It has been an interesting week. I usually come to clergy events with mixed feelings. I know not to expect over the top great continuing education. Annual conferences don’t have those kind of resources to usually underwrite top-notch events. In all my years of ministry that has been true. Occasionally someone has been brought in that was pretty great, but mostly I don’t expect it. I go to national events for those kind of experiences.
I go to annual conference events mostly for the fellowship, seeing people I only see a couple of times a year. This year was no different. I have heard Michael Slaughter more than once and heard OF Clif Christopher so I knew it would be ok, or perhaps more accurately, I thought it would be. I am saddened and angry that it was not.
It is hard to know where to begin, but suffice to say that after thirty plus years of ministry I did not expect the overwhelming arrogance and maleness of the event. When I was a young clergywoman (and yes I was young once) I expected to do a great deal of translating. There were not many clergy women and so all the examples and all the stories were about men and for men and were usable by men. Jokes were often about male experience and too often with women as the lesser partners in the mix.
Fast forward to 2018. I would guess at least one-third of the room were clergy women. Women serve on the cabinet, as executive directors of our institutions, and are senior pastors of large churches. To have session after session with little or no positive examples of women’s leadership is unconscionable. PARTICULARLY in these days of the #MeToo movement.
The opening session and the example of a prostate exam and the doctor being somewhere “his wife” hadn’t seen was terrible and inappropriate and if not boundary crossing, it was border line. Women have been having “invasive” exams since their teens. Humilitating? Ok, but don’t expect everyone to have a moment of sympathy. It wasn’t funny for many and frankly wasn’t needed. Then the comment by the other speaker “Sorry I’m off the market ladies and I know she’ll (his wife) “have my supper ready.” The context was about thank you’s, but again it was inappropriate. There are far more examples that could have conveyed the same point, unless of course you are more interested in using the same tired “good ol’ boy” strategies for the 21st century.
Using military examples can work for some people. However, using the example of being in the Gulf War and having the Iraqi’s surrender was in my ears terribly demeaning and racist. The point the speaker was trying to make was that we need to be trained as Christians rather than pretend to be Christians. The example was that the Iraqis were wearing an Iraqi uniform, carrying Iraqi guns and when confronted with the American troops surrendered. The way it was told was patronizing. And the tag line of the solider who only had twelve bullets for his gun and needed back up in case those P.O.W.’s got ruly just was icing on the cake. How many other examples are there of people who are “pretending” to be Christian can we use that doesn’t look down on another country or another people? How about cowboys that wear the ten gallon hats but have never ridden a horse? Or snow bunnies who go to the lodges wear ski clothes but never get on the slope?
And the Body shaming was stunning. I was not personally affected by that other than amazed that it was being said. Comments like, “you can not be an effective leader if you overweight.” That was said in more than one way and in more than one session. I am ten pounds overweight and know it. Others are being humilated by being told they are ineffective and “fat.”
I talked and heard from dozens of women and men who were unimpressed and saddened and even sickened by what was happening. Yelling at clergy, at anyone and telling them they are dumb and stupid for not doing something is not just unhelpful, it is abusive. The thing is, there was so much potential and opportunity to help clergy to learn and grow. One young woman said to me (and I have permission to share), “I don’t care if he wants a Mercedes convertible, I don’t appreciate being told that getting my Master’s degree was stupid and going into debt to do so on behalf of the church was dumb. He can talk money to me all he wants, what I want is enough money to pay my children’s pediatrician bills.”
I am not listing every comment I heard from the speakers or from my colleagues. I may have another blog coming on this subject. I know the purpose of the conference was to help clergy in terms of stewardship and reaching out to change lives. Yelling at clergy, telling them they have done it all wrong, regularly using like stupid and dumb usually is not very motivativing. I believe it counter-productive. Frankly, I am DONE with listening and exposing myself to people who think they have all the answers and are insulting to my intelligence. I am DONE with male jokes, the mansplaining, and the clergy shaming. Done.
I want to motivate clergy to do better. I want people, my colleagues, myself to be healthier, stronger and more productive. I don’t want the church to fail or to miss opportunities to change lives or make a difference in the world. What I do want is an environment that is healthy, that is encouraging, that is godly and that does not demean or belittle or stereotype. I want a place that does not assume that everyone is the same, that every church is the same and that every person will come with the same abilities and gifts.
In fact, isn’t that what “church” is all about? We are the body of Christ, not all alike, with different gifts and abilities, and we are brothers and sisters. We are the beloved children of God.
So, I say #TimesUp church! #TimesUp! We can do better, we must do better if we think we are going a reach out beyond our walls. I don’t want to have one more #MeToo story from the church. No more verbal abuse, no more #bodyshaming, no more #ClergyShaming. Not only do we need to do better, we need to be better than this.