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March 8, 2018

Church Clarity: Women in Leadership

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re excited to announce the implementation of our next phase of scoring today: Women in Leadership.

Similar to our rollout of scoring churches for clarity of their LGBTQ+ policies, this second phase scores churches for how clearly they communicate their actively enforced policy around who can serve at every level of church leadership. Check out the 100 latest updated church scores here.

While LGBTQ inclusion, affirmation, and policy-making in the church is the most recent cultural reality requiring clarity, it is certainly not the only obfuscation that permeates the church. Church Clarity’s LGBTQ scoring methodology emerged partly in response to popular church platitudes (e.g. “All are welcome”) that are often presented in ways that are misleading and thereby, harmful. Our aim isn’t to determine whether or not this practice is intentional, but rather, to highlight the real life impact of how ambiguity is harmful. We find that the same practice similarly occurs when it comes to women and their place in leadership.

As @WATCH_ACT tweeted (paraphrased), “If a church is going to pass a resolution about male headship, please put this clearly on your website so that churchgoers know.

If you were a woman who took a job offer at a company only to find out a few years in that women were ineligible to rise above the position of Manager or VP, you would feel lied to, and rightly so. Unfortunately, this phenomenon plays out in many churches.

As Abby Norman tweeted:

I knew I was called at 28. But my church was purposely opaque about women in leadership.@churchclarity is a gift to us all. I started seminary at 32 and wish I would not have waited.”

Church Clarity’s mission isn’t theological conversion. We aren’t asking “should women be permitted to lead” anymore than we are asking “should LGBTQ people be affirmed.” We are here to hold churches accountable for clearly communicating their actively enforced policies, especially as they impact marginalized groups of people. Asymmetry of information -- where one party withholds information from another -- typically operates in tandem with asymmetry of power. This dynamic allows abuse of power to thrive.

By insisting that Clarity is Reasonable, our aim is to level the asymmetrical power dynamics in order to create even ground. Our concern is not with churches as much as it is with THE Church -- that is, the people who make up “the body of Christ”. Our goal is to bring power to the people by inviting them to crowdsource information in a centralized, public database that provides critical information about policies that impact real lives in churches. By doing all of this, we aim to establish a new standard of church clarity.

Updates to our scoring methodology

In October 2017, Church Clarity launched with the goal of establishing a new standard for clearly communicated policies in our churches. We asserted then Ambiguity is Harmful and Clarity is Reasonable, and we assert the same now.

Our unique scoring methodology is still anchored in church websites. Church websites are the new “front door” of most churches and thus ought to publicly disclose critical policies and practices that impact the public. In almost five months, we’ve received over 1,600 church submissions and published over 1,000 church scores to our database!

When it comes to scoring churches for their policies regarding Women in Leadership, we will continue to assign a Clear or Unclear score based on how clearly or unclearly the policy is communicated by the church. In addition, a policy that restricts women’s ability to lead in any way will also be designated as “non-egalitarian.”

But we are raising the bar for how a church earns a “Clear: Egalitarian” score. While our methodology takes a church’s policy into account, simply stating a clear egalitarian policy will not meet the criteria for a Clear score.

To receive a “Clear: Egalitarian” score, a church’s leadership personnel -- as listed on the church’s website -- must be at least 50% non-male OR have a non-male person  with a senior pastor or minister title (e.g. senior or executive pastor, associate minister). If a church’s website states an egalitarian policy but does not meet this standard of representation, it will be scored as “Unclear: Egalitarian.”  Relatedly, LGBTQ+ representation at senior leadership in the church will be noted and counted in lieu of a clearly stated policy. See our FAQ for any scoring questions.

Why incorporate representation?

We believe that when it comes to representation and equality, personnel is policy. If there’s a lack of gender diversity in church leadership then the church is not fully living out the spirit of its egalitarian policy. There are many reasons for why this might be the case; we are not here to assume the “intentions” of a church. Instead, the goal of Church Clarity is to map out and categorize the reality of a church’s policy, including how it’s reflected in a church’s leadership personnel. This updated scoring methodology has been created collaboratively with input from women and non-binary folks who have been leading throughout the church. For more, check out this twitter thread.

Church Clarity strives for consistency in how we score every church. We assign the same “score color” regardless if a church is non-affirming, affirming, non-egalitarian or egalitarian, assigning based on being clear or unclear. This is intentional because clarity is the goal. However, consistency is not the same as neutrality. In our FAQ we communicate that bias is inevitable with any organization. To that end, it’s important to continue clarifying what we mean as the world continues to spin.

During the past six months, both #metoo to #churchtoo, have awakened the wider public (aka cis men) to how deeply entrenched patriarchy is in our societal institutions, and how harmful the fruit has been. Sure, father Abraham had many sons, but the dude probably had some daughters and non-binary kids as well. Our team, with the help of our broader advocate community, carefully considered what it means to proactively dismantle patriarchy within churches while remaining true to our methodology and emphasizing clarity above all. We realized that it was insufficient to simply shine a spotlight on policy. If personnel is policy, then representation is essential.

Who speaks to you from the pulpit matters. Who provides pastoral counseling to folks as they “discern their calling” matters. Who holds church leadership accountable matters. Who is part of a church’s governing body matters -- especially when that body has to respond to an allegation of sexual abuse.

Our examination of Outreach Magazine’s Top 100 Churches in December 2017 revealed that only ONE out of those 100 churches has a female senior pastor, who is listed as a co-pastor with her husband. One! Church Clarity is interested in determining how widespread this lack of representation is throughout the church. With greater clarity a more productive examination of our present condition is possible.

The seat of leadership within the church, for the most part, has been held by cis men. It is they who govern, minister, and shape theology. Everyone else has played a supporting role, laboring to assist the execution of men’s visionary ideas. Even today, many women in particular invest years of their time and energy pursuing positions that, as it would turn out, churches never intended to permit them to hold.

We hope that by encouraging churches to proudly proclaim, explain, and yes, clarify their convictions and actively enforced policies, we can empower everyone to make more fully-informed decisions about which churches they want to call home. To this end, we are encouraging churches to become Verified Clear -- our new standard of clarity for church policies.

Volunteer with Church Clarity!

The demand to continue scoring churches is growing, and submissions continue to pour in. The need for Clarity is resonating. We have requests to seek clarity on Christian college campuses. Advocates are emerging with desires to create Corporate Clarity. Conversations are ongoing with potential partners in Australia, Canada, and the UK. All of these developments are both encouraging and urgent. Our team continues to grow, and our systems are maturing as we streamline our processes, enlist more volunteers, and collectively define the outcomes we’re promoting.

There is plenty of work that spans a wide range of skills, and we’d love to have you join our team of committed volunteers. All you need is internet access and some spare time.

Whether it’s LGBTQ inclusion, Women in Leadership or our future plans to introduce a Racial Justice initiative, Church Clarity, as a community of advocates, will always maintain that Clarity is Reasonable. Consider joining our team of volunteers by filling out this brief form!