My Pain is Not Your Hashtag

When someone else is deriving amusement, joy, notoriety or pleasure from something that is your own source of sorrow or pain, it certainly doesn’t feel great. Yet I had the misfortune to experience that feeling twice in the same week. But the two circumstances couldn’t have been more different.

I’ve noted in this column before that I grew up in New York. I’m from the Bronx to be exact, not far from a site that gained a tremendous amount of fame in October. Last month, The Joker movie opened to audience acclaim. According to viewers, while the Joaquin Phoenix film had many memorable scenes, chief among them was a shot of the title character dancing on a set of steep steps in the middle of Gotham. As it happens, the steps that were filmed are actually in the South Bronx. And the steps that natives near 167 Street know as part of their life landscape were now being dubbed “The Joker Steps”. It instantly became a favorite tourist attraction among fans of the flick. But the place moviegoers were now calling “iconic” has been anything but that for the surrounding residents. Throughout the years, the steps have often been in disrepair, neglected by the City. Notably, community dwellers are familiar with the perennially broken street light that should have illuminated the area nearby. The flights connecting upper and lower sections of the street weren’t famous for their glamour but rather infamous for the dread one was filled with when faced with the daunting task of scaling them, especially in inclement weather that made them slick. Yet over the past month, people have come to the area to take selfies and group pictures to pose and post on the #JokerSteps.

Many in the area were disgruntled at this turn of events. Several emotional pieces have been written on social media expressing disdain. New hashtags have been created in reaction, such as #MyPovertyIsNotYourPhotoShoot. Residents have shown their displeasure in both subtle and overt ways. Some purposefully walked in the background of pictures to ruin the Instagrammable moment. Others were much more physical, like the man who was arrested for pelting tourists posing on the stairs with raw eggs. I certainly don’t condone such actions. But I do understand the impetus at the core of such deeds. The emotion is not unlike the frustration felt by many others around the world when they see their community and neighbors used as props in someone’s voluntourism photo op. The place and people are merely window dressing in the photographer’s social media moment. The post is just a stepping stone to virality fueled by poverty porn. The hashtag is just a sign of inclusion in the latest trend.

Hashtags are about gaining internet likes. This doesn’t mean they are bad in and of themselves. But it’s an issue when it is not the product of true interest or concern for the people connected to it. This is why slacktivism is so insidious. Under the guise of actual concern, people make themselves popular by appearing to be in tune with the latest cause. However, little substance or action is behind it. This is the context of my second experience last month.

While the secular world was abuzz with news about movie premieres, the SDA world was enveloped in the events of GC’s Fall Council. By far, the most discussed events being of those surrounding the public rebuke of entities reportedly out of step with the administration’s beliefs about Women’s Ordination. The offending Unions were warned and labeled “noncompliant”. For those who have been contending that women are full humans capable of receiving and carrying out the ministerial call of the Holy Spirit, this was not received as a pejorative term, but rather a badge of honor. Soon though, #noncompliant began trending in the denominational world due to its popularity. The hashtag was emblazoned on apparel and merchandise and sported by many individuals who wanted to be trendy. For actual women in ministry, it is inconsiderate to use their pain merely as a hashtag to boost your social media cred. Certainly it may be on brand today, but it’s shallow to echo the sentiment without care for, or action in service of the real people who are affected.

If you have no interest in actively supporting women in ministry, do not use our struggle as your catchy statement. However, if you honestly believe in helping female ministers, here are real tangible things you can do beyond sporting #noncompliant. This is not by any means an exhaustive list. It was compiled from suggestions given by actual female pastors. These are suggestions that can be implemented by folks at every level of church life, from those in the conference office to those in the pews:

For administrators:

- Ordain women. As eloquently stated by Marcia Moore at the NAD Year End Meetings, it is problematic for leaders who “believe that the General Conference vote to continue discriminatory practices is wrong, but they still do not recommend women for ordination in their conferences, or vote to ordain them in their unions. To know the right thing to do and not do it is a sin.”

- Hire women as pastors. If you think women can and should pastor, your conference should employ women as pastors – beyond one or two tokens.

- If you hire women, don't hire men who are against women in ministry. This creates a toxic environment and sets up the potential for these individuals to someday be in positions to disenfranchise women within your conference. It has happened before that conferences friendly toward women have become hostile with the appointment of a pastor to a leadership post who was antagonistic towards women. And even if they only remain coworkers, the animosity still takes its toll.

