I happened to be heading in that general area so I took the time to find the sign so I could get a picture of it. It was in front of a little building with burglar bars deep in one of the most impoverished areas of Georgia — what is known as Frog Holler or Bethlehem — in downtown Augusta.
I will admit … I delighted in that sign when I found it. Things like that validate what I keep trying to tell people about being a woman in ministry in the South. There is still a remarkable amount of prejudice. Lately I’ve felt more than the usual. A couple who came to me for pre-marital counseling (because their own pastor won’t see them) won’t come to Mosaic’s worship service because the pastor is a woman. A couple who have found a wonderful new church and who rave about its depth and authenticity, could never make their peace at Mosaic not because we are not deep and authentic but because the husband does not like women pastors. And that’s just this week.
I don’t hear prejudice in every conversation, but I’ll admit that over time I have developed more of a suspicion about people’s motives. I have had enough conversations with folks in my church to know that they debate their friends and co-workers regularly on this issue. They defend their church and their pastor admirably. I wish they didn’t have to, but I’m grateful beyond words for their convictions.
I wonder how many people I will never meet, how many opportunities I’ll never even know I missed, because the people I might have known don’t trust my place as a pastor. When I let myself go too far down that trail, I get angry not just at the people who reject my call, but even at other pastors in my community. By no fault — or merit — of their own, they benefit from my ministry. They receive the ones who reject my position as pastor. And they may absorb these gains without stopping to reflect on the ways they benefit from their gender.
I, on the other hand, have taken way too much time to reflect on all this. The inequality exposes something broken in me. I feel trapped. I get angry, defensive. I obsess. I find myself talking about it far too often, with far too much passion. I go beyond good sense. Because I am so darn competitive, I have a hard time making peace with the realities of life.
You know what I want? What I secretly want is for someone to erect a sign that says, “People think this way. It is not just Carolyn’s imagination. This is real. But it is also wrong. It is not an educated response to scripture. It is an injustice and an impediment to the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
That’s what I really want. I want someone to publicly acknowledge what I know to be true.
And that’s why Elder William Butler is my friend today. He has done what I only dreamed of. He put up a sign that pretty much says it all. People think this way. It is not just my imagination. This is real. But it is also wrong. It is not an educated response to scripture.
Elder Butler has exposed the problem magnificently.
Sadly, he has also exposed my heart. His sign is in the poorest part of town, in one of the poorest districts in the state. Rampant crime. Burglar bars on the church building. Deep poverty, serious drug issues. And I took a picture of the sign … and neglected to say so much as a prayer over the community.
Shame on me.