Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Opportunities and Outcomes

Written by: on February 27, 2020

Pinker, former director of MIT’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, writes about the hot button topic of gender differences in his book, Blank Slate. He begins the discussion with an explanation of the two schools of feminist thought: Equity feminism is part of the classical liberal tradition and opposes sexual discrimination and unfairness to women.[1] Gender feminism is opposed to the classical liberal tradition and aligns itself more with postmodernism and radical science. This belief holds that “women continue to be enslaved by a pervasive system of male dominance.”[2] He goes on to reveal his evidence that contrary to the statements of gender feminists, the differences between men and women are biological, and not simply formed by the way they are treated in society.

However, these differences, though biological according to Pinker, do not mean that one gender is superior over the other.[3] He acknowledges the reality of issues such as the gender pay gap and glass ceilings but suggests these inequalities may have more than one explanation. He describes the current conversation on these limitations as follows:

“…the gender gap is almost always analyzed in the following way. Any imbalance between men and women in their occupations or earnings is direct proofed gender bias–if not in the form of overt discrimination, then in the form of discouraging messages and hidden barriers. The possibility that men and women might differ from each other in ways that affect what jobs they hold or how much they get paid may never be mentioned in public, because it will set back the cause of equity in the workplace and harm the interests of women…

…The problem with this analysis is that inequality of outcome cannot be used as proof of inequality of opportunity unless the groups being compared are identical in all of their psychological traits, which is likely to be true only if we are blank slates.”[4]

Ironically, this is a topic on which Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate and Jordan Peterson agree. Peterson is (in)famous for his television interview discussing the gender gap.[5] Also, in many of his writings, he explains that “the gender gap in pay, which is caused by many factors, can be attributed to male/female personality differences and not to simple discrimination.”[6] He seems to be taking a page from Pinker with the declarative, “Given that the differences in temperament and interest help determine occupational choice, and that difference in occupational choice drives variability in such things as income, it follows that political doctrines that promote equality of opportunity also drive inequality of outcome.” It seems Pinker and Peterson may be more alike than they would like to admit.

This is a difficult conversation. In today’s cultural climate, the suggestion that the gender gap could be caused by any reason other than direct discrimination is not always received well. This is also true in church leadership. Within the church, there are multiple influences on the roles or titles offered to women such as different backgrounds or theological positions. This is an issue of opportunity. However, it is all too common for churches to pay women less for the same job. Kadi Cole points out that churches often have practices that cause women to be paid less than men for the same role. She uses the example of two youth pastors, one a single woman and the other a man with a family. Some churches would view it as kind and pastoral to offer the man more money and benefits to care for his family.[7] This is an issue of outcome.

Pinker would say that the sciences of human nature can strengthen the interests of women by separating the real issues from the herrings. I wonder if the church could use some of this logic in our context. Humbly approaching the issues of opportunities and outcomes for female ministry leaders and allowing the Spirit to be present in our conversations might lead us to find not just common ground, but solutions to Kingdom expansion through both men and women.




[1] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York [etc.: Penguin Books, 2003), 341.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 350.

[4] Ibid, 353.

[5] Jordan Peterson Debate on the Gender Pay Gap, Campus Protests and Postmodernism, n.d., accessed February 16, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMcjxSThD54.

[6] Jordan Peterson, “The Gender Scandal: Part One (Scandinavia) and Part Two (Canada),” Jordan Peterson, last modified December 8, 2018, accessed February 27, 2020, https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/political-correctness/the-gender-scandal-part-one-scandinavia-and-part-two-canada/.

[7] Kadi Cole, Developing Female Leaders: Navigate the Minefields and Release the Potential of Women in Your Church (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

12 responses to “Opportunities and Outcomes”

  1. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I hear your research in this and look forward to it. I have noticed churches that have the same function on various male and female roles yet the men are titled “Pastor” and the women are titled “Director.” And, as you described the pay is less for the director. I often wonder if we will ever get beyond the theological arguments and be honest about the sociological factors.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      I agree. These issues of outcome seem to receive much less attention in the church. There is work to be done even in churches whose theology allows many opportunities for women. Sometimes, in these churches especially, there are outcome issues that go undiscussed due to a prevailing sense of “we’ve moved beyond the gender issue.”

