Editor’s Note: A year ago, just as he was wrapping up his Doctor of Intercultural Studies degree at Fuller Theological Seminary, we did an interview with Dr. Rob Dixon. One year later, we thought we would check in to see what he’s up to.
Challenging Tertullian: Since our last interview, you have started a new ministry venture, yes?
Rob Dixon: Yep, that’s true. I’ve become a traveling teacher/trainer. Want to think about the caliber of your mixed gender ministry partnerships? Pick me!
CT: OK, that’s quite a phrase, “mixed gender ministry partnerships.” Can you unpack that for us?
RD: I know it’s a mouthful, and I’ve tried out like 3 other ways of putting it. If anyone has a better way to frame it, I’m all ears! My degree was focused on flourishing working partnerships within the ministry context between women and men. In an article in the New York Times the other day, columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote, “we should all be adult enough to maneuver through the middle ground between leering at a colleague and avoiding [them].” I think that’s right, and I’m here to offer a way through that tension.
CT: It must be gratifying to be putting your degree to work?
RD: Indeed. My worst fear was that my dissertation would sit up on the shelf gathering dust. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve been given to present on my research model. The last 8 months or so have been wonderful!
CT: Talk about where you are doing these trainings.
RD: There are two main categories. I’ve been doing some training over video, with individuals and groups. While I appreciate the luxury of not having to travel, the video conferencing medium has some disadvantages as well. For sure it’s tougher for me to connect with people. So I like being physically present as much as possible. For instance, I’m doing this interview on my flight back from Iowa, where I was training a group of pastors and lay leaders in Ames.
CT: Great. Well, can you tell us what you actually do in trainings like the one you did in Iowa?
RD: It can vary, but often there will be some sort of foundational presentation on what the Bible has to say about women and men in partnership (spoiler alert—the Bible is FOR such partnerships), and then I’ll train off of my dissertation model. At the event in Ames, I spent 2 hours or so guiding the group through 10 attributes of flourishing partnerships, including topics like having a learner’s posture, communication, sharing power, attentiveness to negative dynamics, etc. We cover it all!
CT: What kind of response are you getting? What are you learning as you make the rounds?
RD: By far the biggest thing I am experiencing is that people are uniformly grateful for the content. I find that most communities, churches, and organizations are silent on topics at the intersection of faith and gender, and so people are hungry for this conversation. That’s particularly true in this cultural moment of #metoo and #churchtoo. My goal each time I train is to send people home with practical things they can do immediately to make their mixed gender ministry partnerships more satisfying and effective. Almost across the board, the reviews on the trainings I’ve done have been positive.
CT: That all sounds great. Do you ever get pushback?
RD: Of course I do, and after 8 months of doing this, I can usually guess where the pushback will come from. For instance, one of the attributes in my model is authentic friendships. Thriving partners share more than a cubicle; they share a friendship! Often, this attribute brings pushback, particularly with an older crowd, because it challenges the enshrined paradigm of the Billy Graham rule, with its six decades of teaching that male leaders should never be alone with a woman who is not their wife. So, that’s a common landmine, and pushback is not uncommon.
CT: Interesting. So what’s your reply to that?
RD: I can’t give everything away! Come to a training to find out!
CT: Fair enough. Do you do other types of trainings?
RD: I do. My main thing right now is the mixed gender ministry partnership content, but last week I helped a community in downtown Fresno consider the Bible’s message of equality between the genders, and I’ve been known to speak on topics like male privilege (Challenging Tertullian shout-out!) and gender reconciliation as well. What I told the group in Ames was that whenever and wherever a faith community is having a conversation about faith and gender, I want to be a part of it.
CT: What would you say is your vision for these trainings you’re doing? In the big picture, what are you hoping to accomplish?
RD: I’ll use the language of calling here to describe my passion for this new ministry. I feel called to challenge the people of God to embrace a theology and practice of gender equality, and I see everything I’m doing right now as furthering that end. At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, I’m desperate to help others imagine a church where women and men can flourish in equal measure.
