Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Post 6: Sex Strikes and Human Trafficking (plus book giveaway)

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

(Heads up, there is a book giveaway at the end of this post.)

I came across a disturbing news story not long ago. The opening line read, “An Oklahoma City man kidnapped a 20-year-old woman, then forced her to watch another woman's torture and death, so that she would cooperate with a human trafficking ring, police say.” The story gets more heartbreaking and gruesome from there.

Earlier this month reports were splashed across the Internet of a sharp increase in sex-trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl and high profile sporting events in general. Indianapolis area churches joined together to make sex-trafficking education available to hotel workers in order to help spot the signs of women and girls in distress. Some hotels had help-lines printed on soap wrappers for young girls to grab hold of. Again, heartbreaking.

When I started this series on women in ministry there was something bigger going on in my mind. I care about women in ministry. I care about women in ministry a lot. But there’s something I care about more. Women. I care about women.

I wish I could say it was hearing of the multitudes in human trafficking that got me moving on this subject. Yes, it got my blood boiling, and has prompted me to increase giving to certain organizations, but I’m embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until this hit a bit closer to home that I was prompted to move from “sympathizer” to “advocate.”

Not long ago I got a letter from a young woman whom I love.* Someone I look upon as a little sister. She was living out on the west coast working as an intern and she was writing to tell me that she had recently gotten out of an abusive relationship. The kind of abuse that sends you to the hospital and leaves inward scars long after those on the outside had healed.

I was honored she would share her story with me. I was struck by the courage and strength she exhibited to be free. And I felt a raging, keep-me-up-late-at-night anger towards her perpetrator. I was seething. How dare he manipulate this girl, intimidate her, control her, threaten her, beat her.

After reading her letter I could not look at a daily news cycles without seeing stories of violence against women screaming out from the pages. I know this is obvious to so many of you, but for me, I think I was seeing something for the first time: most of the violence that occurs is directed towards women and children. It’s everywhere.

Within the past two weeks abused women have been all over the headlines: Elizabeth Smart got married. The young man dating Yeardley Love was found guilty of her murder. A 9-year-old girl died after being forced by her family to run for three hours. And it seems like you can’t go two weeks without hearing about a young mother who has suspiciously disappeared.

If you’ve tracked any of these specific stories, you will know that all the victims I’ve mentioned are Caucasian. Were local news medias to give equal attention to the violence done to African American women we would be even more overwhelmed (this is often referred to as “Missing White Women Syndrome”. For more, see this report on white babies getting more attention than minority babies who go missing).

Just when I was beginning to despair for the fairer sex, Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 National Peace Prize Laureate came to speak at IWU. Gbowee explained how one night, while she slept, she was given a dream for peace. She went to her pastor to share her dream, urging him to carry it out for her. He (rightfully) declined, explaining to her that the bearer of the dream was the one who was to carry out the dream. Gbowee took his advice, followed her dream, and mobilized the women of Liberia to end a 14-year war. The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace participated in public protests consisting of loud prayers cried out in the streets. They handed out flyers in streets reading, “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up—you have a voice in the peace process!” They also handed out drawings depicting their cause for women who could not read.

When government officials and negotiators met at a posh hotel to discuss peace terms, Gbowee and her fellow women pushed into the hotel and sat in the hallways, blocking doors, telling the government they would peacefully hold them hostage until peace could be agreed upon. When men tried to leave the women threatened to rip their clothes off. Gbowee explains: “In Africa, it’s a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself.” The women sat there for days.

What brought world wide attention to Gbowee’s story, however, was the women’s decision to withhold sex from their husbands until peace had been achieved (something I imagine was extremely dangerous in a country where rape had become commonplace). In a move resembling Arisophanes’ Lysistrata, this sex strike went on for months. “It had little or no practical effect,” Gbowee says, “But it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention.”

Their efforts did not go unnoticed and many credit the praying women of Liberia for ending this war and ousting Charles Taylor, Liberia’s corrupt leader.

I sat in my seat transfixed by her words. I loved the thought of these women capitalizing on what little power they had to see national change. Even more, I loved how the Gospel was so tightly infused with Gbowee’s advocacy.

