I Have 2 Questions After Listening to Condoleezza Rice’s Powerful Message at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit – Post 2 #wcagls

One of the highlights of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit was Condoleezza Rice. Her words and presence were powerful and I kept hearing how she connected with so many watching.

When I first saw her on the schedule, I thought a couple things: “Wow, they got Rice.” Then I wondered about the motives, “Hmm, is this just Willow showing off how big of a name the Summit can land?”; “Are her words on leadership really worth hearing?”; “Will she have written her own presentation?” ;)

She opened by giving a remarkable presentation of the importance of democracy in the world today. Felt a bit out of place in the beginning but was great stuff like:
“What we’re really seeing is the universality of freedom. No one wants to live in tyranny.”
“Freedom is not the same as democracy. Democracy is the formalization of freedom.”
“Every life is worthy (in democracy).”

Then some quick theology:
“We are equals before God. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, died for everyone.”

Some mission:
“Delivering compassion to the AIDS orphan has to be the work of people who believe that everyone matters.”

And then some leadership advice:
“No one wants to follow a sour puss.”
“If you are fortunate enough to lead in challenging times, it’s important to recognize that…there is so much opportunity.” (I wonder who she said that to)

And an incredibly strong finish:
Out of struggle, comes victory. That is the essential message of the Christian faith. After Friday, comes Sunday. It’s a privilege to struggle. When you’re not struggling, you’re prone to think that it’s your own talents, effort, etc. that’s getting you ahead.
The outcomes of history are a result of the work of people who sacrificed everything for the sake of a principle.
They were people who…never accepted the world as it is. They saw the world as it should be. That is the true calling of leaders.

After her presentation, Bill interviewed her which really was an incredible feature of the hour. I’m not sure I ever saw this side of her (or that we had access to her this way outside of a Barbara Walters type of interview) but it completely justified the idea of inviting her.

A surprising moment was when Bill hinted/asked if she might change her mind about running for President one day and the audience clapped with eager expectation. I’m sure Condi would be great in office but I was more distracted by why so many fellow believers were more comfortable with the idea of female presidents and (secretaries of state) than female pastors. Now clearly being a pastor is a tougher job than being the President, we all know this. But this moment of wanting a female President but not a female pastor should strike us as odd.

Which brings me to my first question. I don’t know enough about Willow or those in attendance to imply it was hypocritical for them to applaud as they did so this t is generally for evangelicalism in general and some PCA mainliners. Further, we should note that Condi’s father, John Wesley Rice was a PCUSA minister (Is that not an incredible name and can you see his parents’ vision for their family in that?) But this is my question: Would Condi’s career been any different had she been born to a PCA Minister and raised in that type of church? I think that’s a legitimate question.

Now I know a dear complementarian will point out to me that the “Good Book” doesn’t say anything about ruling out women presidents in America in the 21st century. And I won’t take the time to point out that a careful reading and understanding of our Holy Scriptures do not eliminate women in ministry/pastoral leadership in any time period. I know I have been talking about women in Christian leadership on the blog lately (you can read more here) and I don’t mean for it to sound like a hobby-horse or a new cause. The sad thing is that we still need to talk about it because I doubt I’m the only one who found this moment with Rice to be bizarre. Honestly, it’s just odd to me that we don’t have more women in church leadership but a predominately evangelical room applauds a female former Secretary of State and simultaneously encouraging her to change her mind to run for office but many churches would not allow her to preach from a pulpit even she had the proper education, experience, skill set, and so forth – Why? And that’s my second question.

I was so glad to see Condi at the Summit, I was glad to see the other women who spoke (llke Pranthia Timothy from IJM and Sheryl WuDunn, Carly Fiorina) but it did get increasingly odd because you could feel the absence of women pastors. It’s almost as if we evangelicals are telling our women that they can write Bible studies, be missionaries (of course), write best-selling books even, run non-profits, lead businesses or even hold super-powerful positions in government but you can’t preach.

Last Sunday, I heard a great message from our own pulpit at Grace. One of our pastors, Cynthia Fantasia preached from Psalm 103. It was a “simple” title – “A Song For Joy” but spoke on the complexity of finding joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. Some times these types of messages are frustrating to listen to because they risk making the complexities sound trite. And while Cynthia didn’t sugarcoat, she spoke difficult and real words with grace and pastoral sensitivity. Our summer series, “Psalms: A Soundtrack For Our Lives” has encouraged us to be personal and Cynthia gave a powerful personal illustration toward the end of joy in the midst of pain. You can listen to it here. I (and many others) continue to maintain that these sermons sound differently from a male and female perspective and the Church needs both.

Now that wasn’t really a rabbit trail – these are my questions and this is what I feel is missing from the conversations like the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

In her presentation, Condi said, “Every person is capable of greatness. We, in a democracy, need to ensure that opportunity is there.” I think in the Church, we should be able to say something similar, “Every person is capable of God doing great things though them. We, in the Body, need to ensure the opportunity and encouragement is there.”


  1. I have two spiritual “fathers”- my own father who was a United Methodist minister and who lived one of the most exemplary spiritual lives I’ve ever encountered; and the other was a JUC professor I had in Jerusalem who was at once a brilliant theologian, an even more brilliant biblical archaeologist and most importantly a committed and compassionate Christian.
    She was also a woman, and I credit her with being the catalyst for a series of changes in my thinking and my interpretation of scripture that led to no less than the salvation of my faith. I had always struggled with Christianity on an intellectual basis (I’m not an intellectual- I simply mean it was hard to reconcile my brain with where my heart clearly wanted to go). Cindy taught me that there is a very intellectual facet to true theological discussion, and that not having all of my doubts answered at once should never be a deal breaker to my faith. Each time I had the opportunity to speak with her, whether to ask questions or simply to listen to her thoughts on various subjects, I felt like another veil was lifted. I know this sounds a lot like “hero worship” but to me it was very much like meeting a female version of C.S. Lewis.
    Cindy is not a pastor, but if she were ordained, I would consider myself privileged to be a member of her congregation. The idea that she has nothing to offer the world as a minister is absurd, and I applaud you for raising this as a point of discussion.

Speak Your Mind