Can a Christian “Lean In” Movement Propel Women in the Workplace? October 3, 2014

Can a Christian “Lean In” Movement Propel Women in the Workplace?

Liberty University, Jerry Falwell‘s evangelical powerhouse college in the hills of western Virginia, is loosely working with Christine Craine of Hillsong Church (in Australia) to start a program (Propel) to support Christian women in business. Inspired by the feminism of the Lean In book, Craine says this will fill a gap for ways women are supported by the Christian community.

According to Christianity Today:

Head of the anti–human trafficking organization A21, Caine discovered Christian women around the globe leading in various business sectors, but at the Christian conferences she headlined, she found that these working women sensed something missing from the training — a giant “gap” in women’s ministry.

A majority of women of faith work outside the home, forcing them to grapple with the now much-talked-about challenges of balancing work and family, duty and calling.

This is a shrewd move for the school, as it distances them from their historical reputation of extreme conservatism (check out the student handbook for context) and puts them in the middle ground of giving lip service to feminism without actually committing to the principles behind gender equality. (Schools like this tend not to participate in these events unless they support the mission of the organization.)

The statement from Liberty is rather revealing, I think. Listen for the paternalism:

Propel’s vision is to see both men and women make disciples at home and in the workplace. This aligns well with our university’s mission of raising up a new generation of champions for Christ.

Personally, as the father of an audacious and passionate daughter, I find myself telling her and my son that they each have been uniquely made by God to reveal his Kingdom to the world. I want them both to know that… their main job in life is to glorify God by worshiping him and making him known in the very place he has placed them. I want my daughter to know that this mandate from God is just as real for her as it is for her big brother.

This is the heart of Propel — to literally propel the people of God to carry out the mission of God.

Carolyn McCulley, quoted in the CT article, is a revealing choice of partner for them, as she was deeply involved in Sovereign Grace Ministries during my time in the group and often told her testimony to church groups in the network. Every time she told the story, she emphasized how she had been a women’s studies major in college and a staunch feminist who had resisted the idea of submission before she attended my original church, KingsWay Community Church in Richmond, Virginia. But after our pastor, Gene Emerson, talked with her over a period of time, she eventually came around to the complementarian side of things, eventually repenting of her feminism.

This project does indeed meet a need in the Christian evangelical world, but I suspect it won’t do much to actually empower women and bring about more gender equality in the Christian business world. It is definitely a step in the right direction and the intent may be solid, but I suspect that the ingrained soft patriarchy in that community (coupled with women leaders who agree with that view) will prevent such a project from having much true power to bring about lasting change.

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