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On Being a Revangelical

When I voiced a call to ministry, I found myself an outcast of my spiritual home of twenty-six years. As a woman who was raised Southern Baptist, my voicing a call to preach and pastor was beyond the fundamentalist theological views of my home church. From the vast number of women and men and nonbinary individuals who have shared their stories so openly, I know that I am not alone in finding myself wandering in a spiritual desert by coming out to who I was called to be. There is a whole community of people who are joining together to try to find sanctuary, ask questions, and share their stories in order to find wholeness and healing. This #exvangelical community has created books, podcasts, conferences, and all sorts of spaces for people who found themselves homeless.

Throughout my journey of being called to pastor and preach, I have followed this community appreciating the courage and vulnerability with which so many people have shared their stories, their lives, their pain, their abuse, and their trauma. Indeed there is something powerful about knowing that you are not alone and you are not the only one who has been disowned by a community of faith.

But I never identified myself as #exvangelical.

I could never put my finger on why exactly until recently. In the second Democratic debate when Major Pete made this statement:

“And for a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is ok, to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents,” he said, “that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

Something deep within me resonated with this statement because this is exactly where I have been stuck. I have never not considered myself evangelical. I believe in the gospel. I believe the gospel offers freedom and hope and healing and wholeness to all of those who have been oppressed, abused, silenced, ostracized and downtrodden. And I believe in spreading this message of hope.

I haven’t identified myself as an evangelical because of the political connotations associated with the term “evangelical.” I haven’t identified myself as an evangelical because of the way it has become synonymous with the religious right and the fundamentalist oppressive, abusive theology that has caused so much hurt and pain and disembodiment.

Between this statement and my partner’s parsing of the Greek meaning of the term evangelical around the dinner table, I am finally ready to say that I am evangelical or perhaps a revangelical, returning to an identity I used to wear proudly as I tried to convert my middle school friends and offer them eternal salvation.

I am no longer interested in converting people, but I am interested in continuing to accept the invitation of partnering in the wonderful, mystical, and transformative work that the Holy Spirit is doing here on earth within and among us.

Behind the Scenes Preparing for Worship

As a young pastor, one of my favorite aspects of the week was preparing for worship. This took the form of reading and studying God’s word and preparing a sermon. It also took collaborating with our music team to choose hymns and songs that would bring God’s people to a place of reflection and engagement. But there was another aspect of preparing for the physical place of worship that became a part of my week.

Since I was raised Southern Baptist, I was never introduced to paraments and the liturgical seasons in their fullness until I became a pastor. Preparing for worship often was changing out paraments on the pulpit and altar table, finding the same colored stole to drape over my robe in preparation for Sunday worship, and walking the sanctuary looking for spare coffee cups, Bibles or pens that had been accidentally left behind. All of this was preparing the physical space as well as preparing myself by praying for those who would enter and what they would bring with them: their concerns, their joys, and their griefs. As I moved around the sanctuary I learned I was actually preparing the space to hold sanctuary for all that would enter in on Sunday morning. In each of the churches I’ve served, I’ve had some form of this practice as part of my preparation for Sunday worship. It’s something I’ve done since my first days of teaching where I would do the same straightening the desks and recentering the reading rug. Preparing the physical space often opened room in my heart and mind for whatever came that day.

I can remember in my first official church job when I was a new preacher, I would sneak into the sanctuary in the dark and quiet to practice my sermon. I would walk up the stairs and into the holy desk trying to overcome all the voices in my head that told me I didn’t belong there, that this wasn’t a space as a woman I was supposed to take up. I needed this time to stand and be in the space of the pulpit. I needed to look up and look out. I needed to read the words the Spirit and I had prepared and feel how those words felt in the space. This preparation allowed me time to reflect and ponder whether the words were my own or were a message from God for God’s people.

This behind the scenes preparation was one of the aspects of being called that I fell in love with. There was something so sacred and so mystical about the experience that whispered to deep really important work. I knew in those first few days that this work of preparing space would be one of the most important things I did as a minister.

