Tag Archives: Women

A Sermon on WX 2015: How Jesus uses Stumbling Blocks and Useless Salt

Mark 9:38-50

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me…

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

It seems like the disciples may have finally pushed Jesus over the edge this week.

Peter was rebuking Jesus a couple weeks ago, which caused Jesus to answer by calling Peter Satan and telling him to start getting with the program or else. Last week, Jesus found the disciples arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest, and Jesus’ annoyance was clear.

But this week, John, the beloved disciple, comes to Jesus with a dubious complaint. He says, “Someone was casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because we not following us.”

Wow, John… Is this grade 3 where we tattle to the teacher?

Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Jesus said, “if you want to become my followers, deny yourselves…”

John has clearly not been paying attention.

And we know that Jesus in Mark’s gospel can be harsh. He called the Syrophoenician woman a dog a few weeks back.

But Jesus’ response to John is more than harsh. Jesus really rips into John and other disciples for failing to get it.

“If would be better to be tossed into the ocean with a millstone around your neck, than to be a stumbling block to one of these littles ones.” Jesus begins.

“Cut off your hand if it is the problem. Cut off your foot if it is getting in your way. Tear out your eye if necessary.”

If throwing people into the ocean to die, or cutting off body parts sounds extreme it’s because it is extreme. But this is not an instructional manual on how to deal with sin.

Jesus is trying once again to make the disciples get it. To make the disciples understand just how much they are getting in their own way. He is trying to express just how frustrating it is to have a bunch of followers who are so focused on themselves and how he doesn’t have time for John’s self-centred non-sense.

It goes without saying that we might be uncomfortable with this frustrated Jesus. And not just because Jesus is supposed to be gentle and nice, but because John’s actions are familiar to us. We too struggle with wanting to be clear with who is in and who is out when it comes to our families, friends, neighbours and churches. We don’t have to look much farther than the niqab and citizenship ceremony debate to be reminded.

Last weekend, I attended the Why Christian? Conference in Minneapolis. There, I was reminded of just how much like John we can be.

The conference was organized as a response to the vast majority of other conferences for Christians that exist. Most conferences feature white, male, middle aged and older speakers who are brought in as experts to lecture attendees. If women or people of colour are asked to speak, it is usually tokenism. One women out of 20 men. One person of colour out of 20 white speakers. And women speak to women’s issues. People of colour speak to issues facing ethnic minorities. They are never asked to experts on the real stuff.

Why Christian? was not a women’s conference. But the two organizers were women. A Lutheran Pastor from Denver and a Christian Author and Blogger from Tennessee. And all 11 of the keynote speakers were women. Straight women, gay women, women of colour, young women, transgender women. And all of them pastors, authors, writers, professors and leaders in Churches throughout the United States. All of them have been and still are being told that they shouldn’t be allowed to do their work, to lead people of faith because of their gender, the colour of their skin, because of who they love, because of their age, because of their tattoos or their voices or the clothes they wear or any number of arbitrary reasons.

It makes us wonder… what would have John the disciple said to Jesus about them?

John would have objected and tattled on them too.

But here is the thing about John.

Jesus called John out of a fishing boat and John has forgotten that. Jesus called him even though the people in power, proper upstanding appropriate people would have objected to Jesus calling a lowly fisherman to be the disciple of an important rabbi, to a position of status and privilege.

Or maybe John hasn’t forgotten… and maybe that is why he is tattling on this person who is out doing Jesus’ work in the world despite not being part of the club. John is worried that Jesus might replace him. John and the other disciples had just failed at casting out demons… Jesus might be on the lookout for new and improved disciples who can get the job done.

John should know better than to tattle on the outsider, because he has been one too. John as been both an outsider and an insider. Both one who has been deemed unworthy and now one worthy of privilege.

And whatever the reason John is tattling to Jesus, whether he has forgotten where he comes from or whether he is afraid… maybe Jesus’s extreme frustration with John has less to do with the fact of John being a stumbling block and more to do with that thing inside of John, the source of that forgetfulness and fear that is keeping John from realizing just who gets to gate-keep the Kingdom of God.

Jesus is frustrated because John’s sinful self is making him forget that Jesus decides who is in and who is out. Not John, not us.

As I listened last weekend to speakers who almost certainly wouldn’t have been given the chance to speak at any other Christian Conference, it was incredible to hear these women tell their stories, and as the name of the conference, Why Christian? suggests, answer the question of Why Christian? Why continue in a religion, tradition and institution that so often seeks to silence their voices in the very name of these women follow.

It was incredible to hear these women speak because even as they all had stories where some well intentioned but misguided disciples like John had told them that they weren’t worthy of doing God’s work because of their gender, their skin colour, their sexual orientation, their impropriety… even as they all their stories of being shut down and pushed to outside by John…

They also had stories of being welcomed and brought back in by Jesus.

They told the 1000 of us who gathered in beautiful and appropriately named St. Mark’s cathedral about the ways in which Jesus continually draws them back to Christianity. How Jesus draws them in by being outraged along with them at the injustice they experience. How Jesus draws them in by declaring that they are beloved and that they belong. How Jesus draws them in through the grace and mercy filled word of God, draws them in through the cleansing water of baptism, draws them in through bread that gets faith under our fingernails in the Lord’s Supper, draws them in through the community that swirls around in the cup of wine.

