Personal reflection uncovers ‘benevolent’ sexism

Editor’s Note: Lisa Rothman is a new blogger for GCSRW whose series will reflect upon experiences of sexism in her personal life and in the church. This first entry explores a personal experience with benevolent sexism and the ways even this can unintentionally buy into traditional gender expectations and relationships. As you read and share with others, consider these discussion questions (and share your thoughts in the comments).

  • When have you had different expectations for a person because of their gender, age or race?
  • Can you think of a time when you noticed another person expected less (or more) of you because of your gender? How did you react?
  • What steps or books would you recommend to help someone move past gender expectations of themselves and others?

By Lisa Rothman

Recently my congregation received a new pastor who happens to be a woman. Before the transition, I did not expect her gender to have any major impact on me. I have experienced an equal mix of male and female pastors, so a women pastor was nothing out of the ordinary, but a friend challenged me to notice if our new pastor’s gender changed how others related to her. In making an effort to pay attention to how others responded, I realized I was responding differently myself.

I amRothman very protective of all my pastors. I often try to make sure that my pastor has time for self-care in a role which often expands to be a 24/7 job. After some self-evaluation, I realized that how I acted out this protectiveness changed depending on the gender of the pastor. The best way for me to describe this is in an analogy of students on a playground. For my male pastors, my view was let them run, and climb, and jump as much as they want and when they get the normal bump or bruise that students get on the playground, I would find a Band-Aid and then send them out again. For my female pastors I wanted to wrap them up in bubble wrap and follow them around as a body guard and make sure that nothing that might hurt them would be able to get close. I would protect them from stones and dirt as well as mean kids on the playground. Nothing would reach her without my permission.

But these two types of protection are very different. In trying to protect my female pastor from anything, anyone, and any situation, which might “bump or bruise” her, I was removing her agency and her voice from and control over her own experience. My protection (if I could ever have been successful) would have kept her safe on a shelf, but that is not where ministry happens. Ministry happens out on the playground. Empowerment and growth also do not happen on a shelf. Empowerment and growth as clergy persons is critical to the vitality of our congregations. It appeared to me that I was looking out for her, but in reality I was conveying that her wisdom and her experience somehow did not count and that she could not be trusted to have the self-awareness to identify when she might need help. I was protecting her using the dreaded idea of “for her own good.”

My self-evaluation has challenged me. While I want to be supportive and let my pastors know that there is always someone there if she get a bump or bruise or just needs to talk, I also have been working hard to provide the support she feels she needs and not the support I think she should need. It comes down to listening more and “knowing” less. I need to let her out on the playground and play and learn and improvise. It is only on the playground where she will be able to live out her call, flying into the sky, to touch the hearts of others.

 

Lisa Rothman has experienced the complexities of a journey of faith and seeks to better understand where her journey fits in the intersections of her life, her community, and the wider world.  Lisa is a member of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Chicago, where she serves as a committee chair and community activities instigator.

Does feminism have a role in Christian ministry?

By Pat Trask, GCSRW seminary intern

I admit it—the waves of feminism have washed by me over the years. I was the only daughter in my family, and I grew up in a male-dominated community. From my family, I knew the world was open to me, even as a young woman. As a tomboy, I never understood the need for women’s studies courses or the reason for bra burning, because neither my family nor my community expressed these beliefs. Nevertheless, as an adult, I refuse to believe feminists are “man-hating”, “whiny” or necessarily “liberal.” (These epithets, as well as others, are specifically mentioned at Who Needs Feminism? To admit to being a feminist submits a person to these and other epithets with the person sitting in judgment not even knowing anything else about you. I have seen and experienced first-hand animosity toward women who assert themselves, so I understand how it sounds and feels. However, I do not understand how people claiming to follow Christ can express such opposition to anyone who professes to be a feminist or who acts in such a way that they might be considered a feminist.

As a baseline, I offer this definition of feminism from a Google search: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” In her recent article, “So you want to be a feminist, huh?” Niki Fritz writes this for the Redeye:

“Feminism, at its nitty-gritty core, is a two-parter. First, feminism is the idea that men and women should be equal in the work force, at home, in society, on all of the levels…The second, more vital and often contentious part of feminism is the understanding that men and women currently are not treated equally.” (redeyechicago.com, September 10, 2014)

 As people of faith, refer to Galatians 3:26-29, in which Paul admonishes the church at Galatia, among other things, that:

 “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.”

