There's something terribly wrong with the International Congress on Preaching

PixabayThere's something terribly wrong with the International Congress on Preaching

'A woman preaching,' remarked Dr Johnson, 'is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well, but it is surprising to find it done at all.'

Judging purely by the list of speakers, this is a message the organisers of the International Congress on Preaching (ICOP), to be held in Cambridge from August 8-10, have thoroughly internalised. Of the 22 speakers – mainly American, with a handful of Brits and Koreans – only one is female.

This is the more surprising as I know some of the other speakers, by repute at least. They are not all hardline complementarians who believe a woman's place is out of the pulpit; and St Andrew's Street Baptist Church, which is hosting the event, has not been associated with that movement either.

However: whether they are personally opposed to women in ministry or not, a glance at the 'Speaking team' page of the ICOG website tells a particular story. The smiling faces of these scholar-preachers are all male until we reach that of Dr Carol Noren. Her CV is hugely impressive – far more so than many of the others – but her solitary inclusion only highlights the massive overbalance in favour of masculinity. The story that page tells is that preaching is male, that only men have anything useful to say about it, generally speaking, and that if you are a female who presumes to take an interest in the subject you have to be the best of the best if your voice is to be heard.

Is this, in fact, what they organisers believe? I doubt it. I suspect it's the old boys' network again – these are just the chaps they happened to know, and no one has even noticed their gender.

But honestly – this has to stop. And there's one way everyone who finds themselves in demand in these circles can help.

Cambridge in the summertime is lovely. On the ICOP's 'Location' page it highlights the colleges and the opportunities for punting, bike tours and visiting the botanical gardens.

But before firing off that enthusiastic email of acceptance in future, how about this?

Just have the conversation.

How many people are speaking at this conference?

Twenty-two? Lovely. And Cambridge is delightful.

Oh, and how many of them are female?

Just the one?

I'll tell you what: I'll stay at home, but I'll send you some suggestions of really great female speakers you can choose from.

And don't call me again until you've really thought this through.

Yes, there's an element of self-sacrifice here. But that shouldn't really be an issue, should it?

I have nothing to say to men who really do think women shouldn't preach and shouldn't tell men how to do it. You have your own conferences.

But to those who've just never thought about it or who assume it's not your problem: I'd love to see you taking a stand, calling out conference organisers and challenging casual assumptions. It is your problem. It's a problem for everyone, because it's about how we value half of God's human creation.

Within a few months, there will be a list of female speakers produced via the admirable Project 3:28 organisation. I did reach out to the organisers of ICOP a few days ago, but didn't receive a response. When the list is out, I'd be glad to send it to them.

And I hope it won't be too long before a conference with a speakers list like this one is just unthinkable.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods

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