I’m giving away a copy of Gbowee’s book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment in the comments section with your name and the words, “I’d love a book!”—I will pick one person at random on Friday (of course, men are welcome to put their names in the hat as well). She also has a documentary out on her life entitled, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”

I care about women in ministry. I really do. I also care about women. Full stop.

See you Friday for the drawing and closing comments.

*I've changed some details out of respect for her privacy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Post 5: When Young Girls Are Abused

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

I often schedule camps and retreats during my weekends and summers. And with the exception of a single retreat, every youth event I’ve ever preached at has had at least one young lady whispering to me her story of abuse or self-mutilation. At one camp a few years ago I actually had the number for the state’s Child Protective Services in my speed dial because I was making daily phone calls for teenage girls who were living in abusive situations and could not return home.

The truth of the matter is, there are some young women who are in great pain and will not share this pain with another man. Not ever. Here’s why:

In most cases their perpetrators are men. Many of these women will not tell their story to another man. Some will. Some won't. The men in their lives have broken sacred promises and these girls are hesitant to invite another man into their intimate details.

“But,” you may argue, “we have female youth leaders in our youth groups. All of our girls have a woman small group leader. Can’t she just speak to her?” Yes, she can, but she might not. Here’s why:

First, most abuse is done by someone the victim knows very well. Odds are the youth pastor and the small group leader know the perpetrator, too. Sometimes the perpetrator has just been voted onto the board of elders. Sometimes the perpetrator has just been asked to teach third grade Sunday school. From what I understand it is extremely difficult to muster the courage to blow the whistle on abuse you are experiencing. It can be even more difficult if the church thinks highly of the abuser. So what’s the solution? You tell someone who could care less what your father’s name is or the position he holds.

Second (and here’s where I fear of offending some wonderfully gifted women small group leaders), some of the big fears victims face are: “What if no one believes me?” and, “What if I tell my story and nothing changes?” I have a hunch that some, not all, but some young women will only tell their stories to women who they perceive to have some kind of authority. They are willing to tell their stories to someone who they think just might be able to change things. And while we all know there are multiple ways to exhibit authority without ever stepping behind a pulpit, the pulpit is a status symbol, and a strong visual of authority—particularly for the young.

So here’s my plea to youth pastors: for the sake of the most vulnerable in your group, try alternating retreat/camp speakers—man, woman, man woman. Give the young, hurting women in your youth group access to a woman who holds some kind of authority in hopes that she might find the courage to share her stories and find freedom and healing. 

This post is not about advancing women in the pulpit, it’s about binding up broken women in the pews.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Part 4: Dusting Off Your Feet: When You’re Not Allowed Behind the Pulpit

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

Most every woman in ministry I know has battle scars—things that have been done or said to undermine her ministry. Sometimes these stories come across bitter and acidic. Other times the stories shared offer up some kind of hope. I hope this post leans towards the latter.

Some stories are pretty easy to take in stride. Like this one that occurred at a youth worker’s conference a few years back:

Him: “What do you do at your church?”
Me: “I'm a youth pastor.”
Him: “A volunteer?”
Me: “No, I'm a youth pastor.”
Him: “You mean you assist the youth pastor?”
Me: “No, I'm a youth pastor.”
Him: “So you're like a director.”
Me: “No, I'm a youth pastor.”

I think this guy’s head exploded.

Other stories hit a little harder. I’m sharing two of my stories not because I want to focus on the story itself, but on how the story affected me. I want to address the feelings, questions, and doubts that emerge when you’ve dusted off your feet and moved on. Because that’s what really matters. You can’t control what happens, only how you respond to what has happened.

Story 1:

My first internship was at the fantastic Spring Lake Wesleyan Church under Pastor Dennis Jackson (one of my heroes). It was here I was given the task of preaching at a local jail. I eager accepted and immediately started working on my sermon. I prayed over this sermon, labored over this sermon, practiced this sermon. Two days before the service I called the prison chaplain. Our conversation was a bit awkward and went something like this:

Me: “I was just wondering if there’s anything in particular that I should be aware of or extra sensitive to going into this service.”
Him: “Well, uh, is anyone else going to be with you?”
Me: “Yes, two other interns are coming.”
Him: “Are they men?”
Me: “Yeeeees.”
Him: “Well who is the one who is going to be speaking?”
Me: “Um, me.”
Him: “Well I know your denomination might allow for women to preach, but I believe what the Bible says. You can sing or pray, but you can’t preach here.”

