It’s not just outsiders that look at Christian conferences—especially those with conservative stances on gender roles—and ask, “Where do women fit in here?”

Even for "insiders" like me, theological alignment doesn't dissolve the difficulties of navigating contexts like The Gospel Coalition, which held its national conference this week.

In an age where diverse representation is morally demanded of Christian conference organizers, the absence of women from the main stage—with the exception of a panel discussion moderated by TGC editor Bethany Jenkins—was apparent. The plenary speakers were men. These male pastors were introduced and prayed for by men. And of the scores of workshops, women led a mere handful.

When it comes to gender roles, consent to TGC’s confessional statement doesn't ensure agreement on practice. For example, Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gives wide latitude to women in his congregation, encouraging them toward all the rights and responsibilities of unordained men. By contrast, John Piper, co-author with Wayne Grudem for Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, sticks more strictly the biblical text, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man," (1 Tim. 2:12). These differences are inherent to a coalition of Christians, and they represent an inevitable, if sometimes confusing, diversity.

Even if TGC men and women agree that the pastor/elder role—and authoritative teaching—is reserved for men, practical ambiguities remain. Can a woman pray from the main stage at a national conference? Is a plenary, biblically ...

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