February 22, 2013

Women in Ministry: The Faith-Based Paradox



As a preacher who has had my sermons plagiarized by much older male preachers, I burned with indignation when reading Amanda Erin Peterson's powerful story reclaiming the undervalued - and occasionally outright stolen - work of women in faith-based nonprofits. 

Throughout my ten year career, I've worked with and for many nonprofits of various shapes and sizes, missions and visions, faiths and beliefs. But at each nonprofit I visit, one thing always remains consistent - the hallways, office spaces and waiting rooms are full of women.

***

I remember it as a beautiful summer day in Johannesburg the first time it happened to me. Sure I had seen it happen to female colleagues hundreds of times, but it had yet to happen to me - not so directly anyway.

But there they were, my own words glaring at me through the harsh reflection of the hot summer sun - my own words with his name attached to them.

I don't remember being livid. I just remember being stunned.

This man - an elder in my own church - had stolen my words and claimed them as his own for a position paper - a statement from the church on how they intended to serve and support the population the nonprofit I worked for served.

A few weeks before, my colleague (also a woman) and I had been invited to lunch with this man and two of his fellow elders to ask our advice and ask questions about how the church could best help our target population. They asked us to help them write the position paper - to read it and give our feedback.

I was eager to help. I wanted the local church involved in what we were doing. We knew and believed God's heart was for the least of these, and our little faith-based needed a strong partnership with the local church to fulfill the calling God had given us. Plus this was my church, my community. I wanted their hearts to beat for this population as mine did. We had fought a long uphill battle just to get to this luncheon.

Within a few days, I received the first draft, sent back my feedback and waited to hear more.

But then a week or two later when the final draft landed in my inbox, it looked as though my feedback along with several of my words and my colleague's words from the earlier luncheon had simply been cut and pasted into the document - no quotations, no source notes, no anything.

Looking back, I suppose I knew it was a risk. I knew the position the church took on women ministering. I knew what had happened to my colleagues at other nonprofits partnering with this church. I knew teachers who had been told to dumb it down because women wouldn't understand them and didn't care about the deep stuff anyway. I knew they would be willing to give credit to my organization, but they would not be willing to give credit to me, a woman.

It was frustrating and hurtful, but I chose not to make a stink about it. This paper was after all a huge step forward, and I didn't want to risk hurting the relationship between our organization and the church.

So I never asked about it.

I knew what the answer would be anyway, Since we're using it as a teaching platform, we felt it would be better coming from a man.

But the paradox continues to vex me.

The church, faith-based, para-church organization paradox.

The paradox which allows women to lead our faith-based nonprofits - serving as directors, fundraisers, board members, managers, coordinators and in a number of other leadership roles. The paradox which raises women up as experts in their field and leaders among their peers as long as they do it out from under the steeple. The paradox which makes it okay within the realm of a faith-based nonprofit or a para-church organization for a woman to be a leader of men just as long as we don't call her pastor.

But the truth is she is a pastor.

She is a shepherd within the broader context of the church. She is leading. She is teaching. She is serving. And she is doing it well.

The simple truth is we in the faith-based nonprofit community need the local church. We exist because of the local church, and therefore, want and need to walk hand-in-hand with them. We need the platform to share the plights of our target populations, and we need the engagement of church members giving their time and finances. When the relationship becomes strained because of gender, the ones hurt most are those being served.

We need the diverse gifts and talents of both men and women working together to bring "kingdom come" into our cities, neighborhoods and households.

When we miss an opportunity to lead or learn because of gender, we miss an opportunity to serve our communities better and spread the gospel farther.

Amanda Erin Peterson is a follower of Jesus, fledgling writer and someday adoptive mom. In her ten year career, Amanda has worked with nonprofits throughout the US and South Africa, helping them do what they do better. She currently lives in her hometown of Lubbock, Texas and is joyfully anticipating the homecoming of her adoptive daughter "Hannah". Amanda blogs at www.AmandaErinPeterson.com. You can also find her on twitter at @AmandaEPeterson.


About the Women in Ministry Series 
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry and encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Katherine at katherinepershey[at]gmail.com to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences. You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list.

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.”

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Next Week’s Contributor: Jenny Price


3 comments:

  1. This is so wrong, I can't even speak. I am sorry it happened to you and I am grateful for your willingness to put this story in print AND I am especially grateful for the way in which you underscore the truth about women in leadership of non-profits. There is so much hypocrisy and double-dealing in this painful reality that I can't even find the words other than those I've already written: this is so wrong.

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    1. Thanks, Diana. It is wrong and a dichotomy that needs to be addressed. Although I'm also sorry it happened to be, I'm glad that my story may open up a conversation which needs to be had.

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  2. Because it has not happened to me, because I do not have that ministry or role in a ministry, I say that many men and women will be very surprised in the kingdom that will come. It makes me sad, and I shake my head.

    It doesn't compare but my story is just today at an outing, my husband was the only man in a group of 7 women. He was told that he had to say the blessing before the meal because he was the man. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut! LOL! Perhaps I shouldn't have.

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