Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shepastor: "At the Expense of Our Daughters..."

Acts 2:17-18
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

"At the Expense of Our Daughters..."
This year, the Academy Awards honored the movie, Twelve Years a Slave as the film of the year. The movie depicted the real life, tragic experiences of an African American freedman named Solomon Northup. The extraordinary actor who brilliantly played the role of Solomon was Chiwetel Ejiofor. Few people, however, can pronounce or even remember his name. That night and continued days after, the spotlight was and remains upon the beautiful African actress, Lupita Nyong’o who played, “Patsey.”

Articulate, stunning and moving, she gave her acceptance speech as one of few women of color to receive an Academy Award. We shouted, celebrated, rejoiced at this milestone reached for women in general and women of color in particular. The night, however, was filled with mixed emotions. As the camera panned the audience, it momentarily focused upon the movie’s main actor/character, Chiwetel…eyes filled with tears…possibly because his heart was filled with joy and pride over the success of the film. But possibly, because it was as if he was invisible at that moment – the spotlight upon Lupita. This man who worked so hard, gave so much of himself, “acted his heart out” was passed over by the Academy…again, few even knowing or remembering his name.

People of color often live with this tension…our men being passed over again and again, our women getting a few opportunities to rise and shine. This reality has been the cause of great angst in the African American community.

The one entity that has given an answer for this strange kind of oppression is the church. The African American church, historically, has been the one place where our boys and our men are given the opportunity to rise to high levels of authority, be greatly respected and even revered…a place where their manhood is pumped, praised and presented…a place where pastors and bishops, deacons and elders can stand upon the platform, speak God’s Word, rally our communities, confront city hall and fill the void found in the hearts of so many women. Frequently, sadly, this affirmation happens at the expense of our women and girls.

Women in these settings, called by God to preach and pastor are often rejected, resented and rebuked. Although slowly changing, (more and more African American churches are accepting women preachers as “associates”) precious few are willing to call a woman to pastor. Frequently, the lay women deeply resent clergywomen who appear to them to be “usurping” the men’s authority. The complexities of racism, sexism and chauvinism all interlock to maintain “glass ceilings” for women in ministry.

I was reminded of this fact this week as I attended a local clergy group meeting. As we discussed the annual “Seven Last Words of Jesus” service that happens in many African American communities on Good Friday, the convener of this year’s gathering presented the preachers for the event. Last year, I was privileged to be one of the first (if not the first) female to preach during this group’s service. It was quite an honor. I was hopeful that another woman would have the chance to be at least one of the seven again this year.

As the program was discussed, it was apparent that no woman would be invited to preach this year. The pastor leading the event shared that one of the “young men” was unable to come so they had to find someone to fill his spot. When I respectfully asked if since a spot had opened up if a woman could be added to the roster, I was unprepared for the hostile response… “In all due respect, I don’t have to prove my stance on inclusivity! I have several women on my church staff…my wife is the co-pastor of my church…I did invite a young woman to come, but she is going out of town. I don’t know any other young woman that I could invite!”

(So interesting that he didn’t think to invite one of his staff clergywomen!) Again, respectfully, I responded, “Dr., there is an entire network of clergywomen in our community and I would be glad to provide to you their names…” He retorted, “I don’t know anything about that network! We are not trying to have you all who are pretending to be young…anybody 40-50 or 60 is not young! We are trying to get some young people! This year we are show casing our young men! I don’t have to prove anything about inclusivity!”

Unfortunately, he went on to attempt to “put me in my place,” after I dared (to quote Theodore Roosevelt) to “step into the arena.” His hostile words stung. A few of the men said, “AMEN!” Most, however, remained quiet. His behavior was a bit surprising. Call me a “sucker for punishment,” but after the meeting, I decided to go directly over to him to see if we could have a reasonable conversation…maybe he was having a bad day! Sadly, his conversation remained the same.

As I attempted to speak with him about the need for our clergy group to consistently show support for women in ministry, he continued to cut me off, speak over me and inform me that “this is not his issue.” “If women are not getting opportunities where they are, they should leave and go elsewhere. I have always supported women in ministry. I’ve always been inclusive. But it is not my job to try and make people who don’t accept women to accept them. That’s just not my issue. It is not in my heart!”

I said to him that we all have issues and we need to learn to be sensitive to each other’s issues. I reminded him that if he was having difficulty identifying a “young woman” to preach, it is because many of the women don’t get the opportunity to be licensed and or ordained until they are in their 40’s and 50’s. I also reminded him of the similarities between sexism and racism…the dominant culture not seeing the struggles of minorities as “their issue.” What if that mentality had persisted? We would still be sitting on the back of the bus and drinking from “colored” fountains! Thank God, others linked arms with us and saw our pain and struggle as a global issue instead of a singular situation!

Today reminded me that we frequently lift our men at the expense of our women. Today reminded me of the wounds caused by oppression and how the church has sought to bind those wounds by replicating that which they claim to despise. Today reminded me that even though great progress has been made, we still have miles to go before we sleep. Today reminded me that we must continue to beat the drum, stand upon the watch tower, stand in the gap, and refuse to embody the ways of any oppressor. We must lift, love, build up, strengthen and encourage our men AND our women! We must empower both, not one at the expense of the other.

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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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