Women, Power, and Abuse in the Church

Preston Sprinkle

I’m writing these words with a profound sense of urgency and nervousness. I can easily confess that the evangelical Christian church has not always treated its sisters in Christ with dignity, honor, and respect. From #MeToo to #ChurchToo to abuse cover-ups in several evangelical denominations—Christ’s bride has fallen far short of the gospel’s blood-bought vision for female dignity as laid out in Scripture (Gen. 1:27; Gal. 3:28). 

I’m nervous, though, because when men speak up about this issue, we often put our feet in our mouths. We can easily come off as pandering, ignorant, condescending, or all of the above. Even in these last two paragraphs, I wonder if I’ve worded things correctly. The temptation to self-censor is great. And yet, I don’t think silence is the answer. So what’s a guy to do? 

How about curious listening? What if men like me took time to listen to women telling their stories about what life is like in the church?

I’ve said some stupid and ignorant things about women—both publicly and privately—and I’m sure I’ll continue to make mistakes. But I truly want to do better; I want to understand the blatant and subtle ways women have become victims of the abuse of power in churches dominated by male leadership. 

To be clear, I’m not arguing that complementarianism is intrinsically evil. I’m not even sure where I stand on that issue. And I think some attempts to course-correct away from male-dominated leadership can swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, creating a culture where men stop speaking altogether or where masculinity is deemed inherently toxic. I also know of a few cases where male (or female) leaders have been wrongly accused of abusing their power, and I consider those false accusations evil as well. 

The whole conversation is messy. Important. Vital. Crucial. But messy. And as a guy, I want to err on the side of listening and learning, so that whatever opinions I express—including the ones above—can be seasoned with the insights of wise and respected women.

This is why I’m very eager to learn from several women at this year’s Exiles in Babylon conference (April 18-20, 2024), which will devote an entire session to Women, Power, and Abuse in the Church. I’m incredibly excited about the speakers we’ve lined up! 

Theology in the Raw house favorite Dr. Sandy Richter will lay a thick theological foundation for how we think about women and the abuse of power. Tiffany Bluhm, who has done a massive amount of research on abuses of power in the Church, will give us a sober picture of how deep this problem runs. Dr. Juli Slattery, who has counseled many victims of sexual abuse and abuse of power, will offer us wisdom in how to move forward. And the ever-passionate Laurie Krieg will share her own story as a survivor to help us envision a practical, gospel-centered response to these issues. 

All in all, we don’t just want to deconstruct or identify a problem. We want to figure out how best to confront whatever structures are enabling the abuse and dehumanization of women. And we want to grow into a better reflection of the new creation vision for the full dignity and honor of both women and men in the church. 

Join us in April, either in person or via livestream! Find tickets here!

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