Friday, March 30, 2012

The Great Young, White, Affluent, Single, Heterosexual Male Ministerial Myth

Our society is bloated with unrealistic, unattainable images and standards for us to live by—whether it’s the voluptuous swimsuit model, the ripped, athletic male, or the ever-stylish and trendy young adult (preferably a male 18-29).  Despite the fact that these people don’t really exist (the swimsuit babe is an airbrushed digital creation and the buff guy spends hours upon hours in the gym working out, taking endless supplements, and not eating for days before modeling) our culture still believes these people actually do exist—and further—are the standard we should shape our society around.   Movies, TV, style magazines and even clothing all center around these ideal people, these mythical human beings that only exist on the digital screens of a computer.

There are yet more mythical standards—even within the Christian community, consider for example the white, affluent, young, heterosexual, male, ministerial student. Ah, let us consider the ways…

Young: Being that the most sought after demographic in churches today are young adults, every church dreams of landing a fresh, energetic, young minister—youth is an ideal character trait.  A twenty-something doesn’t have all the entanglements such as family or houses or debt that can weigh down someone twice their age. And when one considers the marathon-like effort one must put out to complete seminary, only the younger generation seem to posses the stamina that this requires.

White:  I don’t exactly have to worry about overzealous neighborhood watchmen chasing me down, thinking I’m up to  no good, nor am I looked at with suspicion (like one from a middle eastern descent), or with condescension (like one from south of the border)—the opposite is true. My skin color is the majority and the norm—especially in mainline religious bodies! Mainline Christianity is predominantly a white middle-class religion.  Those of another ethnicity have their work cut out for them.

Affluent: Education is crazy, ridiculously expensive to begin with, then if we factor in that trying to go to school full-time is nearly impossible while maintaining a job, the task is even more arduous.  Yet, if that wasn’t enough Divinity schools are exactly popping up in everyone’s back yards.   Nope, the opposite is true, seminaries are long and far apart, so attending one requires a significant financial commitment—moving cross country isn’t cheap.  Basically, if you want to get a degree, you better have a truck-load of cash or be willing to be deeply  in debt for the rest of your life.

Single: Partners/Spouses and families are great—unless one is training for ministry.  Moving across country doesn't work is well when you have kids, studying all night doesn’t lend itself to maintaining  a good relationships with a loved one, and it’s really hard these days to sustain a family on only one income.  Single is the ideal.

Heterosexual:  Do I really even explain this? Somehow it should seem obvious that since a huge portion of America believes homosexuality is immoral and that many Christian denominations refuse to even ordain gays, those with a sexual orientation differing from the “ideal” have quite an uphill slog.

Male: Yes, good ole’ patriarchalism, ministry is a man’s job—always has been and always will be.  A man is independent, less vulnerable, more likely to be gain respect.  Society is still incredibly structured to favor men, especially when leading our institutions—a woman just won’t do. 

If you think these are completely ridiculous standards for ministerial, then you’re getting my drift—yet the educational system for ministry is set up exactly for this idea candidate, the candidate that doesn't exist, the candidate that is only a myth.  There was a time when this was the standard for divinity students, but that was 50 years ago! Now in divinity school women outnumber the men, and the young adults are a minority in comparison to the second career folks.  I’m actually doing pretty good myself, I’m still fairly young, I’m white, I’m heterosexual, and I’m a male but on the other hand I also have a family and I’m not exactly rolling in cash—far from it actually.  I think this whole process is challenging yet I can’t imagine the struggle it is for someone who has 3,4,5, or even 6 of these “ideal” traits working against them!

This is real life, the Young, White, Single, Heterosexual, Male ministerial student no longer exists, and probably never will again.  Yet our religious seminaries and institutions continue to operate on this old, outdated, dying (dead?) model.  It’s the 21st century people! Get with it, seriously. Our churches are closing up shop, our congregations are drying up, and our pulpits are sitting empty—yet despite all these problems our institutions continue to make ministerial education seemingly impossible for the non-young, white, affluent, single, heterosexual males.

And we wonder why our religious institutions are dying off…  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Misogynistic, Chauvinistic, and sexist: welcome to Right-wing politics in America

The fact that these are harsh words isn’t lost upon me, but when I search for statements to describe the ideology of the political Right in America, these are unfortunately the only ones that seem appropriate. Over the last few months, Right-wing conservatives have demonstrated an utterly reprehensible behavior towards women in this country. Don’t believe me? Let me count the ways.

The Examples:

For starters there is the shockingly disturbing quotes from Rush Limbaugh in which he described a women who testified in support of birth control as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”  He made those remarks on Wednesday of last week. Yet he couldn’t leave well-enough alone, for Thursday he suggested that this woman, Sandra Fluke, make sex-tapes of herself since the taxpayers should get to see what they paid for. Then Friday, not to be outdone, he mocked President Obama for calling Ms. Fluke and expressing his concern. 

Backtracking in time, we can look next to the failed Blunt Amendment, which came from Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri.  This amendment would have allowed all employers, not just churches or religiously affiliated employers, to deny coverage if the employer had a moral objection to a medical option.  So, for example, if the owner doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex, he could deny contraception or even pre-natal coverage to all single women. 

Next we must look at that contraception controversy, the battle of the Bishops—the all-male Catholic bishops that is. Strangely enough, when discussing issues that are exclusively in regards to women, no women are allowed to voice their opinion.  There was the now-infamous all-male panel to discuss contraception to a congressional committee, there was the exclusively male Catholic Bishops deciding what women should and should not do, and of course as previously discussed there was the incident of a  woman (Fluke) speaking out only to then be publicly denigrated.  The Catholic Church has spearheaded the pushback to the ruling, yet despite that an estimated 98% of Catholic women use birth control—women have been silenced from the debate.

Then last, but certainly not least, are the laws attempting to be passed in Virginia and elsewhere that require a women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion.   Besides the physical discomfort and awkwardness (but I have seen this procedure done and it didn’t look extremely comfortable) is the principle of the matter; this is forced vaginal penetration of a women without her consent—isn’t that essentially rape? Though some think that terminology is inappropriate, I know of no other way to describe it.

The Underlying Causes:

“Religious Freedom” = The issues of contraception and pro-life laws have been huddled under the umbrella of “religious freedom” and the Right has cried that Obama’s law requiring free contraception coverage to women is a blatant disregard for that freedom. But again, who is crying foul here? It’s the men—the men who think they have a right to speak for women, whether it be the Catholic Bishops, the all-male congressional committee, or even Rush Limbaugh. We are witnessing the crumbling, decaying wreckage of traditional patriarchalism in America.  Men are losing their place of ultimate authority in society; no longer do women unconsciously submit to the leadership of men, no longer do women understand themselves to be the “lesser”—so men are fighting back, as hard as the can, to hang on to any remaining vestiges of power left; even if that means promoting sexism.

The “Traditional Family” = I wish this issue was as simple as rooting out a few women-haters, but it goes deeper than that.  The constant rallying cry amongst Right-wing conservatives is for the renewal of the “traditional family;” a married male and female and their children.   But we need to go further still, for where do they drawn their norms from what a “traditional family” is and how it should behave? They draw these standards from their narrow interpretations of the Bible—women are to submit to men, for husbands are the head of the household and the leader of the family.  Therefore, in the understanding of a religious conservative, this debate over contraception in America is going exactly as it should be going—since women are to be in subjection to men, males are completely within their authority making decisions for women. 

The Way Forward:

 I don’t know, but unlike the Right, I’m going to leave that up to the women of America to decide.