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Women bloggers spawn an evangelical ‘crisis of authority’

Influential women in the Christian blogosphere include Sarah Bessey, left, Austin Channing Brown, Tish Harrison Warren, and Jen Hatmaker.

(RNS) When Sarah Bessey started blogging in 2005, she saw it as a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

And that was in the early days of the Christian blogosphere, which she remembers as an “oasis of community” — strangers sharing everything from parenting tips to theology and filling comment sections with “lively and respectful” dialogue.

Flash forward to 2017.

Blogger Sarah Bessey. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bessey

In many places, blogging seems to have become all about personal branding. At the same time, Bessey’s blog has brought her speaking engagements and inspired two books — “Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women” and “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith” — with a third in the works. Bessey now has nearly 43,000 followers on Twitter and about 38,000 on Facebook.

“The internet gave women like me — women who are outside of the usual power and leadership narratives and structures — a voice and a community,” Bessey told RNS by email. “We began to write and we began to find each other, we began to learn and be challenged, we began to realize we weren’t as alone as we thought we were. Blogging gave us a way past the gatekeepers of evangelicalism.”

For many Christian women, including racial minorities, and others whose voices traditionally have not been heard by or represented in institutional churches, the internet has created new platforms to teach, preach and connect.

That includes countless personal blogs and social media accounts like Bessey’s. It also includes online ministries that have grown to include offline events like Propel Women(in)courageThe Influence Network and IF:Gathering, and Bible study communities like She Reads Truth, which started as a hashtag by several online strangers to share what they were reading in the Bible and has grown to a website, app, book and specialty Bible that counted 500,000 active users last fall.

“People used to ask me, ‘Where did all these women writers and influencers come from?!’ and I’d have to laugh when I said, ‘The internet!’” Bessey wrote in her email.


RELATED: How Christian women are making ‘holy mischief’ in the church


But, if the furor on social media this past month is to be believed, the abundance of faith bloggers also has created what the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren  called a “crisis of authority.”

“Is literally everyone with a computer — do they equally hold authority to teach and preach?” said Warren, an Anglican priest, who wrote a commentary for Christianity Today titled “Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?

What’s happening

The controversy started just before Easter. Writer and speaker Jen Hatmaker criticized “the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.” Hatmaker said she had encountered all that after affirming in an interview last fall with RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt that same-sex relationships can be holy.


RELATED: Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day (COMMENTARY)


A day later, Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted that when considering the “things that need crucifying with Christ I vote personal branding. It’s gross.”

“I am so sick of it and them I could vomit,” Moore wrote.

Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren. Photo from Twitter

And, after the hashtag #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear trended on Twitter, Bessey started #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear to “amplify the voices of women who have too often been silenced” in the church, she wrote in a Facebook post. More followed, including #ThingsOnlyBlackChristianWomenHear.

Warren said the controversy touched on nearly all of the disagreements currently roiling the waters of evangelical Christianity — one of which is complementarianism, or the belief that men and women have different roles.

“We’re talking about the history of evangelicalism, anti-institutionalism meets complementarianism meets marketing, money and power meets marginalization of minority voices — all of these things collide in this conversation,” she told RNS.


RELATED: By whose authority? Women bloggers and the evangelical church (COMMENTARY)


Warren said her concerns extend to the male-dominated “megachurch” model, as well.

“I think the reason — and this is why I wrote the piece — that a lot of women are going outside their congregations to the internet for discipleship, is that they don’t have women in their congregations who can come to them, not just as buddies but with pastoral authority,” Warren said.

Many women already are gifted teachers, and the institutional church should embrace them, she suggested. That’s a mutual relationship: Bloggers also should work to “build a church bigger than their own personal brand and submit to this long tradition of Christian faith.”

That’s precisely why internet platforms are so important, according to Austin Channing Brown, who writes and speaks about justice and racial reconciliation.

Austin Channing Brown. Photo courtesy of Austin Channing Brown

Not only does it give a voice to those the institutional church hasn’t — and minority women in particular often are overlooked for leadership positions, Brown said — but also, she tweeted, “important things have been said from outside denominations because denominations were all messed up.”

Not all churches and denominations confer authority through a seminary education. Brown is ordained by her Full Gospel Baptist Church denomination though she doesn’t have a traditional seminary degree.