- Don't host conference-wide evangelists or trainers to speak who are against women pastors. This sends mixed theological messages and again creates a hostile environment. No one would think it appropriate to invite a vocal and vehement racist to speak, no matter how famous. Likewise, it should be equally unacceptable for open sexists to be invited as speakers and presenters.

- Stop relegating women to perpetual assistant and associate positions. (How many women in your conference are lead pastors? How many are lead directors of departments besides women’s ministry?)

- Be inclusive in your speech. Refer to pastors’ “spouses” not just “wives”. Refer to “workers” not “men”. Make this a regular up-front part of your discourse and written communication. And make it natural – there’s no need for a wink and nod when you do it.

- Provide education to employees about toxic environments and what that entails. Overt things like inappropriate jokes may be obvious, but dismissive remarks, micro-aggressions, power-control dynamics, and language of intimidation may be more subtle. Urge everyone to foster and promote healthy working environments.

- Be intentional about mentoring women. People are prepared for leadership by other leaders.

For all pastors (whether in administration or at the local church level):

- Talk to the admins in your conference/union. Ask them to ordain women. Your voice as a denominational worker counts. It sends a message that your field is open to women in ministry.

- Talk to the admins in your conference and ask them to hire women! Advocate to employ female pastors! Women are 60% of the membership but <1% of the ministerial leadership! (How many women are there in your ministerial group? In your region? In your conference? In your union?)

- Welcome and include your female colleagues in discussions and activities. Foster an atmosphere of friendliness.

- Listen to your female colleagues in meetings. Don’t be dismissive of their thoughts. Don’t talk over them. Don’t mislabel thoughtful passion as “emotionalism”.

- Stop organizing conferences/events with all male presenters, or a single token female.

- Stop agreeing to participate in conferences/events that have all male panels or only a single token female.

- Stop financially supporting and attending conferences with one or no female speakers. If there’s a meeting you’d like to go to, but see zero or one woman participating, contact the organizer. (How many are speaking at the next big conference you’re hyped to attend?)

- Put women on planning committees and boards of organizations. (How many are on the planning committee of that big conference?)

- Suggest a female pastor to do the next week of prayer, convocation, camp meeting, evangelistic meeting. (When was the last time you brought a person to do an evangelistic series? Now have any of those people been women? When was the last time your camp meeting or convocation had a female pastor speak? No, not to sing; no, not a physician or nurse give a health talk; ... had a female pastor preach.)

- Get to know women in ministry beyond the one or two you may be familiar with, and intentionally give your congregation exposure to several women pastors.

- Invite ministerially-trained female pastors to preach and present. Even instances where one would never have asked a man with no theological background it is often considered sufficient to have a woman, regardless of her ministerial training, just for the sake of having a female. Don’t do this. There are more than enough qualified women in ministry.

- If you have a female pastor on staff, give her preaching opportunities. Her time in front of the congregation should go beyond reading scripture and announcements, doing intercessory prayer, or giving the welcome. Give them slots to preach the sermon.

- Don’t have women pastors preach only on Mother’s Day and Women’s Day.

- Don’t relegate female pastors to children’s ministries if that is not their passion.

- Speak up for women in ministry. In worker’s meetings when your voice can be heard, don’t sit in silence. Don’t wait until the after-lunch meeting to chime in your support. Don’t let women be the only ones advocating for ourselves.

- When you introduce and speak about female pastors, refer to them as “Pastor so-and-so”, particularly if you do this for men (e.g. “Pastor John” yet “Sister Lynn” or “Lynn” is not ok).

For church members regardless of church position and office:

- If your territory does not yet do so, ask your conference/union to vote to ordain women. One of the most referenced excuses against women pastors is that “the people aren’t ready”. Let your administrators know otherwise by voice and vote.

- Ask your conference to hire women – not just in the abstract. Let them know you would be open to having a female pastor. One oft-cited reason for not hiring women is that there wouldn’t be a church she would be received at. Let your conference know yours would be one.

- If your church has a pastoral search committee, be intentional about including female candidates for consideration.

- When a female pastor comes to preach, thank her for her “sermon” not for her “talk”. She delivered the Word, not a TedTalk.

