Why it's time for inclusion riders at Christian conferences

Last year I wrote an article about the International Congress on Preaching, held in Cambridge, noting the fact that of the 22 speakers only one was female. Some mistake, surely? I asked the organisers, but no one responded.

I suggested then that one way of tackling this sort of thing was for men who are asked to speak at these conferences to take some responsibility: find out what the gender balance is and if it isn't up to scratch, just say no.

Frances McDormand gave a powerful Oscar acceptance speech.Reuters

I've discovered during the last few days that there's a word for this: it's called an 'inclusion rider'. The term shot to the forefront of the public mind thanks to its use by Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech on Monday. She left a good deal of head-scratching behind her when she left the stage, but the internet was quick to explain.

A rider is a clause added into a contract for A-listers to keep them sweet. For some it might be an unlimited supply of jelly beans or a particular brand of beer (for a glimpse of just how self-indulgent the rich and famous can be, click here – it's fun, but come back because this is important.)

An inclusion rider, then, is something with a bit more of a moral edge to it. Powerful stars can use their leverage to make demands that go beyond the kind of flowers they want in their dressing room (Katy Perry) or the precise brand of pistachios (Kanye West). Black Panther star Michael B Jordan, for instance, has announced that he's adopting an inclusion rider for all the projects his production company's involved in to ensure racial and gender diversity.

So here's the challenge for the A-listers on the Christian conference circuit. You know who you are: you've written books, you're good on stage, you believe you have something to say and it's quite flattering when the invitations start rolling in. Why would you turn down the chance to headline that event you've probably attended as a punter before?

Here's why. There are women out there who can do it just as well as you can, and probably better. They're just as smart, capable and talented. All they need is to be recognised – and as a survey earlier this year found, they aren't being given the chance to shine.

Today – International Women's Day, if you haven't noticed – sees the launch of the Project 3:28 Speaker Database. It's a growing resource conference organisers can use to find women who are expert in their fields. It's a tool that can be used to redress an imbalance that has persisted for generations. Its time has come.

But as well as the carrot of an easy, go-to resource, change will require the stick of men with the self-sacrificial courage to say 'No' – to demand an inclusion rider before they accept the tempting gig that will see them preaching their hearts out before an audience of thousands. 

As that article last year said (Christian Today – always ahead of the curve): if you're the complementarian type who thinks women shouldn't preach anyway, this is not really for you. But to those who've just never thought about it or who assume it's not your problem: take a stand, call out conference organisers and challenge casual assumptions. This is not about generosity, it's about justice – and more than justice, it's about how we value half of God's human creation.

What treasures we deny ourselves because we think we have nothing to learn from those who were born female. Enough, now. 

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods