In the fall of 2015, Taffi Dollar was in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she’d gone to speak at a women’s conference. It was there over lunch that she found herself in a deep conversation with community leaders about the specter of sexism and the patriarchal role men hold in the home and society in general.
For Dollar, known then around the world as the first lady of World Changers Church International in College Park, the issue was settled. There was no question in her mind that women were to be submissive to men. I Corinthians 11:3 says as much — “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man.”
What about the Word, she asked, referring to that passage.
That’s not what that means, her lunch companions insisted. Yes, husbands have the final say, they told her, but God intended husbands and wives to submit to each other.
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Something shifted inside of Taffi. She knew she was no less intelligent or gifted than her better-known televangelist husband, Creflo Dollar. Indeed, in her heart of hearts, she knew that not every decision he’d made in their marriage was the right one.
Taffi Dollar was about to lean in.
“I texted Creflo and I told him I felt like I was not the same person,” she remembered recently. “I wanted him to know I’d been enlightened.”
Back home, she started digging deeper into Scripture, talking with the couple’s three daughters and other family members about biblical equality.
“I really felt like I had defrauded myself and my girls and maybe, in some instances, appeared weak as a role model for them and some of the other women of the church,” she said.
Taffi knew from experience that men often used Scripture to manipulate women to get what they wanted, to keep women in their place.
Before her trip to South Africa, she admitted, she and her husband were on the brink of separation. Now she was done pretending, trying to force herself into being happy in her marriage.
“It wasn’t working,” she said.
She was finding her voice, finally sharing her true feelings with her husband. Creflo was listening more.
It’s no secret that the ranks of the faithful are dominated by women or that religious leaders — from Abraham and Moses to Muhammad and Buddha — tend to be predominantly, if not exclusively, male.
“We represent 70 percent of the pew but 25 percent of leadership,” Taffi said. “Why is that?”
The numbers ran contrary to what she was seeing in the word and the life of Jesus.
Although born into a world that was male-dominated, that discriminated against women, Jesus valued, loved and respected everyone, women included.
His conversation with the Samaritan woman is a good example, she said, because Jews in that day did not associate with Samaritans. But there were more. Priscilla, who with her husband, Aquila, was listed among the Seventy Disciples. And Deborah, a prophet and judge who exercised complete religious, political, judicial and militaristic authority over the people of Israel.
The more women like this Taffi discovered, the more previous notions she held about gender were turned upside down.
“I wanted to tell everybody,” she said. “Gender should not dictate our role in society. I should have the same opportunity to explore and develop and grow into what I want, including be a minister, politician or doctor.”
That became the focus of many of the conversations she would have with her husband. She was already standing in on occasion for her husband, but she was still seen as only the first lady of the church. She wanted to have more say in the day-to-day decisions at World Changers.
In 2016, she wrote and published “Gender Roles: The Grace of Mutual Submission,” about the shifting roles of men and women in our society.
Creflo Dollar, not prone to taking risk, was concerned about how the congregation would respond to his wife becoming more involved, but something was shifting in him now.
At a church conference later that year, he surprised his wife.
She’s senior pastor just like I am, Creflo Dollar announced.
“Some people thought he was joking,” Taffi remembered.
Today, World Changers is still peeling back the layers. Even though Taffi sees herself as a leader, some outside of their congregation, including women, don’t.
“They think I should be sitting down, quiet,” she said, “like decoration, arm candy.”
If that was the old Taffi, a change has come. Not only is she leaning in, she has been deliberate about fostering diversity at World Changers.
In additional to Taffi taking on a more visible role alongside her husband, four additional women have been ordained and sent out to oversee satellite churches. There has been a 35 percent growth in women on the church’s board of directors and its leadership staff, she said. Women officiate at church services. And last month, the church launched an initiative it calls “Lean In” that meets every Thursday.
In “Lean In,” author Sheryl Sandberg examines why women still lag behind men when it comes to holding leadership positions, and offers commonsense solutions that can empower women to reach their full potential.
What set Taffi Dollar on this journey and ultimately led Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, to lean in is the discrimination both women saw. For Sandberg, it was in the workplace, but for Taffi Dollar, it was the workplace, her home and her church.
She believes women must lean in in all those places and thinks it’s time both men and women have a conversation about equality, at work, at home, in marriages, and in our collective worldview.
“It shouldn’t be just a bunch of men in a room making decisions,” Pastor Taffi said. “Everyone should be at the table, and we really have to be intentional about it in order for that to happen.”
Radical Revolution: Unfiltered 2019, a women’s conference on transparency and becoming the women God created you to be.
March 14-16, 2019. $25-$150. World Changers Church International, 2500 Burdett Road, College Park. taffidollar.org/Radical-Unfiltered.