Over and over again in my conversations with women in the emerging church movement, I hear the story of women awakening to themselves. They realize that as women they too are created in the image of God and so in theory can serve their creator faithfully in whatever way they are called. Intellectually, they understand this. They want to engage theology, attend conferences, interact online, and visit discussion groups. They want to have a say in the direction of the emerging conversation and lend their particular understandings to shape the movement. They see in this emerging moment in time an opportunity for them to be fully alive as women, to grow their faith in new ways, and to be truly respected in the church. But at the same time they have difficulty actually doing those things.
The problem isn't so much women being told that they can't participate or lead, although there are churches in the emerging movement that still set limits on women, for the most part women are fully affirmed. The men in the conversations wish there were more women contributing their voices and stepping up into leadership. But while such stepping up might seem perfectly natural to these men, I've encountered numerous women who feel they just can't do that. Even if they believe they can be leaders, the message that the church and their culture has imparted to them over the years is that nice Christian women just don't do things like that. They don't assert themselves. They don't impose themselves on others. They don't show up where they haven't been invited. They don't make a scene.
So in the very open source emerging network this creates a problem. Women are affirmed, but with no one to officially invite them into the conversation, many women just don't join in. This of course creates a cycle where, because women don't see other women in the conversation, they assume that not only are they not invited they are not welcome in that world. So some women reject the movement in anger and others resign themselves to remaining on the outside simply wishing things could be different.
As a woman engaged with the emerging conversation, I hope to hear more women's voices represented there. But I do understand the psychological constraints many women face. I don't believe that they simply need to get over who they are and step up anyway. I think men and women need to work together, mutually making sacrifices, to ensure that the conversation is a welcoming place for all. Men should take the time to extend invitations to women. They shouldn't just assume that if women aren't showing up to the conversation that they don't want to be there. Taking the time to make room for women, going out of their way to extend invitations, and showing a willingness to learn from women are just the sorts of encouragements that many women need. But women too need to stretch themselves - not to lose themselves, but to examine what baggage is weighing them down and holding them back. Women can help each other leave behind such constraints and develop into the people we long to be. We can encourage each other and affirm to those who need the reminder that Christian women can be strong, engaging, and dynamic while exploring theology and stepping into leadership.