-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Six months on the internet is a really long time! Memes are born and die in that time. Campaigns rise and fall. A collective can feel the pride of success and the bile of defeat. When I took on this six month endeavor is was to do more than follow through on having a male pastoral handle for six months on Reddit. It was also to keep track of my feminine experience IRL (in real life). We don't often pay attention to what's happening around us, because it is our "normal." I didn't want to do something digitally without questioning what was physically happening at the same time.
Cub Scouts had to accept girls: I know that's a bold statement to make. There were many who were openly livid, like their verbal descent would somehow upturn the already voted and approved decision, but their bed was actually made months earlier in January of 2017. That was when the Boy Scouts of America decided they would not discriminate if the person who checked the "I'm a boy," box didn't appear to be a boy. It made headlines across the nation. While everyone was focusing on the transgender side of that decision, I saw something else. Now a girl could join Cub Scouts in a co-ed den.
I just want that last sentence to really sink in. Right now the BSA has stated girls can join Cub Scouts as long as their dens are separated by gender. I just wrote girls could be in co-ed dens. All girls had to do was fill out the youth form, check "boy," and they were in.
That's how I already knew my daughter had an in to Cub Scouts a year before the BSA made the "Scout Me In" campaign a reality. I seriously wonder if they were aware of the potential can of worms they had opened in 2017, and moving to add girls was being preemptive to that blow up. Even today, as those small Packs struggle with keeping the girls separate but equal, all they have to do is just mark everyone a boy on the form, and be co-ed. It's legal. Just questioning whether those girls were boys or girls would be against their own rules.
Why does it matter? I was ultra aware of gender exclusion and inclusion because I was Pastor Jerome. My daughter was joining Cub Scouts, and eagerly so. I heard arguments against girls joining Cub Scouts that were terribly hurtful. There were definitive comments made based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever. I heard that girls will degrade the Cub Scout program because we would have to cripple the learning environment to help the girls accomplish the requirements. I heard that girls would take away one of the only places left for boys to be boys. I watched actual Boy Scout leaders tell stories where they broke BSA rules to keep mom's out of the program.
The experiment helped me separate hypothesis from fact. It is hypothesis that girls would cripple the program. People were stating it like they had evidence to show otherwise. Knowing that hypothesis, my district chose to run the Day Camp program as normal (with girl dens). No one was treated differently. I found the girls ability brought everyone up, not down. The irony did not escape me as the crying child I nurtured with a scraped knee was a boy, and the child terrified of the spider in our den area was a boy. The girls who scrapped their knee came for a band aid and went right back to playing. The girls were actually interested at getting a closer view of the spider and helped me shoo it back into the woods. Our girls are tougher than we realize, and making definitive statements about them before those statements can be tested is dangerous.
When one treats a hypothesis as a truth, we look for validation instead of testing the hypothesis. When one woman fails, all women fail. Personal failure becomes universal failure. It's difficult to digest the reasoning I cannot be considered as a minister in some congregations is because, "we've had one of those and it didn't work." (Exact quote, btw.) On one side males find their slip of verification and burn it all down. On the other side females become extra critical of one another because we know the stakes. It's an unhealthy dynamic that has existed since women openly entered the workforce.
And, I'm not done. I also can't help to see the parallels between the Girl Scouts and Women's Ministry. As guys throw out the suggestion that girls can just join the girl scouts, it echoes to my experience as a minister.
Speaking from my denominational background, we have struggled with keeping ladies in the Women's Ministries. I know I'm not terribly excited about them. Truthfully, it doesn't connect to me or my needs. Knowing the irony, in some cases it's the heightened expectations of work meeting the heightened requirements of motherhood. Also, many of the programs make outdated assumptions about femininity, and if I never see a floral cover again it wouldn't be too soon! I know not all women's program is made alike. Just sometimes it's not a gamble I want to make.
Now, just like women's groups in churches, Girl Scouts troops are not all made the same. To get your Gold Star you have to go camping and hiking with the best of them. That's great, except the women who lead the program were raised in an environment where they were not campers and hikers. Then, the Girl Scouts don't offer the resources to be trained in those areas like the BSA offers. It makes it so much more difficult to earn the BSA equivalent, the Eagle, not because girls are not capable, but because the resources are not available.
