Dear conservative church, do you discriminate?

September 21, 2016 • Filed under: • Tagged: , ,

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I have been conducting and informal experiment in my life. I have been asking people, “What is the dominant culture in America?”

(Please answer the question for yourself before continuing on.)

The resounding answer people say is…

White, or Caucasian. A few say “the rich” dominate.

I too have always thought that because my skin is white that I was part of the dominant culture in America. A few years ago, however, I ran across something in a textbook that got me thinking. According to the Co-Cultural Communication Theory:

the people who have more power within a society determine the dominant culture because they get to decide the prevailing views, values, and traditions of the society (Orbe, 1998).

…Consider the United States. Throughout its history, Euro-American, wealthy men have been in power.

I finally understood something.

Even as a white woman, I am not in the dominant culture in the United States.

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Reading on, I found out that as a woman, I am part of a co-culture.

Co-cultures don’t conform to the dominant culture–by way of language, values, life style, or even physical appearance. Co-cultures may be based on age, gender, social class, ethnicity, religion, mental and physical ability, sexual orientation, and other unifying elements, depending on the society (Orbe, 1998).

I have found great satisfaction in the reality that as a woman, I stand alongside every other woman in the world.

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All people, male and female, can be members of several co-cultures, aligning with one group because of gender, another because of religion, and still another because of race. A white man can be in a sub-culture too, if, for example, he is a member of the middle class or if he is Muslim.

I have always known we were all linked together as members of the human race, but I see this under-girding of co-culture linking as deepening our relationships further and increasing our commonalities all the more.

And I have been thinking about the church.

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Not only am I a member of the co-culture of women in America, but I am also a member of the co-culture of conservative Christianity in a country where white men essentially represent the dominant culture and hold the power. (I acknowledge conservative Christian white men are also members of this co-culture.)

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I remind readers here to receive today’s post in context of over 100 posts I have authored on this site. I have repeatedly expressed my ardent love for the church and my Triune God, most recently in My Birthday Manifesto this summer.

Please understand, from here, I am not criticizing…I am thinking. Big difference.

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Dear church, with regard to issues of discrimination, is inertia or intention leading the way in your dealings with women, women of color, and diversity in general?

1. There is a logical lean toward discriminating against women in the conservative evangelical community in America.

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Being a Bible-believing woman, I trust God’s design for men bearing great responsibility for leadership in the home and church.

But here’s the point.

Unless men are walking with the Lord, the women in their life — and women in the church — are in danger of being under-utilized or over-utilized. A man who is not doing well with the Lord will not do well with his woman at home. He will err on the side of over-utilizing her (letting her carry his responsibilities) or under-utilizing her (controlling her life and squelching the full expression of what she has to offer.) This same type of imbalance can occur in the church as well. Unless church leadership is paying attention, women can carry either too much of the church work duties, or they will be over-managed and too carefully controlled. Because women don’t hold the power, they are subject to how men handle their leadership, whether at home or at church.

Not sure you got it? That’s okay. I have been spending the last year trying to get it. The lens through which I view the world — and the church — has become more refined.

There is not one man in power living perfectly, just as there is not one woman living perfectly either. This post is not about inadvertent mistakes. Everyone makes those. This is about systematic treatment or patterns of behavior. The point here is that, left to inertia, the church’s default setting will lean toward discrimination of women, again, because any error on the part of those in power naturally results in women suffering the consequences, as members of a co-culture.

Therefore, all men in leadership must be intentional about making sure women hold their rightful place in the church and in homes. Some really great men — who have not allowed this thinking to come into focus — may be discriminating unintentionally.

Questions to ask about women in your church:

  • Is your women’s ministry “over there” while “the ladies” do their thing and the men do theirs?
  • Are the thoughts of women sought in decisions about sermon topics, sermon series ideas, even consulted to add perspective to sermons?
  • Are your systems prejudicial toward homes in which the man is the spiritual leader, or do your systems obstruct women in marriages where the woman pursues faith more strenuously?

Put on those lenses dear church and see if your systems discriminate toward women.

2. There is a logical lean toward favoring white women in the conservative evangelical community in America.

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Left to inertia, a Euro-American man will lean toward favoring white women. As a white woman, this makes me sad. I stand in a co-culture with all women. I don’t want my skin color to be the reason I am selected for leadership, either, but rather the credentials of my resume and the character of my person.*

Questions to ask about white women in your church:

  • If your church is mostly white, are there women of color in your leadership?
  • If your church is mostly non-white, are there white women in your leadership?