In the course of my ministry, I have preached,  taught, and been present in so many different places: hospital rooms, apartments, houses, churches, churches that don’t look like churches, a salon that is slowly being renovated to be a church, retreat centers, beaches, mountains, porches, pool decks, docks, grocery stores, coffee shops, fellowship halls, and every week in the homeless shelter here in Columbia, SC. I don’t always get to do a walkthrough of the space. I don’t always get a week of preparation or any preparation before I am called on to be God’s presence to one of God’s people.

Whatever space I find myself in I know that part of my calling is preparing the place where God will encounter God’s people. Perhaps this groundwork is the most important work we do as ministers and pastors. In the midst of all that is going on in our culture and in the lives of God’s people, perhaps this preparation in silence and solitude is the work God’s people need the most. Perhaps the message that God’s people are craving is not the answers to theological conundrums or political debates, but rather that there is a place and space for you to come and be with God.

For the first time in my life…

I am not a member of the Baptist church. On Pentecost, I celebrated with Garden of Grace UCC and officially transferred my letter of membership to this welcome and affirming community of faith. UCC operates through congregational polity just as the Baptist tradition does. The UCC celebrates Eucharist every time they gather. They are notably different from the Baptist tradition in their emphasis on social justice and taking a stand to include and welcome all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or marital status.

Even when I was told by my home church that they didn’t believe women were called to preach, I still remained baptist. Even when I was told by denominational leaders that although they wished it were different, there just weren’t that many Baptist churches who were willing to call a woman as pastor, I still remained baptist. Even when I was told that I needed to wear my hair back while preacher and wear a black suit with pants rather than a skirt or a dress, I still remained baptist. Even when I introduced myself as a Baptist pastor and was met with shocked and confused expressions in the Bible Belt, I remained Baptist. I remained Baptist for thirty-four years believing and hoping that things would change and they have, but that change is so incremental and so slow that I found myself in the pastor search process in competition with some of the colleagues who I valued the most. More than once, I withdrew my name from the pastor search process because I found out there was another woman in the running and I knew both of us wouldn’t make to the top three. Again and again, one woman knocks out another one and I did not want to be in competition with other women. In the latest data, women still comprised less than 25% of senior pastors and co-pastors in the branches of the baptist church who even welcome and affirm women as pastors.

This week and next week two branches of the baptist church will gather in Birmingham, AL. Both will be discussing the impact of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in their churches because the abuse has been so prevalent. These hidden issues have finally surfaced in a way that denominational leaders can no longer silently pretend it doesn’t exist.

This season of not being officially a baptist for me is an invitation. An invitation to rest, not having to fight, defend, or prove I am called. An invitation to be, simply be the person and the pastor I was created to be. Thanks be to God for the continual invitation to be a part of the holy and mysterious work of bringing the kingdom of God here on earth.

A Season of Hope

As Advent quickly approaches, I am excited to share that on January 2, 2019, I will officially begin as the Pastor of Garden of Grace UCC in Columbia. We are excited about this new adventure that God is calling our family to embark upon. We are incredibly grateful for the journey we have shared with New Hope Christian Fellowship over the last two and half years and anticipate with great hope walking this season of Advent with them as they dream about what’s next.

I have learned in my five years of ministry that there is no way to predict or anticipate what’s ahead when you live a called life. For me, a former teacher, who prided herself on the detailed account of short and long-range planning this is one of the most difficult aspects of being called. And yet, again and again, I am overwhelmed that God has called me to this wondrous and mysterious work called pastoring.  Having being raised Southern Baptist, being a pastor was never a possibility or a consideration. It just wasn’t something women did. And yet, again and again, God calls me to lead and guide God’s people.

As Advent quickly approaches, perhaps the Divine is asking us to stop planning and predicting what will happen and instead stand in awe and wonder of the Divine in human form.

Living in the Shadow of Those Women

I have been thinking a lot about the women in 1 Timothy, specifically the ones referenced in 1 Timothy 2:11-14:

11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

What provoked these strong words from the author of 1 Timothy? What happened  that the transforms this epistle from general teaching to specifics?

To be certain as a woman who was raised Southern Baptist I was taught these words. These were the expectations of God for me because of my gender and indeed these were the gender norms I was born into because of Eve’s transgressions. For twenty-five years, I bore the weight of these expectations and the reprussions of these women and even of Eve for no reason other than the fact that I was female.