CT: Lastly, if folks read this and want to find out more information, do you have a website?
RD: I do have a website, and I’d love it if folks would stop by. I have posted some resources there along with a description of what I do. If people are interested in having me coach or train, they can reach out. My email is on the site.
CT: Thanks Rob. We appreciate it.
RD: You bet. Talk to you next year!
Last weekend, I got the opportunity to sign my name to statement calling for “an end to harassment, abuse, and sexual violence against women and girls.”
Though I’ve signed online petitions and statements before, I’d never been invited to put my name on one before it was published.
In this case, I was proud to sign, for at least three reasons. First, I’m fully invested in the cause, and I want my voice to be heard. Next, I think this is a well-crafted statement. Third, I am blessed to be partners in mission with the groups behind the statement, the Women’s Transformation & Leadership and Local Missional Engagement leadership teams from the Reformed Church in America.
These are pivotal times. May the church seize the moment to listen, and to speak.
From the earliest story of our faith, God has painted a picture of a reality in which women and men together reflect the image of God. In Genesis 1:26-27, God establishes a vision—a vision God calls very good—of a world where men and women alike are treated with dignity, respect, and love as people created in God’s image.
And yet, not long after that vision was cast, an insidious narrative took its place. For far too long, women and girls have been victims of harassment, abuse, and sexual violence rather than being treated with the dignity God intended for them. Women have shared their stories of pain, only to have those stories fall on ears that did not wish to hear. Many women who dared to speak have been mocked and vilified.
A culture of shame and secrecy has stifled the voices of countless others (men and boys included). These people have not felt safe to share their stories because of the very real fear that their lives would be destroyed by those in positions of power. This culture has begun to shift in recent days and weeks, and we in the church are obligated to listen and respond.
We find ourselves in a pivotal moment. Social movements like the women’s march or the hashtags #timesup and #metoo show that people are grappling with how to respond to these stories of pain. Each story of #metoo has reverberated in hearts, in lives, in communities, and throughout the world. These stories have even come from within the church, which we see with the hashtag #churchtoo.
We believe the church must find its voice and speak.
To read the rest of the statement, click here. And, if you’re so inclined, I’d love to have your signature alongside mine.
UPDATE: if you’d like a closer look at the graphic below, go here.
UPDATE #2: As I say in the post, I’m looking at advocacy here through a male lens. In the same situation, a woman could/would face a different set of obstacles, and, I think, a much more complicated flow chart!
Update #3: It went well. My staff said he only needed the left branch of the flow chart, and that one of the participants told him, “that’s a good catch, thanks for bringing that up.”
As I continue to press into issues at the intersection of faith and gender, one thing becomes increasingly clear:
If you want to get my attention, ask me a question about the things I’m passionate about.
Case in point, yesterday one of my younger male staff asked for some coaching about advocacy. Long story short, he has an opportunity later today to exhort an event planning team to consider including at least one woman on a panel presentation they are working on. At this point, the roster is all male. I love his heart, and found myself eager to help him take a risk and step out as an advocate.
Now, I have a full inbox. And a bloated task list. And plenty to do even beyond my work stuff. But that didn’t stop me from dropping everything and…
Mapping the conversation out in a flow chart.
In case you are curious, here’s my conversation map:
Advocacy is a spiritual endeavor. So if you’re the praying type, his meeting is today, Wednesday, at 2:30 Pacific.
When was the last time you were led by a woman?
Over my 2o years as a campus minister, I’ve had two seasons where my direct supervisor was a woman, and many more where I served under the leadership of women in other capacities. It’s true to say that those positive experiences have helped to propel me into reflection on issues of gender and faith, including on this blog.
If the latest polls are correct and Hillary Clinton is elected president in just under two weeks, on January 20, 2017 we will all be led by a woman, for the first time in our country’s history.
And for lots of Americans, and for many male Americans in particular:
That will be a first.
That’s certainly true for Clinton’s running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Here’s Kaine from the other day, from this article:
“Other than supervising attorneys on occasion, this will be the first time I’ve had a female boss,” Sen. Kaine told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview to be aired in full on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — and he was a little taken aback by the realization.
