Tinu got wind of it, contacted me, and before I knew it we were engrossed in conversation over lunch about a lot of things including the taboo topic she raised about life in the evangelical community for the professional business woman and how the church is more interested in her “marital status and reproductive system” than her profession.
In a recent interview (“Praying for Boston”) Tinu described what she and other professional women experience as “the church’s deafening silence—and at times outright rejection or animosity—toward any professional ambition and calling beyond the realm of ministry or church service.”
Tinu (whose Nigerian parents migrated to Boston where she was born) earned her law degree at UNC and is an attorney for the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. (As a side note, I was thankful to learn a scheduled flight out of Boston prompted her to leave the 2013 Boston Marathon finish line before the bombs went off.)
Our meeting came on the heels of another event that happened a few days earlier where I was seated at another table with women from Biblical Seminary—this time in a convention hall packed with 7000+ professional women for the 2013 Pennsylvania Conference for Women in Philadelphia.
We heard world and business leaders, educators, entrepreneurs, and activists—powerful plenary speakers—smart, gifted,educated, experienced, successful, and yes, passionately ambitious women. It was incredible!
That gathering reminded me of words I wrote in Half the Church as I described the 21st Century landscape for women:
“At one end of the spectrum, women have broken through the glass ceiling to secure posts of leadership, power, and achievement that rival their male counterparts. Women have arrived and in growing numbers are succeeding in the highest echelons of government, business, religion, education, sports, and the entertainment industry. It is a new day for women. Those who enjoy the benefits of education, wealth, and freedom are blessed with a lavish smorgasbord of exciting options. Parents today are telling their daughters, “You can be anything you want to be.”
Astonishing proof of that was right before me.
But that reality raises serious questions that the church has yet to address and nothing made that more pressing in my mind than being with those women—the 7000 in Philly and the one in Boston.
Will the church roll out the welcome mat when women like the 7000 who are successful leaders in secular careers cross the threshold or will Tinu’s experience keep repeating itself? Does the church perceive these women as a threat or as an asset? Do we segregate secular occupations from what it means to “serve God,” or are the contributions they’re making in the workplace—the actual work they do there—strategic kingdom work? What benefits do we all forfeit when we don’t engage these leaders (both women and men) in the corporate world to learn from their experience and champion their efforts?
For every Christian woman who enters the workplace, there is a new opportunity for gospel living to infiltrate the secular realm. As one NYTimes writer—a non-Christian—insightfully observed,
“It is an explosive concept, with the potential for unleashing creative Christian energy in many areas of endeavor—ordinary lay-women and men, indistinguishable from their colleagues and neighbors, going about their normal occupations, who nevertheless ‘catch fire’ with the Gospel and change the world.”
What are your thoughts? Does your church engage and value the professional woman?