Gender justice has to be a collaborative venture in the Church of Christ. Men make up the majority of preachers, paid ministers, elderships, search committees, conference organizers, Bible department faculty and university leadership at our Church of Christ colleges and universities; men have to be allies in the broader cause of equality, simply because they have more boots on the ground. And, as much as I wish it weren’t so, guys often tend to listen more readily to their fellow guys when it comes to issues like sexism. I’ve also found that there are a lot of guys out there that are supportive, but don’t realize their everyday actions (big and small) that perpetuate inequality. So, guys, this list is for you.
1. Use the appropriate name and title when writing or introducing a woman in front of the church. Don’t introduce a woman as “Brother Smith’s wife” or “Brother Jones’s daughter” or “Dick and Jane’s mom.”
2. Don’t randomly comment on a woman’s appearance at church. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are; it’s irrelevant. Similarly, don’t tell someone they don’t look like a minister/preacher/professor, that they look too young, or that they should smile.
3. Don’t respond, when a woman tells you she is studying for her degree in Bible, her MDiv, her DMin, or her PhD in religious studies, with “what are you going to do with that?!”
4. Don’t talk over your sisters. There is a lot of social conditioning that goes into how men and women communicate differently. You may not realize that you’re doing it, but if you find yourself interrupting women, or speaking over them, stop.
5. Avoid making sexual remarks (remarks on media images, pop culture icons, clothing, etc., that are sexually explicit or suggestive), in the presence of your sisters in Christ. Or your brothers in Christ, for that matter. Do not participate in making the human body, and in particular the female body, an object of public scrutiny, sexualization, and shame.
6. Ask yourself if your church’s leadership, decision-making processes, and search committees include representation of the women in your church. If not, why not? And what can you do about it?
7. Don’t assume that having one woman on a committee or in the room means that she can adequately represent all the relevant concerns and perspectives and needs of the women in your church.
8. Pay attention to who organizes and runs and cleans up after the celebrations, potlucks, baby showers, wedding showers, birthday parties, anniversary parties, Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts, and sends out birthday cards and sympathy notes. Make a conscious effort to include men in these ministries of hospitality and celebration. Make a conscious effort not to assume that all women love to organize potlucks and clean.
9. Pay attention to who organizes and runs the nursery, Sunday School, VBS and other children and family ministries and events in your church. Make a conscious effort to include men in these ministries. Make sure your church has a place for daddies to change diapers and take care of little ones. Make a conscious effort not to assume that childcare is women’s work.
10. Don’t refuse to go through doors opened by women, or otherwise reinforce stereotypes that women need special treatment because of our gender. Offer help, and drop it if help is declined. (Also helpful when dealing with persons with disabilities of any gender.)
11. Ask yourself if your household is an equal one. Is the work of managing the housework, the shopping, the cooking, the finances, the children shared equally and not distributed according to gender? Is taking out the trash or changing a lightbulb a “man’s job,” but washing the dishes or scrubbing the toilet a “woman’s job?” And who’s doing the lion’s share of the workload? Take an equal interest and an equal share of responsibility in housework and childcare duties at home.
12. In a Bible class discussion, ask women what they think. Be a good moderator, and make sure men aren’t talking over women.
13. Learn about benevolent sexism.
14. Learn what mansplaining is (I’m not going to get into whether this is a good term or not). Guard against it, and be quick to derail it when you see it in others.
15. Learn what the tone argument is. Don’t use it. Don’t dismiss your sisters as angry, emotional, or otherwise not deserving of a respectful hearing because they aren’t adopting what you think is the appropriate tone.
16. Learn how to apologize when someone has called you out for inappropriate behavior.
17. Don’t leave it to women to do the work of increasing diversity. Be proactive rather than reactive in your church. Speak out about incidents that promote a hostile environment at your church. If you observe someone doing or saying something sexist, tell them that it’s not okay, and tell them why.
18. Actively support your sisters when they experience sexism in the church. Be willing to let your sisters guide you in how to actively support them in these instances.
19. Know when to listen. Don’t assume you understand what it’s like for women in Churches of Christ. Don’t interject with “but this applies to men, too!” Don’t try to dismiss or belittle or appropriate women’s experiences. Remember that women are often reacting to a long history of incidents, big and small.
Finally, if you do all of the above, don’t expect a cookie. You might, perhaps, expect an additional star in your crown, but that’s eschatologically delayed gratification and the women around you aren’t in charge of handing that out. Your efforts may go unacknowledged or even unrecognized much of the time. Keep at it anyway, because you’re not out to get special recognition. Worse, you may even make some people mad, and get yourself blacklisted at certain brotherhood lectureships for the next 20 years. Keep at it anyway, because you know, too, that “blessed are you when persecuted.” You’re doing it because it’s the Christ-like thing to do.