“The church has survived the printing press, radio and televangelists. We survived the rise of non-denominational churches and megachurches. We survived generations of white men with a platform and no traditional governing body sanctioning or approving their words,” she said in an email to RNS.

“But I don’t want to frame this newest step in the democratization of influencing the church as something to be survived. Many Christians believe that the church is made better when marginalized voices bring a new narrative to old ideas.”

Why this isn’t new

Questions about authority and influence go back at least as far as 1517, as those on all sides of the conversation are fond of pointing out. After Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, they were distributed widely via new media (then, the printing press), sparking the Protestant Reformation.

“So, no, I am not worried about women with blogs becoming a crisis for the church. I suspect that we will survive, and maybe even be made better by their presence,” Brown said.

Some of the popular Christian  ministries targeted toward women that are available online.

Many famous evangelicals have lacked seminary training or institutional backing. For instance, best-selling author Ann Voskamp recently noted that D.L. Moody — the 19th-century evangelist who founded the Chicago Evangelization Society, later renamed the Moody Bible Institute — had no more than a fifth-grade education.

Evangelicalism is what historian Daniel Silliman calls a “discourse community.” It has no agreed-upon definition, no creed, no single person or council who can speak for the entire movement.

“It’s a conversation, so those platforms shape the conversation,” Silliman said.

It just looks different in 2017 than it did in the world of the 1970s, when the conversation happened primarily through Christian bookstores and radio.

Bessey, the blogger, says it’s easy for someone with a recognized platform to sneer at building such a following. But she says the church is stronger when those unauthorized voices get heard.

“I know that I love Jesus and follow Jesus better when I hear why and how other people follow him — especially when I hear from people who aren’t always approved by the establishment,” she said. “God isn’t trademarked.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

64 Comments

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  • Blogs are great! I have one of my own. As women, we can learn a lot from each other and should.
    But, just as I wouldn’t go to a shoe store for groceries, I don’t go to someone’s blog for a word of Truth. The Truth comes from the Bible.

  • THANK YOU for this very thoughtful post. We live in challenging times where there are more texts available than we can possibly be evaluated. In our changing world, it is up to the reader to evaluate the texts they read. It certainly makes a lot of people uncomfortable that people without “authority” can challenge the status quo. I’m personally very grateful for it.

  • Exactly. I mean, somehow, Mark Driscoll’s spiritually and financially devastating antics spawned no crisis (under whose authority did he plant his churches?), but a few women getting publishing contracts and the sky is falling.

  • Beth Moore – that’s not what “crucified with Christ” means. Also, there appears tp be a large stick protruding from yoir eye.

  • Impeachment?
    Laughable….the dems are delusional and have been so long they can’t remember
    their own reading list. Impeachment won’t stop trump, ask CARL SCHMITT….AND TELL MELANIE KLEIN SHE CAN’T STOP TRUMP
    EITHER. The Dems are traitors now and America knows it. You will soon learn the meaning of authority

  • Christian, misandric, feminism. First Timothy 2 is the cure for this infection. 🙂

  • If it has to do with Christ, the best text to check anything with is the Bible….otherwise, it is the blind leading the blind.
    These blogs would be good to get a conversation started in the home, so the husband can teach his family the truth, and they can be saved. (edited)

  • I have no problem with bloggers, be they men or women.

    I do have a problem with bloggers who pick and choose verses from the Bible and use them to support ideas that are not Christian.

  • There is a crisis of authority in all Protestant churches. They are all based on the authority of I. I am my own pope. I make my own rules. I interpret scripture the way I want to. And no one can tell me that I am wrong. Martin Luther started it and 500 years later we have the continuing chaos of Protestantism. The only authority in a Protestant church is the man (or woman) you see in the mirror each morning. Are these women right or wrong? Only they can answer that question authoritatively. That’s why they can teach completely opposite teachings and still be right.

  • This is not the respectful, thoughtful kind of comment I expect on this site. I invite you to worship with a Reformed congregation to learn more about us before judging.