They told us how Jesus continually draws them back and offers them a place in the Kingdom.

And the stories those women told about Why Christian? tell us something about us.

We are all like John.

We have all been both the ones on the inside and on the outside. We have been told we aren’t good enough to do God’s work and we have told others the same. And we have done so because of our forgetfulness and our fear.

We have done so because of our sin.

And just when Jesus is enraged by the fact that we don’t get it. Just when he seems to be annoyed to the extreme with John and us.

Jesus pulls it back together and Jesus talks about salt.

Salt that acted as currency, food preservative, and fertilizer. Ancient impure salt that had the habit of going bad and becoming useless. Salt that once it became flavourless white powder had no purpose.

No purpose but one.

To be thrown on the roads where it helped keep the roads flat and walkable.

Kind of opposite to stumbling blocks.

Even though like John, we get in the way of our brothers and sisters, even though we have a habit of making things messy and complicated. Even though our sinful selves prevent us from seeing what Jesus is up to… Jesus has a use for flavourless salt.

Jesus has a use for people on the inside who are afraid of losing their place. And Jesus has a use for people on the outside who are excluded because of their gender, their skin colour, their sexual orientation, their voices and tattoos, their lowly jobs and lack of social standing.

Jesus has a use for us.

Because we are both. We are insiders and outsiders. We are tattling on each other and the ones being tattled on. We have been the ones trying to be gate-keepers, and we have all been told we aren’t good enough.

And for Jesus… none of that matters.

Because Jesus decides who gets to be part of the club, who gets to be disciples, who gets to speak, and teach, and serve on his behalf.

And Jesus decides that his kingdom will be full of stumbling blocks AND useless salt. Jesus decides that is Kingdom will be full of people just like you and just like me.

Insiders and outsiders

All beloved by God.

Amen. 

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I have never been more proud of the CBC than I am this week

These have been emotional and heavy days in Canada.

It began in tragedy when two soldiers were killed on home soil, only to be followed by a huge domestic violence scandal involving one of the biggest media personalities in the country. Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio Q, an arts and culture program that runs each weekday, has been fired from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

As this story continues to break, with more women coming forward, with more and more accusations, with PR firms running from Jian like he is a leper, with news and opinion pieces detailing just how devastating this has been on CBC employees, with a whole community around Jian having been waiting for years for the truth to come out about him, it is becoming clearer that Jian Ghomeshi is a deeply troubled man.

As an aside, during my training to become a pastor, I took a unit of clinical pastoral education. I spent three months as a student hospital chaplain. I worked in a mental hospital and there I got a first-hand look at their forensic psychiatry unit. Part of the unit was a sex offenders program. As students, we didn’t work with this program, but we did spend time with the health professionals who did work with the program and we were allowed to interact with patients.

What I learned through these experiences is that violent sexual predilections are not really about sex. They are about power and control. They are about deep insecurities and pathologies that can only be dealt with through therapy. Jian Ghomeshi claimed that these allegations were issues of consent (although it is clear they aren’t), even though the Supreme Court of Canada has said that people cannot consent to violence. Given the testimonies of the women who are telling their stories of violence and abuse at Ghomeshi’s hands, I have no doubt that Jian needs help. Lots of help.

But even more so, his victims need help. They need our help, support and compassion.

So much of the story has been about Jian, about his downfall. But this is also another #YesAllWomen, another #GamerGate, another #BringBackOurGirls, another Ray Rice, 10 hours of New York street harassment, Male Privilege and so on. This is about more than Jian, this is about all violence towards all women.

Jian’s victims need us to stand with them. They need us to unreservedly believe them and the accounts of their experiences. They need us to condemn Jian’s acts and all forms of violence against women.

And that is exactly what the CBC did this week.

As Canada struggled through the Ottawa shooting, the CBC covered the story with dignity. They told the stories of the heroism of Kevin Vickers and the sacrifice Nathan Cirillo, more than they told the story of the shooter.

And when CBC executives discovered that Jian Ghomeshi had committed violence against women, the CBC immediately suspended him, and planned to fire him. They did so knowing he was one of their most popular personalities and hosted their flagship radio program. They stood by their actions, they risked a 55 million dollar lawsuit (although not very serious), and they have been willing to risk their brand and image (more serious). And in the days since they have condemned his actions, they have interviewed his victims objectively and reported the story about their former colleague. I couldn’t imagine any news and media corp doing the same dispassionately and objectively.

I couldn’t be more proud of Canada’s public broadcaster. I am sad that it has taken these events to demonstrate just how honourable and upstanding this iconic institution is, but it is the silver lining of these past dark days.

The CBC and its employees have shown tremendous poise and grace in an impossible situation. It is going to be long road past this, but I have full confidence that the CBC will come through it.

Full disclosure: I have been a big fan and regular listener of Q since the very first episode 8 years ago.

Last March, my wife and I attended a live taping of Q in Winnipeg. At the time is was an awesome experience, and now those memories are sullied.

But if anything has been shown in these past days, the Jian that so many Canadian listeners know and love of Q with Jian Ghomeshi, is not Jian Ghomeshi the man. The Jian we know was a carefully scripted and produced personality that took a whole team to create. The host of Q we all loved was just as much the writers, producers and other staff as it was the guy with a smooth voice who greeted us each morning at 10:07am.

