On Friday March 11, Amanda Benckhuysen, director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry, along with fellow Christian leaders in ministry Kat Armas, Beth Allison Barr, Nicole Martin, and Joyce Koo Dalrymple, took part in a webinar called, “Reimagining Biblical Womanhood,” hosted by Christianity Today. Benckhuysen, who is the author of The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation (IVP, 2019), was invited to participate by Ed Gilbreath, Christianity Today’s vice president of strategic partnership.
“I was there both as a biblical scholar, who has done work in recovering women’s voices and interpretations of Scripture, and as someone who now works for the church in abuse prevention and response,” Benckhuysen said. “The church has long been shaped and has privileged male voices and experience in preaching, leadership, biblical interpretation, theology, pastor care, etc., often to the exclusion of women’s voices and experiences,” she said. This, she said, “can create environments where women’s voices are not taken seriously. This is especially problematic when women come forward with allegations of abuse.”
Benckhuysen explains that many women who come forward with claims of abuse are dismissed, minimized or ignored by church leadership. She wants the church to adopt habits and practices of listening to men’s and women’s voices together and taking both seriously.
The webinar was part of CT’s monthly “Big Tent Initiative.” Gilbreath explains that the initiative is CT’s “effort to amplify underrepresented voices and to better reflect the growing racial, ethnic, and denominational diversity of the North American church.” CT puts on 15-20 webinars a year. The March 11 panelists discussed some of the challenges of teaching in areas of theology education where there aren’t many women, navigating microaggressions—comments or actions that sometimes unintentionally demean or negate—and feelings of having to diminish themselves in order to feel accepted.
There was also discussion of the #churchtoo movement that has exposed sexual assualt in Christian churches. Panelists were asked if they’d seen positive models of churches that heal and empower women, as well as how they can bring health, goodness, and flourishing, to everyone.
More than 2,700 people registered for the “Reimagining Biblical Womanhood” webinar, and about 1,300 people tuned in live (registrants were welcome to watch the recording later). Gilbreath said that while the webinar “was certainly meant to encourage women leaders in particular, it was also a way to encourage the whole church to recognize the unique leadership gifts of Christian women.”
Benckhuysen appreciated that Christianity Today would sponsor a conversation like this. “It signals a recognition that I hope will grow in the evangelical church regardless of what you believe about women serving in ordained ministry, the Bible is clear that women are created in the image of God and deserving of respect as human beings, that they have a role to play in the church and the mission of God, and that the church ought to nurture and celebrate this and protect women from those who would seek to minimize or otherwise disrespect women.”
Christianity Today itself is reckoning with its workplace culture and listening to women’s voices. On March 15 the media corporation’s president, CEO, and editor in chief published an editorial, “We Fell Short in Protecting Our Employees,” in responding to sexual harassment. He also released an independent report from Guidepost Solutions. Gilbreath said the webinar is in no way related to that release.
"The webinar was on the calendar for Women's History Month long before I was informed about the delivery date for the independent report. In the wake of last week’s news, however, I do hope the webinar reflects our commitment to lift up and elevate women and their stories."
About the Author
Callie Feyen is a writer living in Ann Arbor, Mich. She attends First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. Callie writes news for The Banner and contributes to Coffee+Crumbs, and T.S. Poetry Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and is the author of The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet, and Twirl: My Life in Stories, Writing, & Clothes.