Are Christian conferences sexist?

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.


  • Lauren Law

    My heart breaks as I read this post to believe that Paul’s early teaching about woman not teaching men is not balanced with his teaching later in life to the Galatians (3:28) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” In context, we are ALL God’s children and He doesn’t see me as female. He sees me as His child. Jesus broke all the rules of society by welcoming women into his close group of friends. Paul made it very clear that the rule about women teaching men was “his” rule…not God’s. Women have struggled to have personal relationships with Christ since Mary sat at His feet among the men…and we still struggle today. As long as the good ole’ boys of church play politics like the good ole’ boys of politics play politics, the church will remain divided. I have a wonderful, strong relationship with Christ…and have had it for decades. I have taught men in the church…with absolute assurance that God was speaking in me and through me and to me while I spoke and taught them. Funny that God chose a human mother to teach her/His Son…and she was with Him to the end…but women are still “put in their place” by religious leaders who use the Scriptures erroneously to keep themselves in charge. I’ve loved just about everything you’ve posted, Denny…and considered it a blessing to have somehow connected with your blog. But I will agree to disagree with you on this one…God does not favor one gender over another. Our roles are equal. Our relationship with Him is equal. Our inheritance will be the same. I don’t think we’ll be separated by gender in heaven…God is NO RESPECTOR OF PERSONS. Maybe we should learn to be the same.

    • Nathan Stuller


      Most scholars (that I’ve read) put the date of composition of 1st Timothy at AD 62-64, and Galatians at around AD 48. They could certainly be wrong, but I don’t think we can positively assert that Galatians was certainly written later than 1st Timothy either.

      And ‘absolute assurance’ does not mean that you’re right. I have a friend whose wife is divorcing him, without any biblical justification for doing so, who claims to have ‘perfect peace’ from God that she is doing the right thing. But she’s contradicting the clear teachings of Scripture.

      Galatians 3:25-29 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

      This seems to be talking about Justification. No one is excluded from the inheritance that we have in Jesus. But the Bible clearly teaches that there are different roles for different people. Ephesians 5:22-6:9. Wives submit to their husbands, husbands love their wives, children obey their parents, fathers teach their children, slaves obey their masters, masters do good to their slaves. They are all equal in the eyes of God, but they have different roles and responsibilities on earth. And the master is not favored by God over the slave, God shows no partiality.

      Having different roles does not mean that God favors one gender over another, anymore than the different roles within the Trinity implies that the Son is favored over the Holy Spirit.

      I have no doubts that you do have a strong and long walk with Christ. In fact, I’m confident that it is deeper than mine. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be mistaken on this point, and that your walk couldn’t be even better. After all, the vast majority of the great men of God throughout Church History were entirely wrong about baptism, and I still love and cherish them!

      • Lauren Law

        Nathan…what’s really a shame is that the history of Christianity is all about “men of God” and neglects the work that “women of God” have been doing through the ages. In a time when women were “property”, Jesus elevated them. He recognized them…He spoke to them…He fellowshipped with them…He listened to them (He didn’t correct Martha when she tried to teach him about what Mary should be doing…he made a point of saying that what Mary was doing was more important). You are right that my “feelings” have no legitimacy. But my faith does have legitimacy…and my relationship with God has legitimacy. We’re instructed to work out our salvation. Deborah could judge…a prostitute could be part of Christ’s lineage…Priscilla was part of instructing Apollos! The Scriptures teach that women teaching men has value…PAUL made it clear that HE separated women from men…that may have been the Pharisee in him coming out. I don’t pretend to be perfect…I don’t claim to always be right. But, of this I am sure…I did not “sin” when I taught men in my classes. Men may be offended…but my Savior is not.

        • Daryl Little


          I think you’re right about the neglect of the stories of women of God.

          One thing to recall, however, that the Bible is the very words of God, so, if Paul was to wrongly separate anyone from anyone else, we cannot make that claim based on what he wrote in Scripture. If Acts recorded sinful actions, that’s one thing (I think of his fight with Barnabas over Mark or Peter’s failure among Jewish and Gentile Christians, which Paul challenged him on).
          Once we do that, we cannot reasonably find a stopping place. Are children then no required to obey their parents? Are fathers free to provoke their children to anger?