If Q continues, I will continue being a fan with whomever becomes the new host. And while CBC is probably considering discontinuing the program entirely, I hope it continues. If it is cut, it will be a small victory for Jian Ghomeshi – vindication that the show couldn’t go on without him. But if it does go on, and we love it and follow it just the same without him, it will show Jian the narcissist that Q was never all about him. It will show him that his perceived power over Canadian media and his perceived power over women was never what he thought it was.

It will show him who we really stand behind and who we really loved.


What do you think of the CBC? Have they done the right thing? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

How Hobby Lobby is Biblical but not Christian

Hobby_Lobby_Supreme_Court_LGI don’t want to write about Hobby Lobby.

This is not my issue.

I am Canadian.

This Supreme Court ruling doesn’t affect my daily life. Here in Canada, healthcare is universal, and while birth control (for both men and women) isn’t always covered under the public mandate, it is usually covered under extra employment health benefits if prescribed by a doctor.

I am Lutheran.

And if anyone is wondering, the health plan that covers the pastors of my denomination does include coverage of all the birth control that Hobby Lobby wanted to be exempt from paying for. So not all Christians agree with Hobby Lobby’s religious views on birth control.

But today, I have to write something. This Hobby Lobby issue is nagging my writer’s soul.

hobbyShortly after the US Supreme Court’s decision, I tweeted some questions and comments regarding the decision. The ruling brings up so many questions, including how it is that a corporation can have a religions belief. I guess Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but not separation of church and corporation. One of my tweets resonated with a lot of people:

These questions about the personhood and religious belief of a corporation are deeply troubling, even for a Canadian like me.  Yet, more and more I am thinking about this issue affects women and how Hobby Lobby, with their “religious belief,” understands women and what they have been granted the authority to do on the basis of religious belief.

As I read through articles on the fallout of this decision, I came across a couple of great articles explaining the science of what Hobby Lobby is claiming about birth control and why it is so wrong.

(Update: If you want to read even more about abortificients, read this article)

However, as with the Creation vs. Evolution debate, the science doesn’t really matter to fundamentalists. The pseudo-science of creation and their understanding of birth control is only a means to an end. And that end is promoting a deeply flawed, yet self-serving, understanding of scripture.

Today, I am sure many people wonder, what exactly is Hobby Lobby’s issue with women. Why do Christian fundamentalists like the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Gospel Coalition and many mega church pastors make such a big deal about issues of contraception, LGBT issues and the role of women in church and home. They will claim their view is scriptural… and well it is… kind of. In fact, these groups probably don’t really understand just how scriptural their views on women are… and just how much they miss the point.

The fundamentalist Christian problem with women originates from these unlikely places in scripture:

1. The concern for the sanctity of life in much of the Bible is not necessarily for all life, but Israelite life. The book of Genesis shows that one the of the chief concerns of the descendants of Abraham was continuation of the line. It wasn’t life in general that they were concerned about, but particular life. This is why God killed both the enemies of the Israelites who fought them in battle and God killed the sons of Judah who spilled their seed on the ground. They were all “killing” the descendants of Abraham and so God judged them.

The whole book of Genesis is about how the line of Abraham hovered near extinction for generations, yet God had made the covenant of many descendants and land. The chief concern of the Israelite people was continuing the line. This was the path to immortality and legacy.

2. The ancient understanding of reproduction categorized men and women differently than now. Seeds or sperm (the same words in Greek and Hebrew) were believed to contain the entire person. So to be someone’s descendant meant you were contained entirely (in a tiny seed) in your father, grandfather, great-grandfather etc… So when people protested to Jesus that they were the children of Abraham, they meant that they had literally been inside Abraham at some point.

Women were understood to be the field. A seed was planted in the field, died and turned into fruit. If a seed didn’t grow, it was because of an inhospitable field. This is why only women are barren in scripture. Wombs and fields come from the same word in Hebrew.

3. Women were property. Many books and articles have been written about how women were property in the bible. And this is correct, but chattel or animal property wouldn’t exactly describe it entirely. Animals required some care, but women were more like land (fields where seeds were planted). Land was plowed (torn up) in order to plant seeds. When it didn’t produce it was plowed even more.

Just as farmers were concerned about neighbours planting and harvesting over property boundaries, husbands were concerned about someone else’s seeds getting planted in their wives’ wombs. There were no paternity tests, so the only way to make sure your line continued was to maintain strict control of your land/womb. This is how a deceased man’s brother could provide children to his widowed sister-in-law. Brothers carried the same seeds from their father, the woman was simply the field.

4. Adultery was not an issue of fidelity. In the same story of Judah’s sons spilling their seeds, it was natural that Judah would go to a prostitute. Men have needs. However, an adulterous woman is like damaged property. A man could never know if his kids are his if a woman cheated or if she is raped. Another man has sowed his seeds in the field. Damaged property is pretty much only good for destruction. This where the one sided laws in the Middle-East and Africa that punish rape victims come from. The punishments are a means for destroying the damaged goods of men.

Now, conservative fundamentalist Christians will not tell you that these are the biblical understandings of reproduction and gender. However, this is where these issues about birth control come from – Ancient, patriarchal and misogynist understandings of science and gender.

