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Do & Don’t: An Open Letter to Older Male Senior Pastors Regarding Your Working Relationships with Younger Women/Femme/Non-Binary* Associate Colleagues

The author officiating at a baptism in partnership with her
colleague, Pastor John Matthews, at Grace Lutheran Church in
Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Several months ago I received a phone call inviting me to speak on a panel to a cohort of women clergy who met monthly. Several of them were associate pastors, struggling mightily with how to claim any authority at all in their respective ministry settings.

The facilitators were inviting me, they said, because I was an “outlier” in my own call; the relationship between my older male colleague and I was understood to be an anomaly because we functioned as partners more than anything. They knew that we shared a genuine, mutual respect and that we actually enjoyed our working relationship. They knew that I exercised considerable agency and authority in my role, and that my colleague supported me in that, rather than being threatened by it. They knew that we pushed each other to be better, more authentic, and more courageous in our pastoral identities, and that both our congregation and the wider community were benefitting as a result.

Let that sink in for a minute – my pastoral colleague and I have a functional working relationship built on mutual respect, and we enjoy each other’s company. That makes us outliers.

This is a problem.

It’s a problem for the church in general, but it’s especially problematic for the thousands of younger women, femme, and non-binary associate pastors in this country and around the world who are routinely treated by their older, male senior colleagues as if they have none of their own God-given gifts for ministry, even in ministry settings and denominations that claim to believe otherwise.

Another member of the panel that morning was a younger male associate pastor. At one point in the conversation he was beside himself with grief at what he was hearing from the women in the room, and he wondered aloud about how he could be sure he didn’t become the very problem they were naming so clearly. Not wanting to assume that we in the room had all the answers ourselves, I posed his question to several online clergy groups, garnering responses from hundreds of women, femme, and non-binary associate pastors in a wide array of Christian denominations.

As you can imagine, their responses ranged from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous. They offered examples that were uplifting, heartbreaking, and everything in between. As best I can summarize, their responses to the question “What do you want older male clergy to know about how best to function with their younger women/femme/non-binary associate colleagues?” are as follows:


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Race and Gender: What Being a Woman Preacher has to do with Racial (In)Justice

The author

The author

I am a woman.

I am a woman who preaches.

Though we are not many, one of the greatest gifts of knowing other women called to preach is when we are able to sit together, share a meal or a drink, and talk about the complex and difficult realities of being a woman in a world/field/church wherein men have ruled for centuries.

When I’m alone, it’s too easy to question the anger that surfaces when men consistently cut me off or (consciously or otherwise) insist their voices have a louder hearing. When it’s just me in the room, I too quickly reject the painful emotions of not feeling heard or seen, or I suppress the frustration of having to jump through yet another hoop in order to secure a seat at the table. But when I’m with my sisters, when I’m surrounded by other women whose reality mirrors mine, I am free. I can shed the felt need to hold it together or represent all women or not show too much emotion, and I can simply feel all that I feel and name all that I experience and find it/myself validated.

There is nothing like it.

The reason I desperately need community with fellow women preachers is because they see through a similar lens. They encounter similar experiences. They hear what I hear, and none of us has to convince the other that any of it is real. This is not the case outside such a circle. As a woman who preaches, I hear and see and experience life in a particular way. I notice and observe certain realities—both subtle and overt—that others don’t. This is not a critique; it is simply true.

We are called “speakers” instead of “preachers.” Our “sermons” are sometimes labeled “lessons” or “presentations.” We are allowed to speak, but only if a man remains on the platform with us. We’re asked to sit as we teach in order to show deference to male authority. We are given the title “coordinator” when men performing the same tasks are referred to as “pastor.” We are allowed to teach on certain topics but not others, irrespective of our training and education.

And on, and on, and on. Read more

Is Your Pastor Sexist? Is the New York Times Sexist? Are You Sexist?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched our Presbyterian colleagues protesting Princeton Theological School’s plan to honor Tim Keller, who in his long ministry has argued women should be subservient to their husbands, a point of view that is also interpreted to state women should not be ministers.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: CBP/Chalice Press strongly disagrees with that stance, or with any stance that espouses inequality in any form whatsoever. There are many, many, many1 women doing incredible ministry that should inspire us all to step up our game. We’re lucky to work with them.