After hanging up the phone, the emotion that engulfed me was not anger or defensiveness. Despite my advocacy for women in ministry, my overwhelming emotion was shame. I felt embarrassed that I had thought that I might actually be able to preach. I felt embarrassed that perhaps I had forced myself on someone. It stung that someone thought I wasn’t taking Scripture seriously. Tucked in with that shame was a touch of despair. I remember praying, “God, how can I hope to preach in a local church if I can’t even preach at the local jail?”

My hope was that this story would just quietly disappear. I didn’t want anyone to know. I knew in my head that I had not done anything wrong, but shame is a funny thing and all I wanted to do was hide.

The story got around. It had to, the jail was suddenly short a preacher. And so I wasn’t surprised when Pastor Dennis brought up the issue in a quiet, matter-of-fact way. I was surprised, however, when he simply said, “Why don’t you share the sermon with me Sunday morning. I’ll take one point you take the next.” And so I did. And I loved it.

Story 2:

This jail incident turned out being good practice for what was to come. During my second year of seminary I applied to work for a Christian organization I had mentally put on a pedestal for years. It was a long application process. Lots of references and examples of my preaching. Partway through the application process I got a call from one of the staff members. He explained to me that his organization had never hired women. Of course, not because they were against women in ministry. He explained to me that there were four views of women in ministry:

  1. “Women can only teach their children.”
  2. “Women can only teach their children and other people’s children.”
  3. “Women can only teach other women and children.”
  4. “Women can teach anyone.”
“I’m at the 3rd view,” he said (I imagine he thought he was pretty progressive). He then proceeded to ask if I would be willing to come on staff under this 3rd view. Did you catch that? He was asking me to take The Great Commission and cut it in half!

I told him, “No thanks,” and that I believed my call to preach the Gospel was to the world, not a gender.

He sadly responded, “Well, if you are hired it will be interesting to see who on our staff will have to leave our ministry over this issue.”

Thankfully, I had enough emotional awareness to catch this man’s passive aggression. And I could see the absurdity of his four views (in my mind the first three are all one view). And I knew that even if they did offer me the job it would not be a thriving environment (they didn’t, by the way, and I fought the urge to send them a “I-reject-you-before-you-reject-me” letter). Despite all these pieces of knowledge, I still felt shame. Again came the thoughts, “Who are you to think you could work at a place like this?”

And while I wanted this story to die a quick death in my memory, I shared it with another of my heroes, Keith Drury, who had been following this story from the start. (Is it considered kissing-up to name my father-in-law as a hero? By the way, he's got a lot on women in ministry here. Though my favorite article is this one.) He wrote me the simultaneously most affirming and most angry email I have every received. I keep it handy and pull it out whenever I need a pep talk. There’s something very validating about watching someone you respect get angry on your behalf.

What surprised me the most about these experiences were the ensuing feelings of shame.

This past Wednesday I read a very heated, mean-spirited, heretic-calling response to some of these thoughts. It was long, raging, and profane (which reminds me, I need to bump Keith’s email from the “most angry” category in order to make room for this guy). It was honestly the meanest post I’ve ever read on this topic—and no, I won’t post it here, mostly because it wouldn’t make sense with all of the cussing blacked out. And I am happy to report that after twelve years of actively trying to sort through this issue myself I felt no shame at his words. My blood boiled and my hands shook a bit, but not an ounce of shame. Not at all.

Here’s the point of this post: women in ministry will encounter hostiles. We will. We just will. Encountering hostiles cannot be avoided. The question that remains is how will we respond to hostility. I don’t mean what do we say to naysayers, though that’s certainly important, I’m wondering how we will internally process these stories? What will we say to ourselves? What questions and pronouncements will echo in our minds after the conflict has fizzled?

In my case, I am very thankful for mentors in my life like Dennis and Keith. Early in my journey I was told to find a female mentor. I suppose that might have been helpful had I known a woman pastor. My advice is a bit more direct: find a mentor. Period. Male or female, in my case it didn’t really matter (though I did get a little misty eyed the first time I saw a woman preside over the Eucharist). Find someone who won’t let you sweep your stories under the rug but will exorcise them through opportunity, encouragement, and righteous anger.

Don’t allow shame and bitterness to corrode your call.

(By the way, I should have warned you this women in ministry thing has been brewing in my mind for a while and I’ve got another whole week’s worth of blogs.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Women in Ministry Part 3: Myth: The Best Defense is a Good Offense

I used to think that the best way to respond to arguments about women in ministry was to simply preach really, really well (sermons on Ruth and Esther don’t count). Win them over through example. “I don’t need to argue or make excuses. All I need to do it bring it from the pulpit.”

I no longer think this.

This all changed when I spoke at a family camp one summer. I was five months pregnant and had brought my two-year-old with me. John was working and I went without a babysitter. Not a good idea. Tiring beyond belief. I should add that in my current state I am more than willing to give up 50-75% of my honorarium to a good babysitter…and I do, but more on that later. (Psssst! Did you catch that? If you want to go into event speaking for the money, I recommend simply being the babysitter…it’s a much easier way to earn money).

Anyway, despite the busyness, it was one of those times where I was feeling good about my content and my connection with the people in the auditorium.

And then came the anxiety-producing spoilers. Two different “helpful” people approached me and said something along the lines of, “We are really taking a lot of heat for having you here. They are making note of this on the evaluations about not wanting a woman in the future. But I just wanted you to know you’re doing great. I’m so glad you’re here.” Gee. Thanks.

(Side note: In my experience there is always someone who enjoys telling you the negative things other people are saying of which they take no part. It’s a way of attempting intimacy. False intimacy, but a form of intimacy nonetheless).

It was then that I realized I could preach my heart out and even perform a miracle or two and I still would not be able to sway the hearts of nay-sayers. Unless someone is actively seeking answers, the idea of women in ministry tends to be one that lies recalcitrant in one’s heart. To operate with the understanding that a single sermon I preached could change the hearts and minds of others was unfair to my ministry. It placed an enormous amount of pressure on a sermon. It took away the joy of ministering.

It meant if I left that camp with a single person still doubting the role of women in ministry than my sermons simply weren’t good enough.

The truth of the matter is, denying the role of women in ministry is akin of stifling the Spirit. And it is a sin. And sometimes I forget the binding, blinding power of sin. Obviously, we serve a God whose blood is more powerful than the most hideous of sins. While I can testify to the work God is doing in my own life and within my own call, I am not responsible for healing sin. That kind of work is above my pay-grade.

So what’s the alternative? I wouldn’t say I’ve got an alternative. I still preach. And I still hope that somewhere along the way God might use my words to soften hearts. But at this point I am more concerned with preaching the Gospel rather than trying to anticipate where and how various seeds will land on hostile listeners. (FYI Friday’s post will deal specifically with the hostiles.) So that’s my take away. I just preach.

I also bring a babysitter.

Monday, February 20, 2012

You Want What You Know: Women and Youth Ministry

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

In my experience, it’s been much easier to preach in a Sunday morning worship service than to give a devotional at a midweek youth group. I’ve found breaking into the world of youth ministry to be much more difficult and complicated than breaking into pulpit ministry in general.

Towards the end of a forum on women in youth ministry at a Christian University, a male student stood up and said the following:

“No offense, Amanda, but if you were my youth pastor I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to you about serious stuff. I'd rather talk to a guy.”

It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. And I wish I had the chance to go back in time and share the story I am about to share now:

My first job was as the first full-time youth pastor at a church. It was a great job. I loved the people. I was given an insanely wonderful amount of free space to create a youth program. In many ways it was a dream. And then I felt urged back to school for a PhD in practical theology (with a youth ministry emphasis).

As I prepared my students for the next, not-yet-known, youth pastor I said things like, “When he or she comes…” I was surprised by people’s responses. More than one parent came to me with the question, “You mean men do this?”

My favorite response, however, was given by David, a sixteen-year-old jock and declared funny guy of the youth group. He was one of those kids that you prayed would show up at a youth event because the sheer force of his presence had a way of making people feel at ease (all the while laughing their pants off).

He pulled me aside one Sunday evening: “Pastor Amanda, no offense, but I wouldn’t ever want a guy youth pastor. Girls are so much easier to talk to.”

