When I brought my concerns to the leaders of the Wesleyan denomination about a rumor that one of their pastors was unwilling to hire a woman to the ranks of leadership simply because he wasn’t “comfortable working that closely with a woman,” I was pleasantly surprised by the response I got.
In fact, what I encountered was swift action on the part of those in leadership to address any form of sexism that might hinder a woman from leading in ministry.
Primarily, I contacted David Drury, the Chief of Staff of the Wesleyan Church who works under the “top dog” of the denomination, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent. In his response, he cc:ed Dr. Lyon, as well as Russ Gonsalus, the Executive Director of the Education and Clergy Development Division.
Here’s what they wrote me, what they did, and what they are continuing to do across the denomination to help advocate for women in leadership:
1) Questioning the Legalism:
Before I get into anything that Drury and Gunsalus told me, it’s important to read what Drury has written himself about working closely with women in ministry. As a second chair leader, working closely with a woman leader, he has a unique perspective on this issue, and a vital one, I might add.
He wrote a very well-read blog this past August titled, “Is Being Alone with a Woman the Eighth Deadly Sin?”
In this post, Drury calls into question the practice made famous by Billy Graham of never being alone with a woman. Graham instituted this practice out of a heart of integrity and a desire to be above reproach in his ministry, but unfortunately, his “rule” has been repeated across Evangelical circles and has inadvertently lead the way for sexism to take root.
In his blog, Drury makes the point that perhaps having healthy, appropriate cross-gender relationships should be the ultimate aim for those in ministry. And he goes onto insinuate that this Billy Graham Rule does not provide the context for such healthy relations. In fact, he states that it may even “preclude” appropriate relationships.
Very astute observation.
2) Making Women’s Leadership a PUBLIC piece of the Wesleyan Body:
There is a long list of ways that the Wesleyan Church is actively showcasing women leadership upfront in public forums. Here are just a few:
a) During the National Convention this year, Dr Lyon and her team have actively worked to diversify the panels so that women leaders in the church are represented, especially in high ranking roles.
b) Also during the National Convention, there will be a table talk focussing on men and women working in leadership together.
c) The denomination has initiated the process of launching a network of support and advocacy for women clergy.
d) In addition to all this, Dr. Lyon and Drury are working to open the doors for women to preach and lead in the most public roles. As Drury put it, “I think we need to make sure we have diversity up front to show that these things are workable.”
3) Focussing on the Emotional Health and Well-being of Pastors:
This initiative by the Wesleyan Church is near and dear to my heart. My knee-jerk reaction to resistance toward working closely with the opposite sex for fear of having an affair, is that abstinence is not a fail-safe for infidelity.
If I’m feeling drawn toward someone outside my marriage, I take that as a red flag that my relationship with Dwayne needs a little tender lovin’ care. And if it’s not our marriage that is need of some repair, then I have to ask myself am I run-down? Tired? Depressed? In what ways do I need self-care?
When I posited this idea to Drury and Gunsalus that perhaps pastoral care might be a way to help stave off infidelity at the highest levels, instead of segregated leadership, Gunsalus responded with a resounding “yes.”
He wrote, “We’re undertaking a myriad of new initiatives to help in the area of relational and emotional well-being for clergy. Many of them are being unveiled in the most public fashion at the [national convention].” Gunsalus sent me to this link covering Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Relational resources for Wesleyan pastors.
4) Calling the Pastor Out.
Just these larger initiates alone would have been enough for me to feel good about the way my faith tradition is advocating for women, but to put the bow on the top, Drury went out of his way to write the pastor to whom I’d anonymously referred. He put two and two together. :-)
He didn’t mention my name, but he did want to ask the pastor if the rumor was true: that he wasn’t hiring a woman into the role of Executive Pastor, simply because he wasn’t comfortable working that closely with her. If it was true, he wanted to “throw accountability into the mix,” to put it in his words.
A day later, as an addendum to another e-mail to me, Drury mentioned that he had spoken with the pastor and gotten an answer. The pastor admitted to having felt that way in the past, but had since changed his mind and was now actively mentoring a woman on his staff to rise in the ranks of leadership, if not at his church then another church where the doors may open.
And that my friends, is how it’s done. That is how men and women in power turn sexism on it’s heel and walk it out the door. That doesn’t mean the Wesleyan Denomination has it all wrapped up. Certainly not, the statistics still skew toward predominantly male leadership in the church. However, I feel good knowing that people like Dr. Lyon, Drury and Gunsalus are at the helm, using their power to tackle the injustice of gender inequality.
I’ll end with this thought from Joss Whedon, a leading feminist in Hollywood. While addressing a gathering of Entertainment professionals he pronounced:
“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.”
Amen and Amen, and may the church be Eden on this earth, the sacred space where gravity is restored.