-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I sat at my computer reading the title, “I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate.”
Wow, I think. That’s the dream, isn’t it?
Rev. Tish Harrison Warren was writing on the three women who were recently ordained at Saddleback Church. It made headlines, and I remember looking at the picture of the three women with (unfortunately) jaded eyes. I immediately thought, “Are they going to be relegated to women’s or children’s ministry?” “Are people asking them if their husbands approved of this move?” “What sexist thing is being posted to these women under the guise of “love” but really it is the dirty smear of sexism?”
Then there’s the unfair double standard put on women in ministry. Men, like Mark Driscoll, can plagiarize, and inappropriately use church funds and end up with a new ministry out of it all. Ravi Zacharias can turn sexual abuse around to attack the abused, slandering the abusers name, and the truth isn’t allowed to surface until after his death. Meanwhile women in ministry must be without any sin, for with the first sign that they are not the perfected servant from God, they can be ousted from the community before the slandering paint has time to dry.
More than that, no one thinks Zacharias or Driscoll stand for all male ministers, but every woman minister somehow speaks for all women in ministry. If one woman fails it becomes the reason all women fail. Partly, it's because there are those who immediately want us to fail. This creates those who never want us to fail, because the consequences are too high. Female ministry has become like diamonds. There are so many hidden away in mines. The ones in charge have chosen to only release a few to those coveted spots, pulling just a handful out in the open, forcing us to become limited resources when we are actually abundant.
My call to ministry:
I got ordained so I can talk about Jesus, not the female Pastor debate.
No, really. I completely agree with Warren on this.
Perhaps if I were to use my own statement it would more pointedly read, “I felt called from God, and I followed that call.” While that specific statement is so open from your end, it’s open in another way from mine. I was actively against being like all the other women ministers I knew. I deeply wanted to dig into scripture without bringing gender into the subject. I didn’t want to preface my sermons with telling everyone I have a Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, or that I was ordained by two congregations within the Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ). Yet, here I am, forced to carry around my bio like a shield, and brace for impact.
When I was in the pulpit, questioning my call as it related to my gender was mostly never asked. Unless I was seeking a job. Then the question was never asked, but always inferred. People you loved suddenly turned into snakes and bit out. Imagine what it’s like to hear someone you respect and love say to your face, “I personally believe women should be ministers, but I voted against it because I don’t think our church was ready for one.” Imagine being on the phone for a church interview and the Senior Pastor pointedly asks, “Why do you call yourself ‘Pastor?’ We like you, just not with that title.” The biggest whammy being the one that comes from colleagues, “If I were looking for an associate…” It’s the dreaded, “You’re too qualified for this job.” It’s the easy, and safe out. Not offensive, but still exclusionary.
When I’m online and out in the world it’s a whole other battlefield. While no one in the church would tell me to my face they don’t think women are ministers, outside the church has no problem at all. Middle schoolers like to joyfully announce they don’t believe in me, like I’m somehow a fairy that would cease to exist if it’s not immediately followed with clapping to keep me from suffocating under the weight of those words. It’s the way my projects are quietly taken away and given to a man; rebranded to never to be associated with me. (In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I felt Sam’s raw pain in seeing Cap’s shield being given to a white man. I’ve experienced the same pain as a woman.) It’s also the gawking stares once they hear I’m clergy, like I’ve magically become a dangerous monster with three eyes and two heads.
Online, it’s become less my title, and more about the subversion of that title. Nowhere was this more clear to me than when I tried a male username for 6 months. On Reddit, my username is /u/RevMelissa. I’ve had an account since April 2013. I used to think it was normal how often I’d have to explain myself or dig up sources. I thought the negative attention was what every minister received, and I pushed into it. It wasn’t until I began to notice a guy could come behind me, say the exact same thing, and their comment would be upvoted while mine was being criticized and brought to lower tiers of the thread.
My original plan was to bring in a minister of the opposite gender, and the two of us would create new usernames. Mine would be a masculine pastor, and his would be a feminine pastor. Then we would spend six months on Reddit, responding to comments and occasionally posting. At the end of six months we would compare karma, and write about our experiences. Everyone I asked was either too busy, or too uncomfortable with Reddit. Even among friends, I couldn’t find a single person to help me understand what was happening.
So I did it myself, creating /u/PastorJerome. Sometimes I’d even post almost identical comments in the same thread. I’d watch as people so willingly accepted Jerome and the title. There was power in the male username in a way I had no idea. (If you want to go down that rabbit hole- there’s the original post on my userpage, and my About page has two articles on the subject.) I had wanted someone to pick it up and do a real study. I wanted it to show something deeper, but all that work ended in nothing.
So what about that dream?
I am a woman who has been working in the church for over 20 years. I was ordained 11 years ago. I’ve physically worked at one conference center, and 5 churches; one of them a senior pastorite. I was a supply for two churches. I’ve been the minister of Fig Tree Christian for almost 9 years. Yet, I’m currently earning money through subbing middle school. I don’t get paid through Fig Tree; it has never brought in even close to enough to put me on salary. All that said, I am a minister.
I want what Warren wants. Believe me, we all do. We want what the men so naturally have: to not have their words constantly compared to their gender; to be treated the way Jesus treated women. We want to be like the woman at the well, who became an evangelist. Jesus never ended that conversation with, “And look at you doing all that as a woman!” He didn’t chastise her for pulling in guys with her work. He treated her as a person who did something for God. Is it too much to want that?
That’s the dream, but the reality is I have a 9 year old daughter. I’m quickly choosing to stop fighting for myself, and start fighting for her. I absolutely don’t, with no conditions, want her to become an adult in the world right now. My struggles go beyond ministry. I want her super creative spirit to not be completely crushed when she becomes an adult; when that creativity appears dangerous to the greater world. So here is where I stand:
More than anything, for everyone, realize this is a battle that is still being fought, and it needs support. It wears us out. Women- you are not losers if the weight of the world causes you to collapse. Even top tier fighters have their breaking point. It doesn’t change your call. It doesn’t change your mission. It just means you need to rest for a bit. You women in ministry- you rock. I support you, and I hope you support me.
Everyone else- maybe come at that with a bit of grace.