-Rev Melissa Fain-
There is nothing communally special about today. Most of you will just go about your lives being none the wiser. But for me, seven years ago to the day, a small contingent of powerful church members put me on the path I'm on today. During a secret meeting, they decided it was time for me to go.
I was once a minister who was never whole. A three-part call of being without family, healing with a broken ankle, and finally pregnant. They would tell me to leave one week after my daughter was born.
Seven years later, to the day of their decision, I have a crystal clear perspective on church. I've been haunted by three spirits: The ghost of ministry past, the ghost of biblical truth, and the ghost of the church yet to be. They have all stayed with me, sometimes keeping me awake for hours on end. They were reminding me the cost of silence. The ghost of silence is the harbinger of death. It drives everything good and noble into the darkness and suffocates it. These spirits came with fierceness these past six months to remind me the cost of my silence. I must speak to my experience, or all would be lost.
On March 16th, 2018, I embarked on an experiment that would last me six full months.
About a year ago I wondered, am I being treated differently online as a female minister to my male counterparts? I wanted to do an informal study to find out. I would seek out a male minister to take on a female minister Reddit username. Meanwhile, I would create a male pastor name. We would have a site to record our data, and discuss as the project progressed. Only... every male minister was too busy for me. They all thought it was an interesting concept, but their schedules couldn't fit me in to find out how interesting.
Eventually, I knew I had to do it alone, if it were to happen at all. I meditated on the lack of male support early on, and I realized I didn't want it for comparison. I wanted a guy to walk six months in my shoes. I wanted a male minister to truly empathize and not just sympathize. It was my biggest defeat these past six months.
I created /u/PastorJerome as a way to peak into the online male pastoral world. I didn't anticipate much, but I went ahead and made a hypothesis.
Hypothesis: PastorJerome would get more karma each week than RevMelissa even though the same person is writing the posts.
I clearly had no idea.
Just as a side note, I was mostly raised by my father. He taught me some important lessons about gender equality. Many of them I still believe today. Like, if I want equality, I'd better be prepared to kill my own bugs and open my own doors. There were also lessons that were implicitly taught, and I took to heart. I already knew not all paths were paved equally. I knew childhood situations meant I had further to travel to reach equality. Basically, life isn't fare. I just also had this naive belief that the gender war had been fought and won. This whole experiment didn't obliterate my hope. I know major battles have been conquered, but I'm not sold on the equal part of all that.
What I Learned:
We have an unhealthy trust for male clergy: As /u/RevMelissa I had to earn the trust of other users. My first few months was spent being questioned about my education and my faith. I earned the title "Lady Pastor" from a Reddit user, and I carry that badge with pride. As /u/PastorJerome, I was immediately accepted. No one knew me from Adam, yet people willingly called me Pastor without any reservation. I just happened to be an ordained minister. Anyone could create a ministry username. That's not accreditation, but our society so willingly gives our trust and love to our male clergy. Lesson: I think men should be held to the same standard women have been held to for generations.
Our grace for our female clergy is too low: Part of this is personal experience, but because of the experiment, I can reflect on that experience. I have watched multiple male pastors who have crossed some serious boundaries be forgiven and given new jobs. Paige Patterson is going to be teaching a class on ethics after crossing some serious boundaries himself! Meanwhile we are looking for reasons to bury our female ministers. It's not that we shouldn't hold them accountable when they fail. It's that we want them to fail so we are merely looking for what we assume already exists. If congregants find anything, even something we'd brush off if it were male, we hold that woman twice as accountable. There is no winning in that world.
Everyone is male on the internet: (Unless you're female,) I was blown away at all the third person, personal pronouns being used for /u/PastorJerome. I immediately considered the possibility that I just didn't notice it as /u/RevMelissa. So, within two days of the experiment, I began to keep track. As Jerome, I got "Dude," "Brother," "he," on multiple occassions. Once again, I think it's the unhealthy trust, that basically everyone just believed I was male because I took on a male username. Meanwhile, /u/RevMelissa got one personal pronoun, and it was said by a person who personally knew me. When she called /u/RevMelissa "she," it made me cry. It was like being given personhood. Aside from my personal experience, I was hyper aware of gender being assigned to pretty much everyone, and it was all masculine. I asked a bunch of female Reddit users about their experience, and they all told stories about being given male pronouns. I saw a post where a woman showing a craft. Just her hands were showing, and the user base fell into male pronouns to describe her. I noticed when people drew non-gender specific animals, they were naturally called male. When it was brought up that we don't know the gender based on the drawing, it was downvoted. We disqualify our females with our words.
Social Femininity is a joke: I think this is the real reason no male minister wanted to join me during this experiment. Socially, I'm encouraged to explore masculinity as a female. When women are presented in media gender swapping, it usually ends with the woman having learned a valuable lesson about being human. Think along the lines of "Mulan," "Boys Don't Cry," "Just One Of The Guys." An important lesson is learned in those movies about life and being human. We look to the opposite direction and it's farce, "The Hot Chick," "White Chicks," "What Women Want" these are all examples where a guy taking on femininity is seeing as comical. The male becomes the clown, and we all laugh at him. Even in "Mrs. Doubtfire," a movie that successfully gender swaps, Robin Williams is not exploring femininity, but rather parenthood.
In this experiment, I was encouraged by the males to explore masculinity, as long as it didn't involve them exploring femininity. Only, I was never exploring actual gender, but the social construct of gender. It would have been nice for a male minister to explore the social world of what it means to be a female minister on the internet, but that will never happen.
When I tell people I'm a minister, I get reactions that range from confusion, to interest, to obvious disgust.
My son's Troop made me their Chaplain, and I don't think they have realized what a scandalous move that was for a Troop anchored in the deep south.
I'm scary for obvious reasons. I'm a paradox. On one hand I've professed my belief in a risen Lord, and therefore I've checked the salvation box. Meanwhile, the idea that I would be preaching that salvation has many thinking I'm wrong in some way but no one can verbalize to my face.
After this experiment, I understand why the only visible members of Fig Tree have been the females. I understand why the males have to tell me their support in private. Like I said two days ago, private support doesn't do anything. It is merely Nicodemus in a back room. He was a leader of the Jews. He was a member of the Priestly order that was part of the group that eventually succeeded in getting Jesus crucified. His actions would have spoken far louder than his private words. It's not until Jesus is arrested that Nicodemus speaks up, suggesting that true justice requires the accused to face trial, that he attempts to put actions to his belief.
I became ultra aware that a man's talent can be viewed ministerially while a female's is viewed as a skill. I'm good and teaching, that must mean I should become a teacher. I'm good at leading in scouts, that must mean I should be a future Scoutmaster. I'm good at planning and organizing, so that must mean I should be a secretary. I have great public speaking skills. Once again: teacher! Wow, I'm really good at at recording and editing video! I missed my calling! I've heard all of these. All but the last one in the past six months. At the same time, there were two male ministers who were earning money in another vocation. Their skills in that vocation was raised up as ministerial qualities. The sum of their parts was a whole minister. The sum of my parts, as a female, are quickly moved away from ministry.
The blunt truth is this: The only things that grows in darkness are things that fester and abscess. Things that are right and good (even tough truth) flourish in light. The #churchtoo movement exists because we've kept things in darkness. Speak up about your awesome female minister! Be an open advocate! See the parts as a whole minister! Stand boldly together, or die separate and alone! God is good.