“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he chuckled.
Again, I don’t think Kaine is alone in this. And I wonder how the nation will respond to a woman in the oval office. In particular, how will American men, long accustomed to the privileged position in this country, respond as “Hail to the Chief” serenades a woman?
Perhaps Kaine himself can give us a roadmap how men might engage a President Clinton. More from the article:
A civil rights lawyer and self-described feminist, Kaine said he “relishes” the idea of reinventing gender norms in the White House alongside Clinton, who could be the first women elected president of the United States.
“I get to be now, play a supportive role — that’s what the vice president’s main job is — to a woman who’s going to make history, to a president who will preside over the centennial of women getting the right to vote,” Kaine said.
He added that as much as Clinton could normalize the idea of a woman in the White House, his vice presidency would normalize the notion that “strong men should definitely support strong women.”
Of course, there’s bound to be some confusion, Kaine acknowledged. For instance, he said: “Is my wife Second Lady if there’s no First Lady?”
Nevertheless, Kaine said he was excited to create a new model.
“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too,” he said. “There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”
Three comments on Kaine’s posture here.
First, it will be important to acknowledge the novelty of the situation. This will indeed be something new. For the first time, a woman will hold the highest office in our government. And, the truth is that new things can take some getting used to. So each of us should expect a bit of internal dissonance, particularly at the beginning.
Second, I appreciate Kaine’s posture towards the new thing. He is predisposed to be supportive. Now, he’s her VP choice, so of course he’s going to say that, but what about the rest of us? When George H.W. Bush left office, he wrote a note to his successor, Bill Clinton, and here’s how he closed the letter: “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” In the current political morass, this brand of civility feels like a pipe dream. But what if we find that within ourselves, committing to be supportive? What would it mean for Clinton? What would it mean for us?
Third, Kaine calls us to a paradigm shift. Here it is: “strong men should definitely support strong women.” Friends, that is a vision we can and should get behind. To go a step further, I’ll say that “strong men definitely supporting strong women” is a vision that the Bible affirms. You see, the message of Scripture is that women and men are called to jointly steward our world. Sometimes, that means men will lead, other times, women will lead, and, all in all, joyful support should mark the partnership.
If the trends continue as the campaign (mercifully) winds down, Hillary Clinton will make history on January 20th. Indeed, for the first time in our 227 year history, the country’s daughters will have someone placing their hand on a Bible who looks and talks like them. It will be a powerful occasion.
And the country’s sons? May we respond like Tim Kaine.
“So are you saying that men should voluntarily give up power?”
In a word: YES.
I mean, if we’re going to eradicate the scourge of privilege and balance the gender scales, power is going to have to be redistributed. And that means women gaining more power and men giving up power. As I’ve said before (here on The Junia Project blog, most recently), releasing power is not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, if it was good enough for Jesus…
It’s good enough for me.
And, evidently, it’s also good enough for a tithe of Adventist pastors. According to this article, after their denomination voted to not ordain women, a group of male pastors decided to voluntarily downgrade their clerical status from “ordained” to “commissioned,” as a way to stand in solidarity with Adventist women, for whom commissioning is currently the only permitted ministerial option. Here’s an excerpt:
Mike Speegle, senior pastor of an Adventist church in Fulton, Md., said Wednesday (Oct. 14) that he requested and received a change in his credentials late this summer as his way of supporting his female colleagues.
“In our structure, I can’t make them equal with me by ordaining them, but I can make myself equal with them by taking the commissioned license, which is exactly what they have,” he said.
Pastor Kymone Hinds, the leader of a Memphis, Tenn., church, took similar action. He and another minister, Pastor Furman Fordham of Nashville, Tenn., received permission from their regional officials.
“Though I am not in agreement with the position that you brethren have taken on this issue, I admire your willingness to act on your convictions and fully support your right to do so,” wrote Elder D.C. Edmond, president of the denomination’s South Central Conference, in a September letter to them.
