2015: Advent Religion: Leadership

by on December 7, 2015

The surest way to be “in leadership” in those churches was to be a white middle-aged man with a wife and at least one child, preferably two or three, none of whom were in trouble.

That qualified you to be a deacon, which was roughly the ruling council. The deaconate didn’t really make the decisions – that was done by the pastor. But the deacons got prestige. The social clout of being a deacon was huge – my dad has very effectively stayed on the sidelines of church for twenty years by qualifying and never standing.

The Issue of Woman Deacons was fierce enough that even as a ten-year-old I was aware of it. Could women be deacons? Could they be permitted to sit in this circle of importance?

Obviously, no.

The theological justifications for this self-protective sexism were various and convoluted but mainly came down to “because girls aren’t really people”. Sorry, I mean “God isn’t a girl so they don’t count”. Sorry, I mean “your gifts lie elsewhere”. Women being preachers was sometimes flirted with, provided it didn’t happen too often, and ideally only at the evening service with a third of the congregation and no impressionable youngsters. But somehow, even when the sky didn’t fall in, the experiment could never be expanded. Women were not supposed to preach. I do not allow a woman to teach. Thanks, Paul, you gave some lovely ammunition to every reflexive sexist in the church.

But hey, we didn’t have to cover our hair or be completely silent. We were allowed to do the bit of the prayers with the famines and refugees in!

Do I sound angry? I’m angry. I’m angry because these supposedly complementary gender roles boil down to men making decisions, and women being supportive. They involve pushing off the emotional work onto women, so that the men don’t have to reconcile their politics with prayers for the refugees because caring about the refugees has become women’s domain. And they do terrible things to little girls in the church.

I have significant hangups around making decisions. I am, and always have been, bossy. I think this is a word applied to little girls, not little boys; I think little boys have take-charge personalities and leadership traits and it’s cute. But I was bossy, and bossy I have remained. Faced with a collective task, I am likely to start directing people in how to do it. Faced with collective uncertainty, I am likely to make some kind of executive decision and ask for dissenters, rather than let the group continue meandering its way to a natural consensus. When there are five of us after a church service rearranging the chairs for tomorrow’s coffee morning, I will be the one with the map in my head giving orders as to where that table wants to go, please.

I feel really bad about this. I apologise for it, every time. After I have directed the group of willingly volunteering people into accomplishing the task with reasonable efficiency, I apologise to them, for ordering them about. Because I know in my guts that I have no right to be telling anyone what to do, and the knowledge feels like fear. It’s not how I’m supposed to be. It makes me a bad person. It’s a sin, to boss people around.

And yeah, I’m angry about that.

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