Ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal shook Hollywood in 2017, the #MeToo Movement has dominated the headlines. Women who once kept silent are now talking openly about the pain of sexual abuse. As a result, more women in the church—including leaders like Beth Moore—began stepping up to address issues of abuse and gender bias in the Christian community. This resulted in the #ChurchToo movement—in which believers began openly discussing how sexual abuse has often been swept under the rug in our congregations. I hope we are not tuning out this important conversation.
There are women in the IPHC who have suffered silently from various forms of sexism. And even though this was addressed publicly at the denomination’s Solemn Assembly in 1996, I believe there is more pain for us to heal. No spiritual leader wants to be guilty of mistreating the women God has assigned them to mentor, minister to or serve alongside. However, if we choose to ignore, diminish, discredit or reject the stories that women are telling as trite, insignificant or embellished, we create further division between the genders. Conversely, when we listen to these stories, wounds can be properly cared for and we can correct our own behaviors. I am listing below ten examples of how female ministers have been mistreated by leaders in our own churches, from my own interviews and research:
- Ignoring their credentials. While preparing for this article, every female minister that I interviewed brought this up. Women do not appreciate being called by their first names or their husband’s names, or referred to as “Miss” or “sister,” while male ministers who have the same credentials are more regularly referred to as Reverend, Pastor or Doctor. This is especially true when they are sharing a platform with male colleagues. Women would appreciate having their education and title referenced in the same way men’s are when they are introduced.
- Juvenilizing them. Several women complained that some pastors used patronizing language, such as “Girlie,” “Sugar,” “Sweetheart,” and other childish or unprofessional terms that serve as verbal pats on the head. Women are adults and peers, not children. They want to be treated with respect.
- Sexualizing them or treating them as a threat. Some women told me they could not develop meaningful relationships with their pastors, conference leadership or male peers because they were treated as a potential temptress. This is hurtful and offensive. Ministers who are highly challenged by sexual temptation should not be serving in positions of spiritual leadership. All ministers are expected to serve both men and women equally. It is unacceptable for male clergy to use “the appearance of evil” as an excuse to avoid meaningful personal interaction with women they work with. Men in the public workforce are not allowed to avoid or ignore women or to treat them as objects of some other man’s sexual pleasure. Instead, they must learn to interact with them respectfully and seriously as peers. Male ministers should do the same.
- Failure to help women discern their ministry callings. Many women complained of a late start in seeking ministerial training because male senior pastors never gave them serious attention to help them discern their call. In these cases, women said that their male pastors seemed awkward around them or implied that they believed in a form of gender hierarchy where men were spiritual leaders, not women. When these women expressed a desire to become more involved at church, pastors often told them where they could be of most help (the nursery, women’s ministry, youth ministry, etc.) instead of asking them about their interests and competencies.
- Failure to mentor them. Credentialed women who attend IPHC churches frequently complain that they are ignored by their pastors. Many have shared stories of how their senior pastors call on other male ministers to fill their pulpits when they are away rather than giving the female minister in the congregation an opportunity to preach, teach or assist with pastoral care. This is hurtful and limiting.
- Accusing women of being “Jezebels” for exhibiting leadership qualities. Many women are exasperated from feeling that their leadership gifts are constantly being stifled. When men observe inconsistencies and inequities within church culture, they are rewarded with compliments about their bold, prophetic voice or their dynamic teaching ministry. Conversely, when women speak out about the same issues, they are more often accused of being power-hungry troublemakers. This is unfair. It forces women to become silent, or to settle for becoming anonymous advisors to men who serve in leadership.
- Preferring men for leadership positions. Earlier this year, I attended an academic conference that included a meeting of some of the most educated women across several mainline Pentecostal denominations. I heard bone-chilling stories of sexual abuse within the church, but I also heard women describe deep hurt over gender discrimination. One woman told of never hearing from a conference official after receiving her credentials. For a decade, she had never been called on for anything besides her tithe. She was treated with respect and able to flourish in ministry only when she left the United States to minister in a foreign country.
- Making social media posts that are insensitive about women’s issues. Pastors and lay-leaders should be extremely careful about how they talk about today’s headlines regarding sexual abuse and assault that are being brought to light in the media today. During the recent Supreme Court hearings involving Justice Brett Kavanaugh, I was shocked to read some of the posts I saw by some of our IPHC leaders. There may be victims of sexual assault in your church. Be careful how you talk about this issue—or those victims will assume you don’t take them seriously.
- Treating women as exceptions. Women who are called to minister want equal treatment and equal opportunities. Don’t make unnecessary remarks about a female minister’s appearance, voice or stature. She is not a man. She does not preach, teach, look like or sound like a man. She is a woman who is called. That’s all! There is no need to make jokes about perceived differences.
- Teasing single or childless women. If a female minister is single, she is no different from a single male minister. If she does not have a husband or children, she should not be made to feel she is an incomplete person. Let her follow her calling, and leave her personal issues alone. Maybe she has not yet found a man who can be supportive of her call. If so, your prayers towards that end are sufficient. Perhaps she is called to celibacy. If so, it is not your place to interfere. If she is married but childless, she may have fertility issues, or she and her husband may have decided not to have children. Either way, it’s not something to tease her about!
The IPHC has historically championed the callings of women. As Pentecostals, we have long preached that “your daughters will prophesy,” according to Acts 2:17. But if we believe women are called to all forms ministry, we must become more intentional about creating a church culture that is sensitive, hospitable and affirming towards them. Leaders, be willing to listen to what women are saying and to make necessary adjustments in the places where they serve. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where adjustments may need to be made in your own heart. Together, we can make the changes that will help us be able to better reflect our beliefs in practice and not just in doctrinal statements.
Article originally published in the Nov/Dec Issue of Encourage Magazine
Written By: Karen Lucas