I was at a Presbytery meeting in South Louisiana, and a woman got up to the microphone. I shifted in my seat. I knew what she was going to say, because she always said it. She was going to bring up the fact that there was not enough diversity in our leadership. I have to admit. I rolled my eyes and thought, Here we go again.
I can’t tell you what happened between that meeting eleven years ago and now. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a dozen years watching my friends get passed over for jobs, book deals, speaking engagements, and board positions over and over again. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been told:
“You were invited to speak at that conference? You must be the token woman.”
“Male leadership attracts men, and female leadership doesn’t. That’s why we need more men in the pulpit.”
“Pastoring is becoming a pink-collared profession.”
“Since women were ordained, our denomination has been in decline.”
“You don’t have enough administrative experience for this job.” (Even though I was a business manager and oversaw 27 employees before I entered seminary.)
Never mind spending four years at Moody Bible Institute. I hear these things consistently in progressive circle, among people who claim to be committed to inclusion.
It seems like I have been in the midst of many discussions around diversity issues lately. The contexts have been different: in new church movements, denominational settings, academic discussions, conference planning, and pastoral hiring. The questions and resistance persist. In fact, maybe it’s me, but the resistance, even among my progressive friends, seems more prominent right now. And, many times, I have been shocked at the responses. I guess I want to attend to some things here.
(1) If I am a part of your conversation, whether it is around a movement, organization, institution, or conference planning, and there are great inequities, I will ask questions. Just expect it. I’m not trying to ruin your event, discount the work that you’ve done, or question your integrity. I know what it’s like to plan an event and have it turn out to be a white guy gathering. It’s frustrating. I’ve personally planned events where the diversity was not what I hoped. I know that sinking feeling when I’ve been called on it. But… we just have to keep each other accountable with this stuff, or it will never change.
(2) I have been told that it is racist or sexist to reserve certain positions for people of color or women. The logic goes that if there is a bias toward women/people of color then there is a bias against white men. And that is racist or sexist. I understand the logic, but I don’t agree with it.
If you look at the whole of religious positions, there are a tiny handful of positions with a bias toward hiring women and POCs. When an organization is looking for a woman or a POC, it is usually only to correct an overwhelming proclivity towards white males within the organization. If you’re a white guy who got passed over for a less qualified woman or POC, I sympathize with you. But I know the feeling because it’s what we face all the time. Most religious jobs are biased against women, and many are biased against POCs. Women often get better grades in seminary, they are outnumbering men at many seminaries, and they still make up a small fraction of Heads of Staff, conference leaders, and board leaders. We are usually relegated to second tier positions for our entire careers.
If you are a white male, and you were passed over for a job because it was given to a POC or woman, hold on to that feeling and outrage. Understand it. And realize that’s what we live with most of the time.
(3) I understand that I am in a position of great privilege. When talking about this stuff, people often look at me and say, “What the heck?” (Okay… so they use more colorful language than that….) “Who are you to talk? You’re a writer and a speaker. You have a great job in downtown D.C. Why are you whining about not having enough power?” I know that I’m a powerful person. And that’s the main reason I bring it up. You see… I would have never talked about this stuff if I were powerless, because I would have been afraid that people would think that I was trying to hone in on some position, job, or slot. Or, because I would have been afraid it would ruin my career. But now, I can speak out more on behalf of others. And I know how important it is for those of us with privilege to recognize our own power and do the same.
(4) I reject the notion that “organic” should be used as an excuse for leadership being all white men. This is used in emerging movements a lot. If “organic” means that only WM are stepping up, there’s a clear cultural bias that we’ll need to recognize and work to overcome. If we are working in a post-evangelical context, we are often laboring with a very strong and deep prejudice against women that we need to identify and name. Organic farmers spend a whole lot of time spreading manure, pulling weeds, and encouraging growth in certain areas. If we are claiming to be organic, then we need to do the same.
(5) I’ve left so many out… LGBTQs, those with disabilities, those in poverty. Sometimes the list seems overwhelming. And recognizing that makes me realize how we need to keep pushing….
Are things getting any better? Yes, I think they are. But it’s only because people like that woman in South Louisiana ignored my eye-rolling and kept speaking up. (In the subsequent year, I ended up in a prominent leadership position, thanks to her.) It is because all of the hard work of men and women who keep questioning, keep studying, and keep pushing on those stained glass ceilings.