Final Thought: I know what I just wrote can be turned around and weaponized. Let me defuse it before it explodes: There are great Girl Scout Troops out there and there are great Women's Ministries. I personally know some amazing leaders on both sides. They serve a purpose for so many women and girls. I don't want to dismantle the programs, I was to deactivate the reaction to women trying to engage in the discussion. Men are not listening when women speak from women's group. Beth Moore is a great example. She is a powerhouse within the Baptist world, but has her words changed the system? No. Because the people who are breaking the system unconsciously believe the women's side is somehow less important. They never even read their words. Their wives did. and maybe that left some cracks, but they do not hold the power in the evangelical church.
The story of God can be followed through the changing of power dynamics. God chooses the youngest to inherit (David). God chooses the broken to redeem (Samson). God chooses the least of these to come forward (the children). Systems change from a place of power. We want to believe God can just appoint the right person and it magically changes, but often our power requires our sacrifice.
The forward movement to end Apartheid was the white South African college students speaking up. They had everything to lose, and nothing to gain, but still fought for what was right. I'm using the small amount of power I have to speak up for others. I think our big problem is we are not coming to the table to discuss. We are coming to the table to shut it down. We need male support. Not just the support where you pull a gal aside to tell them they are doing great, but the vocal active support. Join me.
-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.
God Takes On Power to Give it Away
Recently the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church released a video that struck a chord with me. Female clergy shared real words spoken to them by congregants, read out loud by male clergy. The shared comments became so terrible that the male clergy had trouble even reading them to the camera. Some even went as far as to preface with their non-belief before reading the line. (The video has been included at the top of this post.)
Meanwhile, most churches across the United States are oblivious of this video. They will go to their churches on Sunday morning, and continue to say the same scandalous things to their female clergy. Why? Because male ministers are so supportive of their female colleagues, until it comes to putting action into words.
How we have failed as clergy! How can our fellow ordained sisters live in this world without our ordained brothers rising up and speaking to this injustice? Have we learned nothing from Jesus?
One of the more frustrating aspects of being a minister is hearing fellow ministers swing the bible around like a mallet. They do it to take away the voice of the disenfranchised, smashing their sincere critiques to ribbons with quick take-away lines. One of those discussion smashing lines is Jesus came in masculine form to fortify that God puts power in exclusively male hands.
I'm here to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, Jesus was born male for a purpose, but that reason was never to subjugate women to masculine rule. In truth, God took on the power of the Ancient Near East male to give that power away to others.
The Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, he would have been the person to preach to the Samaritans. It would have been his words who would have changed their hearts and minds. Instead, he spoke truth to femininity and put the power of evangelism in the hands of a female. That power was purposefully given away.
Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, he would have worded his response to Martha differently. Jesus' response to Martha empowers her. All he had to say was, "I'm allowing it." This would have ended the conversation, and Martha would have returned to the kitchen. Just the fact that Mary was allowed to sit where men were traditionally only allowed was scandalous enough, but he also allows Martha to counter his decision as an equal.
Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, the first words of a risen Christ would not have been given to a female. Realize Mary didn't have to tell the Disciples anything. Jesus would trump any words spoken for or against a risen Lord. Why give Mary the opportunity to tell the Disciples first, when just shortly afterwards they would see for themselves? It gave power to Mary to preach the Gospel.
All three of these examples would deflate if God had taken feminine form. Power was purposefully put in masculine form to share that power with females. No one saw it back then. Everyone was still looking for power for powers sake: A mighty Warrior King that would smite everyone and take back Israel. Instead, Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. Jesus came in male form because no one back then would have listened to a female. Then, God incarnate, at multiple occasions, gave power to the opposite sex.
Speaking directly to my brothers in Christ: That's a direct call. That's a call that is scandalous, and difficult. Jesus leaves Christendom with more than a backroom support. Jesus calls all males to act towards gender equality. To speak truth to the truths my sisters in Christ are already speaking.
To borrow from John Mayer:
...Even if your hands are shaking
God at the Table
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Whether it's communion, the bible, or a person's life- most heated arguments about God are less about if God enters the picture and more about when and where. The Bible might be a divinely inspired book, but that means something different depending if your Bible is inspired or literal. God is present at Communion, but is it in the symbol or the literal body and blood? You might feel you need an intermediary to connect to God or you can pray directly. Knowing these little pieces of information can help you traverse the spiritual talk with fellow believers who just don't believe the same way you do.
If the above paragraph was confusing, I will pull it apart. Let's talk Communion.
