Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women (Carol Howard Merritt)

Right now, in the US, many of us wrestle with the Evangelical movement we grew up in. There are a lot of reasons for that. Our questions are theological, as we struggle with the atonement, the Kingdom of God, or Hell. We ask sociological questions about the role of women, LGBTQs, social media and politics. And philosophical and generational issues arise regularly. We’re in this exciting moment of turmoil right now, and we can realize we make real differences.

For me, the questions (or lack of questions) around gender have been interesting. I find myself wanting to explain what it’s like to grow up as a conservative Evangelical woman and how difficult the transition into leadership is from that place. I work a lot in the conference world, and my issues often arise there. I hear the whispers that men don’t. So, even though I’m at risk of sounding like a bad Cosmo article, I decided to write 7 Things Guys Need to Know about PEWs (Post-Evangelical Women). Basically, it’s the stuff we’re saying or dm’ing when you’re not there.

1) We were told to keep silent in church. Sometimes it was overt and other times it was subtle—a youth or Campus Crusade for Christ director buddies up with the cool football guys, takes them to lunch, and focuses on their leadership potential while the young women were left stranded. To go from “you must be silent” to finding your voice can be a long, arduous process.

2) We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here! It may be that we are welcome, and the leadership thought that having one female voice was good enough. But, for PEWs who grew up listening to “women should keep silent,” major gender inequity is a clear signal that the table is off-limits to us.

3) We don’t want to hear whining about forced quotas. We’ve heard the tiresome response: “We don’t do quotas. This movement isn’t about counting and making sure that there’s a particular number of non-white males.” I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. There will be no transformation in women’s leadership unless women are in leadership.

4) PEWs hear a defensive response as “you’re not welcome.” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

5) There are enough women. I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

6) Please refrain from using “organic leadership” or “meritocracy” as an excuse. When the subject of PEW leadership comes up, we hear, “Our leadership grows up organically. If women want to be involved, they need to produce.” If organic growth or meritocracy is a reason for not having women in leadership, you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.

7) Money Matters. Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for “flattening leadership,” “overturning hierarchies,” or “unbinding the church.” The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.


Carol Howard Merritt is a pastor of Western Presbyterian Church, an intergenerational congregation in Washington, D.C. Western’s deep commitment to serving the poor in the city has helped to initiate programs like Miriam’s Kitchen, a social service program for the homeless which provides a hot, nutritious breakfast and dinner for over 200 men and women; Project Create, which teaches art to children in transitional housing; and HIPS which stands for Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive.

Carol’s the author of Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (Alban, 2010) and Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation, (Alban, 2007).  Carol is also the co-host of God Complex Radio with Landon Whitsitt. And she blogs for the Huffington Post.

"But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, ..."

Cosmic Signs Don’t Signal a Rapture ..."
"All I have to say is this: You are absolutely right, & your article makes ..."

Sometimes Reading the Bible Literally is ..."
"Very interesting and makes total sense, thanks for writing it!"

Name Change Myth: Saul Never Became ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Takashi Kojima

    Thank you Carol for the straight forward presentation of what PEW are facing in the church. The last seventh point, you’ve got paid that low? Fifteen times less? Appalling figure! Unbelievable! Something’s wrong here, notwithstanding other points you mention.

  • Dances4god1969

    As a hospital chaplain, I get this almost daily. “A lady chaplain?”. People wouldn’t say “A woman doctor?” yet, somehow, this bias has been created. I have even had a woman refuse my giving her communion, because “women just don’t do that in my denomination.” it would be a lie to say it doesn’t affect me. I’m still in the process of washing off the weed killer. But remain certain of my calling and see God working in ways many will never see.

  • “you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years.”

    This is the most powerful and accurate statement I’ve read on women in leadership in the church. Thank you, Carol, for speaking with such precision, clarity, and boldness on what post-evangelical women face each time we stand.

    Thank you, Kurt, for hosting Carol here. What an inspiring and thought-provoking way to start the day!

  • I’m a PEW.  Yes to this.  Yes yes yes!  This hits way too close to home to not be a little painful to read, but I am grateful for it all the same.  Well said, Carol.

  • Yes to all of this, although I would stretch this to apply to those of us who are STILL evangelical (in the Tony Campolo sense) who have simply stepped out of the conservative/fundamentalist territories. I’m learning to become more of a self-promoter and promoter of other women, but the weed-killer quote is SO true. It has taken a LOT of time and encouragement. And I’m still not half the self-promoter of most of my male pastor-type friends.

    • @openid-36675:disqus … great comment.  I’d add that (Post)evangelical doesn’t mean “not evangelical” but simply that someone is evangelical in a “new sense.”  I find the language of Post-conservative Evangelical most helpful.  That is a Theological category, not a political one.  N.T. Wright, Roger Olson, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, Tony Campolo, etc all could fit this category.  Post-evangelical and Post-conservative evangelical (as far as I understand it) basically mean the same thing.  For an amazing book on this, see:

      How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative OR Reformed and Always Reforming [both written by Roger Olson].

