So, there I was, in a room full of church people more evangelical and traditional than me, at least I’m sure all of them saw it that way. A video had been presented to us as a potential education and outreach resource for high school aged youth. My concern was that the material provided no affirming messages to young women and perhaps some unintended non-affirming messages. I must lean pretty far left to have such an opinion, but as a pastor to teen girls and father of future teen girls, I felt it was a legitimate concern.
In the few video trailers and making-of vignettes, all of the speakers, the ones with answers, were white men. All of the production crew were white men. There were only two times I saw women, one clip showed a group of women laughing at the antics of one of the speakers and another clip showed a group of females who were all going to play one of the speakers’ girlfriends. This may have been an anomaly, but if that was a sign of what to expect for the rest of the series, I wasn’t interested in using the material.
The workshop leaders explained that the script was run by people of different ages, genders, races and denominations and their insights and concerns were taken seriously. They pointed out that their national director is non-white and non-male and they could have included her in the video, but that would have gone against her skill set and would have made the project seem insincere. I agreed. I had met their national director, and I admired the work she was doing. Not only that, the workshop leaders validated my perspective and responded genuinely and I appreciated that. Also, I later watched the video where the “girlfriends” appeared, and it was a montage where the speaker explained all of the ways he tried to find meaning in his life, one of which was dating. That scene wasn’t degrading at all. In fact it discouraged objectifying your romantic partners to false conceptions about success in life.
After their answer, a young woman interjected to say that as a young woman, she had watched the same clips and didn’t notice that all the speakers were men and that it wasn’t a big deal to people like her. Unlike the key speakers, she spoke with a tone that seemed intent on undermining the legitimacy of my question.
I could have been annoyed, but my first response was to sort of laugh. Evangelical teenage girls were rejecting my questions long before this young lady was even born. It’s already annoying when someone speaks as though their personal opinion is informed solely by a biblical worldview. It’s even worse when that logic is used to explain why someone won’t go out with you.
Mostly though, I felt sorry for her. Not because I thought she was oppressed or limiting herself. I truly believe she felt valued and empowered by her family and society. She almost certainly feels that way because her mother graciously serves her children and husband as an act of faith. Her father must treat her as though her opinion is valuable. Her church must welcome and encourage the contributions of women of all ages or else she wouldn’t have been able to attend this meeting as their representative. I wasn’t worried about her emotional or physical well-being, I was worried about her ability to lead discussions about faith.
This whole workshop was designed to equip people to organize and lead conversations about faith. The video was supposed to be a resource to kick-start those conversations, but no matter how insightful the teaching is, no matter how clever and funny the speakers are, if the people facilitating the discussion act as though questions about spirituality are not worth asking, the conversation won’t go anywhere.
Afterwards I went to the speakers to assure them that I hadn’t meant to antagonize them. They said they didn’t feel that way and they recognized the sincerity of my heart in the way I asked the question. I left there feeling more convinced of the quality of the video and the organization under whose umbrella it was compiled, but I felt less and less convinced about the vessels through which their message would be communicated.