          To say that it was the Pharisee coming out in Paul is something that we cannot say of the “God-breathed” Scriptures.

          • Lauren Law

            Daryl…I think the fact that Paul made it clear that “he” was making this separation is exactly WHY we should recognize the difference. God inspired Paul to point out that it was a “Paul” statement. Nowhere else do we see any of the Biblical writers acknowledging that their words were from them. David, Solomon, the prophets…no one else said, “I” say this…even though we all know they were doing the speaking. Paul seems to know that his idea is something separate from what Jesus taught and he differentiates what he’s saying by clearly stating that it is his own idea. Paul did not state that children obeying their parents was “his” idea, or that fathers “exasperating” their children was “his” idea. But he clearly states that his practice of men teaching men is “his” idea. If what Paul wrote is true of women, then Deborah should never have been a judge…and Sapphira surely should not have corrected and educated Apollos. Paul clearly stated it was HIS idea. I have no problem with God’s Word showing us how men’s minds work. The Pharisees added a lot to the law of God…and Jesus made sure to point out that they didn’t add what really counted (the heart issues) and that all the nit-picky issues were “their” laws, not God’s. Women should not have to “justify” their God-given gifts and talents to godly men! I don’t want to take a man’s place by instructing men…I just don’t want to be told to shut-up in front of men because God’s not in that! I’m not a feminist…I’m not a woman with “issues”…and yes, my heart breaks over a lot of things. But since we’re called to have broken and contrite hearts, I’m not sure that’s a fault. 2014 years after Christ walked on this earth and relegated women to a rightful place among men, it’s just hard for me to believe that men still use this personal practice of Paul’s as God’s plan for His daughters. (Part of this post is a reference to Jonathan’s post too)

    • Jonathan Charles

      just from almost all your comments


      if you have any issues- relax in God’s grace and love

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Susan Hunt said it best. Let’s take out the wounded and the hurt and just read “women” in this post,

    “The shepherds of the flock are entrusted with the care of the flock, and they have a responsibility to involve women in helping them understand the unique needs and vulnerabilities of a woman in distress. They have a responsibility to partner with women in caring for wounded women. Women cannot expect men to automatically understand the plight or the passions of wounded women, but men can listen to and accept the reality of these women’s situations. Often men seem to be able to “hear” better if other women bridge the gap. Spiritually mature women may be better equipped to articulate a hurting woman’s pain to men, so these women can be helpers to the male leadership in a church by being the advocates for hurting women. So the reality is, the responsibility of the church to women is the shared responsibility of men and women. And women are designed for the task.”

    Susan Hunt should be in the pulpit at a men’s conference. Read the rest of her impassioned article. But did that help the women I know. Not at all. Never got to the pulpit. Put women in the pulpit for the sake of representing the whole church.

  • Chris Ryan

    I can see why Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 wouldn’t have a woman exercise authority over him–who could, other than Peter?–but I don’t see myself as the equal of Paul.

    Paul was unique in many ways. He was also celibate and advocated that we be so as well, so if we’re gonna take the goose we better take the gander. 🙂 Any men who feel like its beneath them to listen to women should keep that in mind–don’t take a little of Paul, take all of Paul. 🙂

    One of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard concerned John 2:4-5. The preacher focused on how Jesus did as Mary asked even though it wasn’t His time. In typical mom fashion Mary totally ignored Jesus’ objections even. He’s all, ‘awww, Ma, I don’t wanna’, and she’s all ‘Mmmm, mmmm, please make it red, not white’ (to grossly paraphrase). So while Paul is certainly qualified to ignore everyone else, I’m happy to follow Jesus’ example.

    • Daryl Little

      Wow. So now the Son of God must answer to someone?

      And who thinks it’s beneath them to listen to women? I’m sure there are those guys, but there’s no way to make the case that God used Paul to say that Paul was above listening to women.

      It’s about the Bible. It’s about it’s perfection. It’s about living like it matters.