Back to the story. Traci Smith, author of the recently released Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and a Princeton alumna, blogged about this and caught the attention of both Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News (she declined their interview request) and the New York Times, which didn’t reach out to her but quoted her blog instead.

Is Your Pastor Sexist?, by Times contributor Julia Baird, referred to “Rev. Tim Keller” and “Dr. Keller.” It then referred to Traci as “Traci Smith, a former Princeton seminarian who is now a minister,” and noted Christian author Carol Howard Merritt as “a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” No Rev. before their names.

Surely this was a mistake, right? Copyediting gone awry? 2

Traci and Carol both mused about that on social media, and their connections jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not one to fire off Letters to the Editor, but this was clearly an instance where we could offer our opinion as a publisher regarding one of our writers, as well as share a view on the world of ministry with some folks who might not necessarily understand how things work in the professional field. So this morning, I sent off this missive:

Dear editor,

Julia Baird’s opinion piece, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, contains several unintentional but extremely ironic sexist errors. The male subject of the article is referred to as both Rev. Keller and Dr. Keller, indicating the Times uses honorific titles. Two female pastors, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, do not have Rev. attached to their references, indicating the Times does not use honorific titles. Which is it? Surely this decision isn’t driven by gender?

It’s likely bad copyediting is the culprit here, but this oversight epitomizes the everyday challenge female pastors face in their vocation — sexism undermines the equally challenging work they do in a workplace that is all too often hostile to them simply because of their chromosomal combinations.

I see one correction already in the online version. If a story about sexism is inherently sexist, that probably merits at least a correction as well, does it not?

Sincerely,
Brad Lyons

A few hours later, an email rolled in from Matt Seaton, Staff Editor in the Op-Ed Department:

Thank you for your letter regarding Julia Baird’s Op-Ed essay “Is Your Pastor Sexist?” I am responding because your letter was forwarded to me as the editor of this article.

Times style usually allows for use of the title “Rev.” (for Reverend) only on first mention, and this was applied to the Rev. Tim Keller in this case. (Thereafter, he appeared as Dr. Keller, given his doctorate of ministry.) But honorifics are applied as context allows, not as a rigid rule.

Our chief copy-editor explained to me that the “Rev.” title was not applied to the other two ministers in the piece, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, because they were introduced in ways that would have made the addition of “the Rev.” awkward and clumsy, and because, in each case, they were both clearly identified as minister or pastor.

On second use of each of those ministers’ names, “Ms.” was the correct honorific, since neither of them, to the best of our knowledge, has a doctorate of divinity or ministry.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and taking the trouble to communicate your view to us.

Best, Matt

So the honorifics were cut because it would make the writing clunky. That’s weak. Very, very weak. Just rewrite the sentence! You’re not going to wear out your computer or need Tommy John surgery to fix that.

But it’s more than weak — it’s offensive.

I understand we’re talking about a few letters, but those few letters make a world of difference. Though their choice was intentional, their choice also subliminally subjugates female pastors in their vocation and in our culture.

CBP/Chalice Press is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has for decades ordained women, and our first female General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, is about to be followed by our second female General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens. We’re darn proud of that. Beyond that, we work with women and men, ordained and non-ordained, from many denominations, because we believe everybody has gifts from God regardless of whether they’ve gone through school or the proper training.

What I hear from my female colleagues in ministry is that it’s getting better but that the gender gap we see across society still exists in ministry – in the lack of respect shown to female clergy, in disparate compensation packages, and in the opportunities to lead at vibrant congregations. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this, but we must fix it, and all the other prejudices in our culture, if we are to live in the Beloved Community.

It falls to all of us in the ways we talk about each other, the ways we hold each other accountable for our biases, the way we work on ourselves to erase those biases. But the New York Times, bless its heart – I sure hope it comes to its senses soon.

