An Open Letter to Elizabeth Warren on International Women’s Day
Dear Senator Warren, I have been following you on Instagram and watching your candidacy. This week, I saw the video of you telling your husband that when you stepped onto the porch you would be suspending that same candidacy. And, I confess, a lump formed in my throat. You have been an inspiration to so many [women] and this felt like a kick in the teeth just days before International Women’s Day.
Let me tell you that I am in no way condemning your choice to step down. We have been encouraged repeatedly to lean in. But it can be exhausting and sometimes you have to know when it’s time to quit. The bias against women is incredible. Even researchers (who have reminded us again this week) tell us that 90% are bias against women. That means even women are against us. Sheryl Sandberg reminds us of the classic study showing bias against women. And let me tell you that it isn’t only for presidential candidates.
I am an ordained minister and I have been a lead pastor for almost ten years. Leaning in gets exhausting. I know some might think I’m being dramatic, but sometimes just getting dressed for a district meeting can be exhausting. Is my skirt too short? Is my neckline too low? Are my legs too much? Are pants professional enough? Did I talk too much? Did I not speak up enough? And does it even matter that I am there?
My denomination has been ordaining women since 1908. That is twelve years before women won the right to vote. In the early days of our denomination, women clergy were as much as 25%, but by the mid-1980s, women preachers were only 3% in the U.S.A. My district has more women clergy than most districts in the USA/Canada region, but we are barely registering in the double digits (lead pastors). I know it seems high but flip that around. What if 88% of the lead pastors on our district were Women? Do we honestly believe men would not be holding marches in protest? I once had a church member tell me the women were “taking over the leadership of the church”. At the time we had ten Sunday School classes. Two were led by women and one of those classes was co-taught with her husband. And there were exactly zero women serving on the church board and zero women preaching on Sunday mornings (in the main sanctuary).
In the last ten years, I have had people get up and walk out when I got up to preach after realizing I was the pastor. I have had church members make sexually inappropriate comments to me. I have had church members tell me I could not serve communion because I was female. I even have a few family members who think I’m a heretic because I’m an ordained minister. And I’ve been told all of this is my imagination. However, I didn’t imagine the person who sent me an email on Easter Sunday telling me they were new to the community, but they would never attend a church where the pastor was a woman because that is against the Bible. Seriously? It was literally women who preached the first Resurrection message! Have you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?
But, Senator, I’ve had it easy. My friends who are women pastors in other parts of the country? If I told you their stories, you would weep. I weep for them. I weep for my daughter and her friends. Even on my own district, where women seem to be flourishing, it feels like we take three steps forward and two steps back. As we prepare for the nominating season, a woman’s name might make it on the ballot. But I can tell you now that she will never be elected to the District Advisory Board or as a delegate to the General Assembly. But, hey, we’ve got missions!
Some days, like this past week, it took every ounce in my soul to keep leaning in! Honestly, I have asked God many times if the more responsible thing to do would be to hand over my congregation to a man. Would my faith community be strong and increase in numbers if I had been born the right gender? I see the vision to reach our community so clearly, but I can’t help wonder if I would be doing more for the Kingdom by leaving.
But then I stand in the pulpit and I look at all those beautiful faces!
I know their stories. I’ve wept for them in prayer.
Ten years ago I stepped out in faith to begin a new faith community because no one else would go! The Spirit compelled me to take this great reality of the Resurrected Christ into a community of people that God so greatly loved. And I get so, so tired of leaning in. But today my Youth Pastor preached the message. She reminded me of this truth:
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Dear Senator, it’s okay that this week you stepped down. We understand the weight you carry. And we were inspired that you were even willing to lean in!
You have no idea how much your sermons inspire me. (And, no; it has nothing to do with you being my daughter!) That part of you that is so determined to stay strong in your beliefs has been within you since that first day on April 21, 1970. If it ever happens that you are no longer our Lead Pastor; I will revoke my membership and return to the denomination I grew up with. Keep the Faith and stay strong.