Macroagressions and the Church

The church is meant to be a place where all are welcome and included as God created them. We believe that God created all humans in God’s likeness so we should see each other as equal and able to be a fully functioning part of the body of Christ, regardless of gender, race, or any other thing that can be used by humans to separate us into categories. But the church is not yet that place. Men still hold a higher status in society and in the church. Mary Daily said it best, “If God is male then the male is God.”[1] The body of Christ is following after society to keep the status quo and is not living into the world God envisioned for all of us. The church will never truly thrive until we understand creation as God intended it and see the equality of all people in order to end macroaggressions towards women.

Macroaggressions and microaggressions are both harmful toward women and do not build up the body of Christ. Microaggressions are “brief and often subtle everyday events that denigrate individuals because they’re members of particular groups.”[2] These acts according to Dr. Chester Pierce are different from other aggressive acts because they do not intend harm. These small acts or ways of understanding are keeping the body of Christ from thriving and becoming what God intended. While we need to end these microaggressions, we as the church must also look at the macroaggressions towards women that keep them and all of us from thriving as God’s people. Macroaggressions are the big things churches do every day because that is what we have always done.

For example, in many denominations today, women are not allowed to be clergy/rostered leaders. While the number of denominations that have welcomed women as ordained clergy have risen, there are still many who do not allow women to be pastors in the church. For many this is because the Biblical witness says that women should be silent in church[3] and that the man has the authority over the household[4]. If a woman were to be pastor, then she would have authority over men older than her and that is just not something some denominations can tolerate or allow.

In denominations where women are ordained, there is still a difference of status to pastor based on gender. Women pastors are often overlooked for urban calls or calls for senior pastor positions. Some congregations in denominations that allow woman pastors would not think about having a woman as their pastor. These congregations know their denomination allows women to pastor but they do not think this is correct or a right interpretation of scripture and therefore will not even consider interviewing or calling a woman as their pastor. And even in congregations that will accept a female pastor, these pastors are often paid less than their male counterparts. And when women pastors receive a call they are still under more scrutiny and harassed more than their male counterparts. And I personally have never seen a congregation with a maternity or parental leave policy, and that policy actually effects both genders.

If we step away from women as pastors and just look at leadership in the congregations, there is a divide, that is getting better but still has a long way to go. Leadership in congregations is mostly male driven. When congregations elect councils, they will look to have a man as president. Now I know that this is not the case in all congregations, as a congregation I served as pastor had a female council president while I was there and has another now. But this is not the norm. Women are often looked for in traditional feminine roles, like secretary or Sunday school teacher. Women are asked to cook and prepare meals, design plays/pageants, lead women’s Bible studies, but are rarely asked to work on the property or stewardship committees, or asked to lead congregation wide Bible studies or studies that include men. I have been in Bible studies where older men have made derogatory comments toward the women leading the study. When called out they immediately said that they did not mean that the way it was taken. They scapegoated the woman into being wrong when their attitude was the thing in error. Society tells us that women need to fill certain roles and as a church we have accepted and perpetuate that system. Even in progressive congregations, the majority of pastors are men, and the majority of office administrators are women. As the church we intentionally (or unintentionally) perpetuate that societal understanding of gender roles and norms when all of that is merely a societal construct to begin with.

You might think the Bible would help us have a more equitable look at humans, yet the Bible has been used for all of time to perpetuate the male dominant society. If we go back to the Daly quote “If God is male then the male is God.”[5] we can start to see how scripture is used against half of humanity based on gender. The Bible and some of the translations of the Bible perpetuate the male dominated society by using ‘brothers’ when ‘brothers and sisters’, or even ‘siblings’ should be used. Translations will use the word man/men when the original word actually means humanity. Many refer to God as he because the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and Father is male, so therefore God must be he. However, we see in Genesis 1:27 that God created humankind in the image of God, male and female, God created them. So, if humankind was created in God’s image why is God only male? This logic says that half of humanity is not really humanity. Some traditionally describe God as the old white guy with a long white flowing beard in the clouds. And this perpetuates the understanding the man is better than the woman. We overlook all of the feminine images of God in the Bible and imply that half of humanity is not really human or created by God.

All of the above macroaggressions not only occur but are condoned and often encouraged by the church. As I listen to Christian radio and look at Bible passages and I hear God referred to as he over and over and see images talking about pastors and their wives. This is prevalent in society and helps perpetuate the bullying/sexist/chauvinistic behaviors towards women. Women are treated as property or objects to be had. We see this in people saying “boys will be boys” when they are doing what is an accepted norm in society when treating women as second class citizens. Women are told by society that they just need to accept bad behavior from men because “men will never change.” Women should be as society says they are, sweet and innocent, and just ‘deal with’ the way they are treated.

In all of these ways, society and the church are putting women in a place God never intended and does not intend for them to be. We must change our understanding and actions so that the church will thrive as the Body of Christ and thus have an impact on the world around us. Women are not second class citizens, but one and the same as men, created in the image of God. So how do we change these macroaggressions and step into the reality God is calling us to?

We need to work with all denominations to see that women are enabled, equipped and valued as leaders in the world and the church. Gender doesn’t affect one’s ability to be ordained, as the Bible cites many women as leaders in the church.  We need to work with all denominations to setup policies that will allow women to thrive in pastoral roles, sabbatical policies, pregnancy and parental leave policies. We need to eliminate male language from the role of pastor altogether. Ask for prayers for the pastor and partner, not wife or spouse. We need to work with committees that translate the Bible to be more inclusive in the language chosen. Brothers and Sisters, siblings or other words that signify the whole of humanity. The words men/man are not inclusive of women, just as the words woman/women are not inclusive of men. Humanity needs all of us as we are all the image of God. Mary Daly wrote, “It is not a mere ‘becoming equal to men in a man’s world’ – which would mean a settling for footing within the patriarchal space. It is rather, something like God speaking forth God-self in the new identity of women.”[6] As far as boys will be boys, I shared a meme the other day that said, “Girls’ bodies aren’t responsible for boys’ thoughts.”[7] We need to make everyone responsible for their actions against the human race.

Men need to take an active role in getting rid of these macroaggressions. Men do this by volunteering for predominantly women’s roles, knowing they will be met with opposition, but knowing that this will allow humanity to thrive. Male clergy/pastors need to promote female clergy as equal and help all congregations and denominations move to full inclusion of all humanity as leaders in the church. This means all congregations accept and call women as pastors.

“To stay in patriarchal space is to remain in time past”[8] Is one of the many insightful things Mary Daly wrote to help us in the journey to a thriving church. And a thriving church is one in which all of humanity is seen as equal and all are included. Gender, race and all other man-made divisions are done away with. Man made. The real issue. Let’s focus on the richness all of humanity brings us and move beyond excluding half of humanity based on gender. The church will thrive, when all truly means all.

[1] Daly, Mary. “Beyond God the Father”, p19

[2] McCauley, Xana. “So God Created Man: Battling Gender Microaggressions | The Junia Project.” The Junia Project, January 31, 2014.

[3] 1 Corinthians 14:34

[4] Ephesians 5:23

[5] Daly, Mary. “Beyond God the Father”, p19

[6] Daly, Mary. “Beyond God the Father” p. 41

[7] @emmycolletti

[8] Daly, Mary. “Beyond God the Father” p. 43

%d bloggers like this: