Sheryl Sandberg and William Wilberforce Why Change Always Comes From The Top Down


I wrote The Resignation of Eve in part to expose the strange obstacles women encounter whenever they attempt to access the highest levels of influence and leadership in the Church.

What I discovered in my research is this. These obstacles are not caused by differences in biblical interpretation, that’s a diversionary argument. No the obstacles women face are placed there by men (and women) who love power and/or fear losing it.

Furthermore I discovered that the Church is not alone when it comes to loving power. Statistically the Church is deadlocked with businessmen, politicians and even, Hollywood in a race to the bottom to see who can do the most to keep women from reaching the top.

We now know that well reasoned biblical arguments don’t carry enough sway to reverse this trend. The only thing that defeats power is when those who have more of it share it with those who have less of it. As James Davison Hunter points out in his book To Change The World “Innovation… generally moves from the elites and the institutions they lead to the general population”. In other words while change ideas typically emerge from the artist/creative classes it’s the cultural elites who determine whether those ideas “get to market”. Bottom line: Distribution trumps creativity. And guess what, cultural elites control distribution.

Professor Hunter continues, “The deepest and most enduring forms of cultural change nearly always occur from the top down. In other words the work of world making and world changing are by and large the work of elites; gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life” The artistic-creative in me finds Hunters assertion repelling but the pragmatic-missionalist in me finds them transformative.

All of which brings me to Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook. If ever there was a poster child for cultural elites it’s Sandberg. How rarefied is this resume? Sandberg is married to the owner of the wildly successful software company Survey Monkey, was one of Googles first employees and is now the COO of Facebook. She is a Gazillionaire. When it comes to royalty, America loves to make fun of the Brits but we have our own version of royalty and Sandberg currently sits right up there with Beyoncé and Zuckerberg.

In her new book “Lean In “Sandberg simply points out what the creative class/feminists have been saying for eons, Women are blocked at the top, the top of the church, the top of business, the top of politics and the top of Hollywood. The stats are available. Google them. Only four percent of Fortune 500 companies have a woman CEO. So what you say? Try this on. What if ninety six percent of fortune 500 companies had women CEOs? Do you think you would notice the discrepancy? Wouldn’t feel alarmed by the blatant misrepresentation of men? That’s the wrong Sanberg wants to right. The difference between Sandberg and us creative-agitators? She’s a cultural elite. Her ideas get distributed fast. She has a megaphone.

William WIlbeforce was a wealthy, politically conservative Parlimentarian who lived in England in the late 1780s. For reasons known and unknown he decided to take up the cause of the Clapham Sect– a group of wealthy Evangelicals who wanted to blur the lines between personal and public faith. Their primary focus was to end the slave trade in England and ultimately to make it illegal. They were elites relative to the majority of people living in the UK but not enough to gain the attention of Parliament. For that they needed to recruit Wilberforce who agreed to provide wider distribution for their worthy but functionally invisible idea. It took him 40 years and some Parliamentary insider information but eventually the Slave Trade was made illegal. The ramifications of that law would be felt in the colonies which had broken away from England’s royalty but not from England’s’ example.

Noted historian Barbara Tuchman said; “In the scales of history inertia always outweighs that of change”. The only time inertia gets the boot is when a cultural elite like Wilberforce or Sandberg signs on to lead the charge at the highest institutional levels. Bottom line: Without cultural elites like Sandberg speaking up women will never achieve the influence they are capable of exercising regardless of how deserving they may be.

Here’s what I wonder.

1. Where is the Sheryl Sandberg for the Church?

2. Why hasn’t the church that names’ itself after histories most powerful advocate for women taken the lead on this issue for the past 2000 years?

3. Why do we imitate the systems we namecheck most often for being the supreme examples of worldliness?

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