A couple weeks ago, the website ChurchRelevance.com published its biennial list of the top 200 church blogs. Founded by ministry consultant Kent Shaffer in 2006, Church Relevance is about "understanding culture and responding to hurts and needs with the gospel, sacrificial love, and selfless ministering." This top-200 list, then, examines the websites that are most influencing the church, based on a number of readership metrics. What followed its publication was a rush of people asking the same question over and over again:
Where are all the women?
Of the top 100 blogs selected, three are written by women. Several other blogs have "various" authors that count women among them. This website does not appear anywhere on the list, even though it consistently outpaces brother site CT Liveblog (now Gleanings) in pageviews and unique visitors. Other notable female bloggers, including Sarah Bessey, Ann Voskamp, Jen Hatmaker, and Micha Boyett, to name but a few, are absent as well.
First things first: Any time someone makes a fuss about not being included on a list they thought they should be included in, it will smack of sour grapes. And to insist that this is not, in fact, sour grapes only makes us sound like the lady who doth protest too much. I assure you, however, that the following is a real attempt to understand why this list overlooks so many influential female bloggers and a lament over this sad state of affairs.
What I don't want to do here is launch some kind of offensive against Shaffer or other list-composers. He has been very clear about how certain blogs make the list and others don't, and addressed the question of why so few blogs on the list were written by women. He has also admitted that his list is "subjective and consequently flawed."
What I want to say is this: If you are composing a list of influential Christian bloggers and only 20 percent of the people on your list are women, something is wrong either with the list, or with the world it seeks to represent.
In response to a similarly male-heavy list published in April 2012, Bessey wrote a post with the top 50 "Church and Faith Lady-Bloggers," which included Her.meneutics and some of the other women I expected to see on Shaffer's list. It serves as a great reminder of the sheer number of Christian women who bring their experience and gifts to the great table of the Internet, often with little recognition. What recognition does come to them is often harder-won than the attention given their male counterparts.
In an e-mail exchange with Shaffer, a Christianity Today editor inquired as to why Her.meneutics was not on the list. He responded in a way that is indicative of a false dichotomy between "church" and "ministry" within our larger church culture:
It hasn't been included because we've subjectively decided it doesn't focus on ministry topics frequently enough. The value in our list (although flawed) is its relatively narrow scope of topical focus. You write good posts, but they tend to be focused more on sex, relationships, adoption, politics, etc. than they are on topics rooted in ministry.
Yes, look, this right here is a girl with her panties in a knot. Yes, I am frustrated that Shaffer responded in a follow-up post written to "Christian women bloggers," a group who are every bit as heterogeneous as their male counterparts but all too often lumped together. No, thank you for asking, it is not that time of the month. I am responding out of a deep frustration with the false dichotomy that says that "women's issues" and "men's issues" never intersect, that the Venn diagram of gender-related topics is separated by a sea of Seriousness, and that only if an issue falls on the male side can it be a "topic rooted in ministry." What results is the type of gender-based condescension that serves no one: You ladies keep doing your lady thing at your girl's blog, and let the men do the heavy lifting.
Because really, what is ministry if it doesn't deal with sex, relationships, adoption, politics, and so on? I don't mean that rhetorically. If what we do at Her.meneutics and what so many other female writers do isn't ministering to followers of Christ as they seek to bring their faith to bear on personal and cultural issues, then what are we doing? Oftentimes the posts we publish are a kind of ministry in and of themselves; recent posts about adoption, stereotype-dissolving marriage and the importance of making room for doubt in our youth-group curricula come to mind.
I don't know Shaffer. I'm sure he is working the best he can to provide a resource for Christians and to capture the online zeitgeist of our funny little group of believers. As a man, he may not have paid much attention to the paltry number of women on this list unless we brought it up.
One thing is clear: A veritable army of Christian women are clacking away at their keyboards on a daily basis, passionate to make sense of some of the most challenging topics of the day—topics often left unaddressed by those in official ministry positions. Their voices may not be deemed "relevant" by the institutional gatekeepers, but meanwhile their words and wisdom are met with gratitude from a growing multitude of female (and not a few male) readers. So let the list-makers make their lists; let them continue to think that "sex, relationships, adoption, politics, etc." have nothing to do with serious church ministry. And let the army of women bloggers continue clacking away. Until we foster a church culture where having the right anatomy is not a prerequisite for "real" ministry—until we a new way forward in which men and women are equally valued and equally heard—what else are we lady bloggers left to do?
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