Despite Hobby Lobby and other conservative Christians adopting these biblical world views (however rooted in incorrect ancient science), these views are not Christian.

Jesus and early Christianity takes a very different view on women and gender.

1. In the Gospel of Mark (the earliest gospel), Jesus forbade divorce without condition (unlike in Matthew who adds the adultery clause). Jesus was not making a moral judgement, but advocating for women. Divorce was a means for men to summarily dismiss their wives, to have them stoned for adultery so they could get rid of them. Forbidding divorce empowered women. Men could not hold the threat of dismissal (which would lead to poverty or death) over their wives. Jesus himself would not have been born if Joseph had decided to have Mary stoned for adultery. Jesus was putting husbands and wives on a level plying field.

2. Jesus often talked to women, included them as disciples, and appeared to them first after the resurrection. Jesus was constantly breaking social norms to talk to women in public, thereby treating them as equals. Jesus included women as disciples, like his own mother, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Women were the first to find the empty tomb and the first to announce the resurrection. This was the most important moment of Jesus’s ministry, and he chose to entrust women (who were not trusted as reliable witnesses) to witness the event.

3. The early Church was radically egalitarian. The apostle Paul wrote that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female in the community. But not long after, the Christian community began partriarchalizing itself to fit in better with society. Other later New Testament letters advocated patriarchy, and Paul’s own writings either had additions or have been misinterpreted and mistranslated to favour patriarchy.

Jesus and the early church stood in stark contrast to the prevailing patriarchal system. You might even say that they didn’t hold biblical views on women and gender. Conservative Christians would claim Jesus and Paul weren’t biblical if the two were preaching and writing today.

Hobby Lobby fought for the corporation’s right to hold biblical views, and use those views to unfairly discriminate women. (It has been noted since that they invest in companies that make birth control and still pay for men’s contraceptive products.)

But Hobby Lobby and conservative Christians are either so woefully ignorant of why the bible views women as it does and what Christianity actually teaches about gender or are intentionally using “religious belief” to justify sexism.

I suspect there is a good dose of both happening.

RBG on Hobby Lobby - blogOn Monday, I was very glad to be Canadian. The US Supreme Court has been duped, or, more likely, is striving to maintain a patriarchal world. And that is what this is really about. It is not about being against contraceptives (the science disproves the “abortificant” argument), it is about being sexist, misogynist and patriarchal. This isn’t about being biblical, this is about the fear of a loss of power, specifically male power over women.

Even from a far, I am still deeply saddened today by the state of religious affairs in the United States. Saddened that there are Christians who believe this is about religious freedom. Saddened that corporatists, privileged white males and misogynists are using “Christianity” to promote their agenda. Because actual Christianity is completely opposed to what Hobby Lobby stands for.

I wonder how the Supreme Court would have ruled if this were about men’s contraception, or if an employer were asking an insurer to cover even more healthcare benefits because of religious conviction.


How do you feel about the Hobby Lobby decision? What was your reaction Monday? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik.

PS Twitter has been flagging my blog as spam lately. If you would like to help get it unflagged (because according to wordpress and google it is fine), file a ticket with a link to my blog here

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Lessons #YesAllWomen has taught this man

bodqhc2ciaawthw_19o506m-19o506tI am not sure I should even be writing this. I have written about women and inequality, especially as it relates to Christianity. But these past few days have felt different somehow.

Unless you have been under a rock, you will have heard of the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. It was begun in response to Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, because he was feeling unfairly rejected by women.

Even a 30 second glance at the hashtag gives insight into the issues that all women face, on a daily basis, because of misogyny and patriarchy. If you haven’t done so, go to twitter and scroll through the hashtag by clicking here.

#YesAllWomen is primarily about women speaking to their experience. Unfortunately, too many men have gotten defensive about it and have responded with #NotAllMen. Defensiveness, or worse misogynistic trolling masked as defensiveness, just doesn’t help. The men who are loudly declaring that they aren’t the ones treating women badly have missed the point. No, not all men are rapists, cat-callers, abusers, misogynist or sexist. But all women suffer because of the men who are.

safe_image.phpI have been hesitant to write, because I have been worried about co-opting, as a white male, the issue of a marginalized group and making it about me. After reading articles and many tweets, I realize that I do have something to say because misogyny is about me. No, I am not the one victimized directly by it, but I suffer along with all women AND all men because it exists.

Perhaps more importantly, #YesAllWomen has taught me several lessons in these past days, lessons that I think are worth sharing. I hope they can benefit you too:

1. #YesAllWomen has shown me that the women in my life all suffer silently from misogyny. My wife, my mother, my sister, my friends, they have all been the victims of the entitled attitudes of men and they have not told me because getting a man they care about angry at another man seems not worth the effort. Especially not worth it when there are so many misogynists out there. Just trying to move past these experiences as quickly as possible feels like the best way to survive.

2. #YesAllWomen has made it clear to me, as a new father to a son, that he is the most important person to teach about misogyny and patriarchy. It is a sad reality that we have to teach our daughters to protect themselves from men, even sadder that we don’t teach our sons not be a danger to women. Each boy that grows into a man that we teach to work fight for, and not against, the women in their lives is so important. Lets teach our sons not to abuse, oppress or feel entitled towards women, at least as much as we teach our daughters to avoid these experiences.

