Religion: The Last Frontier for Gender Equality How I Challenged and Changed the Male Hierarchy

“Until we make serious change, the institution of religion will continue to be a place to hide and cover real issues.  We are not as effective and real as we should be.” Pastor Taffi Dollar

It was October of 2015 when I realized for the first time that I had more of a voice in this world.  The Bible, my church family, society and the Church had told me since I was born female, I was somehow less than.  After all, scripture said, “the man is the head of the woman…” But when I conversed with several wise faith-based women from around the world while attending a conference in Johannesburg, I was enlightened to their interpretation of the scripture, which has been misconstrued for centuries to keep men in charge.

My anger from being deceived, and then deceiving myself, my daughters and the women of the Church, ignited the beginning of change that would infiltrate my marriage, home, career and Church.

Conversation and Baby Steps

“I am not the same woman I was before this trip to South Africa,” I texted to my husband, the then senior pastor and head of the household and World Changers Church. I’d be lying if I told you he welcomed my newfound passion.  After all, he, like most men, had exercised his power to do what he wanted.  At home, I slowly introduced my family to what I had learned, how I felt and had small conversations about Biblical equality. I asked my three Millennial daughters what they believed, which reaffirmed my need to fully utilize my potential. At work, I would question my female colleagues about their thoughts and feelings on equality and found that I wasn’t alone in my interpretation. These conversations, that were setting the foundation for what was to be a major shakeup, went on for more than a year.

No Turning Back

Change is tough.  Initially it seemed the more I pushed, the harder my husband pushed back. If this marriage was going to survive, I knew I needed to be valued as an equal and live my full potential, or leave. So my husband started talking less, listening more and in October of 2016 announced to the church congregation that I was senior pastor.  I would contribute equally and have influence in all matters of the church.  I would teach about equality and diversity and work to get more women in leadership roles, as pastors of satellite churches and on the Board.  Not everyone was happy with the new regime.  The once male-dominated hierarchy had come to an end. I wanted our brothers to not feel threatened by this shift, but it would take time.

Becoming an Expert

The World Economic Foundation’s 2017 study on gender equality ranked America 49th in the world.  We have room for improvement and while the 2018 Midterm Election results shouted, “the future is female,” we have a way to go.  We were seeing some progress in our community, but I was still haunted by gender inequality and the under utilization of women. I was motivated in 2016 to write a book on the subject, and since I am a faith-based person, I looked to scripture. The book, Gender Roles, is my interpretation of God’s take on gender equality.  It is a fresh look and valid case in black and white about Biblical equality. I took it a step further in 2017 and wrote The Grace of Mutual Submission: Beyond Marriage and Domination, suggesting that Biblical submission is mutual and both parties should be willing to give and take, and come together on common ground.  This book became a class with study guides and a curriculum that would assist the naysayers in their understanding of gender equality.  A trend was in motion and I had become a women’s advocate.

Beyond the Church

Women’s issues have always been a priority for me.  I founded our women’s ministry and the Radical Women’s Ministry Conference 26 years ago, and Prestige Ministry 11 years ago – both developed to assist and elevate women. Women from all over the world will converge in Atlanta March 14-16, 2019, at the Unfiltered Women’s Conference and band together to empower, inspire and motivate.  The message of gender equality will resonate in the sessions on career, finances, health, love and living a purposeful life. And those messages will travel back home to grow and spread.

I live in a beautiful city that happens to be among the top in the US for human trafficking.  Defined as a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion, human trafficking goes on year-round, but increases with large, signature events. I began Prestige Ministry to provide spiritual resources, such as counseling and mentoring, and practical resources such as housing, educational opportunities and life skills classes to help transition young women out of the sex industry. Part of the program includes the Outreach Patrol, where we physically go in to strip clubs in Atlanta to offer each young woman another path in life.  Many have left and are true success stories.  Many stay, as they believe they have no other choice.

Studies show that women who have been trafficked for sex have higher levels of fear, are more isolated, and have greater trauma and mental health needs than other victims of crime. Women and girls who have been trafficked may also misuse alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with their situation.

With Atlanta being host to the 2019 Super Bowl, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms created the Human Trafficking Policy Roundtable, of which I am a member.  We are making great strides in coordinating with public and private agencies to do their part in rescuing the victims. The biggest challenge is to end the demand for those services and to stop the buyers. And that is a challenge I am up for.

By Pastor Taffi Dollar
Photo by Valentina Conde

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