  • I have found Facebook and Blogging a great way to be in ministry. I used to be UMC and as a Black person the hoops to jump through give an advantage to upper middle income White’s plain and simple. The Seminaries also do a great job of weeding out any voice that doesn’t support the brand blindly. I stopped digging the financial hole and chose to Ordain with a wedding organization and pursue writing and ministry outside of the communion. I get lots of opportunities to preach, wed, and conduct funerals without the pressure to tow the UMC line. Yes the internet does mean I get to be in ministry with limited oversight. But was it oversight or just simple control? This needs to happen Women and people of color who have been limited in our roles within the Church have found freedom on the web to live out our calling. My attitude is let the White males have the megachurch and White Females control the UMC. I am going to the Web. There are a lot of hurting people who need Christ and need help. Those are whom I am called to. If Senior pastors in brick and mortars find it threatening get over it.

  • ‘So the husband can teach his family’

    Seriously? The husband who works away all week? The husband who has been a Christian twenty years less than his wife? The husband whose education (including theological) is sparing compared to that of his wife?

    Putting this sort of pressure on all husbands is an absurdity borne out of a gross misunderstanding of a very small selection of verses that were written to specific churches in response to specific circumstances, most of which are not relevant today.

    It’s also grossly irresponsible ‘theology’ and detrimental to the church and it’s purpose. It also betrays a devastating lack of understanding about the fundamental nature of God.

  • There is one very obvious problem with that last statement Sandi: everyone thinks the Bible (or parts of it) ‘means’ something slightly different to the next person. Educational courses, books, talks and blogs and even organised churches themselves exist to assist people (including their authors) work through their understanding of the Bible. So while they may not be the truth in themselves, they can form a vital part in discovering it.

  • I don’t believe so, no. If one is a Christian, they have the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a pastor who will teach the word of God. Who knows if these women even worship Christ? I would look to the Word for my information. That assures accuracy.

  • It isn’t putting pressures on husbands. That is their job.
    What better way to get your husband to learn about Christ than to have him teach Him?
    If you have difficulties with the husband being the priest of the household, your difficulty is with Jesus. The head of the man is Christ. The head of the woman is man.
    God set this role for men, He will help them if they look to Him.

  • Why would he do that? that was his point, unless I cannot recognize a Catholic when I see one,

  • I think you may have missed the point. The HS doesn’t seem to be telling every Christian the same thing. That’s why we have in excess of 30,000 different denominations.

    And at least some of these women DO worship Christ, I know that because I read them regularly. You can’t just write people off because they don’t seem to agree with your personal biblical interpretations. That is the epitome of arrogance.

  • “If you have difficulty with the husband being the preist of the household your difficulty is with Jesus.”

    No it’s not. Jesus had nothing to say about it. He elevated women. Paul, too had nothing to say to women in general but responded to specific problems in specific churches in which women had recently been emancipated from servitude to men and were running wild.

    Exegesis: try it.

    The bible wasn’t written in English in the midst of twentieth century western white culture. You go back and look at the language culture of the times and attempt to glean the purposes of the epistles, then we might have something to talk about.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:13 – English Standard Version
    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

    Ephesians 5:23
    English Standard Version
    For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

    Straight from the Lord.

  • No. The Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself. It is what people seem to want to follow. Most of them don’t follow Jesus.

  • Actually, you did. Take your pick which verse:

    Matthew 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Enjoy your day.

  • It’s okay Mary. Put urban dictionary down. Move away from the keyboard…slowly. That’s right. Slooow-ly. We’re going to get you help – (Hey, has the bar of soap gotten here yet – we got a real potty mouth on our hands.) Now, Mary, just sit down and take some deep breaths. It’ll be okay. We’re all here for you.

  • Lots of feminist “Christians” these days who think they’re going to teach men a thing or two, but none can answer why God only entrusted His Word to be written by men only. 100% of it.

    Women need to stop their whining. They’re not victims. They live in a world made by men. Instead of b*tching about men all the time and turning themselves into the center of the Universe, they need to learn how to say “thank you.”

    Women have certain abilities, but thinking and the accomplishments that go with thinking are not in their God-ordained wheelhouse. Be quiet, ladies, and perform the roles assigned to you by your Creator, with humility and reverence.

    The Lord hates mouthy women, and so do I.

  • If you are a black person then you’re wholly indebted to the accomplishments of White people and to our charity, magnanimity, goodwill, and unearned forbearance. So instead of b*tching about us all the time like pretty much all other black people never tired of doing, all you really need to do is say “Thank you” and then shut up and be respectful to the one race of people who saved your kind from traipsing around half-naked in the jungle, swatting at flies, dying from starvation, rape, genital mutilation, ebola, and other fun stuff, and generally living an unimaginably primitive existence.

