say. She could have called the industry as a whole but instead singled out this one conference. Shame. Especially without any sort of background information being gathered.

    • Here’s Rachel’s tweet:

      “More than 100 speakers and only four of them are women. This is not what the church looks like.”

      What part of that is, as you put it, “aggressive”?

  66. Frankly, the numbers of women would be even lower if you removed the women speakers who are married to or otherwise related to conference organizers or sponsors. Too often, the women who are invited/allowed to speak at Christian conferences gained their access to the pulpit because of who they married, not the independent scope of their ministry.

  67. As a woman, wife, mother and a Christian….I don’t care how many female speakers are at a conference. What matters …the only thing that matters…is the conference is Christ centered, love for the Lord is evident, and the word of God is the foundation for what is said.

  68. “Leading theologians like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Stanley Gundry, I. Howard Marshall and Gordon Fee made cases for gender equality on Biblical grounds, and they’ve were joined by prominent pastors like Bill Hybels and John Ortberg. Books by women began filling the shelves of Christian bookstores, often outselling those written by men.”

    Here we go again. The men get most of the credit. Very sexist. Catherine Clark Kroeger, Katherine C. Bushnell, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, and several other female Bible scholars and theologians also made a great case for gender equity based on biblical grounds. ( BTW, Patricia Gundry has written and spoken on the equality issue more than her husband, Stan and yet, you gave him the credit.)

    Women have been making the case for biblical equality for thousands of years and it’s about time the church recognized it (instead of acting like progressive men “gave” it to them). Christine de Pizan in the Renaissance and Margaret Fell at the beginning of the Quaker movement are just two examples of women who argued for biblical equality.

    The first women’s rights conference in the United States was held in 1848 in a Wesleyan Methodist Church and yes, it was organized by women.

    The church, along with the general society, is so male chauvinistic that it gives men the credit for women’s advances and ignores the leadership of feminist women. Sad sad sad.

    The issue of men dominating Christian conferences is a valid one but as they say in the cliché, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

  69. I disagree with the mathematics of this post, although I appreciate seeing the numbers for different conferences. If I were looking at the overall rate of participation of women, I would calculate the percentage of women for each conference and then post both the average percentage of the percentages and the median percentage.

    Aggregating the number of speakers and calculating the percentage of women based on the aggregate number of women is a less accurate mathematical representation overall. The average of the average percentages is 17 percent female speakers at the 34 conferences listed, not the 19 percent you calculate.

    The median percentage is 15 percent. So your numbers aren’t far off using your calculation method, but they’re not entirely accurate. And the median is the number to be concerned about because it cancels out the extreme lows and highs in the data set. That 15 percent is not impressive.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      There are various ways to crunch the data. An even more accurate way would be to count uniques, so if twenty men fill twenty spots but only one woman fills five spots, we normally count her the same as we would five women. Thanks for adding perspective here!

  70. Denny Burke quotes 1 Tim 2:12 “I do not allow a woman…” in his defense of the question of gender numbers at Christian conferences. Yet God clearly has used women in roles where they lead and teach, consider the case of Deborah in Judges 4.

    The thrust of this debate revolves around what scriptural precedent do we apply and why do we apply it?

    If we presume that our cultural paradigm is actually God’s, but the bible suggests otherwise, then shouldn’t this debate rage? And as uncomfortable as it makes people, should we all, as people who love God and are focused on what He wants to do, look into ourselves and see what we might be wanting to ignore?

  1. […] Jonathan Merritt wrote a piece for RNS on Christian Conferences in general and how they fared in comparison to The Nines with regard to the presence of women speakers. Zach Hoag invited women to write something in response via his Twitter account. The interest lay in how others viewed the matter brought to their attention via @rachelheldevans Tweet. […]

  2. […] After all, I know the stats and stories. We all see what’s happening in the world. We all see what’s happening in the Church as a resurgence of “true womanhood” and “true manhood” gains steam in some vocal enclaves. Women have been wounded, not only by the secular remnants of a patriarchal culture, but the ways in which the system is practiced within their churches or faith communities.  That’s the problem with bad theology: it has consequences. The interviewers pointed to the apparent popularity of writers and pastors and theologians who baptize secular patriarchal systems in sacred language and then preach the gospel of headship, power, and hierarchy. They point to Jonathan Merritt’s exposing post on the sexism that is practiced by many popular leadership conferences.  […]

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