Footnotes

1. Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the gist.
2. Baird reached out to Traci and said she hadn’t used titles, that they were added later.

a child crying

A Message to the Margins: An Election Lamentation and Call to Action

a child crying

Tears

The United States of America has elected Donald Trump its next president. It’s sinking in as I type that.

We (the royal “we”) elected Donald Trump, a beloved child of the Most High God.

We elected a man who has painted immigrants, migrants, and refugees with the broad brushes of “rapist,” “drug dealer,” and “terrorist.” He has used ableist language in his stump speeches. He has generalized African-American communities as “hell.” He has called for Third-Reich-like treatment of Muslims in America. He has bragged about sexually assaulting women, even as a married man. He has called women vile names, insulted their natural bodily processes, and rated them based on how attractive he finds them (or not). He has eschewed the common gesture of transparency to the American people by refusing to release his tax returns. He has incited violence among his supporters by promising to pay their legal fees should they be arrested for assaulting anyone who protests at his rallies. He has been incendiary toward the LGBTQ community, people of color, Muslims, immigrants — you name the community, and he’s insulted them.

He is, again, a beloved child of God.

Yet, instead of categorically rebuking his behavior at the polls, we rewarded it: with the presidency. Read more

Mater Misericordiae

The Church and Sexism: What We Can Do

I live on the Maine/New Hampshire border. The radio in my bedroom gets better reception from Maine’s NPR affiliate, the one in the kitchen tunes into the New Hampshire station. Which means, recently, that I wake up to Maine’s Governor LePage saying that one of the big concerns of the heroin epidemic is that (black) drug dealers are impregnating (white) women; as I pour my coffee, I hear about the NH state legislator who suggested that women who breastfeed in public should expect to have their breasts and nipples fondled.

Mater Misericordiae

Mater Misericordiae

Mornings have been rough around here.

Even without the racially-charged language being used in Maine (horrifying in itself, but a post for another day), these stories have been a constant reminder of the continuing objectification and sexualization of women in our culture. Each morning I am told anew that women are two-dimensional building blocks for the construction of men’s multi-dimensional identities.  Read more

An Interview with Margaret Aymer


The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer was keynote speaker at the Text in Context conference, hosted by The Young Clergy WomMargaret Aymeren Project this July in Austin, Texas. She taught for many years at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, before becoming Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Professor Aymer is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). “Our Cloud of Witnesses” editor Diana Carroll sat down with her during the conference to learn more about her life and ministry.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your ministry?

Some of the challenges have included things like working in places where I was not making a lot of money and not having the money to participate more broadly in the life of the church. The first few times I was asked to preach in a conference after I was ordained, I actually had to have them buy me the ticket, because I could not afford to buy a ticket and have them reimburse me.

It was challenging teaching in a seminary in which one of the six seminaries didn’t recognize my ordination, because I was female. Read more

#Baltimore: Reflections from a White, Feminist, Queer Freedom Fighter

Protesters in Baltimore

Protesters in Baltimore

I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course I would join my co-pastors and other folks from the Slate Project* in marching for justice for Freddie Gray. It was Saturday April 25th. People had been peacefully marching in protest throughout Baltimore all week. I was glad to have this opportunity to join them, to finally show up and move my feet and stand in solidarity with a movement that I believe in.

Social justice activism has been an important part of my faith since I was first introduced to liberation theology in college. In seminary, when I studied the social gospel and the civil rights movement, my theology became even more firmly rooted in the notion that Jesus came to set all people free from all forms of oppression. This is what I preach from the pulpit. This is what I teach in my parishes. But the experience of picking up a sign and marching with hundreds of other people to embody this gospel message would be a way to show what I believe with my life.

