IBM’s Next Ceo Is A Woman: and other things the church can learn form the world
by Janna Gould
n the past I would have wanted nothing more than to write this article, to woo you with my words. I would have done theological somersaults and hermeneutical acrobatics all in an attempt to usher you into the house of egalitarian gender relations, where the honey is sweet and the milk is flowing. If I had been enlisted to write this article a few years ago, I would have rushed to my computer the way the ancient prophets, with the Holy Spirit whispering in their ears, must have sat hunched over their scrolls, getting themselves messy with ink, writing for hours. Instead, I’ve filled more than three Word documents over the course of the last week, none of which have even made it to second base (i.e. being saved to my hard drive). The thing is, I no longer approach the “issue” of my gender with energy and vigor, not because I don’t care but because I am exhausted. I am exhausted from years of working to defend my gender.
I told a friend last week that I didn’t want to write this article because I didn’t want to have to talk about the Bible. I didn’t want to have to spend time unraveling and re-parsing the Greek verbs and prepositions. But you have to, he rebutted. That’s the language your audience speaks, he claimed. And this may be so. Quite honestly, I really don’t care. I know I should do the pastoral thing, meet people where they’re at, yada yada yada. But I’m over it. Sometimes meeting someone where they are feels like nothing more than enabling and validating sin.
There are very few places in the rest of the educated world where I must continue to perform intellectual somersaults and acrobatics to convince you that I’m capable despite this female body I’ve been given. In Western culture, young girls are no longer birthed and bred to be wives and mothers only but instead are encouraged to achieve and excel in any sphere of the world just as their male peers do. With one exception: the Church. It’s as though some kind of twisted transubstantiation happens when a woman crosses the threshold of a church. Successful female CEOs, professors and authors, upon entrance into the sphere of the Church, are often relegated to associate pastor at best and silence at worst. While I gratefully acknowledge the progress that Protestant Christian churches have made in the last 25 years in a move toward egalitarian gender dynamics in the Church, the Church, speaking more broadly, still remains one of the few corners of Western culture where deliberate and institutional oppression of women is still sanctioned, legal and practiced.
Churches, because they are technically private not public institutions, can get away with blatant sexism. A current job posting for the position of senior pastor at an evangelical Church in Vermont reads: “Our Church is seeking a pastor with a true heart for God…The pastor’s wife should also be committed to loving people and sharing in the ministry of Christ with her husband.” I face blatant sexism every day as I walk my dog in the form of heckling men and catcalls made from passing cars. I should not face it in the Church, a body of people who are supposed to be marked by the all the inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are many things the world can learn from the Church. Gender relations is not one of them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The world is moving forward, acknowledging the societal sins of the past and working to make it illegal to continue to perform such sins. Meanwhile, over here in the Church, we’re still talking about whether I, as a female, am allowed to teach a male, stand behind the pulpit, don the cloth or be responsible for the spiritual well-being of a group of people.
I am making no claim at the perfection of society in regards to gender relations. While I applaud laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, the very fact that such laws must exist suggests that perfection within people’s character has not been reached. It is fairly evident that things are not the way they should be, nor will they ever be on their own. We are sinful, broken people. We are hungry for power and looking for ways to grasp it and exert it over others. But at least society is aware of its sins and is implementing change.
The evangelical church, in its relation to society and popular culture, has long since lived and thrived within the dichotomy of secular and holy. As a young kid growing up in the evangelical church, the line was very clear: society is secular, bad, wrong, damaged and the Church is holy. The Church therefore must influence society and never the other way around. The bad news is, Church, it seems the secular world has become far more holy than us when it comes to gender relations.
I will graduate in December with my Master of Arts in Theology. Once I’ve completed seminary, I will have over six years of theological education under my belt. I have years of administrative leadership experience, have been a relatively faithful member of a church community for the last two years and yet, in my post-seminary job search I have discovered that I possess a few very significant details which apparently cancel out my years of theological education, professional experience and beautiful, heart-breakingly creative wit: a vagina, two breasts, a monthly period that means I could one day be a mother, the hormones LH, FSH, progesterone and estrogen and, of course, the various social trappings that make me female, and the fact that sometimes I wear skirts.
In fact, in my post-seminary career search my gender has been a stumbling block nowhere else but in the sphere of the Church. While many still argue the existence/non-existence of the glass ceiling in society I can be certain of this: the glass ceiling is alive and well in the Church. In fact, it looks as though someone recently shined it up, gave it a good gloss, perhaps in an attempt to keep us from noticing that it’s still there.
In our “secular” society women hold high government office, run corporations, lead field-changing research efforts, publish books, teach students and start small businesses. It is about time the Church heard the good news of the secular world and repented, or we might just get left behind.