3. #YesAllWomen shows just how blind men are to their behaviour. The fact that #NotAllMen exists shows just how much we suck at “getting it” as a gender. As of this writing, there is no one tweeting under #OnlySomeWomen, yet there are many men defending themselves with #NotAllMen. This only shows how far we have to go to get it.

4. #YesAllWomen has taught me that people will defend their privilege in disgusting ways. As a pastor, I have seen many privileged groups try to defend their position in all kinds of circumstances. Invariably, defending one’s privileged position never has good reasons. There are never justifiable reasons as to why I should automatically get more, be more respected and have more power than others. So to defend privilege, people resort to shame, ad hominem attacks, victim blaming, playing the victim card, verbal abuse, mind games, emotional manipulation, bullying and all sorts of absurd behaviour. It is all there is to defend privilege. And men have been doing it all in response to #YesAllWomen.

5. #YesAllWomen is for women to speak and for men to hear – a reversal of roles. Most men, myself included, are not used to others having a voice more prominent and more important than ours. We are not used to being talked over, interrupted or lectured (mansplained) to. We are not used to being called out and justifiably shamed. It is role reversal for us to listen and for women to have the megaphone. And it is time to hand it over.

6. #YesAllWomen is not about men solving the problem of misogyny. It makes me so angry to hear about people treating the women in my life badly, especially other men. My instinct is to hop on my white stallion and chop some legs off with my viking battle-axe. This is not realistic, of course. But neither would it help for men to resolve all conflicts for women. This only teaches those who behave badly, that as long as man is not around, they can continue behaving badly and that women aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Again and again, as I hear about people acting badly towards women, it is best to be an example of a man that treats women equally and with respect.

7. #YesAllWomen reminds me that I cannot help but take advantage of my privilege. As a man, I can basically go anywhere at anytime of day or night and feel safe. I can call people to task for their bad behaviour and a good deal of the time they change it. I can speak without being interrupted and know that my words are taken seriously. I carry an innate sense of authority, regardless of the actual position I have in a group. I know that my voice will always be heard and heeded. I also know that none of this will likely change in my lifetime. And deep down, I know that there is room for everyone to experience the world this way. More people living in a world of respect and equality, won’t mean I have less. Yet, so many of those (men) in the privileged position want to maintain their status, and keep the privilege to a few. This is because more respect for everyone feels like less privilege for me.

8. #YesAllWomen has taught me the absurdity of gender roles. Every time some person, some article, some meme, some thing tries to say, “Men are like this, Women are like that” it contributes to patriarchy and gender inequality. We can all sense the racism when someone says, “Black people are like this, white people like that” or the religious intolerance of “Christians are like this, Muslims/Jews/Hindus/Atheists are like that” or the arrogance of “university grads are like this, high school dropouts are like that”. Yet when we hear “Men are like this, women like that” so many of us knowingly nod along and smile. Knowingly nod and smile like many in my grandparents generation would have at racist jokes! As long as there is a gender imbalance we need to recognize that saying “Men are like this, women like that” really means “This quality that Men supposedly carry is preferred, and that quality that women supposedly carry is inferior.” We all should know that characterizing people in such broad strokes reduces our beautiful diversity to broken categories

9. #YesAllWomen has taught me that understanding this issue requires empathy. The difference between sympathy and empathy is this: Sympathy is feeling what someone else feels, empathy is understanding what someone else feels. Sympathy can be helpful when someone is happy or sad, joyful or grieving. But as someone who looks more like a victimizer tries to sympathize with a victim, it is patronizing and unhelpful. Empathy is hard. Empathy requires getting away from my feelings, away from my context, away from my experience and looking out of someone else’s window. Seeing and understanding what they are feeling, what their life is like, what they are experiencing. Like I said, Empathy is hard, but men need to learn it. All of us do.

10. #YesAllWomen has taught me what my role is in supporting the empowerment of women and ending misogyny. I should have made the connection sooner, as it is my job as a preacher. As a pastor I point to God, I name what God is doing in the world. That means pointing away from myself, that means getting out of the way. As a man who is a feminist, who supports gender equality it is my role to support by pointing to women. By lifting up their voices and by getting myself out of the way.

So these are the lessons I have learned. Now I am going to get out of the way. Go read #YesAllWomen on Twitter. Find the articles by women about how misogyny and patriarchy and sexism and sexual violence and abuse affects them. Read. Think. Be changed like I have been.


How has #YesAllWomen affected you? What is your experience? Share in the comments, on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Special Thanks to my wife, Courtenay, who worked through these thoughts with me and is my brilliant editor. You can follow her on Twitter:  @ReedmanParker

 

In Defense of Men in Ministry – Guest Post by Rev. April Fiet

april-fiet-sbRev. April Fiet is my Twitter friend, a pastor and a blogger.  I appreciate her wit, her sharp insights into all things church and culture related, and her vulnerable writing style. I am honoured to have her write the first guest post for The Millennial Pastor.  As a man, I have written quite a bit about women in  ministry, so I thought a role reversal would be interesting and I suggested she write “something about men in ministry.” She came back to me with the fantastic post below. I am surprised she didn’t keep something so good for her own blog, but that is the kind of person that April is, gracious and giving.

