Tom De Vries addressed the elephant in Willow Creek’s living room at the beginning of Session 4 at the Global Leadership Summit this year. Introducing the topic of the seventh speech of the day, he said of the session: “We’re not here to teach you out of our experience this time—that chapter is still being written.” He then introduced social justice advocate Danielle Strickland.
Given the recent events involving Willow Creek and Bill Hybels, Strickland was surely given the most difficult subject of the Summit: empowering men and women to work together in a healthy way.
We are at a “strategic cultural intersection where the relationships between women and men are eroding,” she began.
Strickland reminded us that the truth will set us free, but our reaction to the truth is often the problem. As women around the world are telling the truth about the violence and inequality they are suffering, our knee-jerk reaction is often to reject the change that needs to occur in light of this truth. The truth disrupts us, and so we resist what it is telling us.
However, those of us who want to be transformational leaders will recognize the opportunity this moment is giving us to learn how to be better together, Strickland says. The idea of men and women being better together comes straight from Genesis. Strickland reminded the audience that when Adam was alone, God said it wasn’t good. The same is true today. As uncomfortable as gender equality will be to fight for and obtain, the benefits will be worth our effort, Strickland says.
3 Things Leaders Can Do to Promote Gender Equality
1. We have to believe that it’s possible for men and women to coexist. The United Nations decided gender equality “is a necessary foundation to a peaceful, prosperous, sustainable world.” We have to refuse to despair.
2. We can’t be afraid. Two-thirds of women are not very optimistic that gender equality can be achieved in the next five years. 33 percent don’t believe it’s possible at all. Strickland says we have to look to the blueprint of freeing people in Exodus. If you’re afraid of a bully, you’ll get oppressed. If our reactions, decisions, and dreams, are fear-based, we will either be oppressed or we will be an oppressor.
We will need to be comfortable with difference and mutuality coexisting. The enemies of mutuality are power and sex. Strickland says 35 percent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence. One in four women in North American alone will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. She thanked all the women in the world who have spoken up about abuse, inequality, and sexism.
Strickland also spoke about the power pornography has to cause men to objectify women. “Pornography is a source [of oppression] that needs to be identified and confronted by a generation who will not be afraid to tell the truth.”
“How we use our power is the measure of our leadership.” She then asked a series of questions to leaders about how they treat the people who work under them. Are you kind to those you lead? Are you fair in the decisions that impact them? Do you seek mutually satisfying solutions? Do you accept responsibility for your own actions? Do you have people in your life who can challenge your behavior?
3. Start now and start with you. If you sit in a board room with people who look exactly like you, it’s time to listen to different voices, Strickland says. Real empowerment and real freedom is a long walk in the same direction, and it is a difficult one, she admits.
Jesus Gives an Excellent Example of Gender Equality
Jesus gave power away. In a culture where women weren’t supposed to be in the same room with a group of men, Jesus invited them to learn alongside men. In fact, Strickland argues that the main problem Martha had with Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from him wasn’t that she wasn’t helping Martha in the kitchen, but rather that she was sitting with the men, which would have been seen as inappropriate in their culture. Time and again we see Jesus inviting women to interact with him, learn from him, and even speak on his behalf. Jesus did not marginalize women.
While she had arguably the most difficult topic at the GLS, Strickland delivered her message with grace and conviction. She did not allow the recent events which have unfolded at Willow to alter a message she likely would have delivered at another time. And yet given the backdrop of her speech, the subject has never seemed more necessary.
Strickland delivered this speech at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit.
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