“How will you be a good mom and a pastor?” a senior pastor was asked after the birth of her first child. Her husband, also a pastor, was not questioned about his ability to balance pastoral and parental duties.
“The ladies are in the kitchen prepping snacks,” a group of men told the licensed contractor who showed up at the church’s workday eager to use her skills for Habitat for Humanity.
“Isn’t she pretty?” a congregant gushed while introducing a female graduate student who had just joined the church. “You’d never know she’s smart.”
“Let all men know His peace and presence in their lives. Men of God, go in peace,” a pastor pronounced during the benediction.
The newest deacon was elated to serve her church. When she walked into her first deacon meeting, eager to share ideas for service to the community, she was immediately deflated when she realized that she was the only woman among a group of 12 deacons.
“You’re the best woman preacher I’ve ever heard,” a proud parishioner proclaimed after worship.
Statements like these are common occurrences in the lives of women in church. In society, and in churches, in particular, most of us think of ourselves as good, moral, thoughtful, open-minded people. We don’t want to think that we—or our churches—are sexist, racist or heterosexist. Yet structures and traditions continue to empower some groups and sideline others. Those with more power make assumptions about marginalized people based on gender, skin color, sexual orientation, education level and/or other aspects of their identity. When vocalized, these assumptions reinforce the power imbalance, and subtly invalidate, undercut and silence marginalized people even further. These subtle, yet powerful assumptions compound over time in ways that assault psyches, bodies and even souls.