  • Ian Shaw

    Though I appreciate Nathan’s statement’s in paragraph 4 and 5 above (agree wholeheartedly),after reading the comments and much deliberation, I have absolutely nothing to add to this discussion. 🙂

    Grace and peace

  • Chris Ryan

    Sorry if I misinterpreted Denny’s post, but I read it as saying some pastors don’t feel like they can listen to women at a conference because it would violate 1 Timothy 2:12. I don’t see the difference between that & saying its beneath men to listen to women teach.

    If you want to emulate Paul in his treatment of women, then emulate his celibacy. Emulate his absolute subordination of the flesh to the spirit. If we can’t live as Paul lived then we can’t assume the authorities Paul had. When we act like Paul we can be like Paul, but we don’t get his authorities without following his example.

    My larger point is that if Jesus can listen to a woman then I can. And her speaking at a conference doesn’t change that.

    • Shaun DuFault


      I am sorry but you are trying to equate a woman not teaching a man to a woman making a request? This is comparing an apple to an orange.

      With the reasoning you have stated, I guess we should simply ignore all of Paul’s writings since none of us can be like him. Then again, are we all living like the apostle John? If not, should we also feel it is okay not to worry about John 2?

      • Chris Ryan

        Hi, Shaun. Lauren in her reply to Darryl makes my point much more eloquently than I did. My point is simply that Paul is speaking for himself on the proper role of women. Had this been a general–and not a personal–injunction he would’ve phrased it as he did the prohibition against homosexuality, for instance. Paul didn’t like women wearing braided hair, gold, or pearls either (1 Timothy 2:9-10) but no one thinks wearing pearls is sinful (much less braids!)

        In John 2, in contrast, John is describing Christ’s example. Since we are charged with emulating Christ’s example–not Paul’s example–John 2 rules.

        Have a blessed weekend!

  • Stephen Beck

    I think a better angle here is just the practical aspect of audience and purpose. I am not familiar with all of the conferences that Jonathan Merritt counted, but it seems a large number of them are pretty much by pastors and for pastors (it is mostly only church workers that could take time off during the week to attend these conferences, after all). You still need to assume a complementarian framework that only men should pastor over the whole church, but then you don’t have to make an argument about who should and should not be speaking at para-church events like conferences, because it would just be natural that more men would be qualified leaders to speak.

    You wouldn’t expect a lot of female speakers at a football event, would you?

    • Lauren Law

      Stephen…if women were as involved in football as they are in church, yes, I would expect female speakers at football events. And the original post is about that exactly. Women make up a majority of the churches…and yet or grossly misrepresented in church conferences (because they are only “supposed” to teach other women, according to Paul and those who take Paul’s personal declaration of his own practice as the word of God…even after he has differentiated it). Football is 99% men…so 99% of the speakers should be men. Women are slowly but surely finding their ways into roles of leadership in the church…against all odds! Could it be the power and Word of God are stronger than the teachings and beliefs of men? I feel like I’m turning into a snide person here…and that is not my spirit. But really? Will women forever be relegated to their place before men…when Jesus lifted women from the oppression?

      • Jonathan Charles

        u basically said that most women in most churches are oppressed

        what amuses me is that at least complementarian conferences etc stick to their beliefs- egalitarian ones however rarely have more than 20% women etc

        • Lauren Law

          I said that most women in churches are “put in their place”…you interpreted that as “oppressed”. Churches that honor sisters in Christ as equal to brothers in Christ do not “oppress” the women. Most women are not attending those male-bonding conferences because they don’t want to feel rejected by the very church that they are part of…that Christ died for…that Christ will return for. We have to keep our “beliefs” to ourselves or we’re seen as “trouble-makers” or “liberal” or “feminist” or as “disobeying Scriptures”. I realize that men in the church will never know what that feels like…they’ve all got each others back (I shouldn’t say “all”…I should just refer to the protectionist men who follow Pauline teachings instead of Christ’s example).

          I do remember attending a wonderful conference many years ago lead by Henry Blackaby and the conference was filled equally with men and women…all interested in joining God where He was at work. I think that may be the only conference lead by “men of God” that I didn’t feel eyes looking at me wondering what I was doing there…and understanding how Mary felt sitting at the feet of Jesus.

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