    Quite blaming Whites for you being a failed race. That’s on you, and our patiences has now worn very thin.

    You’re welcome!

  • The Lord did not equip women to be theologians or deep thinkers.

    The first time in history a woman decided to instruct a man on what “God really meant” it lead to the fall of mankind.

    So, be quiet, woman, like Scripture commands.

  • Your type of liberal “Christianity” is how we get “lesbian pastorettes.”

    God didn’t give His Holy Word to men to write down so that a bunch of mouthy airheads can come along 1900 years later and say “This is what I think Scripture is saying to me.”

    Be quiet, woman.

  • That is, of course, an old whine from the pagan branch of faux-Christianity: The Roman Catholic Church.

    Catholics can never seem to get their mind around the fact that real Christians are not “our own popes,” because Catholics are spiritually blind and cannot understand that there is no mandate or need for a pope in any form. That’s why the always says that “Protestants are their own popes,” because it simply cannot compute in their flesh-bound, rotting pagan soul that Christ is our Kind, our Priest, and our Mediator.

    We are all, individually, answerable to God, responsible to God, and just because Catholics sign onto the errors of their hell-bound religion in wholesale fashion doesn’t somehow convert those errors, heresies, and blasphemies to pure Christianity.

    The RCC has no authority. Scripture does. Scripture condemns many of the practices of the RCC, and the RCC is contrary to the Spirit of Christ, particularly with respect to your homosexual pedophile priesthood, and the whitewashing of same.

    And this October 31st we Christians will be joyfully celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther causing half a millennium’s worth of colossal butt-hurt on the enemies of Christ.

  • Been married for 22 years.

    How did my statement lead you to say something so presumptuous and stupid? This is now the second time you’ve taken issue with something I’ve said, but failed to muster even so much as a half-assed argument.

    You’re a loser, son, and you’re gonna perish. You should fix that.

  • Gleimhart Gleimenhauser, I don’t know what planet you are from, but we white people here on the east coast of the United States would not enjoy the standard of living we enjoy today if it were not for the labor of the people of African descent. If black neighbors who knew that my grandfather did not have money to pay them for their labor had not come and worked on the farm for free, I would not be living here now. African Americans are not a failed race.
    Having some knowledge of the UMC, I can say that what eric pone says is right on target.

  • “Gleimhart Gleimenhauser, I don’t know what planet you are from…”

    I am from the planet earth.

    “…we white people here on the east coast of the United States would not enjoy the standard of living we enjoy today if it were not for the labor of the people of African descent.”

    I know. You’d have it immeasurably better.

    By any objective standard, the African race is a thoroughly failed race. Spare me your politically correct fantasies and your un-Scriptural egalitarian bilge.

    Now then, how about you getting around to laying out which of my previously stated facts are incorrect.

  • Huh?? This is the first time I have ever been accused of being politically correct.
    If there is any “failed race” it is the entire human race.
    Thee does not know what thee is missing by rejecting Jesus.

  • Dear Dr. Hines,
    I apologize profusely for my vulgar language, I was a little emotional at the time. Also drunk.
    Under the disinfecting light of sobriety, your comment is truly clever.
    I am sober today. Pray I will be so tomorrow.
    God bless,
    Silver Fox

  • I just want to note that, so far as I have read these comments, everyone is ignoring the fact that a participant named Dr. Mary Hines DPhil is really hurting somehow. She is saying this to the group every which way, upside down and sideways. An online discussion may not seem like a place to talk about this, but she is here, and you are here. How about some attention, please.

  • From which verses do you get your interpretation that a husband is to act as the priest…in contrast to a big chunk of Hebrews which tells us that Christ is our high priest?
    From which verses do you get your interpretation that a husband is responsible for getting his family saved?
    Where does that leave the poor woman who doesn’t have a husband…with no priest and no one to get them saved?

  • Ephesians 5:23 ESV / 9 helpful votes Helpful Not Helpful
    For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

    A woman with no husband is under her dad’s authority.

  • It’s funny. The word “priest” isn’t in this verse at all. Nor is there anything about unmarried women. In fact Paul, in Corinthians, wrote that it was better to remain single like him but he encouraged those tempted to fornicate to marry in order to avoid failing into sin. And he named any number of women as “co-workers” and “fellow-laborers”…women who were individuals serving the Lord, with no mention of a “priest husband” or “father authority” connected to them.