- If you address men in ministry as Elder or Pastor, extend the same courtesy to women.

- Donate to scholarships for women studying for ministry. While many men are sponsored by conferences to attend Seminary, the vast majority of women pay their tuition out-of-pocket.

- Vote to include female elders in your local congregation.

- If you demonstrate hospitality to your male pastors with invitations to Sabbath meals, do the same for your female pastors. Don’t assume that she will adopt the mantle of hostess and expect her to initiate hospitality events.

- Encourage the women in ministry you know. Let them know that you are invested in their success and that you are praying for them!

If we really care about women in ministry show it with more than a hashtag.

Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD is a clinical psychologist and ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found at:

https://spectrummagazine.org/author/courtney-ray

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9997
9 Likes

Yes! Thank you!
Words are not enough. Not anymore. Great list and article to spread.

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Great article. This kind of shift is part of the game called “identity politics”. Once women’s ordination is labelled “non-compliant” (severe negative designation), it’s just a short step from calling women seeking to become pastors, “non-compliant”. The heart wants, what the heart wants; and no administrative evaluation should be allowed to label the person as “non-compliant”. The question is - non-compliant to what? Some man-made rules manipulated by those who can manipulate.

Pastors are continually talking about “being CALLED”. How dare the church decide that God does not call women. Might as well slip into royal robes and declare themselves as "God’s representatives on earth.

The NAD is 6% of the world membership of the SDA church. If any one, or a group, is offended by these non-compliant pastors, DON’T GO THERE - stay home and bask in your compliancy.

This issue is really annoying.

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Well said.
Thanks.
20 characters.

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Maybe the people in New York should #FixtheDamnSteps and stop acting like disrepair is the way things should be. Your article proposes using words to fix the difficulties that women are facing when it comes to ordination. But if the WO discrimination issue is fixed but not the LGBTQI discrimination issue,church leaders will think that their job is finished and once again leave the LGBTQI community out in the cold for decades. How long will it be before a “practicing” gay man can become a church member or a same-sex couple will be recognized by the denomination? We’ve got decades of hard work ahead of us.

I would propose that every time you see the word “women” in this brilliant essay you replace it with “women and the LGBTQI community.”

Let’s work together to resolve ALL the wrongful discrimination in our churches.

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Pastor Courtney Rey

Your multiple suggestions, impacting every church level, to promote the ordination of Adventist clergywomen, are practical and pertinent.

The lack of possessing an ordination certificate, creates a GLASS CEILING for our female church workers —- none can ever aspire to higher administrative posts.

The UNITED METHODIST CHURCH has been ordaining their clergywomen since 1956!

As a result, in my area, ( Portland Oregon ) the local Methodist Conference President Is female, as is the Bishop ( equivalent to our Union Conference President ) .

Women in the Methodist church are able to advance to higher administrative posts because they are ordained.

Episcopal Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, presided as PRIMATE ( head ) of the American Episcopal church from 2005 till 2015.

That was made possible, because as soon as she had earned her M DIV degree from Divinity School of the Pacific, in 1994, she was immediately ordained as an Episcopal priest ( their word for pastor ) .

In this egalitarian twenty first century. ( last week we celebrated the ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the right of US women to vote ) Adventism’s miserable misogyny appears archaic / antique / antediluvian / abysmal.

The OPTICS are deplorable, when out of nine union conferences in NAD, a mere two have voted for equality and non discrimination !

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Excellent points. All of your suggestions should be read and more added so people know what they can do to tangibly change the church and bring about full acceptance of women’s ordination. At the top of the list needs to be the simple rule: Stand and Be Counted. For me this means making it clear wherever I go and whatever I say, to be intentional and always make sure that I visibly and verbally let people know where I stand, for full and equal ordination of women. Don’t let any opportunity pass you by. The more of us that actively promote women’s equality, the more our leaders will know we are more than ready for it.

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Or 5?

I agree with you, though WO and LGBTQ are rather different things on many levels.

Conflating them gives some power to the opposition who claim that allowing WO is a slippery slope that then will force a specific position for LGBTQ. Which is of course wrong, but it is probably better in the SDA church to treat them as two different things (on which leadership is failing completely.)

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Right is right and wrong is wrong. Is this discrimination something you are willing to tolerate? That would seem to go against the entire point of the article. The time for words is over and the time for concrete actions of inclusion is necessary on all forms of injustice in the church.