Check out April’s blog here, there is a lot worth reading – one of my favourites is “12 Easy Steps to Shrink your Church.” I am a sucker for churchy snark. April can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook. Without further ado, April Fiet on In Defense of Men in Ministry:

Maybe it seems weird to give a defense for men in ministry, but I think it’s time to give one. Men may not always face the same challenges in ministry that women do. They may not ever be asked to give a defense for their calling when they announce they are headed to seminary. Men may never be told they cannot minister because they are men. Scripture passages might not be yanked out of context and used against men who are pursuing church ministry.

But, I still think a defense of men in ministry is needed – especially for men in ministry who support women in ministry.

Women in church leadership often face obvious obstacles.  When applying for ministry positions, many churches will toss out every application sent in by women. Women have had people get up and walk out of the services they were leading. Denominations have refused to ordain women who were obviously called and gifted. They have their reasons for doing so  (reasons I do not agree with), but even in the midst of these flagrant displays against women in church leadership, there are more subtle attacks going on – attacks that need to be spoken out against.

Women aren’t in ministry because men are doing a bad job. Throughout my theological studies, and now in my ministry, I have often encountered statements like this one: “I don’t think God prefers for women to be pastors, but when men fail so often to respond to God’s calling, God sends women instead.” The basic idea behind these kinds of statements is that men were unfaithful, so God sent someone else. Not only is it completely unflattering as a female pastor to be thought of as God’s second choice, it is also demeaning to my brothers, my faithful male colleagues who have answered God’s call to serve. Every month when I attend my pastors network meetings, I am surrounded by gifted and called men who heard the call of God and responded by giving up good jobs, homes, security and status to follow God’s lead. I don’t believe I am in ministry because men are doing a bad job. I’m in ministry because God intends for us to work together, and that means both including women, and not disparaging men in the process.

Men in ministry who advocate for women in ministry are not afraid to stand up for the truth of God’s Word. I have heard the claim made (more than once) that when a male pastor advocates for the full inclusion of women in church leadership it is because he is afraid to stand up against the culture and be labelled a sexist. The truth is, the men in ministry I know have spent countless hours studying Scripture. They have gone back to the original languages the texts were written in. They have asked the Holy Spirit for guidance. They care deeply enough about the Word of God that if they believed the Bible called for the exclusion of women from office, they would advocate for that. These men, who deeply love Scripture and hold it to be the authority over their lives, have read God’s Word and come to the conclusion that God’s calls women to leadership just as God calls men. Men in ministry who advocate for women in ministry are not weak. They are strong enough to stand up in a group of their peers and call for the circle of leadership to be opened to women, and sometimes it costs them friendships, the support of family members, and even standing in their denominations.

Men in ministry who support women in ministry aren’t “man-fails.” Male pastors who champion women in ministry aren’t doing so because they’ve “gone soft.” They may not go around bragging about their smokin’ hot wives, or flaunting their large broods of children. That’s not because they aren’t attracted to their wives (if they have one), or because they’re ashamed of the size of their families (no matter how big or small). They are secure in themselves, and don’t see the need to prove their manliness to their peers. Men in ministry who support women in ministry know that living life is all about discerning giftedness, calling, and life situations. My husband encourages me to continue serving in ministry, not because he is somehow shirking his responsibility to support me, but because he believes I am called to serve in ministry alongside him at this point in our lives together.

When I went to seminary, I was reluctant. I was afraid. I knew I was called, but as a people-pleasing introvert, I was so afraid to make waves. I found an incredible amount of support from fellow female seminary students and from female faculty, but it was the support and encouragement of male pastors and male faculty that gave me the confidence to pursue the calling God had placed on my life. Men went to bat for me in situations where doing so could cost them personally and professionally. Men encouraged me to step up to the pulpit and preach, even when I was doubting myself. The grace many male pastors exuded as they sought to welcome me and help me use my gifts for the kingdom of God buoyed me up when opposition was trying to pull me under. I am deeply grateful for the faithful men in ministry who have helped make a way for me.

It’s only right for me to defend them in return. The increasing support for women in ministry is not a response to vacancies left in ministry by men who were unwilling to follow God’s call. Men who take seriously God’s Word have studied and prayed, and come to the conclusion that God calls both men and women to lead. These men supported the full inclusion of women in church leadership before it was popular, or even acceptable for them to do so.

Not long ago, I had a conversation with someone who is an elder in his church. He told me that he had long believed that the Bible did not forbid women stepping into positions of church leadership, but that he had been afraid for cultural and anecdotal reasons. He had seen his wife struggle when criticized, and he thought it wouldn’t be fair to ask a woman to deal with that struggle when conflicts came up in the church. Years later, his church elected its first female deacon. He said that her presence on the leadership council made him realize that the church needed both women and men to serve in leadership. Something had been missing when her leadership gifts were not present at the table. And I agree with him. We need each other. Men in ministry, I’ve got your back.