 In the light of the Scripture, then, feminism is one method by which people, as part of their theology and ministry, attempt to bring about the promise that women’s rights are equal to those of men. To raise up the need for women to assert those rights is not a hateful act any more than choosing to eat Chinese food for dinner expresses a hatred of Italian food. To stand up for the rights of a woman, not because she is a woman but because the system historically has not beheld her equally, is not much different from saying all people should be able to breathe clean air or drink clean water. People are often perceived as “whiny” by others who have not heard clear, articulated, calm, quiet requests that have been repeatedly shared for so long, and now the speaker must adopt a different voice in order to be heard at all. Women’s voices have been silenced systemically, publicly and privately, by friend and foe alike for so long that their voices need to be lifted, at times, by others. This will help all of us claim our voices, not silence men in favor of women.

The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women steps into the role of voice-lifter quite naturally. The Commission does not take a position on men and it is not angry. Our society benefits when all persons are valued. God, who loves us all, calls us all toward a promise of equality, socially, politically, and daily. Listen now to the voices and behold a world of hurt and anguish, or wait until the pain is so great that a louder voice must be used. Women all over the world want to be heard. They want to be treated fairly. This is a desire of all people. To profess to be a feminist or to live a life concurrent with the beliefs of feminism is to live a life as identified in the Scripture. I think that is something worth buying into, don’t you?

pat trask for web

Pat Trask, a former attorney, is a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.

Disarming the Harm

By Pat Trask, GCSRW intern

pat trask for web

Trask

My internship at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women comes amid a series of major transitions in my life, including my relinquishing a career in law to attend Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the deaths of both parents in the last year and a half, and moving from a rural home in another state to an urban apartment. One of my first assignments at the Commission was to read a few particular magazines and books in order to get a feel for the work of the agency. One article, from the September 2014 issue of response, the publication of the United Methodist Women, caught my eye.

The article is “Rebuilding Liberia: Women Continue to Lead Struggle Against Violence and Poverty in Liberia.” What does Liberia have to do with Chicago or Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary or life transition? There was a coup in Liberia in 1980 that resulted in the country being immersed in war for well over two decades. The country continues to deal with the aftermath of war: financial and emotional poverty, physical wounds of people and property, and the lingering resentments that follow any travesty of unequal control imposed on a minority.

We in America have not experienced open war on our own soil for quite some time. However, some members of our communities suffer the results of inequality of control to this day. Some might read this to mean racial inequality, fiscal inequality, gender inequality, or any other type of inequality. At the Commission, the focus is on women. Even with the best efforts of The United Methodist Church, of which 58 percent of the membership is women, opportunities for women in church leadership continue to lag the opportunities afforded to men.

I’ll leave it to you to search the Commission’s website for more information on that topic. However, I would point out that, in relation to the story about Liberia, we face a similar opportunity for growth. The United Nations has been active in Liberia to help restore the country. This has included a process of disarmament. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, as stated on its website, is active within The United Methodist Church to advocate for the “full inclusion of women at all levels of church life.” This involves challenging the church to “address institutional sexism and sexual harassment/misconduct.”

The process, for both the United Nations and the Commission, involves confronting behaviors and language that is sometimes deeply ingrained. I have heard it said that, “if you want to learn about the culture of a fish, don’t ask the fish.” We are often unaware of the culture in which we spend our time.

Similarly, one aspect of the work needed to effect change on the issue of gender inequality within the church is to follow the advice of one of the individuals identified in the article. Mr. Kinkolenge went to Liberia to supervise a rural school, but his efforts were impeded by the fighting in the country, and he spent some time in the capital, Monrovia. His comments on disarmament are instructive. He said,

“We haven’t truly ended war until we’ve disarmed the minds of the people who fought it. You can give children weapons, but if their mind is disarmed they won’t use those weapons. So even though they’ve today put down the machetes and assault rifles, their mind still has to be disarmed. Otherwise their thoughts become words, their words become actions, and their actions become a habit. They will solve every daily problem with violence. And the war will never really end.”