I considered my role in this movement to be an “ally.” I have been involved in the movement for equal civil rights for the LGBTQ community, but I am a part of that community. I am not a member of the black community. The experience of marching in Baltimore felt different and posed different challenges. Marching together with many different groups – each with its own agenda, ideology, and purpose in being there – was complicated. Sure, everyone would say, “At the end of the day we are all here for the same reason,” and then something about justice for Freddie Gray and an end to the systematic oppression of black people (if not in so many words). It felt good to be united together under those goals. But as we moved together down the streets of Baltimore, there were times I could not bring myself to join the voice of the crowd. “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray!” I thought to myself, “Will I? Will I fight for Freddie Gray?” “All night, all day, we will nonviolently resist for Freddie Gray!” just does not have the same ring to it. I began to wonder about how it would actually play out, to have all these different groups coming together. Could we unite around a common mission? Could we put aside our differences and stand together as one, while still authentically being who we were and not giving up our identities?

I wondered about my role in this struggle. On Monday night, as reports came in that police were facing off with protesters at Penn & North, I had several thoughts. “I should go,” I thought. “I should see if any of my pastor friends want to go and try to diffuse the escalation.” But I wondered if my presence—a young, white woman in a collar—would actually have that effect. The clergy who showed up and stood between the police and protesters were African American men. They were able to walk into that space and immediately receive the needed respect, authority, and assumption of shared experience to be accepted by the protestors, most of whom were also African American men, and by the predominantly male police force.

It became painfully obvious that I did not have already established relationships with the people or the clergy in the African American communities that were on the ground in this movement. I went to meetings. In some, I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of sexism, particularly in the attitudes of the male clergy. I showed up to partner in the fight against oppression based on race. I did not expect those leading the fight to turn around and then discriminate against another group of people based on gender.

Later in the week, I went to meetings held by the newly formed Baltimore United and led by folks from Fellowship of Reconciliation. These meetings were smaller and much more diverse. The folks running these meetings did not hold up one or two particular leaders. They did not name men as the only “warriors” fit to be on the “front lines.” These meetings were run by men, women, queer, cis, young and old. At these meetings, it was clear we were all in this together. These were my people.

At one of these meetings, the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a fellow with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said that they don’t need white folks to show up and be allies. Allies can duck in and out of the movement, because this is not their struggle. He said, “We don’t need allies. We need freedom fighters.” That is when I decided to stop considering myself an ally. This fight must be my fight. These children must be our children. This struggle must be our struggle. We must be one people, fighting for all our freedom.

We do not have the luxury to focus on one kind of oppression at a time. Sexism; heterosexism; racism; ageism; discrimination based on socioeconomic status, education, background, or criminal history – they are all interrelated. God calls us all to work for the liberation of all God’s people. Each of us has a role to play. I know that because of who I am, there are roles I can play in this movement and roles I cannot play. This is true for all of us. And this is the beauty of the diversity that God has created. We are not meant to play all the same roles; we are not meant to do all the same things. We are meant to discover our callings in relationship with one another and then help each other become the people God has created us to be.

We also must celebrate and lift up each role and not overly exalt any one person or group, nor denigrate any one person or group. This movement in Baltimore is made up of networks of hundreds of leaders and many, many people, who all are doing important and necessary work. We must discern together what our roles are and then play them boldly and with courage. For as we already know, God can and will use us all to transform the world.

 

A Review of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort

kim-kort-coverIt’s not every day you get to read a seminal, formative work in a still-emerging field of theology.  But that is exactly what Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort is.  If you ever find yourself agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” pick up Making Paper Cranes and see if you can still say that when you are finished.

 

It’s not that feminist theology is brand new.  And while it is relatively new on the scene, this isn’t the first volume of theology written from an Asian American perspective.  It’s not even the first book to combine the two.

 

Kim-Kort’s work is formative and important to the entire world of theology because the way she pinpoints where her experience and the work of God intersect models the way all of us might undertake embodied theology—theology with meat on its bones. In this way her theology is neither a majority theology or a minority theology—it simply is authentic theology for a Korean American Presbyterian young woman in dialogue with all of the traditions in which she happens to be rooted.  As such, it is a model of how all of us might undertake similar theological pursuits authentic to each one of us as children of God.

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