So what do you think? Do men in ministry need to be defended? What challenges do men in ministry face? Share in the comments below

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On Facebook at The Millennial Pastor’s page or April Fiet’s page

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On Twitter @ParkerErik or @AprilFiet

Let’s Not Forget the Macroaggressions Against Women

The term ‘microaggression’ has been floating around the internet these days. A recent post on The Junia Project, about women in the church, defined microaggressions as “brief and often subtle everyday events that denigrate individuals because they’re members of particular groups.”

st_junia2.jpg_w540In the church, microaggressions towards women abound. They are the gender-exclusive language we use so much, like referring to a pastor of unknown gender as “he” by default, or referring to human beings as man or mankind. They are the habits we carry, like always telling little girls (or even women) how beautiful or pretty they are, but telling little boys (or even men) how strong, or smart or capable they are. They are the subtle gender stereotypes we have, like that weakness or sensitivity is girly, or strength or power is manly.

Each microaggression is small and subtle. Most go unnoticed, even by their victims. Over time, the microaggressions add up to create larger bias and prejudice within us.

Working to eliminate and catch ourselves (and others) on their microaggressions is vital and important work both in the church and in the world.

But let’s not forget all the MACROaggressions towards women that are happening in the church every day.  These macroaggressions can just as often go unchallenged, and they are harder to replace with egalitarian attitudes and behaviour.

If microaggressions are the small events that denigrate, macroaggressions are obvious and blatant. Gender macroaggressions are just as ubiquitous as the microaggressions in Christianity. Macroaggressions are found in progressive churches and they are found in conservative churches.

These macroaggressions need to be named so that we can begin to change them, and strive for gender equality. So let’s name some:

  • The macroaggression of excluding women from the clergy. Some denominations permit the ordination of women, but many still don’t. Many actively claim that scripture prevents women from having teaching authority over or preaching to men. They claim that women are unsuited for leadership in the church and should be submissive in the home and in marriage. They claim this aggression without admitting the ambiguities found in Paul’s writings, the questions of authorship, the ambiguity of the Greek to English translation, the effect of 1st century cultural baggage on the text. The macroaggression is maintained when Christian leaders ignore other biblical texts that point us to women who were leaders in the early church, and by ignoring Paul’s – Jesus’ really – theology of equality in the body of Christ.
  • The macroaggressions towards women who are clergy. For those fighting for the right to ordain women in their denomination, don’t think the fight ends when woman are allowed to be ordained. Even in “progressive” denominations, congregations will try to pay women who are clergy less (because they have husbands who work). Women who are clergy are often overlooked for positions in cities or as senior pastors. Some congregations won’t even consider female candidates for pastoral vacancies. Women who are clergy are often given less respect and challenged more often by congregation members. People will do and say things to women in ministry that they would never do or say to a male counterpart. And when it comes to creating policies that foster gender equality, denominations are behind. Church leadership has been working for years to implement sabbatical policies for pastors, but it is rare to see meaningful maternity leave policies implemented.
  • The macroaggressions towards women in congregational leadership positions. When electing council or board positions, women are often considered for secretary positions not chairperson positions. Women are expected to serve on altar guilds or Sunday School committees, but are rarely asked for property or stewardship committees. Women are expected to decorate and serve meals by default but are rarely consulted on property matters. Women are asked to plan Christmas pageants or lead bible studies for other women, but are rarely asked to preach or lead congregational wide studies. Staff are often hired by traditional gender roles. Men are preferred as pastors, but so are women preferred as office administrators (so much so that I have heard complaints about a “secretary” whose “phone voice” was too low so it sounded like a man’s).
  • The macroaggression of gender exclusive theology and scripture. Some bible translations intentionally use gendered language like brothers, when brothers and sisters should be used. Some say men, when human kind should be used. Many Christians intentionally choose to use He, Him, His as pronouns for God (so much so you might even think He is the proper noun for God). God is described with traditionally masculine attributes, both physically (old white man with white beard in the sky) and in character traits (powerful, strong, wrathful etc…).
  • The macroaggressions of bullying, sexism, and chauvinistic behaviour towards women. This might be the most significant of macroaggressions in the church. The problem is that all of the macroaggressions above not only happen, but are often condoned, even encouraged by many in the church. Like my post on bullying suggests, often times we just sit back and allow the sexist comments or jokes, we encourage women to be kind and sweet instead of standing up to those who put them down. Women are told that men can’t be expected to change, that bad behaviour is just a reality that must be accepted.

Challenging microaggressions makes a difference, they break down prejudice and bias. Yet, it is the macroaggressions that need to be ended.

There are ways to counteract these MACROaggressions. We need to eliminate the macroaggressions from our language, and insist on the pronouns for God being God, God’s, God-self, even when it causes awkward sentences in sermons. We need to describe God with male AND female characteristics  found in scripture in a balanced manner. We need to practice not assuming the gender of a pastor, a congregational chairperson (instead of chairman), or secretary, even though it is habit to assume gender.

Men need to volunteer, and suggest other men, for secretary positions on boards and committees (I have several times). Women should be considered for congregational chairpersons. I have suggested women consider and be nominated for this leadership role, not just because someone is a woman, but because a particular person is the best candidate and a woman. We need to encourage women to serve on property committees and encourage men for altar guilds and decorating committees.

We need to intentionally promote pastors who are women in congregations who have little or no experience with ordained women. Men need to suggest that congregations should consider a woman for their next pastor, when the time comes.

Eliminating the microaggressions from our speech and habits takes intentionality and effort. Eliminating and challenging macroaggressions takes purpose and conviction. It means speaking out against the obvious aggressions against women in the church and in the world. It means being open to changing theology. It means being willing to risk feelings, traditions, cultures, systems, conflict… people being mad at us. It means challenging the established systems of privilege for new systems of equality.

