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Are Christian conferences racially exclusive?

Some say Christian conferences are white-dominated events. RNS' Jonathan Merritt crunches the numbers. (Image courtesy of Latteda - http://bit.ly/I50VLk)
Some say Christian conferences are white-dominated events. RNS' Jonathan Merritt crunches the numbers. (Image courtesy of Latteda - http://bit.ly/I50VLk)

Some say Christian conferences are white-dominated events. RNS’ Jonathan Merritt crunches the numbers. (Image courtesy of Latteda – http://bit.ly/I50VLk)

This week, I published a column here at RNS asking “Are Christian conferences sexist?” in which I surveyed the proportion of female speakers at some of the major gatherings of importance to evangelical Christians. It unexpectedly set off ripples of emotion across social media and the internet.

Some were angered that I would even insinuate such a thing about a community in which many are theologically committed to male leadership. Others were relieved that someone had the courage to report the numbers and start an honest conversation about the matter. It seems to me there was pressurized emotion underneath the surface, and my hope is that the column began the process of lancing the boil so that we can now begin to discuss how to move forward. Diagnosis must precede treatment.

But while the wound is open, I suppose we might as well do a complete check-up. One sentiment echoing in the comments of that column and throughout the Twittersphere was not just that Christian conferences were dominated by males, but rather by “white males.” So I began to ask how, in fact, Christian conferences were faring on matters of racial inclusion. I started with The Nines conference, since their abysmal number of women speakers prompted this conversation to begin with. By my count, out of the 110+ speakers at The Nines, only seven were minorities. This low number, constituting less than 10%, made me push deeper and re-survey the major Christian conferences popular among evangelicals.

Here are the numbers of total speakers with minority speakers, by my count:

Catalyst Conference – East (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 13 / Minority speakers: 2

Christianity 21 (Denver, CO): Total speakers: 21 / Minority speakers: 7

Circles Conference (Grapevine, TX): Total speakers: 12 / Minority speakers: 3

Cross Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 10 / Minority speakers: 4

D6 (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 22 / Minority speakers: 1

D6 (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 32 / Minority speakers: 0

Desiring God Conference (Minneapolis, MN):Total speakers: 10 / Minority speakers: 0

Exponential Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 27 / Minority speakers: 6

Experience Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 4 / Minority speakers: 1

Gateway Conference (Southlake, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Minority speakers: 1

Global Leadership Summit (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 13 / Minority speakers: 2

Hillsong Conference (New York City, NY): Total speakers: 6 / Minority speakers: 1

Hillsong Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Minority speakers: 1

Ligonier National Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 9 / Minority speakers: 1

Love Does (Austin, TX): Total speakers: 11 / Minority speakers: 2

National Youth Workers Convention (San Diego, CA): Total speakers: 80 / Minority speakers: 8

New Life Leadership Conference (Colorado Springs, Co): Total speakers: 7 / Minority speakers: 1

Orange Conference (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 10 / Minority speakers: 1

Passion Conference (Atlanta, GA): Total Speakers: 5 / Minority speakers: 1

Q (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 35 / Minority speakers: 6

Resurgence Conference (Seattle, WA): Total speakers: 6 / Minority speakers: 1

RightNow (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 8 / Minority speakers: 2

Sentralized (Costa Mesa, CA): Total speakers: 25 / Minority speakers: 6

Simply Youth Ministry Conference (Columbus, OH): Total speakers: 71 / Minority speakers: 3

Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference (Houston, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Minority speakers: 1

Story Conference (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 18 / Minority speakers: 3

Storyline Conference (San Diego, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Minority speakers: 1

Together For the Gospel Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 19 / Minority speakers: 3

The Nines (Online): Total speakers: 110 / Minority speakers: 7

Thrive Conference (Granite Bay, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Minority speakers: 1

Velocity (Cumming, GA): Total speakers: 32 / Minority speakers: 4

Wiki Conference (Katy, TX): Total speakers: 47 / Minority speakers: 7

Wild Goose Festival (Hot Springs, NC):Total speakers: 74 / Minority speakers: 10

TOTAL:
Total speakers: 775 / Minority speakers: 99

If my math is correct, this number is around 13% minority speaker representation at the Christian conferences counted. One thing to keep in mind is that American evangelicalism is a predominately white movement. Though 53% of evangelicals are female, 81% are non-hispanic whites. Pollsters often say that “white” is the “silent descriptor” when talking about evangelical trends. But this is more due as much to politics as theology. For example, the nation’s African-American Protestant population is actually overwhelmingly evangelical from a theological perspective. Sixty one percent of black Americans describe themselves as “born again,” the highest of any racial group. But there are differences in how black (and Hispanic and Asian) Christians describe themselves that need to be taken into account when looking at these statistics.

Even still, while strides have been made to make Christian conferences more racially inclusive, it is clear that more needs to be done if many of these events wish to reflect God’s kingdom, which is comprised of  “every nation, tribe, tongue, people, and language.”

*Note: I counted these myself, so I may have made an error along the way. In most cases, I only counted plenary speakers as the workshops were more difficult to track down. Additionally, ethnicity is often more difficult to discern than gender. If speakers’ ethnicities were too difficult to discern, the conference was omitted. For those conferences who haven’t listed their upcoming speakers, the previous year’s event was counted. If you find that my math was off anywhere, leave a comment, and I will update the post.*

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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