SUPPRESSION AND CONTROL OF WOMEN WITHIN THE NETWORK
Former members claim Network leaders fostered a culture of institutional misogyny and allege authoritarian behavior against women
SUPPRESSION AND CONTROL OF WOMEN WITHIN THE NETWORK
An overwhelming number of women leaving The Network claim to have experienced a pattern of misogyny and authoritarian behavior from male leaders during their time in Network churches. There is also evidence to suggest that Network leaders have attempted to keep their teachings on male domination of women hidden from the general public.
From 1995 to 2008 the churches which would become The Network were essentially egalitarian, at least to all outward appearances. Women could serve on the board, held key leadership positions, and, in several cases at River Vineyard (Clear River Church), were teaching pastors or in training to be teaching pastors. Women were assured on many occasions that leadership positions were open to them.
Around 2007 Steve Morgan at Blue Sky Church in Seattle along with the churches he had planted left the Vineyard Association and leaned on Tony Ranvestel, who had been sent by the Champaign, IL Vineyard to plant River Vineyard, to do the same.
A 2008 teaching at an internal team meeting from Ranvestel became the oft-cited, definitive response to the "egalitarian question." It represented a dramatic shift which immediately blindsided and disqualified the women leaders in the church who were being trained and equipped for ministry. Tony's unilateral approach to this issue, as urged by Steve Morgan, had immediate and serious consequences for the women in the church.
In the ensuing months after the churches left Vineyard and formed The Network, women were removed from leadership roles, including local church board members and small group leaders (unless the groups were solely comprised of other women). For all small groups led by a married couple, the man's name would be listed first in all communications. In the case of Clear River Church, Tony's wife Sarah stepped down as lead pastor and at least one other woman who was being trained as a pastor was immediately disqualified, even though she was previously on the regular weekend teaching rotation
The purpose of this site is not to take a stance on complementarian vs egalitarian theology, but rather it is a platform to examine abuse which has been perpetrated by leaders within The Network. The manner with which this theological shift happened, and the way the new policies were rapidly applied, was executed with a complete lack of empathy for the women in The Network. This was a clear example of the top-down, authoritarian governance of these churches. Spiritual abuse is evident with the fact that Tony ends his teaching with a threat:
"There are ways to handle this thing poorly and ways to handle this thing well. You can handle it poorly by complaining, criticizing, and gossiping. So, if that’s what you want to do, be my guest, but we’ll have some words. Please don’t go there." - Tony Ranvestel
IS THIS BEHAVIOR SUPPORTED BY "COMPLEMENTARIAN" THEOLOGY?
Complementarianism is a theological view which holds that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and religious leadership. Network leaders claim they hold "complementarian" views.
Misogyny is hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women. It is a form of sexism that keeps women at a lower social status than men, thus maintaining the societal roles of patriarchy.
Just like our readership, the contributors of LeavingtheNetwork.org have differing opinions and experiences with complementarianism. While we do not express rejection or acceptance of complementarianism on the site, we categorically denounce misogyny. The experiences related by the women who have left The Network and the ideas expressed in the below source documents strongly suggest that the culture of The Network is one of discriminatory misogyny, not complementary equality.
The following stories include abusive male dominance as an element of the victim's spiritual abuse:
- Misogyny and Control by Jenna H.
- Steve Morgan's disregard for women and dominance over men became unmistakeable when I joined the Seattle church plant
- The Church That Left Together by Holly F.
- My story of pushing back against the demotion of women and leaving The Network without leaving City Lights
- Labeled a Sinful Woman by Morgan M.
- The constant pressure to conform to The Network's views on femininity left me with more shame than I started with
- The Bully Pulpit
- How the deliberate, repeated, and unrepentant abuse inflicted on us by the pastors of Foundation Church disqualifies them from leadership
- Kicked out for Suggesting a Women's Ministry by Aaron M.
- Offering to fix a problem got us labeled as a problem to be fixed
- A Culture of Control by A.C.
- Reflections on the pressure to conform as a college woman at Vine Church and the stigma surrounding ending a relationship with a registered child sex offender
- Not Accepted for Who I Am by Laura G.
- The immense anxiety and pressure to conform leaders placed on me as a single mother left me feeling like my salvation was dependent on the church, not God
TONY RANVESTEL - Removal of Women from Leadership, River Vineyard Church Team Vision Meeting August 2008
The points Tony makes in this teaching would become precedent and would be cited as the official position for why women were disqualified for leadership in every church within The Network. Although Ranvestel argues his teachings are derived from "complementation" theology, former members claim that the pattern of behavior they experienced from male leaders was not supported by "complementarian" theology and was instead misogynistic in nature.
- Tony Ranvestel's teaching: "Removal of Women from Leadership →
ACT LIKE MEN FOUNDATION CHURCH RETREAT 2016
These documents from Foundation Church (then named ClearView Church) were forwarded after the 2016 Men's Retreat, led by lead pastor Justin Major. The email and attached documents reveal how the "complementarian" theological shift, which began in 2008, had given way to patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes within The Network. Men were instructed to behave in stereotypically masculine ways and to ask their wives infantilizing questions while keeping these documents secret.
- Foundation Church's "Act Like Men Retreat 2016" documents →
VALLEY SPRINGS CHURCH'S 2022 MISOGYNISTIC INSTAGRAM POST
A Valley Springs Church Instagram post from March 31, 2022 revealed misogynistic sermon notes. The post was deleted on April 20, 2022, forty minutes after the problematic content was exposed on Reddit.