Institutional Sexism and Para-Church Youth Ministry
The Glass Ceiling
This is the term used by many to describe why many women and minorities fail to rise above certain ranks. Over time women and minorities have made progress (often minorities before women) to advance to the higher levels of management up through the ranks of CEO. Some feel that there are inherent aspects of organizations that men do better in because they get chosen quicker to be in the “all boys club” or the “white boys club” depending on what trade you are looking at.
The Church and the Glass Ceiling
I’ve chosen to not address this for the time being. While this is a sticking point between denominations and I agree that this needs to be examined in light of biblical truth, I’ve been struck by something recently occurring at YS and their management shifts and new acquisitions on their leadership team.
The para-church are those forms of Christian Ministry that fall outside of the church and function more like organizations. Some of these include Group, Dare2Share, Youth Specialties, Focus on the Family and so on.
Since this is not church (and they don’t pretend to be church), I am not sure the egalitarian/complimentarian argument actually does anything here. So we need to revert back to principles of equality, justice, love, peace found in the Imago Dei.
Youth Specialties’ Recent Announcement
Youth Specialties recently added to a number of relatively high profile, or upper level management moves. Today, Youth specialties announced the hiring of Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute to join their leadership team as an advisor. An excerpt from their press release reads:
Matlock continued, “As YS continues to serve the church in addressing current issues in adolescent spiritual formation and outreach, Kara’s experience in research and church youth ministry will provide unparalleled insight into ministry today. In addition to speaking roles at NYWC and YSpalooza, Kara’s greatest contribution will be giving strategic input on big picture issues at YS.”
Thanks to my Mac Dictionary: Sexism is defined as the prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
So essentially we are to keep away from things that label a person by gender and asserting their value as a subset of their gender. I loved that YS found someone so capable and competent to advise them on areas of research. She is a PhD and has tons of other credits which are outstanding.
So, am I concerned that YS is sexist on an institutional level. No. But, keep reading…
What alarms me:
The reactions to this news of Kara Powell joining the YS team, by the twitterverse and facebook commentators.
The responses I’ve seen over twitter are overall positive, but their is a slight current that shows that we (the people who consume para-church ministry ‘goods’) still gravitate towards an institutionalized sexism when it comes to para-church youth ministry.
A few statements I’ve read today include:
Kara brings expertise and academic credentials to the team, and being female is a big asset.
intelligent thoughtfully spoken and theologically solid female youth ministry buff step into a role at YS
Statements like these, tend to attach femaleness to everything else she has done. While it might sound “nice,” the problem lies in the principle that we don’t do that for other genders, or other races.
It’s very much like saying she throws very well “for a girl…” I’m not sure these people, who left these comments were intentional. But that is the problem with institutionalized sexism. It’s ingrained. We make comments without thinking, and it exposes what inherent prejudices lies within the system we are immersed in.
Take the first one for example: brings expertise and academic credentials to the team, and being female is a big asset.
Take female and insert the various words male, black, white, single, old, young. Does it change the way you think of the statement??? Perhaps it should.
Here is Kara’s Bio from her FYI’s Website:
Kara Eckmann Powell, PhD
Dr. Kara E. Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. She completed her PhD in Practical Theology from Fuller Seminary with a focus on Pastoral Role Expectations in 2000, an MDiv from Bethel Theological Seminary in 1994, and a BA degree with Honors from Stanford University in 1991. In addition to her roles at Fuller Seminary, Kara currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. She is the author or co-author of a number of books and curriculum guides, including Sticky Faith (parent and youth leader editions and student curriculum, 2011-2012), Essential Leadership (2010), Deep Justice Journeys (2009), Deep Justice in a Broken World (2008), Deep Ministry in a Shallow World (2006), Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum (2001, rev 2009), Help! I’m a Woman in Youth Ministry (2004), and Mirror, Mirror (2003). Resources from Kara Powell. Follow @kpowellfyi on Twitter.
Based on that alone, who wouldn’t want to hire her for their youth ministry para church organization any day of the week (and twice on Sundays or Wednesday Nights???) Note besides the second person pronoun, there are no other hints that her Gender has to do with her professional self.
I have many female friends in youth ministry. They are great. Part of it is because they are female. But their femaleness isn’t what makes or breaks them. It is their passion, their love for God, their love for students and their gifting for what they are called to do. Additionally, the times when femaleness is a prerequisite, it is often tied to gender role activities, such as sleeping quarters, mentoring (to some extent), talking alone, driving home, etc. But when we tout someone for research and skills and academic credentials, I’m not sure the female asset-ness ought to carry the same clout.
If you have pushback-feedback, i’d love to hear it. I’m open for suggestion and improvements. My goal is to heighten our awareness of institutional sexism in youth ministry and ask the question, is this the way this game is supposed to be played??
This is a second version of this article. I made some changes based on “Push Back” and have appreciated it greatly. Keep those comments coming 🙂