Cool, right? And costly as well. According to the article, the choice these men have made comes with clear costs:
Hinds said it was worth it to him to lose access to certain privileges of ordination: presiding over regional conferences; organizing churches; and ordaining elders, deacons or deaconesses.
Imagine that. Out of a place of conviction that gender equality is God’s creation intent, and out of a concern that their denomination was erring by not allowing the same access to power that they enjoyed, these men choose to willingly lay down their ordinations.
Friends, solidarity is a powerful thing.
I’ll give Pastor Hinds the last word:
“I wanted to stand in solidarity,” he said Wednesday. “We realize that our female ministers do the same work and have the same education but there is a glass ceiling over them.”
It’s an honor again to feature on The Junia Project today, with a piece entitled “Laying Down Male Privilege for Joy.” Find the full post here, and find a teaser below:
Like most kids, our children love their candy.
A relatively rare treat in our house, every piece of candy is something to be cherished, savored, and, above all else, hidden from your siblings. I mean, God forbid your older brother finds your hidden stash of Jolly Ranchers!
I think a lot of us view power in a similar way.
I’m talking about social power, like who has authority, who exercises leadership and who commands attention in a given situation. As with my kids and their candy, in our guts, we see power as something to be guarded and kept safe, under lock and key. Over the last several years I’ve been wrestling with what to do with the social power that culture gives me as a man, and my conclusion is this:
Out of reverence for Jesus, I am to release my socially-granted male privilege and power so that others, particularly women, may thrive.
…and don’t stop now! The rest of the post is here.
For example, sometimes I talk about “surrendering” or “laying down” male privilege. For me, this captures my conviction that men must relinquish their culturally-afforded power in a way that empowers the women around them.
Other times, I’ve used the verb “plundering.” I like this one. It’s as if male privilege is a treasure chest waiting to be looted and repurposed. I suppose there can be a Robin Hood like quality to how I think about male privilege, sort of a “steal from the powerful to uplift the disempowered” kind of idea.
More often, I’ve gone with “leveraging” male privilege. This is straight up power language, where male privilege is a commodity that can be utilized to raise up women.
Whatever the verb, Andrew Grill just did it.
I came across this article the other day. It tells the story of Grill’s spontaneous, in-the-moment decision to (insert verb here) his male privilege.
It turns out that Grill, Global Managing Partner with IBM Consulting, was invited to sit on an “Online Influence” panel in Cardiff, Wales. As he took his seat, he realized that the panel was all-male. Though two women had been invited to be on the panel, they had declined, leaving the audience to hear a presentation on the future of social media and online influence from six (counting the panel chair) middle-aged men.
At one point, a (gutsy) woman named Miranda asked the panel this question:
“Where are the women?”
Which prompted this turn of events, in Grill’s words:
What happened next changed the whole dynamic of the panel, and the discussion, and it lit up Twitter.
I offered to give up my seat on the panel and invited Miranda Bishop onto the stage. As I heard discussed after the panel, there was some encouragement from those sitting around Miranda, and she came forward to sit on the panel for the rest of the session. In fact as Miranda tells it on her blog post about the experience:
As I made my way down from right at the back of the hall I think my whole body turned red from blushing. Also it’s actually quite lucky that this was a conference about something I am pretty well-informed on in hindsight…
After the event, I heard that the organizers literally were looking through their hands wondering what this crazy Australian had done, and fearful of what might happen next.
As it was, Miranda brought an amazing perspective to the panel as a 26-year-old small business owner. She explained that when she left school she found it hard to get a job so she started her own social media training agency, “Talking Social Media”.
The response to our new panelist was extremely positive, as I had expected.
Let’s recap. It’s the middle of the capstone panel at a significant tech conference. Perceiving that the panel was poorer for being mono-gender, one of the expert panelists, a man who earlier in the conference had given a keynote address, chooses to get up from his seat and invites a woman from the audience to come take his chair. She seizes the opportunity and conference attendees benefit from her perspective.
So what’s the right verb to describe what Andrew Grill did with his privilege? Surrender? Lay down? Plunder? Leverage?
How about “all of the above.”