There's an interesting debate opening on the web about the question, 'are UK Christian conferences sexist'? It started off when Rachel Held Evans in the US challenged the organisers of the NINES conference on twitter, (a summary of the tweets are on storify ) which has then prompted some UK folk to look at what happens here.
The twitter / blogger 'God loves women' (GLW) posted some quick research on her blog in an article entitled Are UK Christian Conferences sexist? This takes the headline speakers from a number of UK Conferences and Bible weeks and looks at the gender breakdown of the main speakers; who are overwhelmingly men.
This is an important issue, not least because it concerns what the gospel is. If we believe that in Christ there is no longer male and female because the Spirit is poured out on all flesh that should be evidenced in our life together.
As far as Christian Conferences and Bible weeks go, I suspect there are a number of issues.
1. Conferences which are paying attention to inclusivity also need to consider racial justice as well, perhaps ensuring the platform includes speakers from the global church as well as the UK / US. This doesn't mean they can't find women but it does make it harder.
2. Conferences tend to pick people they know, who often seem those who have spoken elsewhere. No doubt this is because 'we want people with experience of speaking to large gatherings'. The effect is that unless you make a name for yourself in some area you are unlikely to get invited whether you are male or female. [So, at this rate GLW is more likely to get an invite than I am!]
3. Whilst Conference speakers are an important issue, they are really a reflection of a much bigger issue because they project ideals of what good 'christian leaders' look like. Of course, this is circular because many people get their understanding of this from conferences in the first place but because most conferences are market driven they pay attention to what brings delegates. Away from the big Bible weeks, often the speakers are chosen because they lead large or growing churches; whose senior leaders tend to be overwhelmingly male.
4. Numbers don't give the whole picture. For example GLW cites the Baptist Assembly, whilst this does OK in percentage terms, behind the numbers also lies the fact that the BUGB has recently appointed a female General Secretary. The numbers might not show it yet, but the Union is on ajourney here. I suspect they are not the only conference organiser where this is true.
5. I suspect progress in this area isn't really about inviting more women but having a clearer understanding of what it means to be women and men in Christ, and how leadership and authority work in church life. Empowering and releasing people whether they are male or female.
Nevertheless the numbers hold up a mirror to the UK church and ask us what we really believe about women in church life.
You might also want to check out Jenny Baker’s response to this debate http://t.co/IOCVKsgvAM