For almost 9 years I’ve been writing my guts out about church and faith and life and all my dreams of what could be. Despite the vulnerability and what it’s cost me in certain circles, I’m inspired by the incredible people I’ve met over the years through this blog who are changing systems that need changing, who have moved the needle on equality and justice and greater-emotional-health in the churches and ministries and organizations they are part of. You keep me in!
Yet, as much as I’ve seen positive change, I also remain discouraged, too. Honestly, I just haven’t seen that much change in many of the systems I observe. No question, there are a few more women and people of color and LGBQT friends in positions on church staffs; I’m glad for that and celebrate any and all movement toward equality.
But reality is that on the whole, the same group of people who have always held the power in most churches and many organizations still do–white men.
Yes, I’ll say it. White men. White men. White men.
I’m not being racist or sexist or a jerk or a man-hater.
We need to acknowledge color and gender because it’s part of the conversation!
White men indeed hold the most power in pretty much every arena in our country. Even in the most female-dominated professions men dominate the top echelons of leadership. For as much progress as we’ve made, we still live in a hierarchical, patriarchical culture.
This election has illuminated it in more ways than some of us can count.
Like everything post-election, we can use what it told us for good or we can keep the same wheels spinning that got us into this mess.
Yet, while I know the uprising from below is going to continue to shake things up in significant ways, I also believe the way to get there isn’t only from below.
It’s also from above.
People at the top of organizations have the power and influence to participate in greatly shifting things.
Will they? Will you? Will we?
I’ve had this little from-my-heart-and-guts message in my head for a few weeks now; it’s what I want to say to male leaders in some of type position of power and influence (in the church & outside of the church). I want to highlight this: I am so grateful for the many amazing men I know who are using their power for good. This includes so many of you! Thank you. Sometimes when I read the things you say or hear your words, I want to weep and long for the day when it’s normal and not quite so foreign.
The “you” language below is strong but it’s because that’s the point, but my hope and prayer is “us” together in significant ways in the months and years to come.
The same minds and practices and ways of living together that got us into these problems are not going to be the ones to get us out of it.
You guys just can’t move us forward in the ways we need doing the same things you’ve always done.
We need new voices to lead.
We need new visions to inspire.
We need to new courage to empower.
And here’s the deal–as a true “leader”, it’s your job is to make that happen.
Because that’s what good leaders do.
They listen to what’s rumbling from below.
They use their power and influence for those underneath it.
They take bold risks on behalf of people.
I am not saying you are forever doomed now because of your color and your gender as a leader. You have so much to still bring–wisdom, experience, presence, dreams. We need everyone!
But you must acknowledge that for now, your role needs to radically change to focus on building equality and diversity and the kind of strength that comes from sharing.
You need to now use your influence, your power, your voice, your energy, to usher in a completely new thing.
Oh, it’s way past time, but we can use the past to change the future.
There is some really important work to be done, and we need you. If you’re thinking, “I want to but I’m not sure how”, here are a few specific ideas off the top of my head this morning:
- Stop talking and start listening. The margins are speaking. Women, black, brown, poor, struggling, hurting, they are telling you how they feel, what’s missing, where their hope is, what could be. Pull up a chair, bend your ear, and listen. You’ve had the floor for a long time; it’s time to hand your microphones over and let others listen in to these stories, too.
- Bend your knee and ask for forgiveness for those on the underside of power who have been dismissed, excluded, ignored. Even if you didn’t, chances are your predecessors did, and that’s part of your legacy that needs untangling. There’s a lot of hurt piled up underneath that won’t just disappear no matter how much listening.
- Ask women to lead the way. The world, the church, needs nurturing right now; it’s had enough power and division and hierarchy to last many lifetimes and it’s hungry for the tender wise fierceness of women, mothering, the ability to collaborate in beautiful, organic ways. Native American culture honors this, and we could learn a lot from them. The goal is not women on top and men underneath; it is side by side, alongside as equals, friends. This is what so many women naturally know how to do; ask and they can lead you there.
- Create entirely new tables of leadership. Pull up chairs and put in leaves on every table you lead so when you look around the circle you see the spectrum of diversity that represents the kingdom of God. Live with the messy of more voices. Live with the weirdness of feeling out of control. Live with the not-doing-it-your-way. Live with the discomfort of greater equality. In the end, new tables of leadership will set new tables of living; first, we have to build trust that comes from being together around tables, eating, dreaming, sharing not just ideas for organizations, but real lives and stories.
- Lastly, take the hits that need taking. You will lose donors. You will lose money. You will make people feel uncomfortable. But oh, I implore you, to reflect on the reality that the ways of Jesus were always bent toward the margins, not power. We’ve lost our way on that one and it’s what’s created this mess. The losses will hurt, freak you out at first, but I also think in the end it will bring you incredible sense of peace, knowing your values line up with your practices.
Most of all, hear this–we need you. We really, really need you. Together, alongside, creating a new future together.
You have an incredible responsibility.
We’re here to help.
With love and hope, Kathy
ps: December’s issue of SheLoves Magazine is “Pause.” Mine is: Breathe In, Breathe Out. That’s what I’m trying to do these days. It’s helping.