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These are two separate issues and need to be dealt with separately. Please don’t put them in the same sentence.

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I agree. No, it’s not, but I think these are two different battles against discrimination which have different solutions. WO is specifically about gender roles in church employment and the ministry.

From your description the LGBT issue is related to acceptance of others as members who - based on science - are different (not want to be, not deluded, not a choice.)

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I’m not against WO. But we can’t oversimplify the range of arguments as these relate to mere Batcheloresque arguments (yes, it should be a term).

I’ll give you a personal life example. I began my “Technical Director” experience very early in my childhood, and since it was a largely unexplored field in the realm of VFX industry, it put me in a rather awkward position in a world of adults where at the age of 16 I’d be consulting some local production houses on various techniques by word of mouth of “there’s this Ukrainian kid that can help you”. 16 year olds in that position are much more common now, but then it seems miraculous to people, especially if they were desperate to meet production deadlines with newly-adopted piece of software… with no developed internet resource pipeline existing then.

By the time I was a freshman in a college, I was asked to assist with teaching a 3d software (senior level class), because there were few qualified instructors in that era for that specific software. Documentation was complex, and required conceptual prerequisites. And certain universities were pressured by the industry relationships to adopt new software and produce qualified experts. So, some departments were desperate, and scrabling to piece all of that together… And that’s how I, as a kid out of high school got to teach a senior-level course, largely due to the portfolio of work I showcased.

I was really excited and naive to think that there’s objective element to it all in which appearances make no difference. My previous consulting experiences were all about educating someone, so “lesson plan” wasn’t the issue. The problem was precisely that I was a high school kid, with a professional portfolio, teaching a senior-level course.

There’s a conceptual decoherence there as to why one needs college at all on one end, and necessity to justify established norms on the other. Needless to say, I’ve had trouble getting many of these guys to do anything, and I sensed tremendous amount of resisting, and the only thing that saved me, rather ironically, was the added “cred” of being on basketball team. Once preseason kicked in, most of the resistance evaporated.

There’s an even greater cultural baggage that women have to overcome in certain traditional setting of cultural leadership, and it takes a very charismatic personality to pull that off, since there are broader range of factors that feed into leadership context that exist in a voluntary setting.. And yes, it’s unfortunate, but women do have to work harder and have some “extra extra” things (much like sports in my case) to be taken seriously.

So, there’s a vast difference between managing people who have to follow your directions because they are paid to do so, or they will be fired. It’s a vastly different one where they don’t have to do anything at all, and they have to be motivated to keep showing up.
I certainly would love to live in a technocratically-oriented society, but we don’t, given the broader baggage of history that dictates our expectations.

And I get why you would likely think that’s why when should be given even more of our support, but there’s also a broader degree of pragmatic tradeoffs to be considered. First of all, it’s unfair to place women in a cultural context where they would have to swim against that current. Secondly, there are broader range of internal conceptual paradigms that church has to accept before WO would be a fruitful pursuit.

None of these arguments are against WO, but articles like these tend to hover around ideals and “owed” expectations, and these ignore reality… especially the reality at the ground level of complex church dynamics that’s still largely managed by Christian fundamentalist presets.

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So you’re asking me to be silent about discrimination against LGBTQI people but to rally in opposition to discrimination against women? From what civil rights perspective do you take this playbook?

We have many claiming that the Bible forbids women from being ordained and others claiming that the Bible forbids LGBTQI people from, well, existing at all. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. This incrementalism cannot be tolerated - there should be no “acceptable” level of injustice, particularly when it comes to preventing people from being ordained because of who they are.

But let me ask you this - would you support the right of a transgender woman to be ordained? This goes to show how ridiculous your argument really is.

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A simplistic as you may feel my approach to this may be, I disagree with your premise. There are many regions of the church where the church is fully ready for WO, not least of which is North America and Europe. Many women already serve as pastors in both these regions, and therefore there is no reason not to ordain these women. They are serving, in many cases, in the same exact capacity as men pastors.

Even if, as your discussion suggests, that it is harder for women than men to be successful pastors (and I believe it is, based on those women pastors I have known), that seems to ignore the point that there are numerous women pastors in NA and Europe that are successful, many of them just as, if not more, successful than many men pastors. Given this, is it morally defensible not to refuse to ordain women pastors? I think not. This is no different than the argument that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work.