I didn’t, however, hear a sermon preached about 1 Timothy 2:8:

I desire, then…

No, these words from the author of 1 Timothy were not his own, but were from God because of the apostleship claimed in the previouse verses and because all scripture was God-breathed. There was no question asked about why this would be the desire of the author nor any discussion about why this instruction was given so clearly in this text, but in another epistles, like Galatians, the claim is:

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I’ve wrestled with this passage because as I voiced a call to ministry as a baptist woman, I knew I was going to encounter resistance. I knew my call to preach and pastor would result in difficult conversations. What I didn’t know was that in being who I was created to be (not who other people told me I was created to be), I would be a theological crisis.

By answering a call to ministry, I tested the understanding and interpretation of scripture. I have been condemned to hell and judgement too many times to count (and these are the nicer reactions) and it all comes back to these women. The women addressed in 1 Timothy and the women addressed in 1 Corinthians 14. Epistles weren’t generally written to try and dictate theology, but rather were written for a specific occassion or purpose. Once I learned this about the epistle genre, I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world was going on with this women?

Was there an intense mommy war going on about whether women can work outside of the home or whether they should stay home with their children? Was there an intense debate about whether it was better to breastfeed your own child or make use of a wet nurse? Did one woman call another woman a bad name or God forbid say she had put on a little weight? Was it an outside conflict that had entered into the holy and sacred worship space? Or was it something more specific, like what kind of wine should be served at communion or whether wine or grape juice should be used or maybe who was in charge of the altar flowers that week? It had better have been something so very important because the ramifications of the argument or disagreement in the stark reprimand that women should be silent in these two communities of faith have been felt for over two thousand years.

It’s hard to believe these women could have that much influence.

Then again, if I think about my own journey, it has been women, not men, who have delivered the harshest, most soul-cruching blows in my search to answer my call to preach and pastor. It has been women who have told me how to dress (and not dress) in order to look more like a man in the pulpit. It has been women who have accused me of “just trying to make a name for myself.” It has been women who have told me that I was wasting my time seeking a theological education when I should be out serving the Lord. Not to mention the women who have told me that my heels were too high, my dress was too short, my pants were too tight, or that I needed a little more blush because I looked too pale.

Certainly, I have had wounds from men as well, especially religious male leaders, but these wounds haven’t been the hardest for me. The wounds from the women, the ones who I hoped would support and affirm me not just because we were women, but because they too have experienced the uphill battle for equality in our sociopolitical context. Thanks be to God I have found love and support and encouragement in some women, but the soul wounds  still aren’t healed.

Maybe the women to whom the author of 1 Timothy was writing and the women in Corinth didn’t know the precedent they were setting. Maybe they didn’t have any way of understanding the vast impact they could have on women 2000 years later, but we do.

We know the way that theological intpretation can turn into dogma and doctrine. We know the devastation that comes when we finally understand what is happening and voice our concern together only to have our united voice and concern rejected. We know the powerful way that women can unite against another woman even when it means supporting and affirming an abuser and a misogynist. We know because we are living in the sociopolitical and theological aftermath.

We know our power. We know that we have the power to unite or to divide. We know we have the power to harm or to destruct. We know we have the power and yet again and again we use it against each other rather than to create something new and beautiful.

I’ve held anger for these women addressed in 1 Timothy and in Corinth and indeed the women who delivered those soul-crushing blows to me as I pursued my call, but if I’m honest with myself, I’m thankful for these women because they have helped me realize just how powerful my voice can be.

May my voice be one of reconciliation and healing.

Robing Up

I didn’t grow up in a baptist tradition where the ministers robed. I knew it was a part of other faith traditions. I knew there was a rich history of why clergy robed and that it was a way to distinguish the person as a person who was not only trustworthy, but also a servant to people and communities. It was also a way that the pastor or minister recognizes that his or her life is dedicated not to individual gain, but to peace and healing in the world.

In my current minsitry context, I robe during high holy seasons and on high holy days. Being back in the routine of robing has been a minute of respite between the Sunday School hour and our time of worship. It is a moment of reflection: Are the words I am about to utter my own or God’s word for God’s people? Am I offering peace and healing? Am I following after Christ as I am asking these people to do?