This white woman is becoming increasingly uncomfortable in all white environments. Something doesn’t feel right.

3. There is a logical lean against cultural diversity in the conservative evangelical community in America.

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I am thinking about diversity. I am watching for diversity. I am pulling up staff directories in leadership positions in schools, companies and churches. You try. Google things like, “(company name), board of directors” and click on images. Does your stomach sink within minutes, like mine?

Questions to ask about diversity in your church:

  • Is your staff directory mostly white males?
  • Is your website filled with images that reflect people from around the world?
  • Following white males being hired and promoted, are white women filling the slots?

If YES, then church, you may have a discrimination problem.

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But what if no people of color apply?, some might say.

That is a weak answer.

If a church is truly embracing diversity, then diversity will be developed from the grassroots level and the applicant pool will naturally become diverse as well. Youth leaders, make sure when you are selecting student leaders that they don’t all have the same skin color or accent.

Develop the world so that the world is represented in your pool of applicants for job openings.

This Christian white woman is seeing something. Fearing something.

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I can’t yet articulate it and I don’t have solutions, but today I start a conversation. I start lending my voice to the circumstance.

Men, there is a chance you are under-valuing and under-utilizing your women, your women of color and your men of color. Maybe not in theory, but in practice. Take a good, hard, look.

Put on those lenses dear church and see if you are discriminating, even if inadvertently.

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Textbook excerpts:

McCornack, S. (2015). Interpersonal Communication and You, an Introduction (p. 86). Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Special thanks:

I want thank my friend and pastor, Steve Cable, for reviewing near-final drafts for me this week. I have been sitting on this post for months until it evolved into a good first step to take into this extremely delicate issue. His feedback made this post better.

Note on 9/21/2016: Blog subscribers, there were technical difficulties this week and the post did not go to your e-mail as it was supposed to on 9/18/2016. If this landed in your e-mail at noon on 9/21, the problem is fixed. Thank you for your patience.

*I have received a call taking small issue with the following sentence: I don’t want my skin color to be the reason I am selected for leadership, either, but rather my credentials as a professional and person. The caller wondered if I was referring to my position as an educator. The answer is no. What I meant was, that my resume credentials and personal character would be the reasons I am hired. Those credentials may or may not have anything to do with my role as an educator. I have edited the sentence to reflect that on 9/24/2016. I appreciate people talking this through with me and appreciate the opportunity to edit my writing to reflect what my heart is trying to say.

I have also received calls against this post. That is okay. I welcome conversation. I continue to stand on the premise that we need to be intentional. We can’t be intentional without talking things out. Conversations will undoubtedly get a bit messy before resolution occurs and I don’t want to be afraid of the process.

All rights reserved.© 2016 by Oaks Ministries

 

2 Comments

  • LB says:

    Thanks, Laurie, for having the courage to speak your thoughts. All of us in the church can benefit from remembering that we are part of the multi-cultural, multi-generational, male and female body of Christ that spans not just the church as it exists in our own “place” and in our “own” time on this day and in this hour and in this minute and in this second. Since the days the first believers put their faith in the promised Seed who would crush Satan’s head (Gen 1:15; 15:6; Rom 4:3, 22; Gal 3:6; James 2:23; Heb 11: 1-40), to the present, the household of God has been enlarging. The fact is that many of the first believers in the New Testament Church were “people of color” from the Mediterranean rim, West Asia, North Africa, and the horn of Africa. Those of us who trust in Christ today in our time and place need to be eternally grateful for these early saints (men and women) who planted and pioneered in unreached parts of the earth to spread the gospel. We who trust in Christ today are the beneficiaries.\

    Each second the body of Christ grows to include more and more men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Accordingly, our hearts need to continue to enlarge and embrace this diverse body and seek to disciple all believers in the use of their Spirit-endowed gifts regardless of skin color, ethnic origin, social status, educational level, and gender. If each person in the body does not reach his or her full potential as a body-part, the whole body will suffer (1 Cor 12:12-31). And the mission of Christ to save men and women locally and in the farthest reaches of the globe will suffer. Again, Laurie, thanks for bringing up thoughts that we in the church should consider as we navigate this 21st century and wait for the return of our Lord!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my, thank you. You have no idea how meaningful it is to have someone who has more biblical education support my thoughts with Scripture and historical fact. It is evident that this post took much of your time and energy. Thank you for that too.

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