And it will take all of us to do it. It will take all of us – who are tired of watching the women we love being subjected to bullying, sexism, chauvinism – to not forget the macroaggressions against women.

Have you experienced MACROaggressions in the church? Have ideas to fight it? Share in the comments, or on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik.

More posts on women in ministry:

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

The Heresy of Male Domination

A Young Male Pastor’s Thoughts on Women in Ministry: What’s the problem?

10 More Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

12If you haven’t read the first post, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better, read it here.

So when my wife, Courtenay, and I came up with the first 12 reasons “why being a male pastor is better”, I did not expect my little blog to get shared so widely. Many readers submitted even more reasons in the comments. Some are funny, others are heartbreaking, others will make you shake your head, still others are infuriating. Naming them all is important, otherwise they will continue to be the way of silent privilege for men in the church. You can find all submissions for the list in the comments section of the first post, “12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better”.

Courtenay and I have come up with 10 more. The first 4 are ours. The 5 after that are our favourites compiled from the comments. Number 10 is the biggest reason of all.

1. People will never tell me “how professional” I look in a collar. In public, people are only weirded out because a pastor/priest is near by, not because my gender “doesn’t match” who traditionally wears my uniform.

2. I am never asked to be on larger church committees so that there can be a “representative man”. My role on larger church committees is never to constantly remind the group “him, he, his” are pronouns that apply to pastors too.

3, I get invited to the men’s breakfast AND the ladies’ bible study. No one thinks it is weird for me to show up at the men’s breakfast because of my gender, and it is also not weird that I lead the ladies’ bible study. Weird.

4. I can write blog posts on ‘women in ministry’ and even the nay-sayers are fairly respectful in the comments. The best part is that my thoughts about a gender, which I have no experience being and struggle to understand most days, is considered more authoritative.

From the comments on the first post. (some of have been edited or re-written to fit the style of the list)

5. My style, wardrobe or clothing are not up for public judgement. My clergy shirts by default, do not look like a woman’s blouse that I am trying to hide my maleness under. I will never get more comments about my shoes, my hair, my nails, or my makeup than comments on my sermon on any given Sunday. How I dress has never been an item for discussion by a church committee. In fact, my physical body is not the first thing used to describe me when my parishioners talk about who I am with their friends. No one tells me I have ‘nice legs’.   – Nadia Bolz Weber, Amanda Zentz-Alo, Wendy

6. No one expects me to cook or bake. I am not expected to provide cakes or cookies for the bake sale, or salad for a funeral dinner or potluck. If I do supply a dish for a church event, it is OK for me to pick up something at the store instead of making it myself. Most people don’t expect me to be a good cook just because of my gender.  – Dixie Anders, Rev Lisa Jo, Sandy

7. No one treats me like I am not well read, less intelligent or not as professional simply because of my gender. No one questions my scholarship or intellect – “Does the Bible really say that?” “Where did you read that?” – because a man would not know these things as well as other genders might. –  David Corliss

8. It is tolerated, even thought acceptable, for me to show anger. I am not prevented from being direct and passionate in the pulpit because it is unlike my gender. I can disagree with people or call out bad behaviour without being dismissed as divisive or emotional. – David Corliss

9. Most people won’t judge me publicly about my family life. My parenting skills and work/home-life balance is not publicly questioned simply because my gender is supposed to raise children. Yet, when I show openness to children, I am praised for being nurturing, not simply expected to be. I am not expected to be the Martha Stewart of the parsonage because that should come naturally to me. – Kathleen Lambert

And finally, the biggest reason why being a male pastor is better:

10. No one will ever tell me that, because of my gender, God will not call me into ordained/pastoral ministry. I am not excluded from any role in the church, simply because a biological coin toss gave me certain plumbing. I will never be told that my gender is the cause of all sin and therefore I can’t even teach the other. My gender doesn’t relegate me to “silence” in church or “submission” in the home. I will never be told that the Bible “clearly” explains (when it doesn’t) that I can’t be a pastor simply because it “says so”.

This, of course, is the ultimate in male privilege in the church. And this last one is the most aggravating for me. For liberal and progressive Christians, this is one of the ‘big elephants’ in the church. Except that, I see myself as liberal, progressive AND orthodox AND apostolic AND in keeping with the tradition of the church. Because radical equality is the theology of Jesus and Paul. Patriarchy is 1st century cultural baggage…  baggage that men still force women to carry 20 centuries later. For church leaders who claim that the bible prevents women from being pastors – it is a convenient way to exercise control and conserve power.

But institutionalized patriarchy is not faithful to the over-arching theology of the New Testament. It is not faithful to the way Christians have understood how we interpret scripture as a community and with our greatest theologians including Thecla, St. Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, and now Pope Francis. It is not faithful to the witness of Sarah, Miriam, Esther, Ruth, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Junia, Phoebe and all the others who preached the good news.

For those who want to keep women out of the pulpit, it isn’t about being faithful – it is about the fact that being a male pastor is “better”.

For more on women in ministry check out – 12 Years a Slave – Why Women should be Equal in the Church

So what do you think? What points still could be added to the list? Share in the comments!