I experienced two events over the weekend that I took for granted, but are actually very noteworthy. It is also noteworthy, I think, that I took them for granted. The two events were simple, routine ministry events. I did a wedding and sang at a funeral. That’s it, and the everyday-ness of them is an important part of their significance.
The wedding was held at another United Methodist church, and the pastor of that church graciously extended an invitation to me to preside. The funeral was also held at another United Methodist Church, and the pastor of that church similarly invited me to sing during the service.
(Side note: Neither was a previous church of mine, so we did not violate the UM policy about not returning to previous appointments.)
Here’s what I have realized is noteworthy about those two events – both of the lead pastors in these other congregation happen to be women. Now to me, and to United Methodists in general, this is no big deal. This is take-it-for-granted level stuff. Of course women are in leadership roles, and at every level of the church.
But in the mix of what passes these days for “public discourse” in America, the role of women in leadership happens to be a very big deal indeed. The current presidential campaign is shining a light on the topic, in fact. The sexist double standard that is being applied by many people is overt, easy to spot, and frankly appalling.
I am embarrassed and disgusted when I hear people dismiss derogatory, sexist language as just “locker room talk.” “Boys will be boys” is not a cute expression; it is stereotyping, demeaning, and contributes to a culture that excuses the abhorrent behavior of far too many men, far too often. Words matter, and cannot be minimized as being “only words.” There’s no such thing as “only words.”
Sometimes though, ugly words can yield a positive result. Of all that has happened this summer and autumn of 2016, one of the most profound has been the wave of women who have been empowered to publicly share their story (or stories) of being sexually assaulted. This was the silver lining to the otherwise dark cloud that was a recording of one man bragging to another about sexually assaulting any woman he wanted to at any time. Sexual assault statistics are staggering, and the women’s stories are dragging the issue to the surface, where it can be seen and confronted with honesty and righteous indignation.
What really gets me, though, is how many people are acting as if this phenomenon is a new thing, which is simply not true. Sexism was not invented in 2016. The objectification of women is not an innovation of this campaign season. A double standard has been applied to women in leadership roles for generations; why have so many people only just now discovered it?
I believe that our essential human unity is deeper than gender. I believe Scripture is quite clear about this point, in multiple stories. In fact I believe it is one of the foundational themes of Scripture, that ALL people, regardless of gender, are created in the divine image, loved without condition, and promised an abundant and everlasting life.
Which is why those two every day, ordinary ministry events last weekend were so noteworthy. I experienced the excellent leadership of two pastors, both of whom happen to be women. There are denominations in which the gifted leadership of Lori and Laura would not be welcomed, simply because they are women. Likewise, there are people in America who think being a woman disqualifies a person from being president. There are people in our fair city who criticize a woman’s appearance when they disagree with her ideas (which rarely (if ever) happens to a man, for some reason).
So I’d like to take a minute to intentionally celebrate the leadership of two strong, gifted, smart, visionary, gracious, and Spirit-filled pastors, colleagues, and friends who just happen to be women. Please know that I would never dare take you for granted. You are awesome!
Maybe one day, after every glass ceiling has been shattered, after women receive equal pay for equal work, after women leaders are the norm rather than the exception ... maybe then it won't be noteworthy any more. But that day has not yet arrived. So everyone take note!
Let it be known that Reverend Lori Lampert and Reverend Laura Murphy are amazing leaders in the church, and it is humbling to serve with them as a colleague in ministry.