Jonathan Merritt has an article making the rounds today about the Christian conference circuit and whether or not it’s sexist. He provides a quick round-up of some major Christian conferences and finds that out of 805 speakers, only 159 are women. That’s only 19%. He then concludes,
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.
I guess my question in response to his conclusion is this. Why should we assume that conference speakers need to reflect the gender diversity of the churches they represent? Merritt’s article presumes an egalitarian framework for evaluating the disparity between male and female speakers. It assumes—without argument or theological warrant—that there should be parity or some kind of proportionate representation. But that is an egalitarian assumption, and one that many Christians believe is totally foreign to scripture.
I can’t speak for all of the conferences in Merritt’s list, but I know that some of them will always have far less female speakers than men. Why? Because the conference organizers aim to honor scriptural norms in the speakers that they select. That means giving heed to texts like 1 Timothy 2:12, which says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” That doesn’t mean that women can never speak or teach the Bible. There are many venues when it would be perfectly appropriate for them to do so. But this text does indicate a prohibition on their preaching to a mixed gathering.
No, these conferences are not churches, nor do they have the same polity and accountability as a local church. Nevertheless, these conferences do aim to support and to resource the work of the local church, and they fail in that purpose if they undermine the church’s ordered teaching ministry. That is why the SBC’s pastor’s conference, Together for the Gospel, and some others on the list will never have female preachers on the docket. They’re simply trying to obey what the Bible says.
At the end of the day, it’s not sexist to obey scripture. The question that we have to ask and answer is, “What exactly does scripture say about these things?” That means that we can’t evaluate the issue simply by counting up the number of speakers. We have to know what the Bible says. If the Bible restricts the teaching office to qualified men, then it is good and right to follow this order even it means a lopsided ratio of male to female speakers. That approach may not line up well with the egalitarian spirit of the age, but it does align really well with scripture.