Tag Archives: women’s ordination

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?

Advertisements

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!

12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better

priestA few days ago I wrote about the issue of women in ministry. While I don’t think I have ever hidden my views on the topic (I married a female colleague, after all), I also have never written about it on the various blogs I have maintained over the last few years. And maybe recently, I didn’t see it as my place to comment on women in ministry. I am still not sure… I don’t see it as my place to comment on anyone’s “right” or “place” to be a pastor. If anything, I think it is my place to talk about my experience of being a Lutheran pastor or a millennial pastor or a Canadian pastor. It is also to my place to talk about being a male pastor.

So let’s talk about that.

Being a male pastor is kind of like Louis C.K.’s description of “Being White”. (Warning: The video contains offensive language).

Like Louis C.K. says, male pastors aren’t better. But being a male pastor is clearly better.

Like all the advantages of being white and male in North America, there are advantages when it comes to being an ordained pastor. Here are some of the obvious ones:

  1. No one ever defines my ministry by my gender. No one says, “wow a male pastor or a man in ministry, good for you.” I always get to be just a pastor. I don’t have to constantly live with a qualifier in front of “pastor”, and I am not forced to bear someone’s inappropriate shock that I am my gender and I am a pastor.
  2. People expect me to be direct and tell them what I think. They want me to lead them somewhere. I am rarely challenged or expected to defend or make a case for my ideas. I don’t have to apologize for having strong opinions or constantly defend my ideas.
  3. People think twice about fighting with me. I always have a leg up in conflict, bullies find it harder to push my buttons because I have fewer to push. I am never automatically second class because of my gender, so conflict is on equal terms or tipped in my favour. I don’t have to suffer being called “boy” or “son” as way of dismissing my point of view, and I am not accused of being divisive if I disagree with something or anything.
  4. People are used to pastors of my gender. There are no congregations that are unsure of male candidates for ministry, no parishioners who think it is alright to say something like, “I will never be buried by a man.” I don’t have to endure questions about whether I will take paternity leave, or what will happen when I have kids.
  5. People almost never assume that I have a particular gift for ministry before they know me. They don’t automatically think that my gender is suited to particular areas of ministry like preaching or administration. No one assumes that I am not good at pastoral care or being nurturing. People don’t say that I have the gift of speaking with a voice that men can relate to.
  6. I don’t have to worry about my safety. I don’t think twice about being alone in the church or if I am safe on my own. If a man asks to meet with me one on one, I don’t have to question my physical safety or his motives. Men don’t try to share the peace with me by hugging me (or grabbing my ass).
  7. No one assumes that I am the church secretary or the pastor’s spouse. I am never told, “You don’t look like a pastor or you are took young to be a pastor” even thought I am built like a football player and at times have had long hair and a beard like a hell’s angel. And I have a tattoo. And I am 30 (two decades younger than the average age of pastors in our denomination).
  8. Churches are built for men. Pulpits, altars, pastor chairs, vestments are all designed my size and body type in mind. I don’t look ridiculous because the standard garb of my profession is made for my gender, and I don’t look like a cross dresser in a clergy shirt.
  9. All the pronouns are for my gender. God is a he. Jesus is a he. Pastors are almost always referred to as he or him or his. I don’t have to correct people because they never use the wrong pronoun to refer to me.
  10. Being male is the norm in the church. I didn’t have to take classes in seminary about men’s issues, there is no post-modern male theology, male pastors where never brought in to speak about being male pastors as if it was special or odd or a novelty.
  11. I could join the Old Boys Club if I wanted to. Leadership in the church is still overwhelmingly male, and there are no glass ceilings for male pastors in the church. No one pretends it is, “all in good fun” to make sexist jokes about my gender, and none of my colleagues treats me like I am second class because of my gender.
  12. I don’t have to walk on egg shells in ecumenical situations. I don’t have to justify my position and call to my conservative colleagues, because they all have male pastors in their denominations. I am not an oddity or the token male at ministerial events.

All the advantages of being a male pastor are only advantages because women suffer the opposite. So many of my colleagues have to contend with these annoyances, insults, and frustrations each day because they are the reality of life in the church. This fact makes me very angry. I pray for the day when these will not be male-pastor advantages, but the reality for all pastors, regardless of gender.

*** Special thanks to my wife, Courtenay, for helping me write this post, since she knows much more about the struggles women in ministry face than I do. You can follow her on twitter @ReedmanParker ***

Read a Christmas Post here:

I am at War with Christmas

See some more posts:

Putting My Jesus Feminism to the Test

10 More Reasons Why Male Pastors are Better,

So what do you think? Are these true? Are there more advantages to being a male pastor? Share in the comments.

Follow me on Twitter: @ParkerErik

A young male pastor’s thoughts on women in ministry: What is the problem?