The Communion Table Tells Us Our Theology
The truth is, there are many elements of worship that speak to a larger belief system. The better a congregation or denomination is about laying out their beliefs about God and the world, the clearer one can see the meaning and purpose in their actions. Don't confuse this with healthy or good. Just because you step into a tradition that is transparent in their beliefs, doesn't mean they are good beliefs.
For example, Ken Ham recently sent his book, Gospel Reset, to churches across the nation. For those who don't know, Ham is a hard-core creationist. His theology begins with a literal creation that took literally six days. He believes in the inerrant (meaning without mistake) and literal Word of God so much he has built a creation museum and Ark Encounter. Both spaces are projects that took millions of dollars. Sending a hardback copy of ones belief system also cost tons of money. Every action he makes is centered on creation. Ham is transparent and connects the dots to all areas of his faith. I personally believe his transparency doesn't make the belief system good, and I believe it's not. That's a post for another day.
How a Christian Church traverses the table connects too. Who can serve? Who can partake? Where and when in the worship does it happen? Is it intentional or is it slapped together last minute? What materials are the chalice and patent (cup and plate)? What kind of bread is being used? What liquid is in the cup? Is it grape juice or actual wine? All these questions seek a deeper understanding of the church as a whole. Ken Ham starts at Creation. I start at the Communion Table.
Who is Serving?
This is a two-part answer that fit most Christian experiences.
First, the person preparing, and serving communion could be ordained or not. Being ordained means the person was chosen by the church for a leadership role, usually the minister. This could also be congregants who were chosen for a specific role, like passing out the bread and cup. Who is making the communion available to the congregation is a statement of the sacred responsibility. If only clergy is allowed to meditate and pray over the pieces of communion, than there is a very high and sacred trust given to the clergy.
The Catholic Church has a very high trust given to clergy, probably the highest trust of all the Christian faith traditions. The sex abuse scandals are scandalous because it first breaches that sacred trust. It was made worse by others trying to others trying to hide those indiscretions. The Catholic church has dealt with the repercussions of our fallen nature before over 1,000 years ago, but in relationship to being openly christian and baptism. Would the baptisms done by Priests that were not open about being priests, or gave up their books to be burned really baptized. The ultimate answer was yes, but it tore the church apart in the meantime.
Secondly, the individuality of the person is an image of God. This idea, the first time I heard it, was offensive to me. I was counselling or co-directing at Church Camp. (Which one is not really relevant right now.) I was quietly discussion the image of Christ with another adult. We were commenting on how different cultures naturally illustrated Jesus to look like them. I was a purist at the time, and felt that was not how God should be depicted. Thank goodness other adult was a minister who knew the zealousness of youth. He patiently told a story where he was with a bunch of elementary school kids at his church. They were asked to draw God. He was shocked to see they were not drawing a guy with a long white beard, but many of the kids were drawing him! He explained to me that they knew and he knew he was not God. What I've come to realize is God shines through the person we have chosen to lead communion. Can we truly understand God until we see the Divine shine through our very neighbor?
God Meets Us
When one partakes of Communion, it is generally believed God is present somewhere in that rite. There are faith traditions, Catholic and Orthodox being the two biggest, that believe the Spirit enters the bread and wine literally transforming it to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. You might notice these traditions have high standards to partaking of the elements of Communion. One must be prepared to partake of communion, because the presence of God is always understood to already be there. God is real to the entire community.
The opposite faith tradition still has God present in Communion, but the bread and wine (usually grape juice in these traditions) are symbols of Jesus' sacrifice. The Spirit isn't literally imbuing the elements. Instead, the Spirit is with the believer. The act of Communion is still done by the entire community, but the presence of God in that meal happens after the elements leave the table.
The Elements of the Table
My favorite church Communion set was completely wood. It was gorgeous. It reminded me God being present in nature. It sat right next to that classic metal cup and plate that is standard fare for most Protestant churches. Once those rich wooden discs were placed was next to it, all imagery was gone, but symbolism wasn't. This was a church that was broken by a large group leaving and starting their own church. Those who stayed behind kept a theology of believing it is right to make it work, instead of letting go of what no longer fits. Understanding where they were, helps us see this is a table in pain.
The table itself and what is physically holding the sacred elements can tell us so much about a church and those who worship within it. If there are sharpie'd circles on the glass overlay to make sure the elements are placed exactly where they belong each Communion, that could be a sign this church holds order very high. If Communion is in a to-go packet (where you peel the top off to get to the elements) it's very possible your church puts ease pretty high on their weekly requirements.