A few years ago I picked up an issue of my husband’s Men’s Health magazine for the first time and flipped to a section that, to be honest, I hadn’t realized existed in men’s magazines. The cooking section.
Until that point, almost all of the voices influencing my cooking were women. Bloggers, food writers, podcasts, magazines, my girlfriends who post pictures of their dinner on social media, and so on. Despite the variety in their voices, there was a cohesive femaleness that I didn’t notice until I felt the sudden jolt of male perspective.
I’ve continued reading the food section in men’s lifestyle magazines, and somewhat avidly at that. For one thing, their manly recipes have started to lure my husband into the kitchen with an interest in cooking, which has been a lot of fun. But in addition to husband-friendly recipes, men’s magazines often feature pieces about misogyny in America’s restaurants—a topic I find fascinatingly similar to the conversation about misogyny in the evangelical church.
Food is one of the biblical writers’ favorite metaphors for God’s Word. In Amos the absence of the Word is a “famine,” and in Job the Word of God is “more necessary than food.” In the Psalms the Word is “sweeter than honey to my mouth,” and in Jeremiah the Word is something to find and to eat. Jesus’ affinity for food metaphors culminates into sacrament when he gathers his disciples around a table before his death. Jesus is the Word made flesh, and we break bread to remember how he was broken for us.
This is one of those rare metaphors that can stretch in a lot of directions before breaking down. So we could say that a teaching pastor’s job is that of a cook or chef: to nourish people with something essential to their being. But of course this is the calling of all Christians, regardless of vocation. We are all called to minister the Word to one another.
Where Women Belong
For as exclusively female as my food influencers were, it surprised me to learn that there are very few female chefs cooking at the top of their field. There’s actually a higher percentage of women in Congress right now than there are female chefs on Time’s list The Gods of Food or women in ministry on Time’s list The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.
This is puzzling, right? My living grandmother was born just a couple years after women could first vote, so a 20 percent presence in Congress represents a rapid climb toward equality in an arena where women have historically been shut out. But food and faith are two realms where women have always culturally “belonged.” Less women and more men cook now than a hundred years ago, but women still cook more than men. And church membership is still dominated by women. Why haven’t women made fastest gains in places where they have always had a strong presence?
Chef Alice Waters thinks the cliché that women “belong in the kitchen” is exactly what keeps them out of the highest levels of cooking. “When you see a woman in the kitchen you think it’s a domestic thing,” she says, “and when you see a man in the kitchen, you think it’s a creative thing. That’s what we need to change.”
I absolutely see that delineation, both on a cultural scale and in my own heart.
Having moved a lot, I’ve participated in many evangelical churches with varied approaches to “women in ministry.” Some, like the Vineyard movement or Willow Creek Church, have officially and clearly communicated that “the old divisions of hierarchies between genders and races are not to be tolerated in the church, where we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus,’” and have committed to providing opportunity for ministry based on “giftedness and character and without regard to gender.”
But in other churches with a less clear approach, things always got dicey on the rare occasion a woman was asked to share. Either she’d be placed behind a bandstand on the ground level, or else she’d speak from the podium while a male pastor sat authoritatively behind her. Always her message was qualified as something other than “bringing the Word of God.” A woman’s place in churches like these is an arbitrary point between absolute silence and real freedom.
As a result of some formative years in churches with muddled views of gender equality, and despite the fact that I can articulate my rejection of what I’m about to admit: when I see a man on stage, I register “Word of God,” and when I see a woman on stage I register “personal testimony.”
That’s what needs to change.
Because while there is diversity in women’s gifting and leadership styles, there is a distinct femaleness that women bring to their preparation of the Word that we need. When 23 of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America today are men, and when 7 out of the 8 people influencing American pastors today are men, and when 50 out of the 50 “influential pastors on twitter” are men, we’re missing something.
The Elevation of the Chef
There’s a question that’s starting to surface in the foodie world that I think is reframing for the evangelical world. Is the solution to gender inequality to raise more women to prominent positions of power and influence? Or is it to rethink what power and influence in the church should look like?
In his article Have Celebrity Chefs Ruined Dining for Good?, food writer Daniel Humm warns, “Chefs need to strike a balance between food and service, lest their name brand become the main draw.” Humm argues that the elevation of the chef has led to a decline in great food service. Restaurants used to be a place to go for a dining experience, but now it’s all about the food and the one-man show behind it.
There’s a lot more to feeding sheep than giving a sermon or writing a book, and privileging content over the in-flesh, person-to-person aspects of ministry takes a toll.
Back in 2013, Andy Crouch wrote a piece about what was really wrong with the Mark Driscoll plagiarism scandal. “Let’s cut the research writer who was at the time writing under the name ‘Pastor Mark Driscoll’ a break,” he wrote. “Given the volume of writing that ‘Pastor Mark Driscoll’ needs to be seen as doing, such mistakes are bound to happen.” He points out that most of the work that celebrity Christians put out these days is not their work at all, but rather the work of a team that collaborates to serve a name brand that can sell books.
As a collaborator and occasional ghost writer, I paused at those words. But Crouch goes on to say that “Christians of all people should know that true creation requires collaboration.” We see this in God himself, three persons in one, who “share power with the ones he creates in his image, male and female.” Collaboration is where it’s at! So why does the industry standard of the church reflect that of the world’s, which is to promote and sell individual people as brands instead of revealing and celebrating the collaborative process? Crouch concludes, “Nothing good can come from the superhuman figure presented to the world as ‘Pastor Mark Driscoll’—not for the real human being named Mark Driscoll, and not for the image bearers who may be neglected in his shadow.”
Asking why more women aren’t preaching and tweeting at the highest, most powerful levels of the evangelical world is a fair question. But maybe it’s glossing over the more important question.
There is a restaurant in San Francisco called The Progress, run by a husband and wife. A couple years ago they shared a prestigious award for best chef, which they regarded as a team award for their restaurant. Food writer John Birdsall notes that whenever the chefs say anything about cooking they always use the pronoun “we,” and he describes their staff as “a bunch of nerds … changing kitchen culture.” While the food media was chasing around chef gods and food festivals, The Progress was making great food and gaining quiet recognition.
“This redefined notion of success, which privileges the smallest of perfect gestures from a team of collaborators rather than the colossal ego stroke of solo ambition is something you can taste in Brioza and Krasinski’s food,” he writes.
Would gender equality in the form of dismantling solo ambition in the church be something we could taste, too?
I tasted it on Vision Sunday at the church my husband and I recently joined on our furlough. Three pastors (two men and one women) shared stories about how they were ministered to by other members of the church. Then the former lead pastor (who recently stepped down from his role to make room for a more collaborative ministry approach) got up to share his piece.
“This has always been my favorite day of the year,” he said, “But for the first time ever, I can’t tell you where we’re going. Listening to everything we just heard, it sure sounds like it will will have something to do with community.”
What a bunch of nerds, I thought.
“For a while it seemed like an industry stacked with female chefs would be the solution,” Birdsall writes about the problem of misogyny and power in the kitchen. “Women would be more compassionate, less ego-driven, nicer. But … it’s not simply the sex of the cook but also abandoning the old trope of the chef as solo artist turned empire builder. Because any chef, male or female, who is focused on building an empire is not primarily focused on making food.”