WomenPreach2So in my routine, daily internet rounds, I am often on the lookout for articles, blog posts or news stories on the church, ministry, millennials, leadership, social justice, theology, Jesus… basically anything faith related. And lately, I have come across blog posts by women about the role of women in the church. Quite a few blog posts, in fact. This comes on the heals of a book written and published, recently, by my fellow Lutheran pastor and colleague, Nadia Bolz-Weber called: “Pastrix”… a pejorative term for a female pastor. Apparently some Christians don’t like the idea of women being pastors, or preaching in church, or teaching boys over the age of 12 or really doing much else than serving the potlucks. How 1750 of them.

All I can say is… What the hell? Did I miss something?

The idea of “Complementarianism” has come up over and over. As far as I can tell, this is basically a nice word for, institutionalized and indoctrinated, patriarchy. Here are some excellent articles on the topic (written by three women who would be fantastic pastors in orthodox and mainline denominations):

Now, I understand the history of patriarchy. I understand the biblical argument for the “submission” of women (a tenuous argument at best). I have studied the scholarship, the greek and the history of the Bible and Church – a couple of theology degrees worth.  And ultimately, the evidence shows that patriarchy is contextual, cultural baggage. It is not Christ’s design for the church. It is sad that it has taken centuries to figure this out.

Women in ministry my whole life

When I started my Bachelor’s History and Theology degree in 2001 and my seminary MDiv in 2005, I knew that Rome didn’t ordain woman. And I knew those other Lutherans called the Missouri Synod didn’t either. And I knew that some other brands of Christians, called Evangelicals, ordained women and some didn’t.

But my kind of Lutheran had been ordaining women since before I was born. We elected women bishops more than decade ago. One of my friends growing up was confirmed by his Anglican Bishop – a woman. I met United Church of Canada women who were pastors. My Roman Catholic theology professors felt that the ordination of women was on its way to Rome… but it might take a few decades – which is fast for Rome. There were even some wacky Baptist and Pentecostal kids in high school who had women as pastors. For my whole life, as far as I could tell, women in ministry was a completely normal and unquestioned  part of being a Christian. This made complete sense to me.

Not to mention that my grandfather was a pastor, and my great-uncle the Evangelical Lutheran Church Canada president (read: National Bishop) for 15 years starting in 1970. They were the ones that introduced women’s ordination. To me this was hearing about TV or airplanes being first introduced. This was history… not an issue for debate.

Wow. Was I wrong.

For some reason we still have problems with women’s ordination

I remember sitting in a seminary class, where 3 seasoned female pastors were invited to tell us about their experience in ministry. They told us about parishioners struggling with the idea of a woman being their pastor. They talked about condescending comments, bad behaviour, and people having trouble with change.

Hearing their stories made me so mad. I wanted to go back to their churches with them and take these offending parishioners out behind the church to let them know what I really thought of their behaviour. I knew it was of course not a real solution, but it is what I felt. So if people (usually older) having trouble adjusting women pastors was the worst of it… I could begrudgingly accept, and work to change, this reality.

Now, nearly 5 years into ministry, I am now married to a seminary classmate – also a pastor. Whenever I hear about her parishioners treating her with any less than the respect and deference that I can unthinkingly expect as a male, it makes me insane. In fact, when I hear stories I have to work hard to keep myself from wanting to intervene with a few choice words for her badly behaving church members. I know this isn’t the solution. I know that she has to fight her own battles.

But I also know that as a male pastor I have to hold my congregation, my colleagues and all Christians to a higher standard of theology, ecclesiology, biblical scholarship and basic human decency. I, also, have to expect the same from my male pastoral colleagues.

A responsible view of women in ministry

Sarah Bessey, who I mentioned above, has a crowd-sourced project called #Jesusfeminist. She invites people to come out as Jesus feminists. Well, I will certainly come out as Jesus Feminist. And I think it is a noble attempt to claim space for women in ministry. I laud theses evangelical women who are making the case that there is room for women to take on leadership roles in their churches, especially pastoral roles.

But I don’t think making space, for women in the church, is enough. That position implies the old patriarchal model is acceptable.

Well, I disagree.

So I am pulling a Stephen Colbert and putting a few people on notice.

If you are Christian and you think the bible says women can’t be pastors, you have been mislead.

If you are a pastor and you are telling women to go back to abusive husbands, you should resign your call.

If you are a husband and you use the bible to keep your wife in line or to make her obey you, you are a sad man.

If you are a teacher of matters of the church or theology, and you take the “complementarian” view, you are not reading the bible seriously. You are not reading Paul right, you don’t really know what the New Testament is about and you are not listening to Jesus.

And guess what… I didn’t miss anything.

So what do you think of women in ministry? Am I taking too harsh a stand? Share in the comments.