Until I began writing this article, I was completely oblivious to Covenant’s lack of female chapel speakers. Until now, you may have been, too. Out of the 24 chapel speakers scheduled for this semester, only two are women—Dr. Alicia Jackson and Christiana Fitzpatrick. In the past six years, only 23 of Covenant’s chapel speakers have been female, and that number includes an entire school year—’09-’10—during which not a single woman spoke in chapel. (The archive of past years’ chapel schedules can be found on Covenant’s website, in case you want to double-check my statistics. I’m not a math major.)
When put into numbers, the gender imbalance is convicting. As someone who purposefully tries to be aware of gender inequalities, I’m disappointed with myself for never noticing this before. I suppose I’ve just unquestioningly swallowed the inevitability of a male-dominated pulpit, on principle with my conservative beliefs regarding the gender of pastors. However, that thought alone proposes a deeper problem with my ideology surrounding chapel.
Is our gender inequality problem based on equating chapel with a church service? Chaplain Lowe has told me in past conversations that chapel services are not church services, nor are they meant to replace them. Though both have similar elements of worship, church services have stricter liturgical requirements laid out in Scripture, whereas chapel services are more free-structured, meant to provide an opportunity to worship in community. So any misgivings about having a woman in the pulpit should not apply to chapel. If chapel were church, I have no doubt Covenant would uphold our institutional beliefs and only invite male pastors to preach. However, we as Christians do not commit any doctrinal fallacy by having women speak in chapel.
I hope no one on this campus believes outright that women should not speak in chapel. Both sexes can and do offer equally insightful perspectives on Scripture and spiritual life, whether in a public speech or an intimate one-on-one setting. To argue that one gender is more innately equipped to teach Christian topics would be similar to arguing one gender is better equipped to teach academic topics. I think our education department would fight you if you said that to their faces.
I’m not going to pretend I know all the underlying reasons why there’s a 12:1 ratio of males to females in our chapel talks; I only want to call attention to the fact this has been happening for at least six years. I don’t believe Covenant is going out of its way to exclude women from chapel talks, but I don’t believe we are making the effort to consciously include women either, at least not to the degree we should. Maybe in part this is due to the misconception that chapel is like church, and therefore women leading chapel is a scriptural taboo.
I’m not blaming anyone for this phenomenon; as I said earlier, I had no idea it was happening either. None of us should read this and assume Covenant is intentionally sexist. If anything, our sin is apathy—we don’t trouble ourselves to realize when inequalities like this are happening. A big step to fixing problematic behaviors is simply becoming aware of them. An equal amount of effort goes into scheduling both male and female speakers, so we can use that same amount of effort to include both genders equally. Many of our past speakers have said they are deeply honored by being asked to speak at Covenant. Why then don’t we extend this honor to all qualified individuals equally, regardless of gender?