This week my robe has been on the go as I preached at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and then at New Hope to celebrate Palm Sunday. As most things that are in my car (also known as the Great Abyss by my husband), my robe has been moved from the front seat to the backseat and back again. On Friday afternoon as we drove to Asheville, it ended up next to the car seat where Ben found it useful as a blanket during his car nap.

I looked at him and thought about the children and teens marching during the March for Our Lives rally. I thought about what a different world he was born into than I was. I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face. I wish his reality didn’t include school shootings at elementary schools and a high schools and music festivals and bombs mailed in packages. I wish his reality didn’t include lock down drills and assault weapons. I wish with all my heart that there was something as a mother I could cover him with that would keep him and all other children safe so that they could not only grow, but thrive.

It is the same feeling of helplessness I felt as a teacher in high poverty schools. The same feeling that overwhelmed me as I discovered that some of my students didn’t have homes, some of them didn’t have beds, and many of them didn’t know whether they were going to have food for dinner or not.

As Holy Week begins, I wonder if just maybe there is something for us in the cries of these children and students and indeed in a toddler reaching for a ministerial robe as a blanket. Perhaps instead of demanding that our voice is heard and that our opinions are law, we should instead shift our concentration to covering our children with care and love and most of all safety. Maybe we should stop talking, stop debating, stop assuming, and just listen and repsond to their needs before our own.

Lord, listen to your chidren praying. Lord, send your spirit in this place. Lord, listen to your children praying. Give us love, give us power, give us grace.

Spiritual Abuse and The Power of Silence

Since I started writing about spiritual abuse two years ago, I’ve been asked more than once to stop. I’ve been encouraged to stop talking about spiritual abuse because it causes questions and conversations that people are uncomfortable. I’ve been encouraged “to think about the people this impacts” and “to think how people will respond,” but the gnawing understanding that sweeping things under the rug and allowing these instances of spiritual abuse be handled internally only perpetuates rather than eradicates the occurrence of spiritual abuse in communities of faith is something I have to write and talk about.

Each time I’ve encountered this pushback, I am reminded of the times I was told to doubt my instincts, to question my gut, to keep silent as a child and teen. It happens in subtle ways as Michelle Obama points out in her recent address to a marketing and sales event called Inbound:

If you have been socialized to think your voice doesn’t matter…there’s so much going on that shushes us and it’s hard to overcome when you need to defend yourself because it’s hard to drum that stuff up…and keeps us from fighting the fights we need to fight for ourselves and for our children.

We have to overcome the socialization that has taught us not to talk about those things that we see and experience like spiritual abuse that people don’t want us to acknowledge, wrestle with, and ultimately overcome. We have to be open to hear people’s stories of being abused and molested in our communities of faith in years past and in the present if we have any hope of making it stop in the future, but the vast number of people who have shared their stories with me after sharing them with leadership in these communities of faith have been encouraged to do one thing:

Be silent.

Keep this quiet so that we can protect the community. Don’t talk about this because his reputation is on the line or the church’s reputation is on the line. Don’t share what you’ve experienced with anyone or we will take legal action. Again and again the recurring message: We don’t talk about this.

I do. This is spiritual abuse.

I hear you saying, stop talking about it and focus on the good things in communities of faith, but that’s what we always do. We always look for the good overlooking the systematic, entrenched culture of spiritual abuse in our communities of faith that causes a lifetime of trauma in children and teens and adults. Until I stop hearing story after story of spiritual abuse, I can’t stop talking and writing and asking questions trying to restore hope for those who have survived spiritual abuse.

Hope in a God who doesn’t use silence and oppression as tools for submission, but invites us to join in the work of healing and wholeness here on earth.

 

 

Spiritual Abuse and Failure to Follow Up

Last week I wrote about another story of spiritual abuse. This story involved the woman being told to keep quiet and to let the men handle things. It’s not an uncommon story. I know it’s happened to many people who have experienced spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse, but this isn’t the only thing that happens to victims of spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.

In many cases, victims are strong and resilience. They don’t listen to the people telling them to keep things quiet and to not report what has happened to them. In many cases, these courageous and brave victims report their experiences. They share the abuse they have been through even though it’s painful and traumatic to recount. They overcome their fears and their shame in order to make it better for someone else.