When we talk about the status and role of women, within the Church and outside the Church, we are faced with a similar opportunity as the people in Liberia face. In order to get to a place where we can realize gender equality, we will need to disarm the minds of the people who have created the inequalities, profited from the inequalities, been harmed by the inequalities, and who are blind to the inequalities. Perhaps then we can hear the dreams of all people and move toward the life offered by Christ.

Pat Trask, a second-year student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, is the seminary intern for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

Listening to stories, learning, and holding them sacred

By Becky Posey WIlliams, GCSRW Senior Director of Advocacy and Sexual Ethics

“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”     –St. Iraneus, 2nd Century

“Wisdom begins in wonder.”     –Socrates

Becky Posey Williams

Becky Posey Williams

These two quotes have appeared several times during this past six months as I have found myself in major transition from my home and career of 32 years to the position of Senior Director of Advocacy and Sexual Ethics for The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women in Chicago. My vocation has provided me the opportunity to do what I love, including listening to stories. I am a passionately curious person and enjoy wondering why things work the way they do. If my curiosity is to have meaning in my life, I must practice awareness and show up fully to give intentional, quality attention in listening. In Mark Nepo’s book, “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen” he describes the gift and art of listening as “the doorway to everything that matters.” I hold one’s stories as sacred. I learn from them. I am reminded of Jesus’ use of parables to teach. Stories invite us in and have the ability to reveal much of who we are to ourselves.

The work of GCSRW in the ministry of advocacy and sexual ethics is crucial to the life of the church. It is a huge step toward the commitment to “do no harm.” My desire is that we do this work together and hold response/healing/prevention and accountability in a healthy tension with no antagonist. I believe this work must always invite us to do what is just and right with compassion and dignity toward humanity. It is movement forward morally and spiritually. It can be done well when we listen to one another. It is a powerful opportunity to be in connection as United Methodists.

I am very excited and humbled to get to be here. I want to listen to your stories and hear from victims, bishops, cabinet members, annual conference staff, clergy, church staff, laity, and general agencies. If we know the concerns, they can be better addressed. I look forward to meeting you and working with you as our paths cross.

Remembering the unnamed women who inspired and encouraged

By Rev. Melissa Meyers

I am a woman in ministry.  That should not be such an earth-shattering statement.  For most of my life, it wasn’t.  See, I grew up always knowing that women could be pastors.  From as far back as I can remember, there had always been a women clergyperson in my life or leading my church.  It wasn’t until I was in college when I encountered for the first time the sentiment that, “women can’t be pastors…” and it wasn’t until seminary that I realized just how unusual it was among my classmates that I had always had a woman pastor.  For me, that was just normal life.

As I was cataloging the women who have made an impact on me, my faith journey, and my journey towards ordination, I was struck by how many women were included…And I was also surprised at how many whose names I had forgotten.  It was kind of like the “unnamed women” throughout scripture… These were women who showed me what it meant to be in ministry, but for the life of me, I can’t remember their names and part of me wonders if I ever knew them in the first place.

I am grateful for the women whose names I can remember and those that I still communicate with regularly.  I probably still need to send out a few thank you notes or messages to some to thank them for just how much they impacted me and my life… And as grateful as I am to them (which I seriously am),  I can’t get my mind off the unnamed women.  So, this is a post in thanks for all of those whose names have been forgotten or have never even been known.

I’ve often been frustrated by the times that a woman appears in scripture and is not given a name.  Maybe it’s my own need at times to feel recognition…I think for most people at some point in our lives, we want to be recognized for something, whether it’s something that we’ve done or are doing or just being recognized for existing!  I’ll admit that some days I need it more than others and there are times when I’m surprised at what I need recognition for (and often times when I really think about it, it’s almost always something else and  not the need that I get recognized for throwing my aluminum cans in the recycling bin rather than the garbage…).  Especially when I read some of the things that these women in scripture have done, I want to just scream, “WHY DON’T YOU KNOW THEIR NAMES!?!?”  I get it…it’s a different time….different place…different culture… But that still doesn’t stop me from wanting recognition for them.

So, when I started to think about these unnamed women in my own life, I started to feel a little bit frustrated with myself… Why can’t I remember the name of the first woman I heard preach?  (Granted, I was basically in kindergarten…but still!)… Why can’t I remember the name of the woman who led a small group when I was in high school?  Why didn’t I ask the name of the first woman who I saw wearing a clergy collar?  Why don’t I remember the name of the woman who let a college student teach Sunday school whenever I was able to drop in?