    So…despite your claim to rely on God’s revealed Word for Truth, the opposite seems to be true. Somebody fed you an extra-Biblical man-made doctrine about husbands being priests and threw you a “proof-text” that sounded semi-applicable and you seem ok with that.

    Go read Hebrews and “consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession…”

    It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Gal. 5:1

  • My apologies….I didn’t have enough time that day to look. Here are several:

    Ephesians 5:23 – For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

    1 Timothy 2:11-15 – Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. (Read More…)

    1 Timothy 3:1-16 – This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (Read More…)

    Ephesians 5:22 – Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

    1 Timothy 3:4 – One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

    Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

    1 Peter 3:1 – Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

    1 Timothy 3:5 – (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

    Genesis 3:16 – Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    1 Timothy 3:5 – (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

    Genesis 3:16 – Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

    1 Timothy 2:12 – But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

    1 Corinthians 11:3-16 – But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman [is] the man; and the head of Christ [is] God. (Read More…)

    Titus 1:5-9 – For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Read More…)

    1 Corinthians 14:34 – Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

    1 Timothy 3:12 – Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

    1 Timothy 3:1 – This [is] a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

    Colossians 3:18 – Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

  • Haftorah for Parsha Bemidbar-In the wilderness for this week portrays Israel or Church as harlots. http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/895213/jewish/Haftorah-in-a-Nutshell.htm https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hosea+1.10-2.20&version=NLT William Struse blog “Mother of Harlots” based Revelation 17 https://twitter.com/William_Struse/status/865103684551802880

    “As the bride price which the Bridegroom will pay, He will confer these qualities on her, so that she will never offend again.” Note to “espouse” Reformed Torah Commentary by Plaut Hosea 2.19-20 above link

  • Yes…you managed to list all the “gotcha verses”…isolated and outside their context (I suspect a copy/paste from some obliging web site on “women’s roles). Let me begin to ground just one in its rightful place…what does Eph. 5:21 say?

    And again…none say anything about a husband acting as “priest” over his wife or being responsible for the salvation of his family.
    Nor do they speak to who has “authority” over an unmarried woman.

    “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

  • Christ is the head of man. Man is the head of woman.
    An unmarried woman’s dad has authority over her.
    Honey, if you cannot figure that out for yourself after all that scripture, I cannot help you. God bless you

  • Honey (see, I can be patronizing too), if you can’t figure out that none of these verses support your assertion that “the husband is the priest of the household” or say anything about unmarried women, and you have added the teaching of men to the Word of God…well, go talk to your spiritual authority about it. Hopefully HE can explain the difference between exegesis and eisegesis.

    Because by your “interpretation”, 1 Cor. 11:3 says:

    But I would have you know, that the priest of every man is Christ; and the priest of the woman is the man; and the priest of Christ is God.

    And if you don’t see what is problematic with this…I can not help you.

  • Yes. They head of the man is Christ. That makes the man the priest of the household. If calling you honey, insulted you, it was unintended, my apologies.

  • This is any number of logical (and Biblical) fallacies. The truth of premise A does not automatically prove your premise B.
    It really doesn’t matter how many times you repeat a false, unproven premise…it still is not supported by ANY verse you cited.

    Let’s try this another way. Peter in his first letter says that ALL Christians are priests: ” You also, as living stones, are being built
    up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual
    sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen
    generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people,
    that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness
    into His marvelous light.”

    IF your premise it true: that women have to have a “priest” between them and their High Priest Christ Jesus (as explained in Hebrews), do Peter’s words only apply to men and not the women in submission to them?

    Oh gosh…I just thought of this! Are you Mormon? LDS theology is the one that has a special Aaronic priesthood held only by men and teaches that husbands are responsible for their wives’ salvation….if fact, he’s the one who calls her from the grave at the final resurrection. Which is why LDS wives learn so well to submit.

    That would explain some things.

  • women are to be submissive to their husband. He is the priest of the household. Salvation is a gift from God – has nothing to do with the husband, except, the husband is to manage his children and rule his family well.
    Christ is the head of man. Man is the head of women. If you have any more difficulty with this, perhaps pray about it. I can only repeat things so many times. God bless you

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