Even though they show incredible courage and bravery, these victims are often met with people who fail to follow up. Over the past couple of weeks, the tech industry has been reeling from story after story of  women entrepreneurs who have sought advice and investment from men. The story for these women was that they had to endure sexual harassment, groping, and unwanted sexual advances in the midst of trying to grow their businesses and procure funding to make their ideas become reality. When they reported these investor’s and advisor’s behavior to their businesses or firms more often than not, the business didn’t take their accusations seriously or follow up at all. Years of reporting, bravery, and courage on the part of these victims has finally brought to light the engrained sexism and privilege that exists in the tech industry.

But it’s not just the tech industry.

Women who are in fundamentalist and conservative communities of faith often are counseled and encouraged to stay in abusive marriages in order to protect the sanctity of marriage and avoid divorce. Women who are beaten, raped, and told they are worthless again and again are told to remain with their abusers because it is “God’s will.” This is spiritual abuse. There is never, never a reason to tell a victim of abuse to stay in an abusive relationship. There is never, never a reason to blame God for the abuse a woman is experiencing. It is not an exaggeration to say this is a matter of life and death:

 More than half of female homicide victims were killed in connection to intimate partner violence — and in 10 percent of those cases, violence shortly before the killing might have provided an opportunity for intervention.

It would be easier if we just continued on our way without worrying about these deep issues and how deeply engrained sexism, sexual harassment, and spiritual abuse are in our churches, in our business, and in our country. It would be easier, but it would be failing to follow up and we’ve had enough of that, haven’t we?

On the Road Again

I glanced at the notification that popped up on Waze. “Congratulations! You’ve driven 500 miles this week.” 500 miles? I thought to myself. That can’t be right, can it? I thought back to Saturday where I drove to Asheville and back to Columbia with two tired girls who had just rocked a swim meet. I thought about Monday where I had the honor to lead Bon Air Baptist in The Privilege Walk and a Bible Study related to their work with Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church in the Myrtle Beach area. Then I thought about the annual worship gathering for Baptist Women in Ministry in Atlanta.

What a week.

It was the kind of week that has left me road weary. Although it was refreshing and inspiring to lead the privilege walk with this group of youth, I know there so many who don’t want to engage or examine their privilege much less use their power and privilege to help others. Although it was refreshing and inspiring to gather with Baptist Women from around the country, there are still only 6.5% women who hold senior pastor or co-pastor positions in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

There’s still so much work to do and so few people who are willing to do the hard work of breaking down privilege and breaking down gender stereotypes. There are even fewer people who are willing to acknowledge their privilege (rather than defend their privilege) and use their voice to dismantle institutional sexism.

Even though I’m road weary, I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for the women who have survived sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace and have been in tears this week because of the blatant reminder that America is still a culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for those in socioeconomic situations whose voices are ignored and whose healthcare needs are decided by power and privilege. I’ll keep driving, keep teaching, keep worshipping, and keep writing for those two tired girls and their younger brother to have a healthier, more whole way of living and being themselves.

“Where does your husband pastor?”

Today as I was dropping off our son at his half-day school, I was introduced to a woman who was visiting. The woman who introduced me said, “And this is one of our moms who is also an excellent baptist minister.”

I smiled, keeping an eye out for Ben as he explored the lobby.

The woman who introduced me to the visitor went on her way leaving the two of us to continue the conversation.

“Where does your husband pastor?” the visitor asked me.

“I’m the pastor, actually,” I responded with a smile.

“Oh, wow….that’s great,” she responded, obviously taken aback by my clarification.

It was interesting to me that even though the woman who introduced us was clear that I was both mom and pastor, for this visitor, those two things didn’t go together or fit into her schema. I didn’t take offense because I know she was taking a lot in as she was looking around, but also because, to be honest, meeting a female baptist minister still isn’t that common, especially in the heart of the Bible Belt.

Maybe, as she continues on her way, she’ll pass along the word that she met a female baptist pastor. Maybe the next female baptist minister she meets won’t get the question, “Where does your husband pastor?” Maybe when her daughter or granddaughter or one of their friends explains to her that they are called to ministry, she won’t be shocked or surprised because she’s met a female baptist minister before.

And maybe the next time I see her and we’re able to have a longer conversation, I’ll share that my husband is an ordained baptist minister as well, just to keep her on her toes!