Think Before You Comment?

Photo credit: Wayne Yuan Photography

As I was browsing through Facebook last week, I noticed that my friend DJ Chuang had posted a photo on Facebook about the upcoming Urbana Student Missions Conference, as he was running a contest to encourage pastors to win a free pass to the conference. (DJ is on the “Social Media Squad” for Urbana to help cover and promote the event.)

Interestingly, though, it wasn’t the contest that seemed to generate any attention, but the photo that DJ posted (which you can see on his website); he had created a montage of the current lineup of speakers for the “Pastors and Church Leaders” track, and although the 12 people portrayed reflected ethnic and racial diversity, the glaring reality that only one was a woman (Jeanette Yep, missions pastor at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA–and a dear friend of mine) hit a nerve with the Facebookers who saw it. “What?? Where are the women?? This is an outrage!!” was the immediate outcry.

Lost amidst the momentary buzz was the reality that Urbana as a whole actually does a great deal to pursue and uphold the contributions of women amongst the conference leaders, plenary speakers, worship leaders, and workshop speakers. According to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) vice-president Tom Lin, director of missions and Urbana, “More than 60% of Urbana’s Program leadership is comprised of women, including Nikki Toyama-Szeto (program director), Sandra Van Opstal (worship director), Lindsay Olesberg (Bible Study Manager for the Conference), Diana Collymore (Afternoon Programs Manager), Alison Siewart (Theatre and Arts Director), and Lina Sanchez-Herrera (National Prayer Co-Coordinator).”

Nevertheless, the comments came flying, with varying degrees of frustration, concern, and disappointment, from many who are InterVarsity insiders. It was a moment of InterVarsity family business, so to speak, but on display for the world to see. I, too, initially felt disheartened to see only one woman on that track, fabulous a selection though she is. But as someone who thinks highly of both Tom and also of InterVarsity in general, I was certain there was an explanation, and I did not want to comment until I’d heard it.

And there was: according to track director Donna Wilson, the track’s speaking assignments are not yet complete, and the Urbana team is still waiting to hear from other women who have been contacted to speak in this track. The photo montage was not an official photo created by the Urbana team, but one that DJ put together out of a desire to make it easier for people to see the information about all the currently confirmed speakers in this track. And I have absolutely no doubt that the Urbana team will find more women to help balance the gender gap currently present in this track.

Urbana and its parent organization, IVCF, have demonstrated their commitment to diversity in more ways than one, both in terms of gender representation at major events like Urbana, as well as in its well-documented commitment to multiethnicity and multiethnic ministry, well before doing so was considered necessary or important. Through its publishing branch, InterVarsity Press, IVCF is the organization responsible for publishing numerous books affirming the value and role of women in ministry (Discovering Biblical Equality, Women in the Church, Living on the Boundaries, and More than Enchanting, just to name a few.) It features women involved at all levels of leadership and ministry. If what happened with the Pastors and Church Leaders’ track was an oversight, then believe me, they are doing everything they can to rectify the situation.

In this instant-feedback culture we live in, in which it’s easy to offer up our immediate reactions and have those reactions be validated in real-time by others who think similarly, we sometimes forget that before we react, it makes good sense to pause or to pursue an explanation first. This is true both in the old “think before you speak” adage, but even more true online, where our immediate reactions are now visible for all to see. Was it wrong for people to make a comment about the seeming lack of gender diversity in the Pastors and Church Leaders track? No. I think we need to speak up when we see inequalities that need to be addressed.

But if and when we do, I think it is wise to reserve judgment until we are well-versed in the facts. Otherwise, all we’ll do is perpetuate an outrage or an outcry that may not have had a reason to be perpetuated in the first place.

5 Comments on “Think Before You Comment?

  1. Hi Helen, thanks for the ‘insider’ information and the ‘update’ on the facts. Being part of past conferences before and actually being thee only woman speaker or one of two women (but being the only female representing a minority status) in an all male dominate line up, I have to say that combatting this perception will require both/and = facts and a ‘complete’ advertising. But because we live in a fast paced society where most folk don’t or can’t always take the time to know the organization’s ‘intent’ – it defaults to what is ‘shown’ in symbolic form but guaging from the reactions of the public, one can still get a sense for how important this issue is and maybe it’s safe to say one would rather bring voice to the issue than err on the side of assumption that it will just ‘happen’ — of course, I also hear you argue for ‘how’ to voice it as well. Thanks for posting this Helen!

  2. Thanks for weighing in with a thoughtful and measured response about this situation, which is really an opportunity to learn to communicate more actively. What’s powerful about social media, among many other ways, is how it opens things up for organizations and individuals, that it is breaking down the artificial wall of insiders vs. outsiders. The world wide web is the new public square.

  3. Pingback: Think Before You Comment? | Moms of Faith- Christian Mom News Aggregator

  4. Helen- this is such an important point to remember, to think before we comment and maybe look at the larger picture of an organization before judging. But, nonetheless, people do need to consider how something will look to the outside. In this case, the person putting together the montage was not an IVF person, so they are not responsible for IVF. The church needs to continually seek to be multi-cultural and to represent all people. . .good to find your blog.
    Cornelia Becker Seigneur, mom of 5

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