Friday, January 4, 2008

It's just that feeling you have...

Author Toni Morrison made a now famous controversial statement years ago, calling Bill Clinton, “our first black president.” She went on to say he is, “blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."

It is clear that former president Clinton is very popular with blacks, and I recall watching him in an interview one time where he was asked why he thought that was. He said something about the fact that people know when you genuinely like them and they have the ability to sense sincerity in knowing that you are truly comfortable with them. Black people sense that Clinton really loves them and is comfortable with them- and they’re right!

Please don’t take the above illustration as an endorsement for the Clintons. This post isn’t about politics. I’m simply using it as a point of reference to make a case for something I really believe in and that is a person’s “sixth sense” if you will – or as the Bible calls it – discernment – of the sincerity of others. It’s just that “feeling you have”… and it’s so evident when it comes to prejudice.

There are times people can say whatever they want, but you know deep inside, despite whatever is coming out of their mouths, they don't see you as an equal. You know no matter what words are coming out of their lips - they have a problem with you serving in a leadership position. You know they secretly see you as one who should be submitting to orders, not giving them. I'm not talking about a conspiracy here or being paranoid. I am talking about true discernment with certain individuals. Anyone who faces issues of racial or gender prejudice knows exactly what I mean without explaining, but for those of you who aren’t in that category, allow me to enlighten you. Those of us who face prejudicial issues are so certain of what we feel, we would bet our bank accounts on it, because we’ve been through it so much. Though it's something felt in the spirit, it’s so tangible to us we can almost reach out and touch it.

I could give a million illustrations, but I’ll just choose one for today. Whenever we are interviewing a potential new staff member, one of the first things we ask for in the interview are their views on women in the ministry. We make it very clear that Larry and I are a true pastoral team and we lead the staff and the church together. We tell potential staffers, "if you do not hold the views we have on this issue, you are going to be very unhappy working here, so we need to settle this issue up front and spare both of us of any problems...” We are extremely up front with this and go into detail as far as how that works itself out in daily life, serving on staff here. We don’t want any misunderstandings. If a person holds an opposite view, that’s fine – we just don’t want them working for us realizing that while we don’t have to agree on everything, we do have to agree on basic core values -- especially one as important as this.

In the case of one staff member (I’ll call him Pastor Greg – not his real name) we had gone over this several times in multiple interviews, and he told us in no uncertain terms that he completely held the same view we do. However shortly into his tenure, I just had “that feeling” that not all was well. Over the months time, I knew in my heart that he secretly held another view but had not revealed it, probably because he needed a job. Yes, ministry is ministry but to those of us who do it full time it is also a paycheck. And he didn’t have another one, at least yet. It was something I’m sure he thought would not be an issue as long as he and his wife kept their views hidden, at least from us – or so they thought! (Mistake #1 – don’t ever think when you tell people things in the church that it won't eventually get back to your pastor! The Bible says that what is hidden will be brought to sure your sins will find you out.)

Well, one day in the course of our work, Pastor Greg made some comments, though not about ministry but politics, that were very revealing as to how they felt on some gender issues. You know the Bible says that "out of the heart, the mouth speaks." You can try to hide your true thoughts however what you think eventually will seep out somehow. Our thoughts eventually become our words if we dwell on them enough. Though not referring to women pastors specifically, Pastor Greg made some negative statements toward women in the political world. I was very concerned about the slant of his comments and asked my husband to have a talk with him, figuring maybe he would confess his true thoughts easier to my husband than to me (since I felt he obviously had a problem with women I didn’t expect to get anywhere with him.)

My husband called him in and strongly confronted and questioned him. Larry said, "I realize your comments were about women in the secular world, however if you hold these same views regarding ministry this is an issue as it is completely against all that Deanna and I stand for, and the core values of our church." And again he said, “oh no pastor, I don't have a problem with this - I am completely in agreement with your views..." My husband seemed comfortable with his answers because Pastor Greg had so strongly answered him back declaring his complete unity with us on the issues. He was very emphatic with my husband that he was 100% in agreement with us. But it didn’t matter what was coming out of his mouth. I could sense in my spirit, he was not sincere.

My instincts told me – he needed a job, needed a paycheck, and would say whatever he needed to say to my husband to keep his job, at least until he could find another one – realizing that it wasn’t all that easy to keep a hidden view on things like this especially when he had to come into the office and face a woman as his boss everyday – me! In my heart, I believe that in his initial interview with us he said whatever he needed to say to get the job and then figured he’d sort all the rest out later and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But it was. And being that I was not afraid to strongly lead – this posed a serious threat to him that he really didn’t consider he would have prior to coming on staff. I think he thought he could go around me, over me, or through me – but he soon found out it wasn’t all that easy when you have a co-pastor team that works so closely as Larry and I.

