I think I was a senior in college when I told the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary. I was home on break and we had met for lunch. When I said that I was applying to seminaries, he said, “You want to be a DCE (director of Christian Education).” It wasn’t a question. Uncharacteristically, and maybe an indicator of the woman I was becoming, I said, “No, I want your job.” He looked at me in surprise. Though, in all fairness, he did soon come around and was quite supportive.
A couple of years later, I was in seminary and had returned to the college I attended to visit some friends. I went into the chapel and met the new chaplain. I explained that I’d graduated a couple of years ago and that I was in seminary. And he said, “Why would someone who looks like you go to seminary?” To which I said, “What difference does it make what I look like?” He apologized and I left the building. That might have been my last visit to the chapel on that campus.
It’s been decades since these conversations and they still, occasionally, come back to me. Usually, these memories arise when someone is disrespectful or dismissive. Over the years, too many people have asked me when I will finish seminary. It’s been less than a year since the last person asked this question. Or people assume that I am in my first call as an ordained minister not my eighth or ninth. I’ve been told that it’s a compliment because I look younger than I am. You know, it isn’t a compliment. These assumptions are rooted in sexism just like the first two interactions above. There is still this underlying belief that women aren’t pastors, or that women only come to ministry later in life.
These are just personal examples of how society perpetuates myths to keep us divided one from another. Every time we engage archaic attitudes or actions as church, we are displaying our servitude to the Empire. Those with power want to keep it, hoard it, and grow it. They absolutely do not want to share it. The best way to grow their power is to diminish the rest of us and keep us divided. Think about it. The very last thing the powerful people in this country want is for those of us who have been marginalized, dismissed, and diminished to band together. If we did, the revolution for justice would be over and won in less than a heartbeat.
“Whoever is not against us, is for us.” Jesus’ simple, countercultural statement is the key to liberation and unity. If we stop fighting with each other about who has the “right” way to be Christian and unite to demand equity and justice for all those whom the Empire devalues, we could truly change the world. Jesus didn’t care that people outside of his disciples were healing in his name. It was a good thing. Love was brought into the world. If people are bringing Divine Love into the world, bringing healing, hope, justice, why should we care what their religious affiliation is? If lives are saved, then it is good work.
The flip side of this is that Jesus would have cared if harm was being done in his name. He would have cared a lot if people were endorsing hedonistic living or ignoring the most vulnerable in his name. Those would have been folx acting against the truth-to-power message Jesus embodied. Why, then, have we tolerated and accepted hatred in the name of Christ?
It surprises me again and again (though it never should) that there are people everywhere who only know about Catholicism and the “Christian Right.” They have no idea that there are Christian denominations that ordain women, that include LGBTQ+ folx, that don’t talk about demon possession or punishment from God when it comes to mental illness, that encourage seeking and questioning, that don’t dismiss other world religious, and so much more. Isn’t it time we escape from under the oppression of the Empire and continue the work that Jesus began?
This is a time when people are in desperate need of a welcoming, loving community. They exist. We exist. Let’s figure out how to appear on the public stage in a way that unites and liberates all those who are not against us.