I don’t know why I can’t remember their names…And I don’t know why I never thought to ask them their names…But I know that they impacted my life more than I might even know.  As much as some days I just need recognition, I hope that someday I might be someone else’s unnamed woman: That something I said or did helped to affirm them in some way, shape, or form.  To all of the unnamed women, thank you.  You have been recognized.

 

melissameyerRev. Melissa Meyers serves as the lead pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Genoa, IL.  She earned her Associates in Arts Degree from Rock Valley Community College, BA in Religious Studies & Communication from the University of Dubuque (Dubuque, IA) and Masters of Divinity from United Theological Seminary (Dayton, OH). Melissa is passionate about ministry in the 21st century, connecting generations together, and pop culture.  It is her not-so-secret desire to have her own reality show someday.  You can find her blogging at pastormelissa.blogspot.com or on twitter @pastormelissa.

Enjoying renewal and rejuvenation at UM Clergywomen’s gathering

By Rev. Diane Kenaston, GCSRW board member

As I dashed through the airport, I was already tired. Why had I agreed to attend a three-day conference hundreds of miles away a mere six weeks before I moved? My calendar had looked so wonderfully open when I agreed to represent GCSRW at the 2014 UM Clergywomen Leadership Seminar. Then it was Holy Week and Easter and appointment season, and I found myself running around with my checklist, trying to get everything in place for a few days away. At the last minute, I threw a swimsuit and gym clothes into my suitcase. I hadn’t worked out in weeks—too busy to exercise—but maybe we’d get an afternoon off.

Diane Kenaston

Diane Kenaston

I was nervous about going to a conference where I only knew one other person. She wasn’t arriving until midnight the first day, so I’d have to do that awkward dance of “where do I sit—do these people look friendly?” as we gathered.

Fortunately, folks were friendly. I began to make connections with new people. I met people from the city, conference, and jurisdiction where I’m moving. And it turned out I did know two or three people—the Connection is smaller than I thought! There were women from seminary, and there were leaders in the United Methodist Church who I had seen from afar or read on their blogs (UM geek-out moment!). A colleague from seminary and I raced across the room to say hi. One young clergywoman gave the devotion the closing morning. An ad hoc group that had met for dinner the night before held up signs to cheer her on. None of us had known each other before that week.

We spent time playing in the waves at the beach. We shared stories of strength and courage. We gave comfort where it was needed. We went to a sushi restaurant for dinner. And when this intergenerational “free time” was over at 10 p.m., one woman gave the highest compliment she could: “For my introverted self, it’s been 7 hours with ‘strangers’ and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

The clergywomen’s gathering moved us from being strangers to colleagues to friends. We facilitated deep conversations in the short time we were together. As one of the two GCSRW representatives, I heard stories in the listening session that highlighted the joys, challenges, and opportunities of being women in ministry. We asked the women who gathered over lunch to write messages for GCSRW on 3×5 cards, and we got 100+ cards back, some in very tiny print, front-and-back, with ideas, suggestions, and encouragement.

Later that evening, we held a health forum. The diverse leaders encouraged us to create intentional physical, emotional, and spiritual health plans. I sat there and thought of how tired I had been before coming. When I’m the most stressed, I am the least likely to exercise and the most likely to pick up a fast food smoothie (it has fruit, right?!) instead of sitting down for dinner. And the less I exercise and eat well, the worse I sleep. The worse I sleep, the less productive I get, and the more I bury myself in my to-do list rather than eating, sleeping, exercising, and socializing my way back to full health.

After the evening health session, I took the elevator up six floors to my room. I took off my high heels. I put on a T-shirt, shorts, and running shoes. I walked down to the ground-floor fitness center and found an entire roomful of clergywomen. All of the treadmills, ellipticals, and bicycles were taken by women who were talking, giggling, and sweating. I joined another woman in doing sit-ups while we waited for our turn. A few men came in and promptly turned back around. When a treadmill opened up, I got on and jogged for 30 minutes. I drank water and gave thanks to God for this time of renewal and rejuvenation. Then I returned to the sixth floor—taking the steps up two at a time.

Click here for more news from the convention by Susan Green of the Florida Conference Connection.