I was at a party recently. It was definitely a D.C. party–lots of business card flying around. The pastor in me comes out at these things. I can’t help but look around the room for the most distressed person. Then I talk to them. You know, it’s a habit that I’ve picked up from church coffee hour. I work the room, looking for the people who are near-panicked and not speaking to anyone.
I introduce myself to a woman, who isn’t anxious, but she is sitting alone on a bench. She’s lovely. When she finds out that I’m a pastor, I hear the same line that is repeated 90% of the time after people hear what I do:
“Oh. I used to be Presbyterian.”
“Well, it’s never too late to come back,” I respond with a nervous laugh, as I always do.
She thanks me for all of the amazing things that the Presbyterian Church did when her mother was ill. I’m grateful too. This conversation doesn’t always go so well, but since some elders in New Jersey are working very hard, I got to hear all good things.
She works for a consumer advocacy group, and something she says strikes me:
“The people I work with are amazing, they can look at any advertisement and tell you how you are being screwed.”
I laugh. Heartily. Until I realize that she hasn’t cracked a smile. Then I take a quick drink of wine to try to hide behind my plastic cup.
There are many people in our congregation who work with advocacy issues. Our church often takes up causes. And, in all of it, there’s an art to pointing out the truth in a situation while empowering the person who’s suffering.
But if we constantly highlight all of the ways in which we’re the victims, then it’s hard to gain any upper-hand in the situation. How can we become empowered if we constantly think of ourselves as vulnerable? I am the first to say that our consumer culture is putting incredible demands on us, but–for heaven’s sake–are we (as grown adults) really victimized by magazine ads?
I guess I just don’t like the role of victim much. It reminds me of the times when I was starting out, in my twenties as a solo pastor. Whenever I would have a problem in my congregation, I often heard, “Oh it’s because you’re a young woman.” Which might have been true, but it made me frustrated to hear it, because, there really wasn’t anything that I could do about that fact.
I could get better at management skills, at understanding corporate dynamics, and at knowing when I was projecting my personal issues onto a congregation, but I could not do one thing about the fact that I was a woman. And it made me feel like a victim, because of what I looked like, because of who I was.
I felt this for a while, but somewhere along the line, I quit stepping in this role so readily. I, of course, want to advocate for clergywomen’s pay and positions in larger churches. I don’t shy away from the honest facts of how women, people of color, singles, and people with differing sexual orientations are discriminated against as pastors. There is undeniable abuse going on, at times. But I just can’t go through my life and profession expecting to be treated poorly because I’m a woman.
So I don’t expect it any longer. As a result, a couple of things have happened. Little by little, this has helped me to leave situations in which I am being treated badly. And somehow, people rarely treat me poorly any more.
photo’s by ttwice