I share this story in order to make two points:

1)    Often times, people simply want what they are used to. When people say they don’t want a man/woman, often times you will find that they have never had a man/woman youth pastor.
2)    People need to hear different voices in the church. Often times people assume that girls need to hear from women and boys need to hear from men. While there may be some truth to that statement, it’s not the whole truth. People’s personal experiences may condition them to hear the gospel better from one person than another.

What a blessing it is to students when they are able to hear the Gospel presented from both genders on a regular basis.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Birds, The Bees, and Sam

We interrupt this series on women in ministry with an important question from Sam posed around the breakfast table:

Sam: "Mommy, what's it called when animals are on top of each other?"
Me: "Uh, wrestling?"
Sam: "No...meeting. It's called meeting."


Tomorrow I will post part 2 of WIM.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Women in Ministry Part 1: An Apologetic

Part 1: An Apology for Women in Ministry

“I think it’s fine for women to be pastors. I’d just prefer mine be a male.”

I remember hearing this phrase as a middle schooler. It wriggled its way into my brain and added a kind of hesitation to my ministry-inclined self.

I’ve got a few posts brewing on women in ministry that I’m hoping to post over the next two weeks or so. These posts are not so much apologetics for women in ministry, but reflections on women in ministry. If, however, there are those of you who are looking for more of an apologetic approach, I would direct you towards either this short book by Ken Schenck, or this fantastic sermon recently delivered by Dave Ward at Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan. Both are very accessible and great to pass along to others.

Dave begins his sermon by introducing himself as a recovering chauvinist. In a spirit of repentance he then walks the congregation through a coherent, fairly comprehensive, and biblical understanding of women in ministry. Dave pretty much says everything I think and more. And since he says it all so very well I thought you should hear it in his own words.

Dave concludes his sermon with a powerful ending that went something like this:

“Some people decide the while the bible can’t be used to argue against women in ministry, they just prefer a man. It’s just a preference thing. I understand that. Similarly, you may not have anything against black people in general, you just prefer white people. You might even simply prefer to have a white pastor to a black one…We have a word for that.” 

I wish I had heard words like this as a middle schooler. Preach, Brother!

Friday, February 10, 2012

I Hate Jesus But Love the Church

Tess Wynn attends Sunday morning worship service every week, as well as an occasion Sunday evening service. She is also a regular attender of her churches Thursday evening Bible study. She loves the music, the fellowship, the food, and the inspiration. Her story wouldn't be that remarkable except for one thing: Tess Wynn is a self-described atheist.

Last week Wynn wrote a post entitled, "Why I Love the Church Even Though I am an Atheist". She explains:

"I guess what originally drew me to the church that I go to (which is called Kingdom Vineyard, in St. Andrews, Scotland), is the atmosphere. The sense of celebration that is evident from the moment that you walk in the door-- if you are on your own, someone will immediately come round and introduce themselves and offer you coffee and a doughnut (and who can refuse a free doughnut?!). There is never any question as to whether you are welcome or not: you absolutely are."

She goes into greater details concerning what exactly she loves about the church and ends with,

"I love sharing my life with others, and supporting them with their endeavours and being supported in return. These are important aspects of my church experiences and I have not managed to find other groups here at university that fill those roles in my life. Finally, I think I just really love food. My Thursday bible study group? We cook each other dinner! When I have a dinner party, who is by far most likely to attend? My Christian friends! Meal-sharing is emphasized in Christianity and there is little else in the world I appreciate more than good food and good company at the same time. So yes, I love church. And no, I don't believe in God. I hope that is okay with you, but even if it isn't-- that doesn't matter to me, since I have a whole bunch of friends from my church who love me anyways :-)"

I like Tess. I like her a lot. Moreover, I think I like her church.

The Church is the physical body of Christ on earth and I cringe every time I hear someone say they love Jesus but not the church (I've been cringing a lot lately). The Church is the Bride of Christ, and when the wedding comes, I would much rather be at the altar with my veil askew than snickering from the pew. In other words, I want to be the bride, not a spectator.

Tess is on to something important here. She might not know the source of the inspiration that she is experiencing, yet she is undoubtedly standing under a faucet of grace.