  2. Good stuff Rhonda, for tackling some difficult issues we face today. I’m more curious about how you saw Pinker and Peterson as being on opposite sides on issues, certain ones at least. I probably missed it in our reading, but could you point to some where they differ? Thanks Rhonda.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Harry. Pinker and Peterson aren’t on the opposite side of issues. In fact, on the gender pay gap issue, they definitely come to the same conclusion. However, they are very different in their approach. In an article in The Chronicle, Pinker himself said that Peterson’s ideas and styles are far different from his own. It seems to me that even though they start from different places, they tend to end up at the same destination.

  3. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Love the way you present this material and its relation to gender issues. Look so forward to learning more and more from you and your amazing work.

  4. Jenn Burnett says:

    Gender pay gaps are so complicated and I appreciate you drawing our attention to opportunity vs outcomes. My husband and I have reflected on the differences in how our careers have played out and the way opportunities come, or fail to come our way. We’ve noticed how external shared social activities (like fishing) can have an impact on job opportunities. I also question the roots of what is valued within professions and how that is often skewed against gifts more commonly found in women. For example women GPs are statistically more likely to attract patients with higher emotional needs, so their appointments take more time and they get paid less. The problem is that the system is geared to value the type of care these patients need less then quick, clinical care. The first is often more empowering, the second more efficient. The pay gap can thus be somewhat attributed to a valuing a style more often associated with men. So how do we go about naming these roots to make the shift? I so appreciate the work you are doing!

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      These are great points, Jenn. To your fishing reference, one of the things I have found in the research is that even in churches whose theology and background allows for women to lead, unspoken practices and HR policies keep women from being in the conversation at the right time. For instance, many churches follow the “Billy Graham Rule,” for accountability and perception purposes. However, this keeps women from being present with men when decisions are made…at the lunch table, during travel, or on the golf course. When it’s time to make hiring or promotion decisions, women do not come to mind because they have been absent from the conversation. These are issues of opportunity and outcome. There is a better way forward!

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Thank you Rhonda for your insight. This is my problem with Pinker saying, on the one hand, he is against inequality, but then saying the gender pay gap is due to male/female personality differences! What? What does my personality have to do with how I do my job. It’s called inherent bias. I can say this because I work in a male dominate environment and see that males are more comfortable with each other. However, they often miss out on the more personal, human side of work relationships. I appreciate the research you are doing knowing that God values what each of us contributes. Blessings!

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Mary. I applaud you for your work in an environment that can be very volatile. I think Pinker would say that a woman who is doing the same job as a man should most certainly be paid the same. However, he also says that women, because of their innate nature, are more prone to choose jobs that do not pay as much as men. Unfortunately, I have witnessed true gender pay gaps for women who were extremely gifted, competent leaders; as well as women who attempted to push their way forward to greater pay levels using only their gender, not their competence. This conversation is a complex one, but one the church needs to engage in for the sake of unity. Keep on, my friend.

  6. I enjoyed reading your post Rhonda and the replies it has solicited from the cohort. You have highlighted an important issue that is certainly close to your heart and it seems that you have alot to draw from Pinker in your research. I look forward to reading your research outcome. The gender issue in my African context is even more pronounced with alot of domestic violence against women and other forms of discrimination but I’m glad that it’s also being addressed positively, by both genders. Your perspective of the inequality of outcome versus inequality of opportunity argument is certainly helpful in seeing this gender issue differently. I’m doing ministry among the marginalized communities and some of the gender issues are very disturbing to say the least, I recently adopted a 12 year old girl that we rescued from early marriage ( she was married off at 10 in exchange for livestock, which is a common practice).

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Wallace, my heart breaks for these young girls and their families who need so much. Too often, we have a myopic attitude toward the plight of women in the global church. Thank you for reminding us that this issue reaches far beyond equal pay. Wallace, I am grateful for your work, and I partner with you in prayer for Africa.

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