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This is an excellent resource for relating to women in ministry. Apparently, however, it is excluding women who are not ordained or seminary trained from speaking. Many times speakers, especially in small churches, are not ordained men or are proficient in other ways. It should be no different for women. I hope women or men will not get to the point of being degree-proud when it comes to ministry or lording it over other women who aren’t ordained.
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The same goes for male pastors’ spouses. Many of them are talented speakers as well. Many times they are ignored even when husbands are invited to be guest speakers. These talented women can participate in other ways such as teaching SS or doing a children’s story.

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If you are saying that nonpracticing LGBT persons should be allowed to be ordained pastors, I agree. So should single men or women.

The problem comes if the person has a same-sex partner. At this time the church does not recognize that and possibly never will. I agree that it should be acceptable in the world at large because of civil rights issues, but that is not the case in the church at this time.

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Which the church, shamefully, also defied for years until they were repeatedly sued.

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It only feels simplistic since you are consolidating “the church” into some abstract entity, which you think wouldn’t have a predominately conservative roots related to that subject, unless certain pragmatic necessities overrides it… like in the largest SDA church case here:

But, the sub-cultural setting should be obvious. It seems like it’s a retirement community, and it seems like it does appeal to women more than it appeals to men.

So, I’m not really sure that you can force similar context of the entire regions you are talking about, without pointing out the sub-cultural prerequisites in which female pastoral leadership would work.

You almost made it sound like no matter which church in the NAD we’d plop a female pastor, it may be difficult, but it would be ok. And that’s simply not the case. It’s not the fault of the female pastor. I don’t think we are far ahead enough into deconstructing gender roles that we got as a baggage from our cultural evolution in the past. It’s not something that we can shift out of in a few generations. You have to keep in mind that the broader equalizer here is technological progress, and societal structure that shifts our free time into some other competitive context.

There are much bigger problems in the SDA church, of which WO is merely a relevant subset. If we can tackle those problems, then WO would likely be a byproduct that would naturally follow, among plentiful things like it.

I never ignore that point. And I do understand that point as it relates to individuals who are put in this position of “woman against traditional gender roles”. But again, this is not where this issue begins.

It would be like tackling YEC issue in church by changing the language of “and in a recent six-day creation” to something that integrates broader scientific paradigm. At its core, such change wouldn’t magically undo fundamentalist past of Adventism. It would take quite a bit of time, and at least one turnover of generational leadership before these changes are incorporated as at least considerable plausibility. If that would happen tomorrow, which it’s not plausible, there’d likely be a split with considerable amount of church leaving the GC , with most churches likely separating and establishing their own conferences… with likely competitive lawsuits to reclaim the brand.

The WO issue isn’t equivalent in that sense, but it’s relevant to the broader organizational integrity, since fundamentalists tend to see this as a slippery slope issue. If women are pastors today, then gay people are pastors tomorrow, and the next thing is to pack one’s bags because the sulfur is falling from the sky, and people are turning into salt.

So, I’m not sure this issue can be resolved without broader changes to how Adventism is organized.

I am not sure how you got that impression from what I wrote. I see this as a permissible situation, not a prescriptive one. WO should simply be allowed in any local or Union Conference that votes in its constituency meeting to allow it. Individual churches should not be required to have an ordained female pastor if that would not work for them. Most conferences allow local churches to have quite a deal of say in who they have as a pastor.

I am not suggesting we impose WO on unwilling churches or Conferences. What I am suggesting is that churches and Conferences that approve of WO be allowed to ordain those female pastors that are determined to be called, the same as is done for male pastors.

Just because fundamentalists somewhere in the church have such unsubstantiated and regressive ideas is no reason to shut down WO across the board. WO is working just fine in my Union (PUC), and the primary opposition to it comes from a minority in our union, and from the GC. I do not see that kind of opposition as a compelling reason to not allow WO.

So, call me simplistic if you like, but the principle IS quite simple. It is wrong to discriminate against women in this fashion, i.e. denying them ordination when their calling is as clear as it is for comparable male pastors. Secondly, ordination is not a Biblical concept anyway, it is a tradition passed down from Catholicism, so those who would use the Bible to deny WO have no leg to stand on. For those Unions that understand this, there should be no barrier to allowing WO.

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