      I consider myself (when I’m ok with the ‘label game’): Anabaptist Post-Conservative Progressive Evangelical… hahahah.  Labels are dumb but can be helpful sometimes i suppose 🙂

  • Megan

    Wow. Thanks. Finally someone who is saying something relevant.

  • Thank you for this article. My fiancé is a wonderful bible teacher and preacher and I worry that we will not be able to find a church outside of our campus ministry that will really celebrate her gifts.

  • Sarah

    Interesting reflections, and I certainly cannot argue the validity of the sentiments, however, I’m not sure how much God worries over the discrepancies in pay.  Since God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, I’m trusting He’s provided you with sufficient funds to carry out His work.
    God bless you.

    • Carol Howard Merritt

      Thanks, Sarah. It’s been very difficult for me to talk about money. I know that I’m a servant….

      But I get frustrated by the growing gap between the rich and the poor our country. I get angry when a person of color, a person with a disability, or a woman gets paid less for equal work. It’s an issue of justice. And often with issues of justice, we need to learn to clean up our own homes before we can talk about societal issues. You know… get the log out of our own eye…

      God has provided, and I am very, very blessed. But I have learned throughout my 12 years in the ministry that sometimes God’s provision has a lot to do with my own actions.

      • Linda

        I agree.  While we are servants, so our our male counterparts, who still get paid much more than females.   The Bible says that the worker deserves a wage.  Not that male workers deserve more of a wage than female workers.  Thanks for this well-written article.   

  • That’s a good list. As someone who over the past couple years has swung from the “men only” side of leadership to the “everyone can” side, this list will be helpful when I’m trying to explain to some of my friends who haven’t hopped the fence yet what I think and some problems that are there.

  • Tucker M Russell

    Thank you for this courageous, insightful, and honest post Carol.  The Church needs persons of integrity willing to speak truths like these. 

    So often the traditional leaders and standard bearers of religious institutions rush to congratulate themselves for their enlightened point of view, even as they unknowingly reinforce patterns of marginalization. 

    I think a similar post could be written from the perspective of people of color, GLBTIQ people, people with disabilities, and probably others.  Thanks again. 

  • WoW, I wish we could be as honest in England. 🙂 Go Go Go.

  • So… Evangelical leaders are boring the men in their churches and repressing the women while 4000 churches close per year. Are these guys doing anything right?

  • It’s all so ironic. Leader-ly is supposed to mean servant-ly.

    Anyhow, there are ways to outwit the foxes.  Just speak the plain unvarnished truth.  And remind yourself that nobody–NOBODY–in power stays there. They all end up on deathbeds, shriveled up, shadows of their former selves. So do the rest of us. (Uh-oh).

  • Carol Howard Merritt

    Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I really appreciate it. And Kurt, thanks for hosting me on your blog!

    • @81653d72381bffaf9d575610a0ae09ca:disqus … thanks for your excellent piece! Really appreciate you!

  • Guest

    “you have
    to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed
    on us for 20 years.”

    Isn’t that a
    good thing? This way “fruit” and “grass” can grow and not
    weeds that choke it out. I get what you mean, but you missed on the analogy.

    • another guest

      not if the weed-killer is Round-up

  • Great post!  

    One thing that I heard at a conference on racial inequalities (and I think can be applied to gender inequalities) was the problem of statistics and people’s responses.  The speaker had done a lot of studies on the role of statistics and narratives.  He argued that the problem is that shocking statistics can serve the opposite affect.   Because, with saying stuff like, “1 out of ever 10 African-American males are in prison” some people will not think, “oh my goodness what is society doing to cause this” but rather, “well, if they commit the crime they should do the time.”  In other words, they deserve it.  Same can be said with ratios of women in stuff… some people would simply say (wrongly but still say it) that that is just because there are not enough “qualified” women.  

    What I am saying is that: Statistics can be self-defeating… BUT, narratives change peoples minds.  When people have narratives in their minds of successful African Americans and Women and whoever else… then the statistics validate the narratives.  

    This is not to say we dont use statistics… but to assume that stats alone will change people is false.  Narratives are more powerful than statistics.  

    In other words, reading posts like this is more powerful than statistics… 

    Again, thanks for the post!

  • Suzanneburden

    Painful to read, but oh-so-true:
    “ have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.”
    As I’m in my pastoral internship now, and discipling, teaching, and eventually preaching, the whole thing has become almost a non-issue for me in this setting. I don’t even think about being female while ministering. But…that’s because my church and denomination empowers women to use their gifts and our female associate pastor led the way in our congregation. I’m standing on the shoulders of those who have valiantly fought for women to simply serve Christ however he gifts them. Makes me entirely grateful!

  • Meg

    thanks for saying so nicely what i tend to yell, with lots of expletives added in!!