Well, ultimately Pastor Greg resigned and not a moment too soon. As soon as he did all kinds of hidden things came to light. A week after he left, one person in the church said to my husband and I (thinking we already knew), “you know, I’m surprised that Pastor Greg lasted here as long as he did, with his views on women in ministry and all that…” When the church member said that, I shot a look at my husband as if to say, “told ya!” and said to the church member, “oh really? What were the views that he shared with you?” And they went on to tell us that he revealed his true beliefs on the issue of women pastors one day in a small group Bible study and specifically addressed a problem he had with women being senior pastors. As he did his wife shot him a look and sharply said, “Greg!” as if to say, “you shouldn’t be telling these people this…” and then he said something to the effect that he had issues with women pastoring but he couldn’t’ really get into the subject. However everyone in the room knew he wasn’t in agreement with our view. Thankfully his poison did not spread to the rest of the church body.

There is something about prejudice that is not just heard or seen…it is FELT. Like other sins that people carry such as the spirit of anger, pride, or lust – so they can also carry the spirit of prejudice. Just as you can walk into a room and sense that “something is not quite right” so you can be listening to a person’s words as they say a bunch of things about women being called, anointed, used of God, etc. and know that they are either using semantics to dance around their core values on the subject – or they are just flat out lying through their teeth because they need something from you at the time, such as – a job, or a favor of some sort. I have sat in meetings with denominational officials over 20 years of time and I can sense which ones are spouting the politically correct thing to say in a meeting, and which ones are sincere. A woman in ministry has the ability to realize those who are part of the "good old boy" network and those who are sincerely appreciative of women working alongside (not behind) them. We can sense who celebrates us and who merely tolerates us. A woman can immediately sense when a man is working with her and viewing her as a colleague or just patronizing her.

Relationships are truly born of the spirit. Why do I have so many close friends of color? Why can I walk into a room of women from all backgrounds and nationalities as a guest speaker or pastor and have the majority of them at ease with me from the beginning feeling a ‘sister to sister’ connection? Yes, it’s the blood of Christ that unites us but I am convinced it is also the fact that people KNOW when you are sincere and you are “for real” in your belief of the equality of all people. How can Larry and I – two white people from Baltimore and Pittsburgh – pastor people from so many different countries who feel “right at home” with us from the first time we meet? Our church has people from about 20 different nations. I’m convinced – something in their spirit immediately tells them how much we genuinely like them. Actually, they know we really, really love them. There are many times I feel like an "honorary black" or "honorary Cuban" simply because I click with my sisters (and brothers) so well and love and enjoy them so much as well as learning about, experiencing and really understanding their particular cultures. :-) People we really want to not only love them, but seek to understand?

So to summarize today’s post I want to encourage those of you who, like me – know what it is to just “have that feeling” despite what’s coming out of people’s mouths – know that God gave you discernment for a reason. I sensed the disunity of Pastor Greg a long time before he resigned. God gave me that heads up for a reason – to keep a very watchful eye on the situation and warn my husband. I never trusted him, and there was a good reason for it. Use the gift of discernment God has given you!

Second, if you are a person in Pastor Greg’s shoes and you secretly harbor feelings of prejudice toward a person of another race of gender or you think you have ever so carefully hidden your bias against a person or group of people – think again. No matter what is coming out of your mouth, people will know what’s in your spirit. And if you wonder, “why don’t they click with me? I’ve never said anything…” realize YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Your spirit is talking loud and clear and letting them know where you stand. If people of color or women in leadership seem to have an issue with you, maybe you should check your spirit. You might be exuding something although you don’t say a word and if that is the case – only the Holy Spirit can do a cleansing work in your heart and life to bring you into right standing with God and others.

Allow the Lord to cleanse you of the sin of prejudice and fill your heart with a GENUINE acceptance of all people. As you do, you will find them coming closer to you rather than holding you suspiciously at arms length or keeping a watchful eye on you.

Rev. Deanna D. Shrodes, Equal Time Co-Founder


Deborah said...

Deanna, I just sat here with tears streaming down my face, as you know my husband and I lead a work where we worked together as a senior pastoral couple. We are in a church now that has the same view as aka Pastor greg.They ask me to preach from time to time but in a evening event when there is not many people and if I bring up something in a staff meeting (I am on staff as an admininstrator of the church) concering maybe a scripture that is used out of context I sense the eyes rolling and feel the men saying here we go again. Its amazing how you pick it up time and time again. Please continue to pray for us. love Deborah

Anonymous said...

This has happened often over the years with several individuals. It's really hard to articulate but you have done it well. I have sensed this with a staff pastor while working on a project together in an area of my expertise. Nevertheless, he just seemed to want to do what he wanted to do or what his spouse wanted. I couldn't put my finger on it.
What are your thoughts re:
when you enter a room or a food line and they never seem to take the initiative to exchange pleasantries or rarely call you by your title? It's almost like they are pretending you're not there or they don't want to acknowledge your presence in front of others. I generally have to speak first.

What if you gave a directive in front of others and later they told you they wish you had pulled them to the side, what would you say? It was something very small that needed taken care of right then . Therefore, when I saw them in passing , I told them. It was like his ego was insulted or he didn't want others to think he answers to me. I would really like to know your thoughts on this? He is up for his review and I am wondering how to approach this? Or if I should say anything based on my hunches or not.