jen and i have been chatting following this discussion. jen had some great points that she kindly agreed to write up:
As an observer, it seems to me that emerging church networks are little different in gender terms to what they are trying to emerge from. It's men on the whole who are in positions of influence and leadership, and maybe that's because they've done more thinking, talking and initiating so far - I don't know. I do feel despondent that it seems to just be more of the same and I've been trying to work out why.
One of the biggest issues in the past that has stopped women being involved in leadership and being culture-shapers is of course theology. My guess is though that people involved in emerging church have got beyond this. There's no question about whether women can or should be involved in all areas of life in whatever form they want to be or feel called to be - it's a norm that we accept.
Looking at traditional and especially evangelical churches, I think the other main issue that perpetuates the gender divide is that men and women in the church, and especially in any form of leadership, don't know how to be good mates with each other. A lot of networking happens relationally - through hanging out in pubs or over coffees, going for meals together and late night conversations at conferences. When people think about putting on conferences, or doing projects together, or meeting to wrestle with theology, they invite the people they know. And because it's largely men doing the inviting, it's largely men who have been invited; women have been left out of the picture or included in a token capacity because they know we ought to be in there somewhere.
Because there has been such an unspoken fear of inappropriate relationships between men and women developing, most opportunities for strong healthy relationships have been squashed as well. Women are safe to converse with in larger groups but not one to one. It's OK to encourage them but not to mentor them. You can chat over coffee at the dinner table but not go down the pub and have a beer together. Single women are, of course, especially dangerous. And so the conversations and networking tend to happen in separate gender groups and are all the poorer for it.
It seems that emerging church networks make a point of valuing and nurturing friendships, not wanting to set up hierarchies or claim to have the answers but rather spending time learning from each other which is great. But I hope that we've got over this fear of one another and that men and women are mature enough and secure enough to make space to really get to know each other well, to listen to dreams, frustrations, ideas and wonderings and together build something that's more like the kingdom.